Sunday, July 31, 2011

Upside-Down in Mother Nature's Arms

The photo above shows a clump of moss and lichen clinging to the skeletal branch of an old spruce tree. Not very unusual at first glance, I suppose, especially since it was taken in southeast Alaska, where moss grows like grass and spruce trees are numerous.

No, what is unique about this beautiful, mossy image is that it was taken from nearly 50 feet in the air by a wet, slippery, and unsure photographer; me. I was lured to a ziplining excursion in Ketchikan on a day even most southeast Alaska residents would call "too wet," along with a group of adventursome (or foolish) other people gathered to propell, rapell, and zip our way from treetop to treetop in a sort of Tarzan-esque experience.

I'm not afraid of heights but I do possess a number of control issues, just ask my kayak instructor and the pilot who flew me out to Hallo Bay last month. The very idea of sliding rapidly down a mountain with nothing but nylon butt straps between me and the forest duff below was not really my idea of a great time. But I did it, and ultimately loved it.

I am the daughter of a forester who taught uhis kids to look up. Up at the sky beyond the tippy tops of evergreen trees, up at the frosty green leaves and branches whose arms stretched to the heavens. I never believed one day I'd be standing among them, on their terms, held tenuously within their generous hands.

That clump of moss with the little sword fern growing out of its deteriorating branch would not have been found near the ground. It grows only there, and in that way, and I would have missed it had I said "no thanks" to the ziplining invite.

It was quiet up there in the trees; the rain made tentative taps upon my helmet and against the decking of the 5' X 5' platform we stood upon as we waited our turn to zip. Occasionally, the wind would gently move each individual tree back and forth with a rhythm that was, surprisingly, not scary at all.

Perhaps Mother Nature is less scary than we think, if given the proper respect. Perhaps Life is, as well.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Quick Update From the Wolf Den

Yukon, Bear, and I are now home from our 14-day excursion around southeast Alaska. Be it ever so crumbled (haha), there is indeed no place like home.

With our return, it is time for me to unpack and pack again for a trip, north this time, to see Wolf and his new digs at Arctic Manor. I have been saving posters and important "stuff" I know he wants just for this occasion. We've talked a bunch over the course of these past few weeks, and I am so incredibly blessed to have such a compassionate, open-minded team of houseparents who are looking over this next phase of Wolf's life.

I will leave on August 10th for a fast trip to Fairbanks, where I'll meet with the school district to begin negotiations (because that is what it will be) of how, where, and in what form Wolf will return to a mainstream high school. It will be hard for me; I have one set of expectations, I am sure they have another; and I am not the easiest person to communicate with when I think (or know) I'm right. But this is my kid, who, if not me, will advocate for what he needs most?

Bear desperately wants to go with me, but I think I'll leave him behind this trip so I can completely focus on my tasks at hand, and so that Wolf and I can get outside, take a hike, shop for new bedding and such. It's funny to have two kids to get ready for school, the first time ever.

Feels pretty good, all things considered.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Taste of Alaska

We had a spectacular visit to Anan Wildlife Preserve today, watching bears catch fish along Anan Creek near Wrangell, Alaska.

Completely different experience from Hallo Bay. Equally impressive. Bear did a great job of following the "bear aware" rules, further reinforcing my belief that Alaskan kids have a solid knowledge of their environment.

I can dig it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

From the Wolf Den: I'm Me and Nobody Else

How we've worked so hard to get here. Being Wolf, all day and all the time, is not easy.
I called him yesterday to check in from southeast Alaska, where Yukon and Bear and I are still ferrying around the Inside Passage.

Wolf was doing his morning chores, washing dishes along with another kid. He took a time-out to tell me that he wanted to get some clothes for school. Of course he does, and I said I'd help him take care of that when I got up there.

"Uhhh, well..."

I found this fascinating.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Well, nothing, exactly," came the reply. "I'm just trying to find a way to say something in a way that won't sound disrespectful."

Wolf wanted to buy his own clothes.

I high-fived him over the phone.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

From the Wolf Den: He Got to Tie His Shoes

Wolf is back in Alaska. A bit shaky, a bit nervous, but back in the state he has missed so much. Arctic Manor's director flew down to CHYC last night to receive his paperwork, meet with Therapist B. and get to know Wolf a bit before they boarded a flight north at 8 a.m.

I cannot imagine what was going through my son's head and heart this morning. I do know that he tried so incredibly hard to keep it all together before he left; both Yukon and I (and all of you who know him as well) are very, very proud of him. He reported to me his stomach was upset the whole trip and that cannot have been comfortable for him. Arctic Manor called tonight to tell us all was well, and in Wolf's voice I could hear relief. That's good enough for me, especially since we couldn't be there ourselves to welcome him home.

Wolf also got to tie his shoes today. Most of us don't even think about the act of tying shoes. It's automatic and trivial, unless you live in a residential facility where anything that could be used as a tool for self-harm in this litigious world we live is taken away. Same with belts, hoodie strings, and the like.

When Wolf left CHYC this morning, he was wearing new shoes I bought for him during my visit a few weeks ago. They had bright white laces in them. Brilliant, white strings that demanded attention.

