Friday, January 29, 2010

New Floors!

I made Yukon swear that we refrain from saving all of our remodeling projects for the day we put the house on the market. We are NOT moving, but in the past our M.O. has been to decide on a relocation, select a realtor, put the sign up, and realize almost immediately how outdated our home truly is. Not this time.

Last winter it was a complete remodel of two bathrooms, for winter 2010 we move to floors. All floors upstairs, to be exact. No more gunky, old, blah-beige carpet that was probably installed in the 1980's. Nope, we are replacing the stained and tattered wall-to-wall with a lovely Hawthorne Hickory made by Swiftlock Plus and arriving in packs of 10 planks measuring 16.37 square feet. Want the bar code? I could tell you with relative ease due to the fact that the whole 900 square feet of Hickory is sitting right next to me in my office, the only room in the house without an abundance of displaced furniture. At least it smells good.

Yesterday our Handyman's Handyman (the stepfather of friends and one of the most gruffly compassionate men I have ever met) ripped up carpet in the living room, dining area and hallway with the help of a five-year-old who couldn't resist a little jig in the now echoing area.

Today Handyman is laying new subflooring over the almost frightening old; it's a wonder no one has ended up in the casement below. Oops. By next week the first phase should be done and we move to my office and the two bedrooms, where anything outdated, unworn or unused has little chance of surviving my Value Village triage.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Update From the Wolf Den: If, Then...

I have written before about my personal struggle with control. Control over Wolf with respect to his past, present, and future situations has been a way to secure, in my mind, anyway, his behavior and hopefully prevent any disasters. We all know that hasn't happened. But the mind is a crazy part of the body, and still I kept at it with a dilligence only those who have similar personalities, or children, could understand.

When Wolf moved down to CHYC, the burden of 24-7 supervision was suddenly and delightfully lifted from my body, mind, and soul with a sense of freedom I am sure compares only to the lifting of a thousand bricks from one's back. But a mother is not released from her child so easily, and after a full year had passed, Wolf's behaviors had evolved, and questions had risen about his diagnosis, appropriateness, and future, a new kind of thinking appeared.

I wrote about the "Triple Think Threat" last winter; my ability to create Plan A, B, and if need be, C, to be ready for just about anything (I'd be a wonder on a disaster planning team, fyi). Now, as Wolf is learning how to avert his own behavioral downfalls, I, too, am figuring out how to simply let some things be. Yes, just Be.

This involves confronting my worst fears and feelings about Wolf head-on and eyes wide-open with no plan, no contingency, no nothing. Learning to ask "What if?" with all the things that may come with it. And then simply letting it go.

Sometimes one must sit still in order to prepare to move forward.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I'll Have to Try That Again...

Huh, how about that? Shortly after I wrote about my son's apparent lack of ability to communicate with his parents, he calls. Go figure.

I must try this again another time....

Oh, and Wolf is fine. He is working with the Group (peers who all hold each other accountable and subsequently vote one another up a Level when the time comes) to possibly move up today to one.more.level.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hello, Wolf, Hello, Come in, Wolf...

Yes, having a child living out of state is in some ways like perpetual summer camp. You know, when moms always say 'be sure to write' and the kid says 'yeah, yeah' and then never does? Such is our life these days, although with greater consequences.

Usually when Wolf resists picking up the telephone to call us, it is because he is in trouble and does not want to tell us, as if telling us makes the incident all the more real. The mind of a teenager is interesting enough without the denial and lack of empathy of an Asperger's brain not accepting the reality of a situation. Yukon and I receive information second hand via Therapist B. who is fabulous at letting me know via email what is truly up. Or down, depending upon who tells the story.

I am sure when we talk on Wednesday morning the explanations will be interesting, to say the least.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Winter Hangs On, But Here Comes the Sun

I had to wear my sunglasses after 5 p.m. yesterday. Indeed noteworthy due to the fact that last week I wasn't. Nobody was. Finally, finally, Anchorage-ites can enjoy a few extra minutes of daylight, enough to turn even the most S.A.D-ly affected towards the West.

