Thursday, September 30, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Breakdown, or Breakthrough?

Our family's journey through Asperger Syndrome and the ancillary issues of our son have consisted of single steps into and out of agony and ecstacy. We are up, down, sideways and ass backwards by turn, wanting to know and yet not know what lies inside Wolf's head. Therapy has, after two years, accomplished little. And we didn't know why. Until Thursday.

Therapist B had taken a new tack with his kids, appointing them as chairmen of their own family therapy, hoping that the sense of control would lead to a greater opportunity for sharing information and/or communication. Why not? Nothing else had worked to this point, Yukon and I figured.

Ever heard the sound of silence over a phone line 3,000 miles away? Let me describe it to you. Crickets. Buzzing. Fingers drumming on the table. We were going nowhere. I gritted my teeth and sucked down some more coffee.
At five minutes to the hour, when Yukon had gone upstairs to ready Bear for school and I was pacing the room, phone on speaker, ready to open my mouth and let loose the receiving end of two years of not-too successful family therapy. I was tired, I was ticked, and I was ready to throw up my hands and say the almighty What.Ever.

With a swiftness I could hear in the air sucked into his lungs, Wolf yelled something that took the air out of mine. "AM I A MISTAKE?!" But it was not directed at me, or Yukon. It was directed at his father.

Apparently there have been conversations, discussions to which I have not been privy, between the two. Promises promised, statements made, and disclosures revealed that are not appropriate for a teenager with impulse control challenges whose relationship with the man who provided DNA has been tenuous at best since infancy. A man who, we now believe, has similar issues to Wolf but has denied responsibility.

The one hour turned into two as I answered questions as best I could during the emotional storm that followed, knowing full well the time had come to collaborate with CHYC staff on any future communication with Wolf's dad.

It was a beautifully tragic moment. Tragic that our child feels such painful awareness of the abandonment of his biological parent. But beautiful in that Yukon is there to pick up the pieces and bind them together with grace. He is, in fact, going to take my place on this upcoming visit. Wolf needs his forever dad. And as much as I would love to hold my own son in my arms, I know Yukon's are the ones he needs more right now.

Not a breakdown. On the contrary, a breakthrough. A big one. No mistake.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Have a Feeling...

Who read the "Little House on the Prairie" books? Remember the "Long Winter", where the family is held hostage by the most violent series of blizzards Minnesota had ever known up until that point in the 1890's? Good old Pa knew in his farmer bones that it was going to be a hard winter. He just had a feeling.

I have a feeling, too. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we woke up yesterday morning (that would be September 26th) to clouds, frost on the cars, and a suspicious icy fragrance in the air. Uh oh. Driving to church I thought I saw little things flying in the air, but since it was breezy, assumed it was just junk in the air. It was junk all right; the frozen, flaky kind.

Snow in September is not unheard of in Alaska; on the contrary, most sourdoughs I know were becoming worried that we had had little in the way of any precipitation, much less the white kind. But the way we arrived here was just just a bit drastic. Gorgeous, sunny, 55 degrees of wilderness Indian Summer to dark, windy, and snowy got to me.

Yukon and I chopped a bunch of wood yesterday, filled up the kindling bucket to the top, cleaned out the woodstove, bought new tires for the Expedition, cooked bean soup, switched summer/winter clothes in the closet, and had the insulation man come over to blow more whatcha-call-it into the attic so we don't freeze. I've got a feeling. I tell ya.

All seemed well today when I took some friends over to our beautiful Alaska Botanical Garden for a walk. We are babysitting a friend's little girl for a few days while they go fishing (yes, we still fish, right up to snowfall, mostly for catch-release steelhead and trout).

Such a gorgeous day, but chilly to the point where we had to wear hats and mittens. There's no denying, something's up. One day we're going to wake up to a white world, and I want to be ready. Like Pa Ingalls.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Some Stuff is Just Hard

Our wonderful, supportive, accepting church is in the middle of scheduling picture directory appointments for October. You remember those. The day you spiff up the kids and yourself in what is hopefully matching outfits, line everybody up and smile for the patronizing cameraman in the name of matching faces with names on Sunday.

