Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Homer With the Fam

We're down here in Homer, Alaska with my parents, brother, and family, and Yukon and Bear. The sun finally decided to come out this morning, and it was indeed a treat to see the golden orb in the sky instead of foggy, soggy mountains.

Staying at our favorite Homer Seaside Cottages near the beach, bakery, and pub (Yukon's requirement), it is easy to forget we need a car and instead walk mostly everyplace. My sister-in-law and I went for a run out towards spindly Homer Spit this morning and took an hour-long time out for moms. Kids and dads and grandparents went on a walk to the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center and met up with us for some lunch on the deck, in full view of Kachemak Bay, the mountains, and a few miscellaneous eagles who tolerated only slightly the advances of local ravens.

Right now everyone is having "quiet time" before heading back to the beach with an armload of toys and shovels. It's breezy but bright, and we'll embrace the weather as well as the unstructured time together.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Family Fun in the Summer (Rain)

It seems as if every time I psych up a member of the family to visit us in Alaska, telling them with unabashed enthusiasm about our then-gorgeous weather, said weather turns terrible.

My brother and family are in town, along with Grandma and Grandpa, and it is raining. Not just raining, actually, but alternating between a steady drizzle and pouring. Ever since they got here last night.

The good news is my relatives are in desperate need of a relaxing week away from Seattle's busy pace, and the rain makes the motivation to get up early and rush out the door quite minimal. The bad news is that with three children in the house under 6, there is a lot of restlessness. My family travel hand is being forced as I must now walk my talk with respect to our mantra of "outside, every day". So out we go.
Rain pants, rain boots, rain hat, rain coat; everybody is dressed in enough rubber and Gore-Tex to supply REI. Snacks, towels, and backpacks added and we're in business. This weekend was the annual Alaska Botanical Garden Fair and since AKontheGO was a sponsor, we trucked the small boys and dads (and me) a mile or so down the road to attend a very soggy but nonetheless delightful afternoon mucking about the 110 acres of native plant-dom.

Bear and Yukon found the "quiet corner" of the Children's Village to read a story about bugs. Looks peaceful and sweet, doesn't it? What you can't hear is Yukon's narrative of the page where it shows the inner workings of a fly, the "guts, brain, and gross insides". No wonder the kid looks spellbound, Dad's turning it into a description of The Fly. Great.

My brother and nephew were busy trying out the craft corner where after a few false starts, Nephew finally got his dad to draw him a zebra on purple craft foam. Never mind everyone else was making caterpillars, Nephew is his own man.

Tomorrow is our last day in Anchorage before we head down to Homer and the beach. At least if it rains I won't worry so much; kids are always wet down there anyway, so a little rain won't hurt.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

From the Wolf Den

It is always a sort of let down to go from the high of face-to-face visits with Wolf to the Hour of Power the first week we are home. Not bad, just different.

This morning was like most others; Wolf eating ice over the phone, which drives me absolutely nuts (and he probably knows it), Therapist R. catching up on the weekend and last week, since he was on vacation during our visit, and Yukon and I stretching our brains to make sure we can coherently engage in a dialogue at 6 in the morning. Ah, yes, here we go again.

We talked a lot about Wolf's ability or inability to be able to read the potential pitfalls of a situation and reacting with the appropriate strategy before his brain shuts off and he gets into trouble. That's hard. Really, really hard. His brain is wired to act first, think later, and switching it in reverse is like watching a train come barreling down the track at full speed and then trying to stop suddenly. Hence the term 'train wreck'. I can't imagine trying to learn how to do it. I think it would be a lot like staring at a pot of coffee and not drinking it.

We'll see what happens, though. CHYC is going to push him hard to begin the process, and hopefully he'll see the benefits of thought-switching. Hopefully.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Surprising Day

I don't like to fly. The irony of this does not escape me, a travel writer, who finds flying in general as pleasant as visiting the dentist. Or the tax man. I changed my mind today.

Invited by the Matanuska-Susitna Convention and Visitor's Bureau to be a "model" (hahaha, model, that's pretty funny) in their 2011 Visitor Guide, Bear and I were chosen for one of the more interesting Alaskan activities.

Normally 'helicopter' and 'Erin' are not mentioned in the same breath, much less the same sentence unless it refers to an emergency situation and my life is in peril. Actually, 'airplane' is not used much, either, come to think of it. I don't like to fly because my life is in someone else's hands, and those of you who know me know my issues with control. Ahem. Anyway...