Even five minutes helps, although the encroachment of longer days is so subtle people aren't really sure it is happening. We're afraid to be too encouraged by the fact that most of the commute home is now in dusk rather than dark, or that kids are waiting for the school bus in a gray haze rather than a starry night.

We'll take it, though, since sunshine has the incredible ability to improve our moods and lighten our loads, no matter how heavy they may be. Even a near-zero degree day seems no match for the power of sunlight, as we found out today during Bear's weekly Nordic ski class. Bundled to our eyebrows at Kincaid park in southwest Anchorage, we all enjoyed a few hours of blissful skiing under bluebird skies.

Rosy-cheeked Bear skied so hard he finally collapsed in a heap at the bottom of the little hill upon which the kids practiced their "super slides" and "pizzas". It took a valiant Yukon to trundle him back up towards the park chalet, skis and all.

No, it's not quite Hawaii, but then, Hawaii doesn't have our view.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The AK Fam Takes Off

Every once in a while during an Alaskan winter, this mommy will start to lose her mind and begin fashioning delusions of grandeur about trips to Hawaii or Mexico or, at the very least, someplace where there is no snow and daylight until at least 5 o'clock. I want out. Now.

But then we end up taking a trip like the one we returned from yesterday, and I throw all those warm-weather notions into the ditch. It's been a tough winter, but Yukon and I and little Bear somehow managed over the course of three days at Sheep Mountain Lodge to remember why we live here and recall how a place where frozen eyelids and frost-nipped fingers can engage a passion for life unrivaled by anywhere else our family has managed to call 'home'.

A quick and scenic few hours from our front door, Sheep Mountain is a popular spot for summer tourists travelling the Glenn Highway on their compulsary tour of the state. In the winter, the Lodge is the secret treasure for Anchorage-ites looking for some uncrowded Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and/or relaxing. Few people, little traffic but for the occasional overland transport truck or the one school bus from nearby Glacier View School, and the quiet confidence of owners Zack and Anjanette Steer, an Iditarod mushing family whose unobtrusive yet gracious hospitality made us feel as if we were old friends from the moment we met.

Our log cabin hideway was perfect, the beer stayed cold, and our little son was able to play and play until his little paws were dragging the ground; which he did after a morning sledding with the Steer's youngest cub. We slept in, ate good food, and skied along premium ski trails affording views made even more spectacular by the stunning blue skies and near-zero temperatures.

Zack Steer was in the midst of last-minute training for his Iditarod team, choosing and changing and making final preparations for this race (beginning of March) and the Yukon Quest, which begins in a mere two weeks in Fairbanks. The blue tarp in front of the winterized actual Lodge building houses the stash of supplies and food for both races, and the Lodge interior has been transformed into a staging area and workshop for Zack and his dog handler, Jake. It was a fascinating look into just how much work is involved for a 1,000+ mile race across a frozen land, and we were humbled to see the whole family's efforts.

No TV, no radio, no internet or cell service. Just we, they, and the Alaskan wilderness. We welcomed the yips and yowls of nearby coyotes every evening as a final statement that all seems well in our world, just as it is.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Update From the Wolf Den: State of Alaska Showdown

For the past month, Yukon and I have been confronted with requests for information from the State of Alaska Department of Health and Human Services regarding our son. It seems that the State, benefactors of Wolf's Utah experience, are beginning to inquire as to the appropriateness of his treatment and progress (or lack thereof) in their review and subsequent "discharge planning".

While we are indeed eternally grateful to the State for their willingness to provide funds to care for children like ours if such cannot be provided in-house, we are not always thrilled with the line of questioning that appears periodically.

Up until this point I have been reluctant to bring the State of Alaska into my blog and brain, preferring instead to walk the yellow brick road in a state of implied ignorance until such time as my parental facts are required. I have a background in long term care and Medicaid through my time in Washington State assisted living; I know how long it takes for the wheels of anything state-related to grind forward, and I also know sometimes it is better to wait for them to come to me.

