Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer Love

Yukon and I had a date today. Like a real, adult, all-by-ourselves-do-what-we-want date. With other real adults, no less.

The Alaska State Fair is in full swing, and while I usually don't attend any of their special events, I did make an exception this year for Garrison Keillor's Summer Love Tour. Because I think Garrison Keillor is a writer's writer, a wordsmithing genius who makes me shut my eyes and let my mind slide over the gems that come out of his mouth.

Since both Keillor and his famous Prairie Home Companion show are due to retire in 2013, and since seeing/hearing the man live is most definitely on my List of Things To Do in Life, we went.

Brilliant blue sky (those of you not living here in Alaska must appreciate that the Fair is usually shrouded in clouds and rain and, at the very least, not-so-warm temperatures), cold beer, and a perfect spot on a warm, grassy slope to witness a master of storytelling and my literary hero reminisce and ruminate about Love for three hours.

There has not been so perfect a day in a long time.

"Love," Keillor mused, "Is not meant to be a neat and tidy thing. We are purposefully entangled in its hollows and reaches."

The Summer of Love. Yukon and I needed a little help to figure that out this year, if only from a funny-looking man in red sneakers who managed, somehow, to be speaking right to us.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Like a Hurricane...

Listening to frenzied news reports coming from the southeast, I'm thanking God I don't live there anymore, with all due respect to my dear friends in Summerville, SC. I just don't think given the events of our lives these days I could take a hurricane on top of it all.

Swirling here at home is our own frenzy of activity as we sort out calendars, make plans, and otherwise prepare for a hurricane to hit the Kirklands. Yukon's surgery has been scheduled for October 12; Hawaii has been put on hold (this fact will undoubtedly hit me later); Wolf got in a fight today at school; Bear said he likes the dog better than me.

Sigh. It's been one of those days.


But, our friends, as usual, have been undeniably fantastic with offers to take Bear, make us dinner, and otherwise soothe the soon-to-be crazed family Kirkland. We'll make it. We did it before, and we can do it again.

Everything happens for a reason. And perhaps the best reason of all is to show us how resiliant we truly are as a family.

Monday, August 22, 2011

First, the Good News...

Today was the first day of school for Bear. All trumped up and ready by 7 a.m., my little casanova had his hair spiffed, his bright yellow shirt all buttoned, and brand new, uber-cool Sketchers on his fast-growing feet.

A nice surprise was finding him assigned to a grade 1-2 split this year, which should be an interesting challenge for our little know-it-all. Thank goodness for faculty who understand my kid and his learning style!

We heard from Arctic Manor staff who, too, are pleased with progress both at the house and at school. Seems as if everyone is settling into their places with bright shiny faces. Haven't seen that in a while...

Now the bad news....

Yukon needs surgery again. Seems as if that elbow is just not presenting enough movement, despite endless physical therapy and exercise. Adding to the difficulty is a left shoulder that appears to be "freezing up," reasons for which will not fully be understood until Surgeon gets in there to see for himself.

Two-for-one; that's what we have coming on October 12. A long recovery coming, too, according to Surgeon. Ten days at least. Right after we are supposed to get back from a week in Hawaii, meaning that Yukon could conceivably be away from the office for three weeks, meaning that maybe we won't go to Hawaii. Meaning, also, that I am in a bit of a funk tonight.

I do, however, have a raspberry cobbler in the oven, because that is one thing I can control tonight. Dessert.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Firsts

I have tried not to think too much about "firsts" anymore where Wolf is involved. Our "firsts" are not like other people's firsts, and it used to drive me nuts. Baselines and standards, and all that.

But today was the first day of Wolf's senior year. A first worth remembering, because Yukon and I were not sure this day would arrive on time, if at all. But it has.

Wonderful N. at Arctic Manor sent me a message last night saying Wolf had organized his stuff a few times and was subsequently wandering around nervously, not wanting to go to bed. I had called earlier in the evening and listened as Wolf shared his list of new school clothes and supplies both N. and I had purchased over the last week. This was a big day.

It was an anxious day for me; wondering if the school would meet his academic needs as I knew it would his behavioral ones, for better and/or worse. Would the other kids be a hinderance rather than a motivator? Would staff truly understand Wolf's intellectual capabilities yet be ready to support the emotional fragility and anxious behavior?

I received an email from the school administrator around 4 p.m.

"Just wanted to let you know that (Wolf) had a very good first day. He easily made friends and is excited about the class he was placed in. He feels he has a lot in common and is on the same level as his classmates. We should be on track for (Wolf) to graduate on schedule, if not earlier."

We've never had a first day like this first day. Ever.

Monday, August 15, 2011

From the Wolf Den: Oh Boy, Tomorrow!

The family is in an uproar tonight. We found out at 5 p.m. that Wolf will be making a quick visit to Anchorage tomorrow. I'm excited, I'm anxious, and I'm hopeful.

Hopeful because a family who loves Wolf almost as much as we do is going to be so happy when we drive up to their house and he pokes his 6'2" frame in their doorway, and I know that 30 minutes of seeing their faces will provide power for the rest of Wolf's day.

I'm anxious because medical appointments rarely go as planned, especially with new psychiatrists in Alaska, where nothing is certain personality-wise, and options are few.

I'm excited because a little brother has the chance to wrap his arms around his big, big brother on home turf; show off bike-riding skills; eat a popcicle; read together.

This is bound to be an interesting day.....

Friday, August 12, 2011

From the Wolf Den: More Than This

I drove out of the hotel parking lot this morning with more than just coffee fueling my tired body. It was bound to be a full one; taking Wolf to the El Dorado Gold Mine to show him the ins and outs of Alaska's chief mineral mining process, visiting the Fairbanks School District to sign papers releasing them to do necessary testing, and taking Wolf to a potential school where, I knew, a fight was imminent.

