Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fall to Winter

It was a last chance yesterday, to explore the outdoors before winter's frozen breath left whiteness upon what was brown grasses and tree limbs before. We took a sunny afternoon, fresh with breezes and sharp smells of autumn, and turned it into both a shakedown for the upcoming frigid season and a freebie family day.

One of the things I love most about being a writer in Alaska is the sheer volume of opportunity presented to us. An invitation from the Eagle River Nature Center to visit with naturalists and peruse the 10 miles of trail nestled within Chugach State Park seemed the perfect way to spend a Friday afternoon and Yukon was able to join us, so we set off, mittens and hats packed, for the 40 minute drive northeast.

While the rest of the greater Anchorage area was awash in a dusty windstorm sweeping down from the north, the Center seemed immune to the biting breezes and therefore we were spared a bitter windchill. Bear enjoyed looking at the interpretive displays while I chatted with staff and thoroughly entertained the winter caretaking couple from Florida with his stories of adventure.

A short hike to a beaver pond afforded gorgeous views of the lodge, surrounding lake and incredible mountains, and made us once again darn glad we live where we do.

This grandeur was, of course, noticably affected by our son's whining about cold feet, 'frozen' hands (we are entering a delightful phase of natural consequences; he refused to wear his mittens) and a hungry stomach. After taking a few final steps down the original Iditarod trail that leads some 26 miles across Crow Pass towards Girdwood, we turned back to snack on our pretzels and hot russian tea (a favorite drink from my youth made with instant iced tea, Tang, lemonade, and cinnamon, allspice, and cloves).

Not too bad for an inagural hike during the season of change. Bear actually fell asleep in the car on the way home, something that doesn't happen too often anymore. We consider this a successful trip in that regard.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dracula's Birthday Party

We are so fortunate to have delivered a child near a holiday. The benefits are endless; candy, costumes, endless supply of game ideas, funky decorations. Halloween, I am sure, is the perfect season to apply the birthday party concept seasoned with a dash of extra fall fun.

Bear turned five last week and hosted his Halloween/Pumpkin/Birthday party on Saturday. I am a traditionalist; I believe in birthday parties that require participation and imagination on everyone's part, and this year was no exception. With a little help from Yukon, the day was a success.

Dracula is Bear's costume of choice this year, so far too early in the day he was decked out in his brother's cape and wearing his "scary teeth" (that glow in the dark, too), waiting for his guests to arrive. Not unlike his mother, he worried and fretted as the clock drew closer to party time, hoping that no one forgot, or got sick (a more likely issue this year), or just didn't want to come.

Fortunately none of these happened, and seven preschoolers had a blast playing 'Pass the Pumpkin', 'Pin the Nose on the Jack-O-Lantern', and listening to Yukon read a story about a scarecrow. A Ghost-Robot cake (all I had was black licorice to decorate that ghost, so it looked kind of mechanical, hence the name), some great goodies for all, and the day ended successfully.

Our friends had gone to Hawaii the week before and brought Bear a few gifts, too. As you can see he has a great future in the Islands. I can't get the shirt or necklace off the child.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den: My Head Makes My Leg Hurt

All this flu and coughing, sneezing, and general misery, plus a very funny email from one of my oldest friends reminds me that these children with Asperger Sydrome treat ills and spills a bit different from the rest of us.

My friend D., who never any sort of complainer about illness or injury has, like me, a son whose AS prevents him from adequately describing injury or sickness.

Here is how a conversation might go with a child with AS and being sick:

Mom: "Gee, you don't look good (first mistake). Are you sick?"

Child: "Yeah." (Cough, hack, clutch chest, grab kneecap)

Mom: "Where do you feel sick?"

Child: "I don't know."

Mom: "You are sniffling, is it your nose? Your throat? Your cough?"

Child: "Yeah. And my leg hurts." HUH?!

