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  • Kirk

When he's not right, neither am I

I love my son, Nolan, more than I ever could express. And I always try to make sure he’s comfortable and content every morning before I walk with him out the front door and watch him board the school bus.

Nolan is my sole focus either from the time I wake him up around 6:15 a.m., or if he’s been awake since the ass-crack of dawn, until he departs around 7:10 for the high school he attends. We have a pretty nice routine down. I know he wants soup for breakfast even before he tells me on his iPad. I tell him after he’s finished eating that it’s time for a bath. I help him bathe. He puts on deodorant and his pants, then brushes his teeth and puts on his shirt. Cindy and I help him with his socks and shoes a few minutes before the bus arrives, and then he’s on his way. Like a Swiss bleeping watch, as Dude Lebowski would say.

There was nothing unusual about the morning routine last Wednesday. Nolan did everything without any bellyaching, and we sent him on his way. I went running, showered, ate breakfast, and took Cindy some coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. As I pulled into the driveway at our house, I noticed Nolan’s teacher had sent me a text telling me that he had a blister on his right pinky toe. He’d removed his socks and shoes – probably not because his toe was bugging him, she said, but simply because he likes to be barefoot – when someone noticed the blister. She also sent a picture of Nolan’s right pinky toe, which indeed had a blister that was as noticeable as the zit that was front and center on my nose on my school picture taken my freshman year of high school.

I winced when I looked at the picture, and then the questions began.

How did I miss that this morning?

Is Nolan going to be OK until I pick him up this afternoon?

Is it time to buy him new shoes?

Do we have ointment to put on the blister? Will he let us put ointment on it?


If the blister was bothering Nolan, it didn’t show because the paraprofessional who works with him in the afternoon told me when I picked him up that he’d had a good day at school. Still, I asked her if she’s noticed him limping or if he seemed uncomfortable. She assured me that she hadn’t. But as I started to drive away, I saw the paraprofessional who works with Nolan in the morning standing by the door. I stopped the car, beckoned her to come outside, and proceeded to ask her if she’d noticed if Nolan had been uncomfortable. She also assured me that she hadn’t.

Cindy was able to apply ointment to the blister Wednesday night, and I put some Vaseline on it Thursday morning. Nolan was happy until about 10 minutes before the bus arrived, at which point he became aggressive and started crying. It took both Cindy and I to get Nolan on the bus. I sent his teacher a text to tell her what had happened. She responded and told me he’d had a very large No. 2 when he arrived at school. I hoped that whatever discomfort he’d been feeling was over for the day.

But it wasn’t. Nolan’s teacher sent me a text while I was running to ask me if he had another pair of shoes such as Crocs because she’d noticed blood on his sock after he’d removed it. I showered as quickly as I could and dropped off his Crocs and a clean pair of socks with his morning paraprofessional, but I’d guess there was at least a half-hour gap between the time she sent me the text and I finally got to school. I think I peppered the paraprofessional with about 10 questions in 10 seconds (“Is Nolan OK? Has he calmed down? Are you SURE he’s OK?”), including one last inquiry about his welfare as her cell phone was ringing and she was walking back toward the building. Yes, she assured me, Nolan was just fine. It still didn’t put my mind at ease even though I knew she wouldn’t hesitate to tell me if he wasn’t.

Good parents worry about their children from the moment their son or daughter enters this world until they take their last breath. The concern Cindy and I feel for Nolan is infinitely higher because he has Autism and is nonverbal. He’s become more adept at utilizing his iPad to communicate, but he can’t say, “Yo, pops – I’m not feeling quite right.” So Cindy and I have learned to be much more vigilant when he’s noticeably off. The DayQuil comes out of the bathroom closet at the first sound of sniffles or a cough. If Nolan is cranky and/or sad and hitting his head with his hand, we know it’s likely time for a dose of ibuprofen.

Still, we do occasionally miss things as hard as we try not to. And when Nolan hurts – or if I have an inkling that he’s even slightly uncomfortable – I hurt, too.

I still think about the time he was in kindergarten and had a bad headache, yet I didn’t bring him home even though his special education teacher at the time suggested it might be a good idea to do so. We’ve tried to err on the side of caution regarding sick days since that time. We’ve also tried to let his teachers and paraprofessionals know over the years that something such as the bruise by his eye or the scratch on his cheek is likely due to self-injurious behaviors so that no one draws the wrong conclusion based on what they see.

We’re still in the “getting to know you” phase with the special education staff at the high school Nolan attends, but I think they know that we love him and try to do everything we can to ensure he’s in a good place when he walks into the classroom every morning. They’ve done an excellent job of taking the time to get to know him, which I think is a big reason why he’s done so well. They recognize when something is wrong, and they’re great about communicating with us. Cindy and I are extremely grateful Nolan’s teacher cared enough to tell us about his blister.

No parent can catch everything that might be wrong with his or her child. But as silly as it sounds, I still feel like I messed up because I didn’t notice anything was wrong. I wonder if perhaps we should have bought him new shoes after the first of the year because the kid seems to grow an inch every two weeks. I wonder if I should start taking a few extra seconds every morning to give him the once-over after he gets out of the tub.

I just want Nolan to be happy and successful. It bothers me when anything hinders that from happening.

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