Through much of this journey there is a behind the scenes aspect that I have had yet to mention. Nathan has an invisible gift. Nathan has Sensory Processing Disorder. I share this not as a hinderance but as an offer of hope to families who have kids with high needs, any thing is possible. Nathan has demonstrated again and again the tenacity and grit it takes to push through the odds.
S.P.D. is a part of the brain that processes sensory input ie: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. For sensory kids the signs show up in a variety of ways, for Nathan his shows up today mostly in the auditory processing part of his brain and he can become easily overwhelmed, big crowds are very hard for him to stay in his body and bright flashing lights are really challenging for him to stay focused. Among other things. Think a Jack-In-The box character, only the Jack-In-The box character has confetti that pops out, with silly string, strobe lights and its head expands to twice the size of the box that becomes almost impossible to put back in once its pops. That is Nathans brain when he has a sensory melt down.
Often a dark quiet room for “alone time” or some play time out side where Nathan has complete control over his environment is what helps him be able to bring his brain back to center or is able to “put Jack back in the box”. Depending on the day the triggers vary from just about anything one day to the next. The book “The Out of Sync Child” by Carol Stock Kranowitz is a really informative book on sensory and how it works.
Over the years with the help of occupational therapy and a stout commitment to accept that there are things that work for our family and things that don’t, through much trial and error on our part I might add, we have found our way. It’s not all melt downs and life changes however it also means a lot of really amazing things like his attention to detail, given the proper amount of time he can build some elaborate legos or block buildings. He has a passion for reading. He also has a very strong ability to feel deeply for something or someone. He is absolutely a loyal and faithful friend.
We travel, we go to places, we go to movies, we go to the mountains. We challenge him on many levels because that’s life after all and S.P.D. isn’t going to stop us from living an adventure filled life. Everyone finds what works for them and that’s the most important part. For us we have found joy in the mountains and on adventures.
However there is one aspect to S.P.D. that can make life very challenging when failure is a part of the story its what they call “hyper-focused” and its quite hard to over come. It can be a task uncompleted, it could be the tick of road noise in the car is to loud or an idea he didn’t feel he could fully express. It becomes challenging to help him process through and move on because that specific experience can end up as a broken record in his brain. Sometimes it has resulted in me or Abram carrying him out of places and a two hour melt down about the blanket that he decided was a must have.
Then there is times where he will have his time to process his feelings and its done, never to mention it again. It’s certainly not all or nothing or a one size fits all. We just never know which time is going to be, let go and move on or will it be held on to like a set of cat claws.
So for us when it came to training for his dream and not making it to the top of Observation Rock, there was a lot of anxiety about which direction he would go when we tried for Muir. He was quiet upset about not making it. There was much conversation about just because one experience had one out come, doesn’t mean the next one will be the same.
So we acted as if. Abram and I also have to work on ourselves. To remind our selves that no matter the out come we show up any way and see what happens.
So the packs are packed, the food is ready and the alarm beeps at 3 AM. We roll out of bed and off we go. Nathan is giddy which is helpful because Abram and I slept about 3 to 4 hours the night before summit day and Nathans energy is contagious. So far the only “hyper-focused” is his push for the top.
We hit the trail with the clap of thunder off in the distance. We knew the chance of thunder showers loomed in the morning so with a watchful eye on the sky we pushed on. We were just short Pebble Creek and a huge clap of thunder roared over head and then echoed off the mountain, it was hands down the coolest sound I have ever heard. One of natures surprises though, she wasn’t going to make the push for the top an easy one for us. Lighting struck a couple ridges over so we dropped our trekking polls about 15 feet away, found a place to spread out to wait for the thunder storm to pass.
Nathan was worried and stuck on the fact that we could die. He was right. Lighting in the mountains is something to be respected for sure. Thankfully this was not our first time being in the mountains in the weather and I reminded him that he survived a thunder storm in Glacier National Park a few years back which had done the trick to calm him down. Drawing on past experiences of success helps us all doesn’t it? Getting up and down the mountain safely is our primary job. No matter how bad we want to victory, safety is the first rule.