No fever, nothing beyond a mild case of the sniffles, and one would think TB had come to town. Unable to describe his symptoms to anyone, much less a doctor who was not familiar with Asperger's, our sick days were more out of caution than necessity. I learned pretty quickly how to rule out some illnesses while ruling in others, relying on my mother-instincts rather than his roundabout descriptions of how he felt. The pediatrician's nurse and I became fast friends, as with the pharmacist at Costco.

Apparently, most of the boys in Wolf's unit have this issue as well. Thank goodness for their RN, E., who seems to have an uncanny knack for discerning vague symptoms, assigning a name, and applying the appropriate remedy. Perhaps it is his gender; a male nurse, he sees things very clinically and the guys respect his knowledge, especially when he throws out a scientific name. Rhinitis sounds much better than just a cold. Wolf eats it up.

Wolf did have a nasty cold last week and seems to be well on the road to recovery. We have been impressed with his fortitude to get over the bug and now he's back to his usual schedule.

If only I could get his little brother to stop whining for popcicles, now, we'd be all set.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's Coming....I'm Sure

I'm sure snow is not far off...Yukon has set himself upon finding and installing the Christmas lights.

We woke up this morning to find little scatterings of sleet on the deck and cars and needed gloves and warm coats to get to church. A raw wind was blowing from the southeast and we could see the snow clouds dropping lower and lower over the Chugach foothills.

Wanting to get out for a little exercise and fresh air to keep further sickness at bay (so far only Bear has succumbed to H1N1), we went hiking at nearby Baxter Bog with our trusty canine. One of our favorite neighborhood parks, Baxter Bog makes us seem like we are in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness; its location is in a lovely valley that keeps all manner of traffic noise silent, and the mountains rise up over the tops of the birch trees, a truly lovely location. We can fool ourselves into thinking we are much further out than we really are and we love that.

Anyway, back to the Christmas lights. In Alaska, as with much of the snowier areas of the U.S., ice build-up on the houses and deck railings can severely curtail any exterior lighting projects closer to the holiday season, so we do it before the snow falls. Of course, he may get only as far as untangling the knot that mysteriously appears every year.

We'll see how far he gets.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Baby, We'll Miss You...

This is it. Chapter 18, page 281 of the Better Homes and Gardens Baby Book, published in 1965: "At five years of age, it is generally considered appropriate to mark the end of the baby period."

This book and I have been friends for almost 16 years. Dug out of the innards of a thrift store's bookshelves, the retro-parenting manual has led me out of the depths of parenting despair more than once, and not just by its sage advice.

As a twenty-something, newly pregnant wife struggling to make a traditional family out of a disjointed marriage, this book provided refuge to a quieter mode of life that I could, however delusional, imagine myself within. A favorite of over 2,500,000 mothers wouldn't steer me wrong, would it? Especially during the June Cleaver era.

Nearly ten years later, pregnant again with a sense of joyous anticipation I had not felt the first time, the Baby Book and I became reacquainted, this time to laugh at the sketches of cloth diapers, bath tables, and 1960's maternity wear.

While much (okay, most) of the child-rearing practices would be considered archaic today, I still kept my copy, even passing it along to others so that they, too, could enjoy its delightful and amusing, prose, especially over a glass of merlot.

But I don't have any use for it anymore, because I don't have a baby. I have a little boy and a big boy and a house filled with Legos and toy cars and lightsabers. No more baby blankets, footed jammies, or sippy cups. We've gotten rid of the board books, outlet covers, and even the toddler car seat.

But I won't give away my Baby Book. Our relationship is too close and too intimate to allow somebody else to caress its worn cover and turn the now musty-smelling pages. I'd feel disloyal, as if I were throwing away a partner.

I wonder if the other 2,499,000 other mothers felt the same way?

Happy Birthday, little, er, big Bear.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day Three of Fever Relievers

Bear continues to heat things up around here with the telltale fever symptom of a dreaded flu. He has graduated from hanging out in his bed to lounging on the living room couch, resting his aching head upon the 'sick pillow'. So named by Wolf, this brightly adorned pillowcase was made by an elderly neighbor in Port Angeles many years ago and has comforted sick kids many times. Bear feels much better knowing his big brother and he both benefitted from the pillow's ministrations.

