Tuesday, November 30, 2010

All is Calm. All is Bright.

As a family travel writer, it is no secret our crew gets to head to some pretty terrific places. But now that winter has us hunkering down a bit more, AK Fam finds itself searching out a more local approach to family togetherness.

We've always been fans of zoos. Big zoos, little zoos, doesn't matter. We like 'em all. Helps that AK Auntie worked at the Woodland Park Zoo once upon a time and allowed Wolf and I to see and hear and experience many animals up close and personal. I learn much about a zoo's conservation and preservation efforts by getting to know staff, and luckily enough, Alaska happens to have such a place right in our backyard.

The Alaska Zoo is a 25-acre forest that happens to house animals who thrive in northern-type climates. Nestled in a suburban (for Alaska, anyway) area, its winding trails are the most kid-friendly, nonzoo-ish I've ever come across. No pavement, no hawkers selling popcorn and peanuts and no blaring speakers; the Alaska Zoo is a oasis for both animal and human, and they've thought up a way to cater to both this holiday season.

Taking a cue from Lower 48 zoos that put on light spectaculars each Christmas, AK Zoo folks thought they'd make up one of their own displays with a little help from local artists and businesses. Since the Development Director was a guest today on the Alaska Travelgram Show, I figured I'd best check out the lights so I'd know what I was talking about.

Off Yukon, Bear and I went last Saturday night, Zoo Lights-bound, not sure what to expect since this is a new deal. We walked in just as a few flakes of snow fluffed their way down from the heavens, and settled on the backs of a floating harbor seal nearby. With hardly any people on the grounds (we went early to beat crowds, smart mommy, aren't I?), the little gray seal looked steadily at us, with huge eyes, until a gasp from Bear sent him darting underneath the smooth water of his tank.

As we wandered among the canopies of twinkling lights in the forest, it became clear that we were privileged visitors. Animals who normally sleep during the day were up and about, feeding, and in the case of a rescued brown bear cub who looked like a big hedgehog, play-chasing Bear back and forth as we walked near his enclosure. So close we could hear his warm breath, the little guy placed one foot, then the other upon the bars and nosed his way toward our Bear. A keeper nearby said "Go ahead, run along the fence line, he loves to play." Bear did so, laughing as he and the cub entered one another's world as children, racing back and forth and back again before they both finally collapsed on the ground in their respective spots, heaving; their breath sending puffs of icy smoke into the otherwise crystalline night. A few more snowflakes fell upon both Bear and cub, and all was right with the world.

The lights were great. But the bright was better.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving Thanks for....Haircuts?

"I give thanks for this perfect day. Miracle will follow miracle, and wonders will never cease." -Unknown

Yeah, it's crazy, being thankful for haircuts. But if I've learned anything from my AS child and his noticable absence these past 2+ years, it is to catch hold of anything that matters and give thanks for it. no matter how goofy.

It all started with Bear and his non-conformity. He came home from school and declared "I want teenager-long hair". Oh, really, and why is that? "So I can look cool." Ah. So began a month of hair-growing-out-to-look-cool. Except that it didn't look cool. It looked like a stack of straw stuck on top of a six year-old boy's head. Just like his brother's.

Just like his brother.

When we moved to Alaska, I tried and tried to find a haircut place that was close enough and cheap enough for me to justify schlepping a husband and kids to their hallowed chairs. Couldn't find one, and heard friends talking about their own home haircuts using clippers, so I bought myself some and learned the fine art of clipper haircuts. Worked fine for Wolf and Yukon, not so much for Bear, who at the time had toddler hair and a wiggly body. He and I got the Great Clips cut. There's a savings there, I'm sure of it. Two pay, two stay. Worked for me.

With Thanksgiving looming large and my straw-stick-headed son looking scragglier and scragglier by the minute, I took charge on Wednesday and declared Haircut Night for both Yukon and Bear.

I usually get a little sentimental around the holidays where Wolf is concerned, and understandably so, but I wasn't prepared for what happened that night when I sat his little brother up on the old stepladder that serves as our haircutting stool.

