I still remember the morning in March 2006 when Cindy went back to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave. It would just be Nolan and I for about eight hours until I had to leave for my job and Cindy’s mother came over to take care of him during the two-hour window Cindy and I were both at work.
I remember Nolan started to cry not long after Cindy left. I didn’t. Yeah, I had all the fears a lot of new fathers have the first time they’re left alone with their child for more than a few minutes (Did I heat his milk enough? Is his milk too hot? How often should I change his diaper? Is what he’s wearing warm enough? Is he too warm? When should he take his nap? Will he take a nap? Has it really been only five minutes since Cindy left?????). But this three-month-old boy was depending on me, and there was no way I was going to let him down. In my mind, no one – I mean, no one – could take better care of him than I could.
Nolan’s Autism diagnosis has only strengthened my desire to be the best father/advocate/bodyguard I can possibly be. In my mind, no one – I mean, no one – knows more about Nolan and can take care of him like Cindy and I can. Now, I don’t have a “you’ll have to pry my son from my cold, dead hands” mentality. Most mornings I’m happy to see the school bus pull up in front of our house. I’ve also become a little more comfortable with taking Nolan to his after-school program four days a week. We’re blessed to have some really good people working with him.
But as far as someone coming into our home and watching Nolan, I’m going to need to see some identification, five references, character witnesses, and a note from his or her mother. Then maybe I’ll think about entrusting him or her with my son. Or maybe I won’t.
Twice a year, Nolan’s case worker cheerfully reminds us the county in which we live has allotted us 16 hours of respite per month. A local organization screens and hires the caregivers, who usually are college students, and the county reimburses them for their time. They in turn provide respite services either in the community or in the home. That means Cindy and I could leave the house together, just the two of us, and do that one thing couples do. What’s it called again? Let me think for a moment … It’s on the tip of my tongue …
Yeah, a date! It’s been awhile since we’ve been on one – 13 months, to be precise. Two Christmases ago I bought Cindy tickets to a Trampled By Turtles concert, fully expecting that she and one of her friends would go and I’d stay home and watch Nolan. We ended up going together only because one of Nolan’s former special education teachers told us she and her daughter would hang out with him.
Cindy and I also could spend some quality time together at home if someone was keeping an eye on Nolan. There are quite a few projects around the house that need to get done. Some of them require two people, including someone who knows what the hell they’re doing with power tools – in this case, Cindy. I work from home, and there are a couple times a year when Nolan is off from school and I really could use someone to watch him for a few hours so I can accomplish something without having to be a waiter/custodian/sparring partner for the boy and ultimately staying up until 4 a.m., or later. I remember twice pulling double shifts at one of my former newspaper jobs and staying awake something like 30 to 35 straight hours. I also remember that was almost 25 years ago.
I really want to believe there is a competent caregiver out there for Nolan. And then, I remember her. (The story you are about to read is true. The name won’t be changed or used to protect the incompetent).
A young lady who worked for one of Nolan’s former therapy providers was recommended to us for respite about four years ago. She came to our house, met Nolan, and seemed to click with him. We arranged a time for her to come over and watch him on a day I had to work. I remember her telling me about her hometown, one of her past Halloween costumes, and an ex-boyfriend who still was very much in her life even though she had a new boyfriend. I also remember being interrupted every five minutes once I sat down to work:
Her: Nolan is thirsty. Me: There’s juice in the fridge.
Her: Nolan is hungry. Me: There’s food in the fri … Let me get it.
Her: Nolan has to go to the bathroom. Me (turning a noticeable shade of red): Why don’t I take him?
Her last words before she left: I hope you finished your work.
I hadn’t even finished a quarter of it.
Seeing that Cindy and I believed in second and third chances – or perhaps the fact we were idiots or just plain desperate – we actually had her back a couple more times. Once she interrupted us multiple times as we attempted to tackle a home project. Another time I attempted to get some work done, only to have her come upstairs and inform me that Nolan had just urinated and defecated in his pants even though she had tried really hard to get him to come upstairs to use the bathroom. Needless to say, that was the last straw.
(Regardless of what you think of President Trump, I’d bet there are at least a few of you who’ve really wanted to tell someone “you’re fired,” a la “The Apprentice.” Alas, I settled for a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” response the last time she emailed me about watching Nolan).
Look, I know there are a lot of qualified, caring individuals out there for every person who shouldn’t be in the same zip code as a special-needs child. Prove to Cindy and I that you know what you’re doing and that you genuinely care about our son, and we’ll welcome you into our home. I really want to find a person – or better yet, people – I can trust. We love Nolan dearly, but sometimes we really could use a breather.
In the meantime, I will do whatever I can to take of my son – same as always.