Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Great One

One of the best parts about my job (if one could call it a job, but that sure sounds better, eh?) is the people I meet and the places our family is able to visit.

Thursday, Yukon left the office early after a crazy week of VA moving and confab-ing, and we packed bikes and people for the 2.5 hour drive north to the McKinley Princess Lodge at the invitation of yes, the Princess Tour people. McK Princess is located near Trapper Creek, Alaska, and is one of the main lodgings Princess owns for access to and views of, Denali, "the Great One".

I'll admit I was somewhat skeptical of the property's ability to wow a family who actually lives in the 49th state and can often view Denali from Anchorage. Likewise with respect to the actual lodging; we've seen tour company hotel/motel/lodge style accommodations before, and were prepared for fake log buildings, mass-prepared food, and condescending staff.

Warmly welcomed by Manager D., who, I found out, is a graduate from my college alma mater and the epitome of how the manager of a 300+ mostly-older-people facility should act, AK Fam was given the best suite in the house in full view of Denali. Not only that, but staff had prepared a welcome fruit/cheese plate and given Bear a backpack full of kid-friendly goodies. Not bad for a place whose child-occupancy is something like 3% (that's why we went, btw, to review and rate).

With weather in the mid 70's, even during the long evening hours, we somehow found ourselves immersed in the beautiful surroundings, enjoying the pleasant company of visitors who were told "not to expect to see the mountain" (chances in May of viewing Denali range from seldom to never) and thus were awestruck and sometimes speechless. We hiked, we ate, we slept in, we took a jet boat ride; and all through it were delightfully pampered by Manager D and his staff.

Not only that, but Yukon took a ride around the property with D, looking at the way Princess is supporting its employees with housing, off-duty recreation, etc. The two hit it off tremendously, and we didn't leave today without planning another trip in August on our way to Fairbanks.

Only downside is that I lost my voice somehow along the way. Nobody here seems to be complaining, however.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

From the Wolf Den: The Wheels on the Bus....

...are still on. Spinning frantically, but still on. Good enough.

Wolf is very, very excited for our upcoming visit, but is also dealing with some anxiety about his ability to maintain his current level of success at CHYC. Staff are helping tremendously with his efforts and provide the positive support coupled with the right amount of tough love to see this through.

Bear, too, is going through a bit of anxiety as well, mostly the excited kind, but I am sure all sorts of questions remain in his little head as to how this big brother person will look, act, and respond to his arrival.

Yukon will fly down to SLC the day before Bear and I to work directly with Therapist B and Wolf face-to-face and hopefully assauge some fears. Then it all starts.

Keep fingers crossed.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A "No-Agenda" Weekend

This is probably the last weekend for a while that "AK Fam" will be able to clearly state we have "no agenda". Not that we mind, of course, but with summer rapidly approaching, there were some things that needed attention. Like us.

Yukon spent quality time planting his beloved horseradish sprout, sent to him from Portland by his mother, god bless her. Have you ever owned a horseradish plant? If so, you would know that it spreads like dandilion, and is almost as hard to control. But Yukon spent the day coddling the new flower bed, adding sand and compost, and calling this new garden addition his "baby". Please.

Bear decided that the weather was nice enough to run through the sprinkler, and convinced some neighborhood buddies of the same. Too bad I couldn't get them off the towels to actually use the sprinkler. But at least my lawn got watered.

It was a lovely day in Alaska, and I'm now waiting for Yukon to finish grilling up our salmon burgers to finish up this relaxing Saturday. We might even have sunburns. Really.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

From the Wolf Den: All Together in One Place

It's official; come June 12 the Family Kirkland will be together for the first time in two years. How do we feel? Elated, terrified, and apprehensive, all three.

We informed Wolf this morning during the Hour of Power, and starting now he and Therapist B will begin the process of reintroducing Wolf to his little brother, and vice versa. A lot has changed in two years, and both boys need a head start from their respective locales to become acquainted all over again.

From Bear's perspective, his mind perceives a Wolf before puberty put hair on his legs, baritone in his voice, and inches on his height. The Wolf who walked out the door two years ago was someone else, and it is quite likely Bear will neither recognize nor relate to the brother he will see in a few weeks. Yukon and I, in cooperation with CHYC, are working with him towards this moment.

Wolf, too, must adjust his thinking to include a more mature and increasingly analytical Bear. Able to think and speak for himself at almost six, Bear holds nothing back when it comes to honesty and interrogation of all he sees, hears, and feels, which could prove uncomfortable for an older brother (not to mention other students at the school) who is unaware and/or uncaring of his personal appearances, mannerisms, and occasional potty-mouth.

Our strategy is to exercise both boys to utter exhaustion in an effort to curb anxiety on everyone's part. Hiking, the zoo, the Pioneer Park, swimming; Yukon has an intinerary worthy of Disney.

There is a difficult part, however. As of today, Wolf was qualified to leave the school on outings. This is as high a level he has achieved in quite some time. If he keeps the "wheels on the bus" and maintains his level, he will be able to go with us. If not, we are no doubt going to have to do some damage control on the part of all parties. Yes, we are using Bear as an incentive. We know it, Therapist B. knows it, and we all know we have to do it. And we're going to have to hold steady if, by some chance, Wolf's wheels fall off and roll away.

