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  • Kirk

Sometimes, the pain isn't always visible

Do you see these two guys? They look all right, don’t they? Well, Nolan looks pretty sharp. I’ve long since settled for the comfortable, slightly rumpled look.

Last Monday was picture day at the high school Nolan will begin attending this academic year, and Cindy picked out a pretty cool shirt for him to wear. I’m decked out in a t-shirt from my favorite restaurant and even kind of smiling. Or maybe that’s a grimace because my left hamstring and both knees have been taking turns making me miserable. With few exceptions, I’ve been out the door on my morning run before 6 a.m. Monday through Friday. I know I should mix in a day of rest here and there, but running is the morning coffee I like before I consume the morning coffee I love. I sweat out the calories, then replenish them with a large French Vanilla iced coffee – extra cream and sugar, please. I’m becoming our local Dunkin’s version of Norm Peterson, only without the witty one-liners for the employees working the drive-through window.

Late August is typically the time of year for me when beverages and food taste a little better, and sucking in the humid, late-summer air while I’m pounding the pavement is a little less oppressive. Back to school time is nearly upon us. Nolan and I have spent nearly every waking hour together the last five months. It goes without saying we love each other, but this is the time of year he and I need to go our separate ways for eight hours a day. A normal school day routine is crucial for a young man who has Autism and is nonverbal. Early September should be the time we both return to a sense of normalcy.

Ah, but this is 2020, the year of the coronavirus pandemic, and the gift that keeps on giving. And that gift is a never-ending line of dumpsters filled with burning shit that roll down a steep hill at 100 miles per hour.

Cindy and I received an email last Monday from the school district’s director of pupil services informing parents that, just as their neurotypical counterparts, students with special education needs will be receiving their education remotely for the first 30 days of the school year. Based on past emails we’d received from the school district, we were under the impression there was at least a chance some of the students with disabilities would receive face-to-face learning. I guess not.

So son, welcome to your freshman year of high school. Meet the new teacher, same as the old teacher. Right now, it appears dad is resuming the role he assumed this past spring for – I’m starting to chuckle and roll my eyes – 30 days. I wish the powers that be would have just come right out and said, “We have no freaking clue when we’ll swing open our doors and welcome your kids. Maybe October 1st. Maybe November 4th. Maybe January. Hell, it might be next September. Your guess is as good as ours.”

This obviously is not the way I wanted Nolan to begin the final leg of his time in the public school system. He never got to visit the high school he’ll be attending and see the special education classrooms, his planned tour that was scheduled for this past spring wiped out when the governor closed the schools for the remainder of the academic year. We’ve been receiving emails from the high school principal explaining what a typical day will look like, but I don’t know how much, if any, of it pertains to Nolan. One of the special education teachers emailed Nolan an invitation to an English class three weeks ago, but that’s the only contact she’s made with us. We’re eight days from the start of the school year, and I have no idea what it will entail – only that I’m still the one taking the lead with Nolan’s education.

Look, I know there are millions of parents who are in the same situation, and there are countless more who are facing even more challenging circumstances and could tear out their hair and become follicly challenged like me by Halloween – if they don’t already. Being a parent means you’re responsible for your child’s well being the second the doctor cuts the umbilical cord.

God knows I tried to make homeschooling as bearable as possible this past spring for Nolan – maybe even teach him something – and I failed at a time when he really needed a strong finish to his last year in middle school. I don’t have a Master’s Degree in special education, as most, if not all of his teachers have, and I can’t do what they can do. I didn’t always agree with them, and I didn’t like a couple of them, but for the most part they did a great job working with Nolan. Yeah, he gave them a rough time, but he’s made a lot of progress over the years. There is no way I consider the teachers and paraprofessionals who have worked, and who will work, with Nolan to be babysitters who give dad a few hours of solitude. They’ve all played, and will play, a crucial role in my son’s future. I respect the job they do.

Speaking of jobs, I have one, too. It’s a job I really, really, really enjoy. And I’m not just saying that because some of the folks who are employed by the municipality with which I have a contract that was just extended until the end of 2022 occasionally read this blog. OK, maybe I’m sucking up a little. But did I mention I enjoy my job?

I transcribe city government meetings, and I get to do so from the comfort of home. The 2021 budget process has begun, and it’s now the busiest time of the year for me. Meetings that involves money can, and do, get lengthy. My deadlines aren’t as strict as the ones I dealt with during my days as a sportswriter – I was typically given 30 minutes or less to pump out game stories from local high school contests, input my boxscore, and sometimes take game reports from area schools if everyone else in the sports department was on the phone – but I am expected to submit the meetings I transcribe in a timely manner.

Doing my job has just gotten much more difficult. I’ll have to try to accomplish something in between Nolan’s seemingly never-ending trips to the refrigerator because he’s a teenage boy who’s always hungry, his toileting accidents that have increased in frequency, and his meltdowns that come out of nowhere. I already know there will be times when I should be helping him with schoolwork, but I’ll need to leave him alone while I try to work. There will be times Cindy will have to help Nolan with that schoolwork after she’s worked all day while I try to finish what I need to before 3 a.m. I’m already wondering how much sleep a 49-year-old really needs to function.

The pain this pandemic has caused can be seen everywhere. Some injuries aren’t visible.

When you look at the picture with this post, you can’t see how raw Nolan’s hands are from biting them. You don’t see the restlessness he feels because the structure he knew – school and services outside the home – have been nonexistent for far too long. You don’t see the circles under my eyes that have gotten a little darker over the last few months. You don’t see what feels like a heavyweight boxer pounding my gut because I’m worried about doing what I need to do to help provide for my family, but not giving my son what he needs.

Nolan and I look good in the picture. But appearances are deceiving.

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