So far Yukon and I are holding our own healthwise, but during our early morning call with Wolf we discovered he, too, was sick. Fortunately though, CHYC has the Swine Flu swab test kit and so they promptly tested him (negative so far, thank goodness).

With two kids down, no matter how far apart geographically they might be, Mom's caregiver radar goes up. We're checking in, soothing, and generally trying to make everybody feel better.

Bear's big worry is that he will miss his birthday parties; one at preschool on Friday and the big bash here on Saturday. It is, in fact, dominating his every thought and we are hard pressed to assure him that the party will go on, even if it is later.

Wolf, on the other hand, seemed worried that he would be placed on an all-liquid diet that would make him lose weight. I assured this child as well, reminding that he only got that diet if he was puking.

Carrying on!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oh, Dear

I should have known something was wrong when the child wouldn't eat his Go-Gurt. The slimy yogurt that comes in a plastic sleeve for the pleasure of slurping its gooey goodness did little to entice Bear for breakfast today. I chalked it up to being Monday. I did not for a minute think he was sick; that is, until I picked him up from preschool.

Pallid beyond belief, with dark circles under his eyes, I could not believe the ghost-faced little boy I was collecting was the same I had dropped off a mere two hours prior. "My forehead hurts, Mommy" was all he said when I asked if he felt okay. Uh-oh.

Double uh-oh when he followed that up with "I think I need a nap". Yes, that is certainly cause for alarm. Bear is now curled up in his bed, stuffed animals wedged all around him, shaking and sleeping at the same time. A dose of ibuprofin seemed to curb the initial fever, but only time will tell if we are dealing with the dreaded scourge of Swine Flu or some other virus. Poor little guy, and his birthday is Friday.

Given that Anchorage kids seem to come down with any number of viruses during the fall/winter months due to the fact that every window is kept tightly closed and people proximity is close, it is no wonder. We know two families who have been slammed hard by the H1N1 in the past week, and I am not looking for any reason to join them.

I'll be disinfecting the house, car, and dog now, should anyone need me.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why We Write About Alaska

I've spent the weekend in and out of a fabulous travel and outdoor adventure expo in downtown Anchorage, so bear with me while I wax sentimental.

Yukon, Bear and I had a wonderful time meeting and greeting most of the travel vendors I have communicated with via email or phone this past summer. It was a bonanza of schmoozing for the coming year and making some new contacts for family-friendly Alaskan travel.

It is always amazing the depth and breadth of activities in Alaska; the hard part is weeding out the duds from the stars, which is another reason AKontheGO began. So enjoy my little soapbox post...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Family Fun at Mt. Hood; Part Two

Here are more pictures of our family fun weekend at Mt. Hood, our home away from home. Bear clearly had some good times frolicking among the trees and helping his Grandpa in the wood pile. Nice to have a child who truly does believe in the work = play scenario our cabin affords.

A highlight was embarking on a whole-family hike along the Ramona Falls trail, around 3 miles round trip. Love the photo of my sister, brother-in-law, and little nephew. It was nice to be able to spend some quality time with everyone and much laughter was available...

Yukon and I have decided Columbus Day makes a perfect time to visit; airfares are down, airports are quiet, and school is back in session. This may be a bit more difficult next year as Bear enters Kindergarten, but we'll adapt. After all, we are of the travel-aids-learning cadre.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den: Teenage Wasteland Revisited

Raise your hand if you want to be a teenager again.

You remember those years; stressing about what to wear to school but maybe wearing the wrong thing anyway, lamenting bad hair days, zits, glasses, and lack of a boyfriend or girlfriend on football game days. Bodies were changing fast, or not fast enough, parents were wierd, or not wierd enough, and our lives were opening up and spitting out mixed signals that spelled confusion at best and utter chaos at worst.

You couldn't pay me to go through that again. Try going through it with little self-control and few skills to navigate the whole process that seemed to last simply forever.

