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Back to school? Nope, a change of plans


I have been a planner for as long as I can remember. The plans I’ve made have almost always been in my head, lest anyone ever find a written copy of something that had not come to fruition and call me out on it, a la Maury Povich (“Kirk, when you were in middle school you said you were going to be an advertising executive. That was a lie!”).

So many those plans – some of which were very basic, some of which were very meticulous – were crumpled up and tossed in my mental circular file. Always have thick head of hair I had 30 years ago? Goodbye, comb. Hello, Pitbull razor and baldness. Work in newspapers until I’m 65 or have saved enough dough to retire early? Out of the industry – thankfully, just as it became the Titanic and smashed into the proverbial iceberg – before I hit 40. Lifelong bachelor who would not have offspring to carry on the family name? First came Cindy, then came marriage. Then came Nolan, our not-so-little guy who I swear outgrew his baby carriage before he could even crawl.

Even though life has played the role of Lucy with the football to me being Charlie Brown, I still make plans and actually believe they will come to fruition. Which brings us to today’s installment of “Autism takes a flamethrower and lays waste to what should have been a red-letter day in the Bey household.”

Tuesday was supposed to Nolan’s first day of face-to-face learning as a high school freshman. Yeah, last week was the first week of the 2020-21 school year in our district, and Nolan made it through his virtual sessions with some success. But Tuesday was, in my mind, the real start to the school year. It was supposed to be Nolan’s first day in a classroom since St. Patrick’s Day. He would finally get to meet his teachers and paraprofessionals. And Tuesday would be a return to some type of normalcy – if you can call pretty much having the school to yourself because 99.9 percent of the student body is learning online, having to keep as far away from your classmates as possible, and being told that trying to wear a facemask is a good thing even though you’re going to rip it off your face in 1.4 seconds every time.

Tuesday was going to be a return to normal for me as well. I would be able to start running again in daylight Monday through Friday. I would enjoy a quiet house, some solitude, and just maybe I finally could organize my office and put away the treasures I’d found over the summer at various flea markets. Of course I also would worry about Nolan, who would be setting foot in his new school as a student for the first time. But that worry, and the fact I really missed my son even after spending nearly every waking hour with him for more nearly six months, would be the topic of this morning’s post. I even said as much to the owner of a local estate sale company I sometimes work for as I was leaving a sale Monday evening.

But I noticed when I got home that Nolan still seemed to be quite peppy. Cindy had moved up his bedtime routine to prepare him for a 6 a.m. wakeup Tuesday morning and the arrival of the school bus around 7, but he wasn’t calming down. Well, I thought, Labor Day weekend will knock anyone off-kilter. Nolan will calm down and go to sleep at a decent hour, right?

We still were hearing very happy noises coming from his bedroom at 11:15 p.m. I dozed off a little before midnight and awoke at 12:45 to the sound of a very upset and worn-down Cindy letting Nolan know she wasn’t happy he’d gone No. 2 in his pants. The timeline gets a little fuzzy after that, but I do remember opening a can of soup for Nolan, who was hungry because he hadn’t eaten much Monday, and also letting him know I wasn’t happy that he’d gone No. 2 yet again in his pants.

And so by the time Nolan had finally conked out sometime around 2:30 a.m., Cindy and I realized there was no way we could expect him to go to school Tuesday on perhaps 3½ hours of sleep. His day after he woke up at 8:40 consisted of a lot of couch time, a lot of snacking, and YouTube Kids videos. One of them was a song about primary and secondary colors, so that counts as educational, right?

You’d think more than 12 years after Nolan’s diagnosis I would be used to plans either having to be modified or tossed aside altogether, and for the most part I am. But a half-year of craziness and uncertainty, and having Nolan home day after day, has worn me down to the point of having days – sometimes several in a row – when the ol’ fuse is 10 millimeters long when things go awry. Those are the times I’m less patient with Nolan when he needs patience and understanding the most. Those are the times Cindy, who God knows deserves 100 times the number of breaks she’s given me over the years, needs a husband who is positive and not openly wondering – very loudly, as was the case early Tuesday morning – why the hell he is where he is. And, in his mind, also quietly wondering if he could slip out in the middle of the night, relocate in some small town in South Dakota and pull a disappearing act that would put the Witness Protection Plan to shame.

I admit that during my very low moments I’ve wondered what life would look like if I’d stuck to my original life plan, or something similar to it. Then I realize what a disaster it would be.

Cindy has been a calming influence in my life, which you likely never would have guessed by reading this post or some of my other posts over the last few months. She’s patient and forgiving when I have my really difficult moments. She helps me realize that we’re going to tackle this lifelong challenge together.

And Nolan? Sure, having a son with Autism has taught me to show empathy toward individuals with disabilities. But more important, he has shown me unconditional love and trust. He knows that dad will take him for a car ride and a treat when he really needs one. He knows that dad will come along willingly when he takes him by the arm and pulls him toward the street because he wants to take a walk through the neighborhood. I’d like to believe that for the most part he’s enjoyed being home with me since mid-March, and that he’ll miss me when he’s gone for close to eight hours a day, five days a week.

All of us really would benefit from Nolan returning to a school day routine. Tuesday was difficult. We did our best to try to prepare Nolan for finally returning to school this morning. We’d like to believe that an extra day at home will mean the transition to his new school will go a lot better than if we had sent him Tuesday.

I’m trying to envision and plan that Cindy, Nolan and I all will have a good day today. I have to remind myself that while might not happen, everything still will be OK.

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