We will keep every ounce of optimism focused between now and June 12 on Wolf and our visit, and the fact that he can indeed, when it comes right down to it, succeed. If he wants to bad enough. And we are doing everything we can to help him want it. Bad enough.

Monday, May 17, 2010

From the Wolf Den: "Northern Composure" Series, Part 2

Here is another essay from the series I am writing for the Tundra Telegraph, an online publication dedicated to the unique stories of Alaskans.

It discusses the quarterly journey I make to visit Wolf in Utah, and now that I am preparing for another one, this piece seems all the more pertinent.

You can access the link here. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

It's Miscellaneous Alaskan Fun

We've been a busy bunch these past few weeks, so here's a photo montage of our latest adventures, including Mother's Day weekend when Bear came in second in a kids' race downtown (yeah, we're in trouble, for sure) and a trip to the always lovely Portage Valley. Ahhh, summer in Alaska. Okay, Spring/Summer. My grass isn't all the way green yet. Haha.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

From the Wolf Den: The 'Horse Boy' and My Boy

I spent last evening flipping between my regular Tuesday night television show (the only one I really watch) and the Independent Lens production of The Horse Boy as told by one courageous father from Texas. Did anyone watch it?

Never really sure how shows about alternative healing methods for disabiling conditions will turn out, I will admit I was a little jaded from the beginning about a story of a family who traveled from their home in Texas to the upper reaches of Mongolia to connect their autistic son to horses in a most intimate way. Oh, and to be healed by many a Shaman along the way. But, like most parents with kids suffering from this socially crippling disorder, I'd probably do what I thought needed to be done when a sliver of hope presents itself.

I enjoy Independent Lens as a general rule, and I was not disappointed by this father's filmmaking ability. It was wrenching to see their little boy, Rowan, engage in temper tantrums and non-verbal spars with his parents, flailing his body from top to bottom. Watching Rowan astride a horse, I could clearly see how his presence upon the animal immediately soothed and calmed his anxious heart, but I also felt for his mother whose initial reaction to trekking the family across the world to ride horses in Mongolia made her just a bit nervous. Yeah, the airplane ride alone would make me terrified.

The short of the story was that Rowan and his mom and dad stumbled, fell, then picked themselves up and did indeed ride across the beautiful starkness of the country for a month, during which time Rowan was prayed over, made to drink vodka and mare's milk, and other interesting rituals performed.

I came away with a few interesting thoughts, the most of which was a statement made by Rowan's dad, who said "Rowan's autism has made me a better dad. I don't think I'd be nearly as good if he didn't have this."

That alone was startling, and made me think. Am I a better mom because of Wolf's Asperger Syndrome?

Maybe. I'm a different person, that's for sure. I have to shelve my agendas sometimes, and remember for whose benefit I am working. It's not about me, anymore. It's about him. And that's a fine line to walk as a parent, isn't it?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mom, Three Kids, and The Bus

Here is a fun little article I wrote for an Alaskan online publication called This Arctic Life. I like writing for them for a number of wonderful reasons, but mostly because they let me have a ton of creative free reign. Writers like that, sometimes.

This piece was written in honor of my Mom, who deserves every bit of glory this might give her. Anybody who learned to drive in a four-speed, stick-shift, 10-foot long Volkswagen bus gets my vote for Mom of the Year.

Happy Mother's day, to all of you who listened to our battles, cleaned Rest Stop toilet seats before we were allowed to sit upon them, and generally kept us occupied while road trippin' across these United States. You're the best.

Read the story here.

Friday, May 7, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Mother's Day

Time has a somewhat paradoxical nature for our family. With one child out of sight and the other clearly within it, parenting these past few years has become an exercise in celebrating and mourning by turn, day by day.

Wolf left our house two years ago this Mother's Day. He wore a his Tillamook Happy Cows t-shirt and a pair of jeans, an anxious look pasted on his slender face. He had a backpack full of trinkets that only the mother of a child with Asperger Syndrome would understand, and a couple of his favorite Tintin books. His expression as he drove away in our friend's car is one I will never forget.

I spent that Mother's Day trying to justify my overwhelming sense of Peace combined with a smidgen of Guilt and a goodly dose of Pissed Off. Yukon, Bear (three at the time) and I went on a long drive and hike that afternoon to reconfigure the new family dynamics. "Where's Wolf?" Bear kept asking at bedtime and for days later, until the situation became the new normal and life simply went on. As it should. But the demons of despair that torment a mother's heart and mind when her child is not with her continued to press closer and closer, until I felt sure I would suffocate.

Last year on Mother's Day I had just returned from a trip to see Wolf. Unbelieving that he had passed through the portal of adolescence without me, I remember taking in his height, weight, and shoe size in contempt for Mother Nature's inconsideration in allowing me to miss out on one of the most important times in a boy's life, even with the typical teenage negatives. But through wise and empathetic discussion with my own cadre of cohorts, I was able to glimpse the benefits of allowing my son to begin the man-years surrounded by people who supported his style and personality and kept him safe. Down one bad, up one good. The sun began to peek around the cave.