Normally, it's a chance to score a free 8 X 10 and new clothes. But we're not so normal right now.
Somebody is missing.

My sense of logic tells me that in the real scheme of things, this is not a big deal. We all were together in June, and I did get photos of all four of us and some brotherly shots of the boys.
Family is defined less by what we see than what we experience, I tell myself over and over, as if this inner repetition will make me believe it.

The last time we had a formal, posed, tried-and-true family photo session though was five years ago. Wolf was skinny, gap-toothed, yet broadly smiling, almost unrecognizable to today's 6' 2" teenager. Bear was still a baby, held up by his big brother in the last photo we have before leaving South Carolina in 2005.

What I'd like to do is cut and paste a big red arrow next to me on our church photo, with Wolf's picture hovering overhead.

I just might.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We're On a Roll

Somehow the family travel bug has been passed around Alaska and AK Fam, i.e. Us, is right in the middle of all this information-gathering.

The web site has flourished after a summer of trips and treks around the 49th state, and now with winter poised for pouncing upon we unsuspecting Alaskans, everybody wants more.

Not knowing quite how to handle this attention, the AK Fam has had to do some scrubbing and polishing, to be sure. The AKontheGO web site has some new looks, a new calendar of events, and a way to finally listen to our radio broadcasts.

Yes, broadcasts, plural. AKontheGO is now partnering not only with the Alaska Travelgram each week, but with our local NPR station for a new show called Kids These Days. A welcome listening option for me as a parent, KTD is geared towards parents and caregivers of kids birth-18, and is a perfect fit for us to promote and encourage outdoor recreation with the whole fam-damily. So for those of you who have been bugging us for online access, there you go.

One more opportunity jumped out at me today, this time in the visual realm. Not my comfort zone, for sure, but KTUU television's travel web site really wanted to connect with Alaskan parents. After a day trip feature in June where Bear and I escorted a local anchor along one of our favorite trails, the station asked if AK Fam would be interested in a monthly segment on family travel.

I guess we were, because sometime in October we'll be jumping, and landing somewhere in Alaska for our first installation of GoToAK's AKFam. Or something like that.

Venture on over to the AKontheGO web site and let us know what you think. Besides the cute pictures, I mean. See if you don't want to buy a ticket today and come visit us.

Big time.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

We're Waiting With Bated Breath...

It's a bit surreal. September 2010, I mean. This time last year I had the garden put to bed, scarecrows hammered firmly into the ground in anticipation of the first wind storm, and wood safely tucked into the shed, ready for a hard frost that signals the beginning of six months of Ice Age temperatures.

This year, I have not only passed by the date of my usual "wintertime prep" activities, I have ignored it, as sunflowers are ready to bloom, brussel sprouts have yet to brussel, and my firewood; well, let's just say that today was the day to finally take care of that chore. It's nutty, it's delightful, and it's just a bit nervewracking, to be perfectly honest.

One year ago, we were taking bets in the Kirkland Family Snow Date wager, and snow indeed fell the first week of October. Heck, I think it reached 65 today and Bear was clad only in his Carhartt overalls and hiking boots for most of our trek to the Ft. Richardson Woodlot for some hunting and gathering with our friends. I think the word "hot" passed more than one set of lips during the job, and my evening Jubelale tasted mighty fine with my grilled salmon out on the deck.

What the heck? Eating outside in September, in Alaska? I tell you, I'd make a killing as an end-of-season tour operator this year if I had the chance. Brilliant yellow colors mixed with bright sunshine and balmy temperatures make for a pretty fancy trip. Throw in a couple of rack-laden, rut-infused moose and this could be the trip of a lifetime for some Lower 48'er.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Been to AK, Lately?

Have you visited the AKontheGO page lately? We have some stunning photographs of our most recent trip to Valdez, Alaska. If I do say so, myself.