Bear and I were scheduled to fly from Knik River Lodge to a 6,000 ft glacier atop the famous Knik Glacier, a fifteen-minute ride, tomorrow. I had not yet appropriately psyched myself up for this adventure when my phone rang (btw, my ring tone is National Lampoon's 'Holiday Roads', yeah, so funny). "Hey Erin, this is Mr. Bureau. The weather is great today, any chance you can make it by four?" Um, yeah. Sort of.

We gave Yukon a heads up, packed some warm clothes and our own camera, and made the trip up north about an hour from our home, and made it to the lodge in time to see the small helicopter settle down on an even smaller gravel pad. This couldn't be good.

But it was. Bear received his safety briefing, since there are no child locks on helicopter doors and air awash with rotors at every turn, then in no time (a good thing) at all we were up and soaring across the Great Gorge of the Knik and one our way to country most people only see on television.

We saw mountain goats, we saw water so blue it looks not of this world, we saw glacial ice calving into Lake George, and we soared above mountains so craggy and steep my imagination got the better of me.

The little helo touched down on a glacier at 6,000 feet and were were met by Sven the Musher (I'm not making this up). He has his little operation up on the glacier and swings tourists around the icy flanks with his Iditarod dog teams. Living up there for up to two weeks at a time, Sven enjoys his work and loves to talk about it, especially since this is his first summer as a tour business.

Tom the Photographer took pictures, Bear and I smiled a lot as we swooshed around the glacier amid sunny skies and bright white snow. It was sublime and wild and absolutely crazy all at the same time. When we left, our pilot swooped around the valley and as close as he could to the glacier and mountains, where we saw a mountain goat startle and hide behind a rock, but not before we saw clearly his shaggy coat and long horns.

Bear whispered through his headphones "I think this is amazing." And gave me two thumbs up.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What Makes a Father?

Sometimes the things that make up a father's heart are those bringing pain. I've seen them firsthand these last seven days. As our visit with Wolf began and ended with stressful incidents and conflicting emotions, I became even more convinced that Yukon has got to be one of the most compassionate yet steadfast fathers on the planet. And he belongs to us.

I remember one particular incident at a local swimming pool when Yukon and I were dating. We were training for a triathlon and had taken Wolf for a swim/workout one evening, as we often did, allowing him to swim while we did laps, one or the other of us checking in every so often. For some reason that night, Wolf was having trouble; acting up, forgetting rules and bugging other kids. In the locker room it was even worse; he bugged Yukon, snapped his towel, and was generally a pain in the neck. I could tell when the two of them emerged from the locker room that something was up; both were angry but neither would talk about it in the car. At my house, I sent Wolf upstairs to change and asked Yukon what happened. As the story emerged, I started to say my usual line reserved for friends when the party was over. But he stopped me. I expected an end, a 'great knowing you' or a 'I'll call you'.

I got this instead: "I love him, too."

He still does. In fact, he sometimes loves him when I can't. And that, my friends, is a father.

Yukon offers support to a situation that he chose to enter; a completely transparent relationship fraught with all sorts of unknowns and trials that still bring us grief as a family, but so much joy as well. Those of you who attended our wedding might remember the vow he made to Wolf, one he has continued to nurture even when all hope seems lost. For he is a father who knows what it means to be one.

He went fishing this afternoon; and in the middle of a cast his cell phone rang, and rang again, and a voice came through over the sound of rushing water and the soft splashing of fish in the creek. "Hello, Dad? I just wanted to tell you thanks for coming to see me, and Happy Father's Day."

That was all he needed.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mayor's Marathon Fun

Yukon and I helped out at the Anchorage Mayor's Marathon today, handing out water, bananas, and pretzels to about 2,000 runners and walkers participating in the 1/2 marathon event. After our own events of the last week, it was nice to do something together (we even had a date night last night as Bear went to a friend's house for a sleepover).

I am always so impressed by the fortitude of some of these folks who manage to run, walk, creep or crawl their way to the finish line. It never ceases to amaze me and I am humbled to watch some of them complete their first ever event of such magnitude.

Yukon spent most of the day in an improputu drum circle led by one of our young friends from church (Trinity sponsored the Aid Station). He enjoys drumming and was quite entertaining, especially with the monkey hanging from his hat and the cowbell. More Cowbell, Yukon.

We needed a huge nap after we were finished, though. Bear got to spend some quality time with Sponge Bob this afternoon.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Last Night in the Wolf Den

Few words, just images....thank you for sharing our journey. We have a long way to go, and it's nice to know we have such great people following us. Yukon and Bear leave tomorrow morning, and I follow in the afternoon.
We'll leave you with the first family photos taken in over two years.