What a liberating feeling it must have been for Wolf to thread those laces through the shoes' holes, to feel the smoothness of the material on his lanky fingers, and to loop with finality a bow on top. I bet he stared at those white laces a while before walking out the front door of a place that has been both is most comforting haven and worst nightmare.

Those shoelaces were more than trivial to Wolf, they were freedom. They were a connection to home, and they were, finally, his own.

Bless him, and bless all of us as we lace up our own shoes tomorrow.

The tie that binds.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Southeast Alaska and Other Updates

The one thing about southeast Alaska is its unending uncertainty regarding the internet. Always. So forgive me for the blogger silence; I've been frantically trying to find a wifi hotspot for the AKontheGO work I must do first. This morning I had to beg the hotel staff (who were most happy to oblige me after they realized I would be writing about them, HA) to let me use their front desk computer to update things. Argh. All seems to be working at the moment, but since I never know when the magic of wifi will magically go away, I thought I'd better provide some updates....

Wolf will be coming home on July 19. When we had the last Hour of Power (we were at the airport waiting to board our flight for Juneau), Therapist B. and I told Wolf the exact date. After a speechless moment during which Therapist B. said Wolf was a bit teary-eyed (who wouldn't be; I know I was), Wolf jumped into the air and yelled "YES!" Yes, indeed. Bear and I will go up to Arctic Manor in Fairbanks as soon as we can after our arrival home, and get the big lad all set up for school and life in the Interior region of Alaska.

In the meantime, the rest of us are down in Juneau, enjoying a sunny/cloudy day after a drizzly start to our trip yesterday. Nonetheless, we are indeed Alaskans and have had a wonderful time no matter the weather. Whales bubble-feeding (photo above), hiking atop Mount Roberts; it's all be special and magical and a trip to be cherished. Tomorrow we board the Alaska Marine Highway System for Skagway and a little Gold Rush immersion. Bear can hardly contain himself.

Yukon and I are having a glass of red wine while the late afternoon sun filters through the tall, dark spruce trees we were so glad to see after so much time spent up North. We miss the big trees and the scents they release; it is a little reminder that the Pacific Northwest is, was, and will always be, Home.

We're thinking a lot about Home these days, every one of us.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Best Day of His Life: Bear Learns to Ride a Bike

It's been a long saga of timid attempts by Bear to learn to ride his two-wheeler. A very cautious kid, he made sure Yukon was there for weeks, holding on to the crossbar. Yukon, anxious himself, made sure to provide short spurts of teaching intermingled with plenty of attaboy's.

I did things a little different. Not better, mind you, just different.

I remember teaching Wolf to ride his bike; a bit cautious himself, but more willing to take a chance and see what happened if he fell off. Which he of course did, but since I taught him on the two acres of lumpy pastureland upon which we were living at the time, it was a fairly harmless way of learning to ride a bicycle.

Bear had been grumpy all day, I'm sure due to one phase of growing up or another, at any rate, he stomped outside to ride his training wheel bike (we have several bikes to choose from, thanks to cool neighbors), and I began mowing the lawn. It was obvious he was ready to ride the two-wheeler, and it really didn't take much convincing to get him to straddle the fiery red and yellow bike and let me hold on to the rear of the seat. (key, here).

We had gone about 10 yards before it was obvious the only thing holding him back was indeed his cautious nature, so I loosened my grip to just below his lower back, so he thought I was still holding on. Hah.

Is there anything more liberating to a little boy than the moment he takes off, unaided by grownup hands, and pedals off into the sunset? Nope. I don't think so.

And three or so hours later, he's still out there, standing up to pedal and turning around like a pro.

We're on our way.

Friday, July 8, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Angels

There are angels, then there are angels, and right now I'm missing the ones I left behind in Utah.

When I drove out of the CHYC parking lot last Friday night, I realized with a sudden certainty that this was the last time I would walk across the green grass of the school's quad, the last time I would go through the double doors that were so tough to open with my arms full of snacks, clothes, and a double-tall latte for me. Flying across Great Salt lake, I realized it would also be the last time I would see the collection of absolutely wonderful individuals who have become like family.

The photo above shows Miss J, a beautiful soul who has cried with me, laughed with me, and high-fived every accomplishment my son has made in the last three years. She also is credited with asking Wolf, every single morning, "What kind of day are you going to make, today?" Every.Morning.

We've talked about Alaska, kids, ex-husbands, and new babies. I've listened to Miss J. chew out delivery men who tracked mud into her freshly-polished floor space, and watched her, without reservation, hug a mom who had just delivered her daughter to CHYC and now was walking out the door without her. Miss J. made the long trek from CHYC to my hotel room last Thursday to bring me chicken soup and ginger ale when I was sick. There are not too many receptionists with that level of kindness intrinsically built into their souls.

I will miss her. Wolf will miss her. She made three years more bearable, more like home, more like family.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Time Keeps on Slipping Into the Future

Wolf's current obsession is, understandably, his discharge date from CHYC to Arctic Manor (Yukon and South Neighbor came up with that name last week while having cocktails on the deck in my absence. I will allow them the luxury of naming the new home. Ha).