Wolf is still at CHYC today, and he has forgotten to make me a Mother's Day card. I know this because I asked him and he told me, not seeming too concerned. We talked this morning about self-responsibility, probably for the umpteenth time, and he doesn't get that, either. But it is his decision to determine his own destiny at this point, again moving closer to adulthood without me. But that is what he must do, and I am allowing him to move either forward or backward with the wings and roots I have given him, hoping he remembers.

I am Mother. But I am Me, too. So will Mother's Day continue to be bittersweet?

Yes. And no.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Updates From the Wolf Den

Some have asked if things are okay with Wolf, since my posts on his life and times seem to be dwindling a bit. He's okay. We're okay. But there is much going on.

It's almost time for another trip, but we're not sure when. Therapist B and some other CHYC staff were actually in Alaska last week, which means they will have to spend a few weeks catching up upon their return, meaning that I should wait a bit before heading south (considerate former social service person that I am). School is almost out for Bear, preschool graduation to be exact, and I don't want to miss that, so there goes another week. Memorial weekend is coming up, no therapist in their right mind would hang around over a potentially sunny Utah long weekend for me, even if I am coming from Alaska.

So I'm debating, figuring, talking and hopefully coming up with a plan. Added to the issue is the fact that Yukon is due to head for Lousiana the first part of June for another federal training thingie.

Lest I sound as if I am waffling, let me assure you I am not. The State of Alaska sets fairly clear perameters around the scope and breadth of our paid-for visits, one of which is the absolute fact that Therapist B. must meet with us Which can get complicated when things like holiday weekends and such arrive. Plus, Wolf wants to be able to have the sort of fun kids should over a holiday weekend; staff are quite soliticious when it comes to parties, so a beach party out on the lawn is a heckuva lot more fun than hanging out with Mom shopping for new boxer shorts. Go figure.

In a more serious vein, I am still in constant contact with Ms. M and her cronies from the Bring the Kids Home Initiative office, and before I head down there are a few nuggets of fact (or fiction) I need to discern. Always something....

Monday, May 3, 2010

Gulf Coast is Closer to Home Than We Might Think

Before moving to Alaska I had only a passing knowledge and investment in the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. It happened, it made a mess, it got cleaned up, my life went on. I was a college student then at Seattle Pacific University, ironically along the banks of the canal that connected many of the Alaskan-bound fishing boats to the very areas where slippery and toxic oil formed a sheen on top of the Pacific waters. Only too happy to embark on a superficial yet totally genuine hatred of Exxon after the spill, I stopped buying gasoline at Exxon gas stations and had a "Boycott Exxon" bumper sticker on my bulletin board at home. But I didn't get it, not really.

It wasn't until I moved to Alaska almost five years ago that I began to understand the ramifications of such an event, and now, having visited the rocky shores of Prince William Sound and witnessed the undeniable beauty and wildness that is Alaska, knowing that the same event but potentially bigger is occurring at an equally lovely spot a few thousand miles away fills me with deep sorrow and endless regret.

Sorrow because I know what is happening and is going to happen; birds will die, fish will suffocate, turtles are already washing up on pristine beaches, white sand will be soiled with a tarry black guck that makes one sick. Regret because it could have been prevented, regret because I didn't pay attention before.

Alaskans, perhaps above everyone else of my generation, knows the pain, and we are grieving tonight as news accounts roll in and experts fly out to help in any way they can.

How can we save us from ourselves?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Daytime Meets Nighttime and Everything Inbetween

It is almost 10 p.m., and Yukon is just now tucking Bear into bed with his usual round of stories. The sun is also just now deciding to tuck itself in behind the western end of Cook Inlet as summertime's perpetual presence ekes ever closer to the famed Midnight Sun.

This is always a bone of contention among many Alaskan parents. Do we let them stay up, or don't we? Frankly I was just telling Yukon tonight, as we were sitting at our gloriously sunny dining room table eating dinner at, ahem, 8 p.m., that weather like today's makes it downright impossible to establish or keep any sort of bedtime routine. Especially when school is out two short weeks from now.

Kids will roam the streets after the time most of us have decided they should be in bed, or at least at home. Remember when you were little and your mom plunked you in bed before it got dark, and always you could still hear some kids somewhere playing outside? I hated those kids.

After five summers in Alaska, we have finally figured out that allowing Bear to stay up late does no one, least of all him, any service when it comes to living life the next day. Perhaps nowhere else does the end-of-summer mantra played by school districts everywhere make more sense than Alaska if kids have grown used to two-plus months of staying up until midnight and suddenly are forced to wake up again at 7 a.m. to catch the school bus at 8. Ouch.

So while the alpenglow is of particular beauty tonight and the sky remains fairly clear, and the grass continues to grow under our very feet, our small son is nonetheless packed away in his bunk bed, blackout shades pulled tight, so that his parents might experience a good morning.

We hope.