As Bear sat, shirt off, old towel wrapped around his neck, waiting sullenly for me to plug in the clippers and get the show on the road, my mind flashed back to another stick-haired, skinny-backed little boy sitting in that very same spot.

I turned the clippers on, listening to their reassuring hum and bent Bear's head down so I could begin, eyes blurring as I looked at a soft little neck with a birthmark at its nape, just like Wolf's, hairline ending in exctly the same spot, the strands feeling similarly fine under my fingertips. In a moment of precious familiarity, I almost forgot which child was sitting before me.

"Miracle will follow miracle, and wonders will never cease."

Even here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What's Up With THIS?

I think I've fallen down the rabbit hole, Alice. My friends and family in the Pacific Northwest are hunkering down under a blanket of snow, while we Kirklands up in Alaska are hunkered down under a 1/4" coating of ice and freezing rain.

Yes, something is terribly, terribly wrong here. My street looks as if a Zamboni hot-mopped the pavement, leaving behind a perfectly smooth rink just waiting for the hockey skates. Except that it's my street.

I'd put up a picture, but it's not even worth wasting file space. It is simply gray, gray, and grayer. Bear is out of school today, and I'll probably keep him home tomorrow given that Thursday is Thanksgiving and what the heck, I'd like another day to sleep in. I'm such a rebel.

Wolf called last night and said Salt Lake City was under a blizzard watch. He and his pals were rather excited about the prospect, and why not? They live in a cozy brick building with no reason to leave. Lucky them.

Bear has to go with me to the Alaska Travelgram show until Yukon can come pick him up. You can live stream his melodious little voice (if I can get him to talk) HERE at 2 p.m. Alaska Time (3 for those of you in the PNW; 4 if you are in the Mountain states).

On the upside, last Saturday, before the Icepocalypse, we went on a tour with my pal Candice from Salmon Berry Tours to work on my Coast Magazine column at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The bears were still awake, eating pumpkins, the bison were silent sentries in the far off pasture, and the elk were a nice touch of home.

The coolest part was this crazy, circular rainbow, created by ice crystals in the fog. Amazing.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Update From the Wolf Den: Love and Limits

I'm reading (again) a great book by Lewis Smedes called "Love Within Limits". A friend lent it to me about a year ago and I've found great comfort in its practical approach to love.

Crazy concept, isn't it, needing to read a book to learn about loving my child? But parenting this kid who does so many unlovable things sometimes causes me to look upon the word "love" in a different light, perhaps, than others.

Wolf's behavior and the struggle of our family to maintain its sense of unity and hope within the storm of uncertainty is daunting. Sometimes I tell people I feel like two separate beings, each with a specific agenda and each possessing her own set of emotions specific to situations relating to Wolf. It is a survival tactic many parents of disabled children possess; we need it to carry on. So, clearly, loving Wolf is not so simple.

The book follows a passage read at umpteen weddings; the Corinthians love song that says "Love is patient, kind, etc. etc. Yes, you know it. But the part I read over and over and over again is the line that says "Love hopes all things."

I had hoped for years (and honestly, in some part of my brain probably still do) that Wolf would wake up one morning and decide to fly through CHYC's ladder of success, be discharged, come back to Alaska and head off to college, taking every part of his time away as a learning and growing experience. He'd be caring and empathetic to his parents and little brother and grandparents and the myriad of people who think about him every day. He would, in short, be all set for life.

That doesn't seem likely to happen. But hear me now, everyone, when I say that is okay. Wolf is who Wolf is, and will be, and ever could be. That kind of love frees us from expectations too high for him to meet, and frees him from feeling like a failure. That is the kind of love that hopes all things.

Smedes says in the book the paradox of love's power is that it sometimes gives new hope only as we let our fondest hopes go. And isn't our life with Wolf one paradoxical experience after another?

That's not always a bad thing. We can't replace what is not present, but we can work with what remains. So that's where we begin.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The New Header

Like the new photo header? Seasons change and so does Elituq: She is Learning.