In this case the latter is proving more effective. Our son is a conundrum, an anomoly, an "interesting case" to those who push the paper around and call the shots. He also happens to be a living, breathing person with as much potential as any other teenager, and I, along with my Team (Yukon and Therapist B., among others) are not willing to make many concessions for the sake of the State. Sorry. As in, Over My Dead Body sorry.

I will expand on reasons for all of the above later; it is a volume of information that requires much explanation, but suffice it to say I am climbing a mountain made from paper and phone calls, and need extra-clingy crampons and an ice axe.

It is interesting to note that for my fifteen years of being on the "other side" of a residential facility, making daily decisions and concessions and judgements without knowing the inner workings of my residents, not really; I now find myself in that seat fighting for the future of my own loved one.

Full circle.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hawaii in Alaska

Well, sort of. Bear and I took a "winter time-out" the other day to investigate our city's greenhouse, where, in the company of birds who chirped and chattered the whole time, we immersed ourselves in something other than ice and snow.

At 75 degrees, the air was thick and the foliage lush as we wandered around the little concrete paths and watched koi swimming lazily in their ponds. I almost forgot where we were, it was so like the tropics.

I have friends who have packed up the kids, a lunch, and a blanket and spent an entire afternoon in the greenhouse, so sick of winter, they were. Not a bad idea, especially since this morning it seems darker than usual, and it is snowing. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kindergarten Conundrum

Open season has been declared for all five year old children within Anchorage School District boundaries. During next month or so Yukon and I must decide which Kindergarten our little smarty pants will attend. It's crazy, it's fun, but it's also another final step from my all-too-short tenure as a "stay at home mommy" towards the path of unknown accomplishments. What I will manage to do with my 6 hours per day is another blog post entirely...

Yukon and I hear gripes from other parents who are not satisfied with the quality of ASD schools, teachers, and administration. We are somewhat confused by this, even though our own experiences thus far have not exactly been overwhelmingly positive (although given the status of our oldest child, we cannot solely blame the school district). I attended public school only for K-2, after which I was enrolled in a private, Catholic school system where my brother and sister and I remained until after High School, so my public education experiences are rather limited.

When we lived our 18 months in South Carolina purgatory (sorry, my SC friends...) we had but one choice each for elementary, middle, and high school. One. No charters, no alternative programs except for the middle school of the arts that we would endorse save for their verbal lashing of Wolf every other day. Point is, there were few options for parents who wanted/needed options. I also must mention that South Carolina schools ranked near the bottom for educational quality and funding. My newspaper editor at the Summerville Journal Scene, a caustic sort of gal, used to say "We always thank God for Mississippi, because without them we'd be number 50 in everything...". And she was so right on.

Anchorage has at least five language immersion programs, numerous charter and alternative schools, and a plethora of homeschool options. It is dizzying to read through it all, and yet this is what we must do to determine where our child will attend Kindergarten (a year he doesn't even have to attend, btw). And, oh, yes, there's the neighborhood school.

Our neighborhood school is actually fine. Better than, fine, really. With a passing grade on its "Report Card", meaning it met the silly No Child Left Behind criteria, Scenic Park is close by, diverse, and quite active with respect to parent involvement. They also teach Chinese to all the students twice a week. Hmmm.

Yukon and I have narrowed down our choices to two: German Immersion program at Rilke Schule, a charter school we must lottery into and probably will succeed; or Scenic Park neighborhood school, where our Bear's friends will be neighborhood children and we would be active participants in making our 'hood a better place. We can also ride our bikes there Fall/Spring.

Oh, the choices.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I Am a Here-and-There Mother

I don't like leaving. But I don't like staying, either. This is the paradoxical world in which I, the mother of two children who happen to be 2,220 miles apart, must live for the time being. When I am with one I pine for the other; when I am without I want to be with. I want it both ways.

At least, that is what my heart screams with astonishing clarity every time I visit Wolf. My brain, with its penchant for logic knows better. It knows the right situation for the right child and when, and why, and how. My brain explains logistics and daily schedules, handy when I am looking to deny my emotional heart a minute of sorrow for the child who is not within my physical reach.

