Thursday, March 31, 2011

Never Take Your Life for Granted: Yukon and I Learn a Lesson

Just yesterday morning Yukon and I were having a conversation over the telephone about our need to slow down our lives, just a bit. Too much going on too quickly, we agreed; further stating our commitment to have "quality family time" for the remainder of the week and as much of the weekend as we could.

Cruel, cruel irony coming up.

With the weather looking lovely, I bailed on my writing assignment for the day, fitting it into my "after bedtime" writing time, and went running with The Dog. Picked up Bear from school and took him to get a Happy Meal because he earned a sticker for speaking German all day at the German Halls of Higher Learning. So far, so good. Even better was a phone call from my friend, a physical therapist for all things shoulder, arm, and hand (this is important), asking if Bear and I would like to hike with she, her two children, and old golden retriever. Of course we would.

A quick phone call to Yukon to say we might be gone when he arrived from his Wednesday-to-work bike ride, and off we went. Gal Pal and I had a lovely conversation about Life and how it never seems to go as we plan, but how of course God knows the Plan and we need only just chill about it. Fair enough.

Returned home well past the time Yukon was to have arrived home. No Yukon. Odd. Perhaps he left late since we were not going to be home, but it was only a 30 minute ride, max, from the VA to our house.

It was due to snow, so I was out in the back yard picking up dog stuff when I heard Yukon's voice and a car door slam. There he was, limping gingerly towards the open garage door, cradling his left arm in the right. "I got in an awful crash," was all he said, and the angel who picked him up off the pavement agreed. "I thought that damn pothole swallowed him right up," said our samaritan (who I shall love forever).

Emergency Mode. Threw Dog in kennel, threw boots on Bear, took him next door with chicken nuggets and french fries, wiped forthcoming tears of fright, helped Yukon into car, helmet, boots, and all, and sped off to hospital.

Five hours and a barrel of pain meds later, Yukon is the proud owner of a severely fractured elbow requiring surgery and many, many months of rehab. Surgery forthcoming as soon as swelling goes down.

Long night, and a sick kid was added to the equation around 4 a.m. I am operating on adrenaline. Yukon and Bear are operating under the influence of some stuff I wish I had.

But we learned something. Yes, we did. If you don't slow down, God will do it for you.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Fearful

It only took about five seconds of the Hour of Power on Thursday morning to discover what the trouble was.

Wolf is terrified to leave CHYC; and he's willing to fight like hell.

Not that I blame him, mind you. For three years his world has been a self-contained unit of careful supervision for everything from handing out toothpaste to telling him, verbatim, what he should say to someone else in certain situations. While staff makes every effort to assist students in making the transition, for some kids, this is the most difficult move they will ever make. Wolf, it appears, is one of these.

Fear does interesting things to people. Fight or flight. Stay or go. Walk away or punch the other guy in the nose.

Illustrated in a very Alaskan way, it's sort of like meeting up with a large, brown bear while hiking. We're told how to handle various outdoor scenarios in which bears figure; from a distance, up close, with kids, yada yada. It's drilled into our brains, but unfortunately, it's not always drilled into our body. The biggie safety tip, after making noise and hiking in groups of five or more (I prefer ten or twenty slower people than me, personally) is this: Don't Run.

Gotcha. I promise I won't run away from a thousand-pound, stinking, potentially new-mother-bear who finds me tragically in the wrong place at the wrong time. Try telling that to my Fight or Flight reflex. Or my knees. But that's the advice, and it's the correct advice, and if ever in that situation, it will take not to run as fast as my legs can or cannot carry me. And I don't have Asperger Syndrome.

Wolf listens to his body most of the time. He can't help it; the signals coming from one side of his endorphin-fueled brain sending signals to his arms and legs and blushing face are stronger than the signals from the other side of his brain saying "Whoa, now, mister, let's just think about the options here before we lay into this dude and you get in major trouble."

While I have the ability during a crisis to (try, anyway) to think rationally and make a decision based upon the environment and others in it (bears included), Wolf feels something happening and lets his body decide for him.

He's scared he'll get beaten up. He's scared other kids will make fun of him. He's scared no one will understand. So he'll fight back. Hard.

