Unexpected Gifts, Unintended Consequences

This is a story that began with a pair of running spikes. By the end it evolved into something very different.

The scene was middle school cross country. Three of my sons took my advice and joined the team. I knew from my own experience that training for a 3K race would teach them about discipline. And the running would expend their excess energy. 


Alex and Travis seemed eager. They are my two sons with past abuse – and later a diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder. But the two rarely pushed themselves at practice.  The social interaction meant more – which was fine by me.

Meanwhile, their younger brother Andrew ran to exhaustion every afternoon – wanting to be accepted. As the only “special ed” kid on the team, he had plenty to prove.

At the first meet, Andrew – a survivor of early trauma and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome – surprised everyone. He finished as the team’s second runner. Alex and Travis, on the other hand, walked the course when out of view – as if no one would notice. Then they made excuses, while overstating their ability.

Without making any comparisons to Andrew, I offered encouragement.


“In cross country you compete against yourself. It’s both mental and physical. You can improve your personal best every race.”

Rather than hearing my supportive words, they became defensive. Unbeknownst to me at the time, they felt shame – convinced I was mocking them. Certain I didn’t believe in them. Such reactions are common in children that have experienced rough starts in life.


The spikes arrived the following week – not planned, unexpected.

Browsing a clearance rack, I stumbled upon a flashy orange and silver pair. In Andrew’s size, no less. I decided to reward him.

But I knew better than to make a big deal out of the purchase. So I didn’t. Yet my strategy didn’t unfold as expected.

On the morning of the next meet, I put the spikes in Andrew’s gym bag – without any fanfare. And off to bus stop my three sons went. After a busy day at work, I showed up to watch them race.

But Andrew wasn’t wearing the spikes.

Andrew middle school XC sixth grade

Then he told me. Alex had them on his feet. Frankly, I wasn’t surprised with Andrew’s unselfish nature – or my other son’s manipulation. When Alex appeared moments later, I calmly responded.

“You’ve had your chance to try out your brother’s spikes.  Please give them back.”

“But Andrew said I could wear them.”

“I don’t dispute that fact, but he earned the spikes. If you want a pair, practice harder and earn your own. Now take them off.”

And “off” he went – running through the parking lot and screaming like a fool for everyone to see.

After the race – in which Alex walked more than usual, he remained emotionally dysregulated. In his mind I had played favorites and would never honor my promise to buy him a pair.

Fear – coupled with anxiety – threw him off that day. Self-sabotage followed. He never applied himself, even though I saw the potential for him to become a decent runner.

The unexpected pair of spikes.

The unintended consequences.  

Now I know – wishing I had another chance. DCP

Fear – coupled with anxiety – threw him off that day. Self-sabotage followed.


Andrew Peterson middle school XCountry

Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s progress in writing a book about raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page. Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold

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