This has not always been the case, and I am still considering the reason. Perhaps it was due to our co-parent trip, leaving a young and still somewhat confused Bear at home with friends. Maybe it was because our visit with Wolf was so productive I hated to end it with our departure for another three months. Maybe it simply due to the fact that my once little son now sports the appearance of a young adult, with leg hair and muscles and the telltale slouch of an adolescent, and I was able, with reasonable humor, to say all the things I had been storing up for eight months since my last visit. "Sit up straight, quit burping in public, don't slurp your soda", all the stuff I am entitled to verbalize as mother to a teenager.

Bear didn't help much, either, lying in bed the evening we left, crying because he wanted to go with us, and patting my face with small hands as if he was trying to imprint my structure in his mind. Taking Bear along would have been fraught with difficulty; we would have missed valuable family therapy time and at five, he would have been very bored after just a short time of roaming the school's halls, limited as they are.

At the airport I people-watched while waiting to board my flight home. A grandmother, limping along the terminal with a walker, was saying goodbye to her two school-aged grandchildren. Fast farewells turned into tearful, desperate hugs at the gate, and I stood next to them, knowing how they felt. After the kids had disappeared down the ramp, their grandmother turned to me. "It's so hard to let them go," she said, wiping tears from her eyes with a wadded up tissue. "Do you have children?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied. "Here, and there."

Friday, January 8, 2010

Update From the Wolf Den: We Dare You

I'm sitting in Terminal B of the Salt Lake City airport, waiting for my flight in a few hours and hoping to God my son will go to bed tonight with a different set of goals in his mind.

With Yukon's departure early this morning, today was a mother-son day to reiterate the goals and objectives for Wolf's plan for hopeful success, eventually, we hope, leading him to make the small steps necessary to become a productive and respectful adult.

The gist of this plan centers around a reward system for three categories of treatment Wolf has up to this point resisted; nothing fancy, nothing big, but nonetheless inspiring to a kid who enjoys "stuff'. As much as the "stuff" drives us all nuts, we were willing to sacrifice for the sake of our teenager.

The resulting system has been dubbed "I Dare You to Do Better", coined from a phrase uttered by the impressive and imposing Captain Pike in the new Star Trek movie (ah ha, Wolf's attention is captivated already!). Wolf is nothing if not inspired by movie quotes, so we took advantage of this and ran with the concept, knowing a smiliarity to Captain Kirk (to whom the phrase was uttered) might just be the ticket to ride for Wolf.

The fun starts tomorrow, bright and early.

Make it happen, kid. I triple-dog-dare you.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Update From the Wolf Den: "Bittersweet 16"

16, a number most teenagers anticipate, for at this age one can drive a car, get a job, and enter a hotel swimming pool unaccompanied. For Wolf, turning 16 means the clock is ticking, and time is no longer cheap.

Our day together began with tough questions posed by Therapist B. who systematically went through some of Wolf's most challenging behaviors. Since the three of us (family members) have not been in one room for any therapy in years, the opportunity to engage Wolf in some sense of personal responsibility with us physically in his space was key. Therapist B. is constructing a new motivation plan for Wolf to see if smaller, more immediate goals can be met with the ultimate goal of bigger ones later. As we all know, sometimes the small steps can get one further than a giant leap that ends off a cliff. B. is optimistic and already is seeing some hopeful signs in his daily interactions with Wolf.

Yukon and I brought not one, but two meals to our lanky lad today in keeping with the family tradition of choosing birthday grub. Sonic burgers for lunch and ribs for dinner while watching the new Star Trek movie made Wolf one very happy boy, indeed. That and a few boxes of new Lego sets to go with the birthday carrot cake.

For me, though, the most satisfying part of Wolf's 16th birthday came in the form of a meeting with Discharge Planner. No, not for an impending discharge to home, but for the beginnings of a plan. Wolf will not be able to return to our home; we know this, he knows this, and we all have made our peace with it. That reality presents a bit of a problem because 1) we do not know when Wolf will be discharged, and 2) we did not have any sort of idea what might be available to accommodate his needs in Alaska.

