Sherpa: a member of a people of Tibetan stock living in the Nepalese Himalayas, who often server as porters on mountain-climbing expeditions.
When Tim runs a marathon, I am there as a “support person” – only I call myself a “Sherpa” instead. Last year, Tim would go for his long runs on the weekends, because I was available to take care of the kids. Those long runs would take about 6 hours, because of having to drive to and from a trailhead. Last year I took care of the kids during the evenings when he went on shorter runs, only lasting a couple of hours, but those couple of hours were during “the witching hours” and I was already pretty tired from work. Last year, I lugged 2 backpacks to the Start line at 0-dark-thirty, only to realize that he wouldn’t actually NEED anything in the backpacks until later in the race. I drove to different points in the race, where I could hand him Gatorade or gels or just give him a kiss and encouragement. I am incredibly directionally challenged, and it takes me forever to read a map, but I did it. I met him at the Finish line, helped him to the car, got him food and drink, helped him back up from the ground, and drove us home. I made a lot of sacrifices so he could do something he had always dreamed of doing.
This year, because we had childcare for Dale Jr, Tim did his long runs during the week. Heck, he did his 2-3 hour runs during the week. It completely changed the way I felt about his training. (Well, not completely. It still kind of sucks when he’s gone for a long time…) When we went to the race, I carried a camera to the Start line. I still met him at different points during the race (more points this time), and the maps and directions he carefully printed out and labeled for me were not helpful, because the race people closed off different roads than they did last year. I still made it to the meet-up-points, but there was a lot of driving around my ass to get to my elbow to get there. I really can’t explain how stressful that is for me. I met him at the Finish line, walked with him to get food and drink, and drove us home. (See, he did better this year – he was able to get his own food and drink, walk by himself, speak in complete sentences, and he didn’t lie down in the parking lot!)
Nobody except Tim, and other support people, has ever had anything to say about what I did. It was expected. I was a Sherpa. Sherpas don’t get the glory when those guys climb Everest, but oh my god how important they are. The famous guys could never have made the journey without the Sherpas. The Sherpas carry the loads of equipment, break the path, do all the scut work, without the glory.
I feel like I’m a Sherpa in real life. I do so much in the background, so much that other people don’t see, but because Tim is the “at home parent” and because he does drop-off and pick-up and takes care of most of the paperwork (OMG at the paperwork), he gets the credit. It doesn’t hurt that he stands out being one of the only dads doing those things. It’s just that I do the cooking, laundry, most of the cleaning, grocery list and shopping, childcare every evening while cooking dinner; you know, the daily slog that people expect the “at home parent” does. I also work full time. Without me, there would be no dinner, no clean and folded clothes, no clean bathrooms, umm no mortgage… And it’s expected. It’s my job. I’m the Sherpa. I don’t even feel like I’m a good Sherpa, because our house is a wreck.
Every once in awhile, I’d like to be the Mountain Climber; the one with the Finisher’s Medal; the one who actually fulfilled her own big dream. Except, I don’t have big dreams anymore. I have small dreams, like sleeping for 8 whole hours. Like living like I did before I had my colon removed and didn’t have to be near a damn bathroom every hour. Like losing the gazillion pounds I’ve regained since my surgery, since I can’t eat the way I did before. I started running (and I suuuuuck at it) and it just feels like one more way I’m failing now. I doubt this is something that Autism parents alone feel, but I feel like we have fewer breaks. A date with my husband where we aren’t rushing to be back by 8 to put the J-man to bed because he will freak out otherwise? It doesn’t happen. Being able to call a regular baby-sitter and do something spur-of-the-moment? It doesn’t happen. Going out in public as a family without the constant dread that we will have to (literally) pick up and run? It doesn’t happen. I need a dream. I need a break.
Instead, today begins 3 weeks of track-out from school. I, like every other parent, dread track-out. I hate the lack of structure; I hate waiting to see WHEN (not if) the J-man will absolutely lose it; I hate the person I become from frustration and sheer exhaustion. Tim and I joke about needing a “sister wife” especially during track-out. Maybe we’ll start using the term “Sherpa” for that instead.
Today, take time out to thank your Sherpa. And if you ARE the Sherpa, I would like to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to you as well.