It's a wonderful time to visit, if you are so inclined next year. The majority of tourists have vacated, the summer-only attractions are closing down (so good deals can be found), and the scenery is at its most lovely. Really.
These photos are (from top): Sheep Mountain Lodge along the Glenn Highway, the view from our Stan Stephens Glacier Cruise in Valdez, and a particularly lovely birch tree along Thompson Pass, on the Richardson Highway.
Don't think you need to visit in the summer. Alaska has four seasons of beauty...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Disabilities and Fear

I've been talking mucho this week with one of my oldest friends, D. who happens to have 11 children. Many of these kiddos are in the same behavioral boat as Wolf, with issues such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Asperger's, and other physical and behavioral diagnoses. Given the past few weeks of ups, downs, and even bigger ups and downs, I needed to unload on someone who, without a doubt, has been there.

I've written before that I don't believe it is an accident the two of us are raising children with disabilities. Whether destiny or Mission From God, I can't think of another person to whom I would rather express my daily frustrations, ministrations, and fears. Especially the fear part.

Fear often takes center stage for many of us, and in varying forms. Fear for our children's physical well-being and the pain surrounding it; fear for their future; fear of their failure; fear for our sanity; fear for how they look to other people (yes, vanity plays a part).

It has been interesting to witness my own personal journey through fear, and its partner, anger. Yep, fight or flight has held a pretty strong grip upon my heart these past 16 years, and even before.

Face fear? Yes, we've all heard the stories, read the books, been to the seminars. Knowledge is Power and all that. But looking fear straight in the eye as it grips your psyche and soul and saying "I know you are there and I'll let you stay for a bit, but then you'll have to move on", as if fear were an animal stalking my every move. That's another story.

I can feel fearful, terrified, even. But that is the moment at which I have a choice. I can let fear dictate my next move, and every move thereafter, causing me to yell at physicians, teachers, and even those I love. I can even yell at God. "Why don't you save me/him/us from all this, damn it?" I've wasted a lot of time doing this. A lot.

Or I can listen to fear, learn from it, and quietly let it go. A day is made better, a month made easier, a year gone smoother.

Two years, actually.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sort of From the Wolf Den: The Teacher's Calling

24 hours later, and my blood pressure is back to normal.

Those of you with children who possess atypical behaviors, conditions, or disabilities that hinder their progress with all things education will understand in a heartbeat when I say the sound of the phone ringing once school has started brings nothing but personal angst.

Let's return, shall we, to the days of Wolf's kindergarten adventures, when his teacher would call with regularity, usually after I had arrived home, kicked off my shoes, and opened a glass of wine, which subsequently turned into the entire bottle. Oy.

I spent hours on the phone, in conferences, reading (and writing) notes, and begging with my son to "keep your hands to yourself", right up until 8th grade, so adding in preschool, I have been a shadowy presence in Wolf's education for almost 11 years. Hopefully one would be sympathetic to my unconscious reaction last night.

The phone rang around 8:30, after a long day post-vacation. Bear had told me, almost proudly, darn him, that he had received a "Red Card" for some of the day (Red, Yellow, Green is the process) but "ended up with Green, mommy". One thing I like about Rilke Schule is their subscription to the model "you are in charge of your own behavior" and rarely call parents. So when the phone rang, and Frau M.'s voice came over the line, I was worried indeed.

Hence the rapid rise in blood pressure.

And for all that, all my instant panic and pale-faced hand-wringing, all Frau M. wanted was me to come in and volunteer for the class. When my head cleared and I found my voice, I was able to answer in the affirmative, but I'm sure she thought me a bit odd.

Can't blame me, though, can you?


Monday, September 6, 2010

Final Big Trip Means Big Fun

We're on the final day of our six-day trip to Valdez, Alaska. We've not been here before, and I daresay I am kicking myself for not making the trip sooner.

I'm happy yet sad that we're heading home to plan 2011 trips and adventures for; I love to travel around the 49th state, but I also am quite anxious to settle some things around the hacienda before the snow flies. We saw the inevitable 'termination dust' on the way high peaks around Valdez yesterday, and it's only a matter of time before our little Chugach foothills show the same. Sigh.
Fine weather has prevailed, however, for most of this trip and for our anniversary today. We celebrated by taking a day-long cruise via Stan Stephens Wildlife and Glacier Cruises, to the tune of groaning icebergs, barking sea lions, and incredibly gorgeous, sunny skies. A great way to spend a day with my sweetie.