All Yukon and I could do on Thursday morning was repeat, over and over and over again, "We're here. We'll help. We love you."

By the end of the Hour, things had calmed down. Yukon talked with Wolf last night and reviewed some of the things he could do to let his brain catch up with the arms and legs.

This could be the longest road, yet.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Admitting I Was Wrong

Oh, but that's the hardest part of being Wolf. Admitting he screwed up, took the rap, assumed responsibility. We're not exactly sure why this is so darned difficult, but whenever he is found at fault a big falderal takes place, never ending well.

So was the case today, apparently. The most challenging environment for Wolf at CHYC is during Gym class, most certainly not his favorite after being tossed around like a wet noodle at a school in Anchorage and blamed for it due to his argumentative behavior. Today was not a good day. Argument-> Fight -> Bigger Fight -> Restraint. Damn. Damn it all to that Dark Place.

If he'd just let it go he'd be in such a better place. But he can't. All he can do is respond with some primal instinct that keeps telling him not to flee but fight; and fight he does, with all 6'2", 155 pounds of wiry bad self.

In nine hours the Hour of Power begins. I'm struggling tonight with how to respond when he calls. Part of me wants to say nothing. Part of me wants to lay into him like a drill sergeant. Unfortunately, I have not much hope for either choice. Were the stakes not so high, I would be less inclined to put on the pressure for proper behavior.

Perhaps I was wrong for saying that.

Monday, March 21, 2011

All Aboard the Ski Train

I regularly count myself fortunate to experience so much of the 49th state, all in the name of family travel. Somebody's gotta do it. Every trip is an adventure, every person we meet considered one more character in the realm of Alaskana. We dig it, all of it, and most of the time I keep my work writing separate from my personal musings just so I can keep it all straight and not confuse anyone. This time, however, I just can't keep my mouth shut or my fingers still.

Bear has been working hard on his Nordic (xc) skiing this year, and although he would rather die than admit he likes it as much or better than the faster-paced alpine style, had advanced to the point where Yukon and I agreed he could handle a day-long trip aboard the Alaska Railroad for the annual Ski Train. Sponsored by the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage, the Ski Train is a tradition dating back to 1972 and is an epic day of choo-chooing, skiing, and all-out eating or partying, depending upon one's age and or inclination.

We boarded the train in Anchorage at 6 a.m. Saturday morning, and traveled four hours to Curry, 22 miles north of Talkeetna, where the train stopped, spit out 730 skiers and snowshoers, then sat in the warm Alaskan sunshine until 4 p.m., when it again collected us for the ride home. It was, my friends, a blast. No roads, no technology, nothing but our own power to propel us around the historic town site and birch forests along the Susitna river.

Bear did a great job of navigating the non-groomed trails and crusty spring snow, enjoying the atta-boys from grownups as he sidestepped, climbed, and schussed a number of tricky hills.
His favorite part, however, was his unfettered access to the train, which sat, engines off, all day, allowing him to go on, off, on, and off the train for at least an hour. He was (gasp) even allowe
d to touch the shiny springs and wheels of our car and talked in person to the engineer who sat, puffing on a cigar (of course) in his high-up post, surveying the territory around him.

We dined on smoked salmon, crackers, cheddar cheese, and beer for happy hour, then moved on to a gourmet dinner of barbeque and salad for the ride home. Denali, the Great One, stood watch over our train as we lumbered home, and at least ten moose were equally silent sentries to our forested haven for a day.

I feel as if we were gone an entire weekend instead of only one day. Epic, I tell you.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Let it Snow?

I'm not sure why I included a question mark in the title; after all, it is only the middle of March and snowfall is not only common, it's expected. But I guess we, and most of Anchorage, had forgotten that with all of our gorgeous sunshine this past month.

I took a breather from a bunch of writing projects late this morning to shovel the driveway, very carefully, for the sunny days and cold nights also led to extremely icy conditions. Like, Zamboni ice, so underneath the five or so inches of snow lay a slick layer of frozen water. Yikes.

The Dog was quite excited at the prospect of going "Outside?!" and, as you can see, promptly dug up his tennis ball for a little catch and release while I shoveled away. A minor problem of the ball becoming buried in the fluffy snow became a lovely exercise in "Find it!"