It's a fascinating journey back to the teen years via Wolf, and watching his clumsy attempts at maturity are painful reminders of teen turmoil. It has been quite difficult to explain the value of being yourself when both Yukon and I remember how much teens want to be like everyone else. But our son will never be "like everyone else", so we're trying to find a safe zone that promotes maturity without sacrificing safety. As one can imagine, however, this creates some angst, so the virtue of patience has extolled itself upon us. With a few thousand miles separating Dad and Mom from the child in question, Therapist B. becomes our ally, smoothing hurt feelings and offering explanations about things misunderstood.

It was much, much easier to manage Wolf and his behaviors when he was little; I only needed to redirect, reassign, or remove, and bingo, behavior ended. Much harder with a teenager. Too smart to be redirected and too big to remove, AS teens require some sharp eyes and quick thinking on the part of parents, teachers, and caregivers, and only sometimes do we catch a behavior. The techniques of "thought switching" and utilizing coping skills becomes even more critical for teens struggling to fit in with the desperation of a drowning man clinging to a life ring, and Wolf only gets it about a quarter of the time.

The good news is that by the time Bear reaches this stage, I think we'll be well-versed in Teenage Discussion Forums. No escape, little brother. We're all over this teen thing.

A fact Wolf was rather proud to hear this morning.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Weekend at the Cabin

We ditched the rainy, windy weather of Anchoage on Friday morning and, despite threats from the National Weather Service of hurricane-strength winds blowing from the South, managed to arrive in Seattle, then Portland, in record time.

What began as an easy, off-season method of visiting family during the off-season last September is now morphing into an annual trip South. With both sides of the family located in either Portland or Seattle, and the family cabin near the lovely Mt. Hood, it makes the most sense to fly into Portland, spend a few days at The Cabin (as it is known), and then go back to Lake Oswego for the remaining time.

Bear enjoys his time with Grandpa, chopping wood with a hatchet, visiting the Zig Zag river that splashes and pours alongside the lower reaches of The Cabin's property line, and wearing his Adventure Hat. The Adventure Hat is an old hiking hat left by one visitor or another, and Bear has acquired it as his key to all things adventurous. He wears it everywhere and counts on its power to help him help his grandpa.

Yukon and I just took it easy, if you can call chainsawing downed trees from last winter's storm and hauling the remains down the driveway relaxing.

At least the beer was cold and the food good. And Grandpa and his oldest daugher had some chainsawing, tree-dropping, wood-hauling kind of fun. Just like once upon a time...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mama, Do You Love Me?

Most Alaskans are familiar with Barbara M. Joosse's popular book that talks about the unconditional love of a mother for her child. I bought a copy of 'Mama, Do You Love Me' when Wolf was about four, subliminally knowing even then that we were in for a long parenting journey. Even more so now, as that four-year-old grows into a young man of sixteen. It was a hard family therapy session this morning, made even harder by Wolf's difficulties with honesty and his own self-esteem. Perhaps other parents of children with AS will be able to relate to some exerpts from Joosse's book today...

"Mama, do you love me?
Yes I do, Dear One.
How much?"

As much as it takes. As much time, effort, and tears to help you help yourself on a journey I am not sure most adults would be willing to embark.

"...How long?
I'll love you until the
umiak flies into the darkness,
till the stars turn
to fish in the sky,
and the puffin howls at the moon."

In other words, forever. Some things might happen; some crazy, unexpected and painful things, but I will be there. Still.

"Mama, what if I carried our eggs-
our ptarmigan eggs!-
and I tried to be careful,
and I tried to walk slowly,
but I fell
and the eggs broke?
Then I would be sorry.
But still,
I would love you."

Even when you tried to cook dinner by yourself and burned the pan black; even when you gave me recycled toys of your own for my birthday, even when you lost your friend's bicycle helmet trying to do the right thing...

"...What if I threw
water at our lamp?
Then, Dear One,
I would be very angry.
But still,
I would love you."