During today's Hour of Power, he must have asked three or four times for hints, "ideas of when", "general ballpark days", and any other term that could be utilized to establish a firm date for when he will depart CHYC and fly north. Fortunately Therapist B. has a good sense of humor and answered his questions with a spontaneity that impressed me. "Between now and the first day of school" is as close as he'd come with Wolf, and by the end of the session it seemed to placate him fairly well.

Yukon and I are scrambling to accomplish the myriad tasks required to move a disabled child from one state to the other in a fairly short span of time. The week of July 18, in fact. Right smack during our Alaska Marine Highway trip. Of course, fate has a way of doing that to us. But we'll manage; in fact, I think we'll manage better due to the fact Wolf will have an escort in the form of Arctic Manor's clinical director, who will have ample opportunity to bond with Wolf on the airplane. Probably more than he ever anticipated. Wolf will be able to get to know the other boys (there will be five total, such a nice chance from 19 in his current situation), and the house protocols before I ever show up. Nothing more embarrassing than having your mom there to ask questions for you. In so many ways Wolf is a typical teenager and I constantly have to remind myself of that: "Don't embarrass the boy, don't embarrass the boy."

This morning I am printing off and signing Releases of Information, HIPPA documents, applications for psychiatric med management, and creating a whole new file folder for this whole new chapter.

The file is labeled "Wolf-Fairbanks" .

It is a pleasure to have it sitting on my desk.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Independence Day at Independence Mine

We took a break from the stress and excitement of Wolf's transfer back to Alaska by immersing ourselves in a little Alaska. Nice huh?

A friend went with us (single mom without her son all summer, so she was lonely and wanting a little AK Fam excitement; we gladly provided!) to Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine, high in the alpine lakes area of Palmer, Alaska. Palmer is the site of the 1935 Colonists/New Deal by then-President Roosevelt to hopefully jump-start the economy and their farming lives. It sort of worked. Now the area is prime farming land (in an Alaskan sort of way) and one of our favorite destinations.

We climbed high to a mountain lake, ate a yummy lunch of smoked salmon, crackers, and cheese, then came back to our house to enjoy cocktails in the back yard. A pretty nice day. Very nice, actually.

How was yours?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

From the Wolf Den: "What a Marvelous Puzzle You Are"

"Extraordinary things only happen to extraordinary people. Perhaps this is the merely a chance to go beyond your dreams." - Reepicheep

Reepicheep is a rodent braveheart and important figure in the latest "Chronicles of Narnia" film. With his gallant yet sometimes cutting personality, he manages nonetheless to establish a relationship with a young, snooty, somewhat boorish English lad named Eustace in "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Unfortunately, at the point of the above quote, Eustace has found himself turned into a dragon. Reepicheep is trying to comfort Eustace and encourage him for his uncertain future.

For Wolf and I, watching this movie was our final activity together. It was, I believe, a preface for the coming weeks of uncertainty and awkwardness for Wolf, who can, as we all know, act boorish, quite irritatingly so.

Wolf will be transferring the week of July 18 to Northern House (I just made that up). He might find, as Eustace eventually did, that being a dragon might not be so bad. But, as Eustace also discovered, it is up to him to find out how. Wanting so much to be the coolest but not knowing how, Asperger Syndrome has created a wonderfully intelligent but socially confused young man, desiring the best of friends but only succeeding in pushing others away.

Perhaps, if he looks at himself for what he is and what he can be, he will be the stuff of his dreams. Dragons aren't so bad. They spit fire, have wings and, as Reep said so eloquently, "have skin of chain mail to deter any swordsman."

To be a dragon. To be extraordinary. To save the day. For Wolf, the sky's the limit. His chance is finally here.

Join me in wishing him that.

Friday, July 1, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Transitions

I would have updated y'all much earlier, but I was sick yesterday. Nothing like a fever when you're away from home to make you want your mommy, or at least your own bed. Oy. At any rate, today I feel almost human and spent the morning with Wolf and the details of his sooner-rather-than-later discharge.

Really. Sooner. Not later.

At a team meeting with the entire CHYC crew who has dilligently supported, cajoled, and figuratively kicked my son's fanny these past three years, we had on the line via telecon the powers that be from Alaska Medicaid and the new Group Home Wolf will soon call his home (we'll give it a name as soon as I think of something snappy). I was prepared for a "No, we don't think we can take him," or at least a "Let's wait a while longer," and was surprised when the general consensus seemed to be soon. Like in two weeks.

There is much to be done and many people to talk with, along with the mechanics of such a move with a kid who collects stuff like a racoon does shiny things. Wolf and I spent the morning making a list of questions to ask the Group Home clinical director and he was a trooper during the phone call, asking apporpriate questions and, I hope, alleviating some uneasiness of this move.

We also spent time writing thank-you notes to some very special people at CHYC who have been more like parents these past 36 months. I don't think the reality of moving hit until Wolf was writing the notes; very sweetly he listed the reasons he was thankful for these individuals and how he was going to try and "make every day a good day".

When I commented on his choice of words, Wolf said "See, I'm not a mean guy." Nope. Not at all.

I just hope the rest of the world will understand.