Temperatures grew so warm (in the 30's by noon) that I discarded my coat and ended up shoveling in my Carhartts and a fleece sweater. Nice, very, very nice. Now if only I could do something about Yukon's old Ford Explorer (we call her "Old Betsy") and her accumulation of ice from a winter of sitting dormant in the driveway.

The snow had all but melted off the major roadways and everybody's decks by the time I picked up Bear at school. I think spring might just be on the way. Maybe.

Monday, March 14, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Helpless (But Not Hopeless)

It's been such a long, long time since I've read the ID on my sort-of-smartphone and seen "Wolf-CHYC" listed there. When my phone rang this morning I was at a coffee shop trying to get my writing assignments in order after almost two weeks on vacation. It was a beautiful day today, full of sunshine only an Alaskan winter morning could provide, and I was expecting a wonderfully productive day (now that Bear has gone back to school).

Seems there was a little tussle at CHYC; somebody aggravated Wolf (so easy to do, and the other boys know it) and he neglected to walk away, instead trying to charge headfirst into the other guy. Thankfully, staff got to him first and held him back.

It's so hard to control impulses for these kids. Wolf doesn't even have the most basic ability to say to himself "Don't do it." When you were a kid, did you ever see something in a store so incredibly cool, so absolutely beautiful, that you had to touch it, even if the sign said plainly, in big block letters, "DON'T TOUCH"? Yeah, that's my kid. Always.

I remember one time when Wolf got suspended from school in the first grade for jumping on a kid just because the class bully told him to. When I asked him "Why? Why would you do such a terrible thing?" He just stared at me and said "I don't know."

Now, all parents know there is nothing quite so aggravating as the "I don't know" response. Even in the best of circumstances it makes us feel helpless, as if this child to which we gave birth is suddenly and unexpectedly a stranger. It's not a good feeling.

At this juncture of Wolf's life, when he is so close to coming back to a less-restrictive living situation, losing one's cool like today simply will not do. Consequences will be swift and dire, and that leaves me with a degree of helplessness I cannot describe.

But not hopeless. Yukon and I have pledged, in the most painful way a parent could, to support Wolf to the best of our ability, to talk openly with him, to share suggestions where they are wanted, to coach and remind and remonstrate. And that's not a message of hopelessness. It's a message of reality, of positive parenting, and we'll try as hard as we can.

It is easy to feel helpless with respect to our disabled children. But hope is indeed the thing with feathers, and sometimes it flits here and there and lands in the most interesting places. We must hold on to hope when it comes anywhere near.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Hour of Power Away

It's a little complicated to conduct the weekly Hour of Power with Wolf while on a trip. In the first place, I always feel a bit guilty talking about the cool places we are, doing the cool things we do, with the cool people we do them with. Especially when our trip included seeing family and friends of Wolf's past. Hour of Power is a bit of a delicate dance between dealing with the current issue of the week and our desire to share some of our life in Alaska.

The second reason is purely mechanical. Time changes, remembering to tell Therapist B. the land line phone number of our current stay, and actually remembering that it's Thursday all factor in to the H of P from far away. Sometimes we can't even have the Hour of Power because our location that week is such that no phone can get through, never mind my sort-of-smartphone.

This morning I'm sitting in the front room of my in-law's condo that overlooks the Willamette River in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Had it not been for Bear needing to get up and use the bathroom I would have not happened to glance at the clock and notice the time.

It's a rainy, windy, genuinely stormy Pacific Northwest day in the works, I can tell by just a glance out the enormous windows. Still a bit dark outside, I'm enjoying this rare chance to just sit for a little while and relax, even if it is 6:30 in the morning.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Down on the Farm

As a travel writer, I'm often besieged with requests to visit places and people, just about wherever we go. Sometimes I take folks up on their offer, sometimes due to time constraints I simply can't.

Today was our scheduled departure from Issaquah after five great days with my folks. The second leg of our journey took us down to Portland where we will spend the next five days with Yukon's folks and my sister, P., who lives in the neighborhood made famous by Beverly Cleary.