My expectations were unfounded, however, for as much work as Wolf needed to do throughout the day to maintain his behavior standards and not break down into tears when we arrived at the alternative high school to where he will be placed, Wolf did fantastic.

Not to say that he didn't have his difficult moments; kids with Asperger Syndrome always will. But he rallied, pulled back, and was willing to listen to what we adults had to say.

House Parent N. accompanied us to the gold mine and had a great time. New to Alaska from Kansas, N. had not panned for gold before and found the opportunity sort of fun, and quite educational. It was nice, too, to see how N. managed Wolf's actions and words, and I'm sure it was nice for him to see the same from me.

School is going to be different for Wolf. It concerned we adults that asking him to mainstream into a large public high school when he has never before had such an opportunity would be crazy, and potentially set Wolf up for failure. So we are enrolling him in a small (23-student) high school operated in partnership with the School District and a family service organization.

Once Wolf found out it would not be like CHYC-unlocked, he calmed down, checked out the classrooms, and met the teachers, all of whom are absolutely incredible individuals. I continue to feel blessed by the amazing people we are meeting up here. Everywhere we go. All the time.

As a reward, I took Wolf to buy some "necessary" school supplies, consisting of graph paper, a zip-up binder, and a stash of pens/pencils. Since he's not had the chance to buy supplies in quite some time, this was a special event, indeed. I sweetened his behavior pot further by buying him a model and the necessary accoutrements, and when I left Arctic Manor this evening, he was peacefully organizing his new Titanic model.

I feel as if we both are waking up and seeing each other for the first time after a long, long, winter.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

From the Wolf Den: His Home

The first thought that drifted into my head early this morning was of how grateful I was not to be sitting on a red-eye bound for Salt Lake City. The second was how unbelievably comfortable it felt to be headed to a city I know, and know well, with people I trust and land I know almost as well as my own in Anchorage.

Wolf, I hope, will feel this way, too.

Arctic Manor is situated a bit out of Fairbanks, away from what hustle and bustle this small Alaskan town can produce. Along a bike trail, in the trees, the house is roomy, comfortable, and calm. Incredibly calm. Part of that has to do with Teaching Parents C. and N., their small daughter, and engaging little dog, Phil (I can use Phil's name because, well, he's a dog, and I don't think he'll mind my revealing his monniker).

Serenity also comes from Wolf himself. He is happy, and although the obsessions and impulses are still there, he says he likes where he is, and that's good enough for me today.

We took a walk this evening after a full afternoon of meetings at the school district for me, and anxious waiting for Wolf. A heavy summer shower had just passed over, leaving the air smelling like a hay field and causing flowers to nod with the weight of raindrops. The sun was out, though, and Wolf and I took our time ambling along the bike path, Phil sniffing and snorting in the tall grass.

It was nice. Really, really nice.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

From the Wolf Den: All That Glitters is Not Necessarily Gold

I swear my son was a racoon in his former life. Attracted to anything shiny, bright, and/or with the perception of value captures his immediate attention and usually sends the adults around him into hyperspace with fretting when these "treasures" are discovered. Case in point was the fact it took me a month to clean Wolf's room after he first left for CHYC.

After three years living in a fairly regimented environment where all possessions are logged, categorized, and kept fairly minimal, Wolf now finds himself in a place where he is permitted to keep more "Stuff." Now that he lives in one of the gold mining capitals of the world, guess what shiny item is taking center stage? Argh.

Gold Fever is real because I'm sick, sick, sick of talking about it. I'm sure the Arctic Manor staff are, too, but we all suffer with good humor because Wolf is so darned cute when he is talking about gold, mining, panning, and/or sluicing. We can't help it.

However, we must remind ourselves fairly frequently that Wolf's impulses are indeed brash and solid and hard to control, so should the mailman deliver three "authentic" gold coins to the Arctic Manor mailbox, it is a teachable moment (or two, or three) to explain why they need to be sent back.

I can't wait to see what he's hiding under his bed.

Friday, August 5, 2011

From the Wolf Den: With the Freedom Comes the Pain

As we are joyful at Wolf's presence back to Alaska, we are also reminded of how difficult this transition is for a young man with Asperger Syndrome.

Arctic Manor continues to be a fabulous option for Wolf, if he will allow it to be so. In a typically Asperger Syndrome sort of manner, Wolf is struggling with both the loss of old boundaries and the tightening up of new ones. There have been so many signs that perhaps he did indeed absorb some of the skills taught to him by CHYC, but, when presented with stressors in a very real world in which he now lives, his coping approach doesn't exactly match the situation. Unfortunately.

I cannot even to pretend to know what goes through Wolf's mind as he tries to manipulate in the fashion he is accustomed; in this case it is a staff member to whom Wolf finds a little too direct (bossy, as we are told) in telling him what to do, when, and how. In Wolf's mind, as in that of most people with Asperger Syndrome, he assumes this person, and all people, will submit and see things "his way." It is an extremely difficult existence, thinking one is the master of all and yet, it is actually the other way around.

Wolf knows he has freedom, but like a dog who escapes from his fenced-in yard and runs amok in the neighborhood, he has no idea how to safely and appropriately use it.

In looking at behaviors that are so immature, it becomes difficult to match the antics to the face we see. This is Asperger's at its most painful, and watching Wolf muddle his way through this most important time of new freedom reminds us further that the sand is slipping further and further into the base of the hourglass.

We can only take one deep, cleansing breath at a time, and wait for tomorrow.