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Getting a good look at Nolan

As of Sunday afternoon, there were 92 photos or videos of Nolan on my iPhone, 43 of which have been taken or recorded in 2020. Forgive my fatherly bias, but I think my son is quite photogenic and gets better looking every day. Seventeen Magazine, if you’re still sold on newsstands, feel free to bump Justin Bieber, Harry Styles, or whoever the heartthrob of the week is from next month’s cover and feature my boy. Your sales will triple … no, quadruple! How could you go wrong?

If slide projectors hadn’t lost their relevancy around the late 1990s, I probably would be showing relatives, friends, and any neighbors who dared set foot in our house every picture imaginable of Nolan taken during his nearly 15 years on this planet (“Here’s Nolan holding one of Cindy’s disposable coffee cups when he was a baby. He looks like he’s enjoying his morning joe, doesn’t he?” … “Here’s a great shot of his back as he boards the bus for his first day of middle school.” … “Here’s the time he went to the cupboard, pulled out a can of soup and let me know he was hungry.”). Want to see Nolan before he entered this world? We’ve got the videotape of his ultrasound, and a VCR on which to play it.

It goes without saying that both Cindy and I extremely proud of our son. I’d like to think that that’s come across in our blog entries, and also in our respective Facebook posts. We might not share every moment of our lives with the world, but we are both pretty honest and open people.

There is one area, however, in which I believe I have come up short. I don’t think I’ve ever really shared a complete picture as to who Nolan Douglas Bey is.

Sure, Cindy and I share snapshots of our son’s life, everything from doing a good job on the first day of high school, which consisted of virtual learning, to fun mother and son fields trips. Cindy shoulders a tremendous amount of pressure being the family’s primary breadwinner as well as having to take care of Nolan – and yeah, me too – but overall she does a great job keeping a “chin up” attitude despite having way too much to think about. As much as I try to convince myself everything will be all right when times are difficult, sometimes stressed-out Kirk shows up and goes full-on Eeyore.

Nolan has Autism and is nonverbal. It by no means defines who he is, but it’s a big part of his story.

I can’t even imagine one moment you’re two years old and able to identify letters and numbers and say a few words and then – boom – just like that the ability to communicate effectively vanishes. You have a communication device and your parents, teachers, and therapists do their best to help you navigate it – and you reach a point where you do a pretty decent job – but sometimes you can’t make people understand what you want. You get angry and frustrated, and you become aggressive. Sometimes mom and dad have bruises and sore muscles to show for it. One run-in with a former neighbor’s dog when you were little has led you to believe anything with four legs is the enemy.

Your body craves almost constant input; the number of yoga balls you’ve popped and toothbrushes you’ve mangled is well into double-digits. You hate loud noises and need to wear noise-cancelling headphones, but you are eardrum-splitting loud. You’re fascinated with playing with your spit and seemingly can produce more saliva on your own than half the population of Boise. And we’ll just skip over your fascination with touching your feces because there are folks who are eating breakfast as they read this.

Oh, occasionally the “typical teenager” comes out and shows himself in all his puberty-filled glory. The grocery store receipts don’t lie; no amount of food can fill you up. Your room isn’t always the neatest, and sometimes you want your parents as far away from you as possible, like the other end of the house. But mom and dad know people who have kids that either are your age or close to it. They see pictures of those kids with big smiles and doing fun things with their friends. They read posts by their parents telling about their son’s big game or their daughter going to a dance – things that are completely foreign to mom and dad.

It’s easy to become bitter and envious, and in dad’s case remove a couple of friends from his Facebook feed because it was a reminder of something he’d never experience. But you know what? Those moments have become less frequent for me as of late, because I know that overall, he’s a happy young man. I love to capture his joyous moments for posterity, both on my camera and in my mind.

The little twinkle in his eye and the silly grin that reminds me that while my father is no longer here, his spirit is very much alive in his grandson.

The way he goes to his underwear drawer, removes several pairs of socks and drops them in the living room – his way of letting mom and/or dad know he wants to leave the house and either go for a walk or a car ride.

The way he can sit contently in the backseat of dad’s car and either enjoy a beverage or just zone out and enjoy the ride.

His happy squeals when we come home and he retreats to his room, flops on the bed and rolls around in his blankets.

The way he pounds on his Casio keyboard and puts on a mini concerto that I’m sure the neighbors across the street can hear.

The look of love and trust he gives a man who some days I swear isn’t qualified to raise a family of sea monkeys.

There still are times when I swear that I would do anything to take away Nolan’s struggles. But then I realize that what we’ve faced as a family has made all three of us the people we are today. Whenever I’m having a difficult time – something that’s happened a lot this year – I’ll scroll through the pictures I’ve taken of Nolan and remind myself about all the good things he’s done, and all the good things he’s still going to do.

I see absolute perfection in my son whenever I look at him. And I’m proud I get to share his story with you.

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