We had received a request from a friend in Anchorage, however, to visit her brother at the family farm near Winlock, about halfway between Seattle and Portland. Called Olequa Farm, it is a little treasure tucked in between Toledo and Winlock, and along the main Seattle/Portland rail line. At over 100 years old, the farm is now about 32 acres and part of the community supported agriculture-culture so popular with consumers. Heirloom seeds, organic farming, and a family atmosphere are what makes places like Olequa tick, and we found a gentle spirit in owner B. and his wife, L.

Nothing fancy but everything genuine, B. walked us around the property, stopping to show off his kids' favorite haunts, like a swimming hole and the barn loft, the 5,000 strawberry plants he intends to plant soon, and a pack of puppies who followed Bear around, clutching at his heels every step of the way.

The day was bright, the river whispered and gurgled as we walked its banks. Yukon, Bear, and I slowly shook off our wintery sluggishness over the next two hours, the historic buildings and squishy soil bringing sunshine back to our souls.

A few fresh blueberry muffins later, we piled back into the van and finished our trip; slower, now, than perhaps we were before. No rush to get there. No rush at all.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Downtown Isn't as Far As it Used to Be

I remember when a walk to downtown Issaquah seemed like it took forever. In actuality, it was something like five blocks. To the dime store, to the grocery, to the library or park, going into town was a big deal during a time when kids were allowed to roam the sidewalk-laden streets of this tiny town with one flashing stoplight.

Yukon, Bear, my Dad and I all walked downtown yesterday to stretch our legs in between crazy spring storms. Our destination was the Issaquah Brewhouse, former site of Mr. Kramer's Butcher Shop where my mom purchased our meat, milk, and liver for the cat. Now it's a trendy little pub and Rogue Ale brewery that Yukon simply must visit each and every time we appear in Issy. Not that it's difficult, mind you.

That we decided to walk is also important. In Anchorage, there are few true "neighborhoods" like this one; places where residents have sidewalks and access to such luxuries as parks and brewhouses and the like. Being able to propel ourselves sans motor was big fun. Bear rode his scooter and we ambled along behind, stopping to look at the various attributes (or former attributes) of a city that's changed a heckuva lot since my growing up years in the 70's and 80's.

I took Bear to see the Salmon Hatchery next door to the Brewhouse; a place where thousands of kids have seen spawning salmon and where, I told my son, my entire neighborhood passel of kids would launch our truck tire inner tubes into the icy waters and float, without any grownups, all the way to Lake Sammamish some five miles away. Awesome.

The annual Salmon Days festival was an opportunity to see scores of dying fish clogging the same waterways; in disbelief we'd look, every year, over the railing of the then-wooden bridge at the flopping, stinky salmon. Then we'd go over to the festival booths and eat ourselves silly of cotton candy and Bohem's ice cream bars.

Bear looked at the water, looked at the holding tanks with leaping little fishes, wandered around the hatchery house, then asked, "You used to come here a lot?"

Oh yeah, man. I used to come here a lot. Five blocks, at least.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Old Home Week

It's been a few years since we ventured back to the familiar landscape of my growing up years. Bear didn't remember anything about his grandparents' home in Issaquah and our trip down was full of questions; "Where did you play?" "Who were your friends?" Stuff like that.

One of the first things Bear wanted to do upon our arrival was take a walk despite pouring rain and puddles problemo. I think most of it had to do with his desire to carry one of Grandma's umbrellas.

Off he went, through the neighborhood that has seen the tracks of my sneakers more than once. My mom gave me a walking tour, who was there, who had moved away, who had begun remodeling. It was nice to see her still so engaged in the comings and goings of a place that held a generation of kids within its quiet streets.

Those same streets aren't so quiet now, though, and I had to keep reminding Bear to stop, look and listen when we came to a crossroad. We sure don't have this many cars in our neck of the North.

Bear was also highly interested in the sidewalks and driveways of the older houses along our route. Anchorage houses (at least in our neighborhood) are clearly 1970's style; built in a hurry and with no sidewalks. My son found it most delightful to run up and down the driveways of people I don't know, sort of funny that he assumed the owner wouldn't care because a kid is outside playing, right?

Always so fascinating to see the differences in awareness and thought of my Alaskan child when we visit the Lower 48.