We stated our case to M., who replied that she had already been working on a plan and had both the State of Alaska and the Medicaid health insurers placated for the time being. Amen. She further explained the option of a group home in Fairbanks that will continue to provide support for Wolf with the addition of vocational/educational programs. Even better, she said that once Wolf reaches 18 and is legally an adult, we can indeed apply for benefits in either Washington or Oregon (his preferred states of residence, if given the choice) and find programs and living options there.

Wolf is who he is, and the issues are what they are. We need to move forward, and forward and forward until we reach our success point. Then we do it again.

But today was a major beam in the often dim light.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Update From the Wolf Den

It is good to have Yukon here. The sheer delight on Wolf's face when he saw his dad made up for all the "bad stuff" we have been dealing with these past few weeks. A spontaneous, unabashed, joyful hug from our usually reserved teenager was, simply, the best.

Physically, Wolf has grown to at least 6' 1" or so, and I suppose every father of a teenager feels as Yukon when he looked up to his son and said "Oh, no."

We took a tour of the recently remodeled unit and were pleased to see Wolf taking some responsibility for his own space, shared with three other boys. Even his bed was made (I knew all that family history of military service would come in handy; that sucker was quarter-tight).

A long session with Therapist B. preceeded our meeting up with Wolf, for much is left to be accomplished, and we are all a bit stymied as to how to make it happen. We so appreciate B.'s willingness to sit for two hours and disseminate information, brainstorm, and frankly vent our frustration with a child who seems to be void of the motivation to change.

Today was the day to show our unification as a family, disjointed as we may be, who is absolutely committed to providing the best for a kid, whether he wants it or not.

Tomorrow it all begins. I can't think of a better way to kick off a 16th birthday.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Going to the Wolf Den

I'm stumbling around this morning, slurping cup after cup of coffee in a desperate hope for energy on this Monday back-to-school-and-work morning. So far it is 9 a.m. and I still feel like I just got up even though that time is long past.

My usual morning activities are a bit more frenetic than usual due to our impending departure tonight for SLC and Wolf's birthday visit. It's always so interesting packing for a visit to this kid; for besides the usual stuff for me, I always have extras to make our time together well spent.

Since Wolf still has not reached the privileged level where outings are permitted and encouraged, we will yet again be spending time inside the halls of CHYC. After my first visit over a year ago when I did not come prepared, I now fill my duffel bag with activities, magazines, and games that hopefully will encourage discussion and facilitate easier quality time with Mom, and in this case, Yukon as well (although Yukon historically does better at this than I, for the record).

This is the first occasion Yukon and I have had to visit Wolf together as the Team, since one of us usually remains behind to care for Bear and keep his schedule as normal as possible on the home front. Wolf asked for both of us, however, for his birthday, and since he asked with no material goods attached, we figured this would be an intrinsically positive gift to give.

Since this decision was made back in November, however, issues concerning Wolf's current and future care have taken center stage and our tandem visit has taken on an additional degree of difficulty. It's going to be conference calls and meetings and lots of discussion to get everyone on the same page and more of the same when we return to Alaska.

That Wolf Den is going to be very crowded for a while.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ending the 'Naughts' Not Without Excitement


It was a happy, albeit freezing New Year's Eve in Alaska. We joined some good friends for an evening of king crab, steak, shrimp pasta, and 5 dozen oysters Yukon and I procured from the Kachemak Bay Shellfish Coalition. They packed 'em up and shipped them via the Homer Stage Line just in time to provide a New Year surprise for our friend T., whose dedication to the little beauties rivals that of Yukon's. In the spirit of appropriate half-shell enjoyment, there was much slurping and swilling in our friends' kitchen, and for the first few hours I saw only the reverse side of Yukon as he manned his own oyster table near the sink.

Since our friends happen to live in a woodsy section of south Anchorage, we were also priveleged to participate in some fireworks/explosions this -5 degree night. Since July 4th offers little in the way of darkness, most Alaskans save the big guns for the New Year; and clearly, 2010 started off with a bang for this rowdy crowd.

To facilitate ease of lighting and purportedly to stay warmer, cigars were provided compliments of our host. Yukon, clearly, was in a state of testosterone-fueld bliss.

Pretty good start.
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