I dig it, partly because it is the view from my home office, and partly because I like the perspective it offers.

Look close enough and you will see a delicate pattern of snowflakes upon the tree branches. Look beyond at the distant Chugach range and you can see a delicate shade of pink against the whiteness.

Gorgeous in a number of ways.

It's all in a point of view. There might be something to learn from that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Our Wonderful Weekend

Given our family's past seven days, it came as no surprise that a cancelled trip for AKontheGO brought sighs of relief rather than disappointment. With few weekends when we are not going someplace, the prospect of two days with no agenda felt just right.

Since Bear gets out of school early on Friday afternoons, a few friends and I have established a routine whereby we bring snacks, warm clothes, and in this case, sleds and skis, and take over a local trail or hill.

Temperatures hovered near 38 as we spent some time sledding on a blistering-fast hill at Russian Jack Springs Park in northeast Anchorage, a wooded, hilly golf course during the two summer months and one of my favorite running spots. The park turns into a hugely popular Nordic ski area and sledding area in the winter, with lighted trails and enough terrain for the whole family, and so we love Russian Jack for its proximity and warm chalet at the end of the day.

Bear and I took a rare mom-kid time out, sledding together and laughing hysterically at the grains of snow that shot, pellet-like, into our eyes and mouths as I desperately tried to keep us from running off the hill and into the wild rose-laden woods. Prickers, you know.

The kids decided at about the same time they wanted to ski, so off came snow boots and on went Nordic boots and the skinny skis. Bear took off almost immediately, showing off for the girls by climbing up and skiing down a nearby hill. We grownups didn't coach, didn't nag, didn't do anything, really, except watch and praise and comment to ourselves, "This is the way skiing ought to be; letting kids discover confidence all by themselves." Yep. Indeed, that was the case.

The Family K. slept in, went to a birthday party, and watched me shoot a promotional video for the Alaska Travelgram Show (I'll put it up later) out at Potter Marsh, where the light was lovely and the scene positively serene. Amazing.

We found out today that our temperatures will drop down to near zero tonight and for the next few days, meaning more work to stay warm when outside. How low can we go? We'll see.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It Was Indeed Quite a Day

I am now the proud owner of a MacBook Pro (15" for those of you who care). Yukon has said this is all mine and since he knows nothing about them, nor cares to, it is my responsibility to take the Mac Classes and figure this out myself.

Darn him.

A Day Off, and Alaska Welcomes Winter

Ahhhh. Hear it? That's the sound of a mommy who is relaxing in her basement, coffee cup in hand, Good Morning America on television.

Today is a federal holiday to honor all veterans, so Yukon is home. Well, actually, he is not at home, since Bear really really really wanted his dad to take him to school. Must be some father-son thing. So I packed Bear's lunch, made sure he was dressed (you have to do that with kindergarteners) and in his snow suit, and trundled them both out to the car after giving Yukon specific instructions on the proper Morning Drop Off procedure.

Winter has officially arrived, so departure times are altered a bit to allow for slipping and sliding traffic that creates a red snake of tail lights from here all the way to the front door of

Rilke Schule. Of course, that's if no moose decide to create "commutis-interruptis".

Our Hour of Power with Wolf this morning was, as you can imagine, peppered with all sorts of interesting commentary and explanations and lamentations. Yukon and I quite admirably held our cool while trying to get the message across that enough was enough. All the more reason to allow each of us to spend the morning with some downtime.

Monday, November 8, 2010

From the Wolf Den: The Part Where I Hit the Brakes

How does one title a blog post with something catchy and/or meaningful after a 24-hour period such as the one to which our oldest son has subjected us? I have considered "24 Hours and Bottle of Merlot", or "Panic in Salt Lake City" but they seemed inappropriately irreverant to our extremely un-funny situation. Sometimes parents, especially we parents who have children diagnosed with odd-sounding and even odder-appearing disabilities, need to throw caution into the wind and just say what's on our mind. True enough on any given day, but even truer when our kids do things that just make us want to shake our heads and then shake them. So I will commence.