Monday, June 14, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Breaks and Brokenness

We are tired today. I'm not surprised. Visiting a child who is constrained by the boundaries of his own doing with a younger child in tow who doesn't understand this rule is extremely difficult. so today we took a break. But it was hard to break us up.

It was my turn to be the family therapy attendee, but we scheduled our session for later in the morning so Yukon, Bear and I could visit the world's largest open pit mine, Kennecott Utah Copper, just up the road from CHYC. To a small boy with a love of trucks, loud noise, and all things mechanical, it was mecca. But Wolf could not be with us, and that made us sad, despite our resolve to "carry on" and get beyond events of the past.

Wolf understood on some level, but it was not until the end of our session with Therapist B that his chin began to quiver and the inevitable "You're leaving already?" came wavering out. For as much as I wanted to stay, for as much as I also would have liked to grab his face in both hands and shake the living heck out of him and scream "Don't you GET it?" I didn't.

I simply hugged him and walked away.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Second Day Simple Things

With a five year-old in tow, conducting a workable family therapy session becomes a bit more challenging, but we're managing. Yukon has been on the weekend-list since he was here during the initial meltdown, so this morning Bear and I dropped him off at CHYC then went to Target, where all moms go for a bit of Retail Therapy. At 9 a.m. the store was nearly deserted, and it was peaceful and freeing to allow Bear to hide in the clothing racks and inspect all the toy aisles while I did some shopping for Wolf.

Shopping for kids gives us such satisfaction, doesn't it? Buying their necessary and not-so-necessary things is a way to connect ourselves to their bodies and minds, even more so now that Wolf is thousands of miles away from me. Steering the bright red cart around the store today brought me closer to a child who isn't close at all, and I took intense pleasure in selecting t-shirts, flip-flops, and even underwear for my son.

Today was Yukon's birthday, so he and Bear and I took a midday break and explored the downtown Salt Lake area, lunching at Squatter's Pub and walking around the lovely city, eventually ending up in the foothills of the University. It was nice to get outside and experience someplace else, in a neighborhood of someone else, just being. It rained hard off and on, and that was nice, too.

Bear wanted to show his brother a National Geographic DVD about sea monsters, so we loaded up on milkshakes at Sonic Drive In and settled in. The guys took a few minutes to work together on a coloring book about the Superfriends, something they both enjoy and an activity that slowly introduces them to teamwork and patience and sibling togetherness.

All of us, really, for the sight of two children together has changed our parenting mechanics. But that's a whole other story.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

From the Wolf Den, and the Heart

I didn't put 'aspergers' or 'behavioral health' as a label for this post, because it's not about that today.
After a shaky start to our trip down south Bear and I left Anchorage this morning to meet up with Yukon in SLC. Although the issues of the past few days have put a damper on most of our plans, our family and CHYC staff did indeed regroup. Therapist C, in covering for Therapist B (yes, I do have an entire alphabet soup of inititals for everybody involved) helped us find a workable plan with enough flexibility built in to accommodate both boys and hopefully our sanity.

But you all want to know about The Reunion. We had prepared Bear as much as we could for the changes in Wolf, but the five-year-old mind is easily distracted and even easier prone to lapses in reality. We really didn't know what to expect from him. On the other side of the coin was Wolf, whose social skills are almost equal to his younger sibling. Yukon spent some time prepping last night for how to meet and greet a small child and some ideas for engaging Bear through their similar interests.

I cannot tell you how proud we were of our oldest son tonight. After the wretchedness of the past 24 hours and a rough beginning this morning, Wolf pulled himself together for Bear. When brought out to greet us in the lobby, he remembered guidance from Dad, got down on his knees, and waited.

Bear was squirrely, anxious, and slightly goofy until Wolf came through the door. Clinging to me, he inched his way closer and closer, not sure, I think, of this lanky almost-stranger. Yukon saw their apprehension and grabbed a boy in each arm and let them to the sofa, where Bear couldn't take his eyes off big brother.

Wolf had brought some toy cars for Bear, encased inside a little box he had decorated with tissue paper and glue; a mosaic of color and style only my kid could create.

It was a good metaphor for our day.

Slightly off-center, colorful, sort of sticky. But ultimately containing a treasure inside.

Friday, June 11, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Struggling and Strength for Yukon

Yukon just called me from SLC where he arrived this afternoon for a pre-family-reunion prep and pep talk with Wolf. We orchestrated this so carefully, ensuring one parent could stay behind and one could go ahead, and I'm glad we did, because It Happened.