No sooner did the storm pass did the snow field start. The long, slow, push for Camp Muir began. There was a cluster of folks we walked with, most of which would pass on one liners of encouragement to Nathan that he seemed to gobble up. Abram continued giving him encouragement and reminding him that he’s strong enough, that he has what it takes. Hearing a father’s voice that reinforces the truth has such power for a kid. I could see the change in Nathans face every time he would hear Abram say in about 100 different ways “you have what it takes”.
Nathan learned that there was a shelter at the top. He wanted to see it. He marched up, faster then us at times. The sky opened up and he could see the crevasses and glaciers on the mountain. It blew his mind how big they were and how blue they were. He kept pushing to see more and more of the mountain. He just couldn’t believe that such large quantities of ice could exist! After a few breaks, one step at a time.
We arrived at Camp Muir.
I imagine it’s the same feeling a parent feels when there child wins a football championship or a baseball championship or seeing your child graduate from school. Reflecting on all the steps it took to get to that moment in time. Something only experience can help someone to know the amount of emotion that washes over you.
Nothing prepared me for that moment. I sat and looked at my boy. All the life experiences that led to this moment and it was his moment, not mine or Abrams. He made it. He sat and ate cookies. He was so proud. 7 years old, S.P.D. in his back packet and he made it. He pushed through fear of not having what it takes. He pushed through his fear of the thunder. He was half way up the mountain on his own two feet. He was so tired and overwhelmed he almost threw up right there on the platform where every one sits.
Abram and I sat together and took in the moment. A sense of relief and joy came over both of us. A sounds of silence loomed in the air. We both know what it took for us to get here. We both also knew that this wasn’t our moment. This moment was Nathans!
With the sound of rock and ice falling off the Nisqually head wall we started our long walk down. The only thing pushing Nathan to do the last half of the trip is glissading. Its one of the nice things about a huge snowfield, you can slide down on your bottom!
A quick lesson on how to go down safely and a few boundaries gone over, he learned how to glissade. Shoot after shoot. He made his way down. Sometimes facing frontwards, sometimes facing backwards, sometimes sideways. Sometimes he needed to skip one to be reminded that safety was the way to ensure the fun continues. But one thing was present at all times a laser focus and smile from ear to ear. The people walking by had smiles too. We had the biggest ones of course. Abram and I watched our boy grow a little more into to a man that day.
A younger gentlemen was coming down behind us and was beyond impressed by seeing a 7 year old at Camp Muir to which his reply was “after seeing him up there it made me really question some decisions I have been making in my life”. Nathan offered inspiration to others by simply doing what he loves.
No one will ever know for sure the amount of grit and perseverance it took for him to get him self “Half Way To The Top” but him and him alone. As we made the long, tireless trek down to our car. Feet hurting. Legs worn out and ready fall off Nathan was passing on encouraging one liners to tiered hikers along the trail, you have to give it away to keep it after all.
A sense of amazement hung in the air during the car ride home. He made it. HE DID IT! MISSION COMPLETE! Per usual, there was nothing to worry about. He found his way. Against the odds, he made it Half way up Mount Rainer!
With a smile on his face and a look of accomplishment beyond recall, he says from the backseat
“I did it”
A few days had passed. Nathan was ready to blow up his volcano. Nathan sprayed lava every where out the top complete with sound effects and cheers.
Abram sat down with Nathan to talk about his dream. He reminded him that this is not the end of the path. That you making the summit isn’t the end of dreaming. I listened to him share with Nathan the wisdom of not settling and continuing to strive for dreams no matter how big or small.
Life is about the journey not a destination. So Abram left Nathan with one question
For in the words of John Muir
“Between every two pines
Is a doorway in to another world”
This is just the beginning of many many adventures to come…