It's a murky line we must walk each and every moment of our kids' lives, for we never, ever know what they will do or say or feel. Ever. Let me reiterate this; Never. Ever. Things can be jogging along, hunky-dory, beautiful-dreamer-style, and suddenly, Plunk. Kid totally throws the car into Park and everybody is left, sitting by the side of the road, feeling like a dope for letting him drive in the first place. Du-oh.

But, parents must allow the children to travel up and down the hills and valleys so they learn how it is in the Real World, yes, and Yukon and I attempt this with all our might. But must the child use us as the bag of sand in the trunk? I mean, seriously. What in the world of Heaven and Hell would drive my kid to take the high of a fabulous visit with his dad where he conducted himself in a manner worthy of admiration, and do something so incredibly stupid?

If there is one piece of wisdom I have gleaned from others in similar situations, it is this. Expect not only the Unexpected, but the Unfounded and the Unbelievable. Wolf did that (I will clarify, here, without relating the story, that no one was hurt in this incident, in any way). Now we as a collective group; CHYC staff, Yukon, me, and everybody that I sent to their knees in prayer and/or panic last night, must decide where he stands with us.

I'm thinking long and hard about that. This is a parenting crossroads, a clarity-moment, and one that will begin to define our future together. It is not easy, but it is the right place to be.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Thinking About Coming Home

To even entertain the concept of Wolf's discharge from CHYC means a certain level of stress. Filing of paperwork, thinking of details, preparing family and friends for a very different kid's return than the one who left two-plus years ago.

Yukon and I will be traveling to Fairbanks in the next few weeks to meet with staff at the step-down facility Wolf is slated to attend. Really, it is our only option for the results we seek. Beyond that our choices are limited, even in Anchorage, where ironically many agencies exist but funding does not.

But we are hopeful that Wolf will assimilate into Fairbanks' funky, college-town personality with not too much trouble, given of course his issues and challenges. We have friends there who have already committed themselves to helping whenever and wherever they might be needed. Ultimately, though, we know that only so much exists for us to do, the rest lies in preparation Wolf has received and the commitment he makes to himself.

But it's a start.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Turn the Page

I'm staring at a stack of papers taller than the Sunday edition of the New York Times but at the same time trying not to. When Yukon returned late Saturday from CHYC, he brought with him admission paperwork for one (of few) "step-down" homes in Alaska. The cover sheet alone was enough to make me want to run, screaming, to my bedroom and hide in a corner. Social Security card? Custody verification? Medical and behavioral history, again? I had forgotten about all this.

But here I am, searching in dusty files, copying information, and dutifully filling in blanks, crossing proverbial 't's' and dotting 'i's'. And we're not even sure when any discharge or admission is going to occur, so it feels strange on a number of levels, this daring to stick out our necks. I am unsettled.

A rather large gray area remains concerning Wolf's abilities, and I, realist to the end, would rather start low and gradually raise the bar ever higher rather than crash and burn with expectations set too high. We've been here before, you understand, and the psyches of my son and all people around him deserve preservation. This does not set well with some people, I have discovered. One friend of Yukon's said "Well, of course he'll go to college when he gets home, right?" and was dissatisfied with my response of "Maybe." Another acquaintance asked if I didn't think the facility we were considering in Fairbanks wouldn't be too "confining" for a kid like Wolf. Too confining? I'm worried it's not confining enough, but I didn't tell her that.

Turning pages to the next chapter is not easy. Wading through a sea of paperwork reminds me of this. I've had things, relatively speaking, easy these past few years. CHYC has handled nearly every aspect of Wolf's life, for better or worse, and my response has largely been in agreement or discord with civilized communication in between.

On a deeper level, I suppose, just facing the potential reality of my son's return to Alaska frightens me on a selfish plane. Nobody's lives will be the same, and a long view of what our personal and professional world will look like is murky at best.

I made a pledge to take those Baby Steps. I found copies of birth certificate, custody declaration, and passport. Three things checked off an endless list; and perhaps this afternoon I will actually flip over the cover page and take a long look at what's underneath.