lessons in gratitude
July 28th, 2007 was a big day for me. My first child, Greyson Achilles Carcaterra was born. As is the case with many men, when you think of being a father you have a vision of having a son and passing on many of your athletic experiences to him. When he arrived, people assumed the next Syracuse Lacrosse star had just been born. A couple of years later, it became evident that scoring goals in a lacrosse game was no longer important. Like many parents, you chalk boy behavior up to having an active and adventurous child. However, Greyson is different. Greyson is autistic. The challenges that he is presented with in life are difficult for him, his sister, his mother, and me. He has tremendous motor skills, which allow him to snowboard, swim, participate in karate, and many other non-team oriented endeavors. Greyson is a handsome young man with a big smile, however; he has limited reading and writing skills, struggles with deeper level relationships, has a hard time connecting with peers, is easily frustrated, can be explosive at times, perseverates, and in the end…marches to the beat of his own drum. Here are a few aspects of gratitude I owe to Greyson:
Be transparent with your struggles. Since having Greyson, I have always been open about his journey with autism. This has allowed me to have a massive weight lifted off my shoulders because I am not holding anything in. When people ask me about my child, within seconds I’m telling his story. When in public I don’t try to pretend Greyson is someone he is not. This has allowed me to feel comfortable in my own “Dad skin.” When people know how you feel and you are open about it, it’s amazing how much people want to help. Have faith in human beings, most are kind and will do so much for others. Putting yourself out there is not easy but without question, it’s worth it.
Value your relationships. Because of the physical and mental demands Greyson requires, my family doesn’t attend social functions at the level of many others. When I do get to see old teammates, dear friends, and others, I tend to make the most of the opportunity. Engaging in conversations that can range from fun with laughs, to deeper talks in a more serious tone, I find that people communicating is food for the soul. These outlets and the understanding that although I am a father with a son with special needs, I am a person who needs a sense of self and stay connected to those who fulfill my needs.
Make exercise a priority. I like to workout and sweat a minimum of 5 days per week. To be mentally fit, I feel like being physically fit is critical. Greyson challenges me mentally and physically on a daily basis. When I workout, I push myself knowing that it will allow me to have the energy to deal with anything thrown my way. Working out also gives me free space and makes me feel alive. Sleeping 8 hours a night, eating healthy, and hydrating my body, fuels me for the next day and gives me the juice to conquer workouts, allowing me to be the best version of myself.
Explore the outdoors. I have been an avid snowboarder for 27 years. In a typical year I can get 20 days on the mountain. The mountain is a place where time stands still for my family and I. I taught Greyson how to snowboard when he was three. He was riding black diamond trails by the age of 5. The mountain allows him to be where his feet are, to be present without distractions. The chair lifts for our family are some of our happiest times. Our trips to Park City work for us and finding a common outdoor interest with family and or loved ones is both incredible and essential. Time can stand still in nature when you aren’t attached to the material world.
Having Greyson has been the biggest challenge of my life unequivocally. It also has been the greatest blessing. He has allowed me to embrace someone else’s struggles and special needs without caring how the outside world may perceive him or me. Greyson has provided me with a higher level of communication skills based on how I open myself up to others. It is a gift I apply at work, in social interactions, as well as self-evaluating. There is no five or ten year projection on how my life may end up. Today is the day that I have been provided, and I will take the wins when I can. I am a stronger, more caring, accepting, and open person because of the boy who entered my life on July 28th, 2007. Thank you Greyson!
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