I should have known something was not completely right when Yukon started our conversation with a reference to his second adult beverage of the evening and followed that up with, "Sweetie, breathe in and breathe out." Great.

Wolf has crashed after coming closer than ever to achieving the highest level and earning the trust of staff, peers, and us. Without providing too many details, Wolf reverted back to some of his impulsive and inappropriate behaviors today while on a field trip and is now down a level. More important though, are the questions remaining as to his appropriateness in going out with us and his interactions with his brother, who, I might add, has been exuberantly bouncing off the walls over the prospect seeing Wolf in a mere 24 hours. Give me strength.

Near tears himself, Yukon managed to keep his game face on during the late-evening discussion with Therapist B who stayed into the night to discern the facts of the incident and, with his own hurting heart, tell Yukon what happened and the potential ramifications before showing him to the room where Wolf sat. What could a father do from there but hug his sobbing and distraught son who knew his actions but had seemingly little power to stop them.

Where do we go from here? Yukon is having a meeting before the family therapy session tomorrow morning so we know better how to explain to Bear Wolf's potential absence from family fun. Bear and I fly out at 9 a.m. Life goes on. Really, in the not-so hidden parts of our brains, Yukon and I were not surprised by the fall. We just were surprised it came so late, and now this begs questions that tonight have no answers.

I just know that Yukon is one special dad to a very special kid.

Monday, June 7, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Parents and Cubs

Usually by this point I am nervous. Tonight I am relatively tranquil. Usually by this point I have begun making piles in my office consisting of my stuff, Wolf's stuff, letters, drawings, books, etc. There is only a small pile of Bear's stuff tonight, mostly because I did his laundry and didn't want to put it away.

For such a potentially stressful trip, I am markedly unstressed. Huh.

I know that part of it stems from our ultimate desire to at least project an aura of calm to the boys in the hopes that, like dogs, they will sense this and remain calm themselves. We can hope, yes? Might as well begin now.

But this is also an opportunity to show our children the raw, unveiled parent-passion that comes from mothers and fathers having their offspring in one place at one time. We may not always say or do the right things when it comes to child-raising, but at least when everybody is together we can throw our arms around one another and for a little while know that everything is all right. Everything. Forget the therapy sessions, closet-cleanings, and meetings about the future, I'm like a mother bear sending her cubs up a tree while I sit beneath it breathing a sigh of relief that for another day, everybody is exactly where they need to be.

Perhaps the first moment of togetherness has not hit me yet, maybe I'm not ready to go there. But it does not feel wrong. On the contrary, it feels very, very right.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

From the Wolf Den

Wolf didn't call once last week. For the last year, we have known what that means; trouble. Capital 'T', on the bottom of the ladder-sort-of trouble.

Not this time. The voice that greeted us on our way home from Denali last weekend was excited. "Sorry I didn't call, I was having too much fun."

Staying solidly at Level 3 and anticipating a visit from his family with little anxiety, Wolf has, at least for seven days straight, remained in a position of maturity for the first time in many months. And we are thankful.

Yukon and I have tried various methods of increasing Wolf's chances of success in anticipation of our arrival. Not telling him, telling him, offering rewards and/or consequences; it was exhausting even before leaving home to figure out what might reach the boy's consciousness and encourage positive behavior.

We are not sure why or how Wolf has suddenly been able to discern the difference between positive and negative behavior, nor are we sure of his ability to be consistent, but as we have learned over the last 24 months, each day's success is measured as just that. Life for Wolf is measured differently than the rest of us, we know that now, and meeting him where he is will prove more successful for us than if we pushed and prodded to a standard he could never meet.

One more week to go. Seven days. He, and we, are crossing them off with an air of finality, for this could be; please, God, the beginning ,when the sun rises above the horizon instead of settling beneath it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Who Would Have Thought...

I'm up late preparing for a workshop tomorrow at Campbell Creek Science Center called 'Bear Safety for Families'. Designed to help parents feel more comfortable recreating in the great Alaskan outdoors, it really is being held for me. Those who know me know my particular outdoor phobias, and bears top the list. Always have. Well, bees, too, but bears are #1 these days since they live right out my front door and seem to manage to be in places I want to go.

Didn't occur to me until just now that while some parents in the Lower 48 are educating their kids about stranger danger and proper etiquette while riding bikes, I'm preparing a class to teach moms, dads, and kids what to do if a bear charges. Whoa. Amazing. Intriguing. Incredible.

Five years ago I was living in a prim and proper South Carolina neighborhood worrying about the obnoxious boys living across the street and how much Diet Coke cost at the Piggly Wiggly. Funny how perspectives change, isn't it?