I was angry when you removed the stones from my grandmother's jewlery. I was even more angry when you lost them. But I still loved you, didn't I? You are more precious than those precious stones.

"What if I ran away?
Then I would be worried.
What if I stayed away and sang with the wolves
and slept in a cave?
Then, Dear One, I would be very sad.
But still, I would love you."

Even if, Wolf, you take a spot in that cave of darkness and pretend you belong there, even if we both know you do not, I will always welcome you back.

"What if I turned
into a musk-ox?
Then I would be surprised.
What if I turned into a walrus?
Then I would be surprised
and a little scared."

I understand your struggle to find your identity as You. I understand even more your desire to fit in among your peers. But you'll have to find your own space, where you are comfortable in your own skin, not that of someone else.

"What if I turned
into a polar bear,
and I was the meanest bear you ever saw
and I had sharp, shiny teeth,
and I chased you into your tent
and you cried?"

"Then I would be very surprised
and very scared.
But still,
inside the bear,
you would be you,
and I would love you."

Even confronting my worst wild animal fear would not stop this mother from coming out of her tent if it meant seeing you beyond those sharp, shiny teeth...

"I will love you,
forever and for always,
because you are
my Dear One."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den

I'm sitting here in my office, watching the sun finally creep its way over the Chugach mountain range (yes, it is that time of year when the sun takes a bit longer to appear), and waiting for the phone to ring.

Every month (mostly), the staff of CHYC and I engage in what's called a "Care Coordination Review", which loosely translated means a roundtable discussion of all aspects of Wolf's care and feeding. When/if I am at the school during these discussions, I attend them in person. If not, I attend them via conference call. Wolf also is required to attend.

As a former assisted living administrator, I am no stranger to care conferences. We were required to update each resident every 90 days, and meet with the families and others involved in the care, and talk about what is or is not working. They were, from an admin perspective, a necessary evil; time consuming and tedious, but important to the continuity of care. Now I am on the other side of the desk.

I understand now why families would refuse to rush through the treatment plan, why they would come in with a list of questions that needed clarification, because that now, is me.

If there was one aspect of CHYC that disappoints me, it is in this area. Given the nature of the distance that separates us from Wolf and the school, and given my nature of organization and information, it is difficult sometimes to obtain what I want to know. Why, for instance, did no one call me when Wolf was put on a new medication? How come he has not visited a dentist since his admission?

In fairness to the staff, I know that Wolf's needs are being met, and he is cared for, deeply, by the men and women who work there. And I do understand that there are many kids whose parents do not wish to be informed of the same information I do.

I think on some level, however, I feel as if Wolf does not "belong" to us anymore. He is their child, under their care, and they make the decisions for his day-to-day wellness. Which makes sense, but it is difficult to release, for I am his mother.

And mothers do not let go so easily...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Busy Week

Whew, for having nothing on my calendar the days seemed to pass at record pace. Here it is October already.

We managed to have some pretty nice weather most of last week; enough to make a family field trip to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. About 50 miles south of Anchorage, and just at the end of Turnagain Arm, the Center is a pretty nice place to view the vast majority of Alaskan animals in their natural habitats.

Most of the animals that come to AWCC have been rescued, with the exception of the Wood Bison herd that is part of a nation-wide revitalization project. That herd is the only viable one known in the U.S. and has grown exponentially in the past few years. Other animals we saw on our little trek through the area were brown bears, black bears, elk (what a nice treat for we NW natives), deer, porcupines, and a band of particularly interesting moose, who enjoyed meeting us up close and personal.

Our Bear had a ball seeing the animals he has been taught to avoid (i.e. moose and bears) at his level. We even got to see feeding time of the bears, when they received a lovely moose road-kill carcass.

The center is open year round; each season presents its own interesting behavior of animals. It was lovely to hear elk bugle as they tried to round up the cows, view the porcupines making a nest for their upcoming winter's nap.

Still no snow, but by all accounts, the animals seem to be preparing for it, as are we. Winter can't be far behind...