I'm working on an essay about dipnetting that combines our different experiences over the years. Last year, Nick and I caught 55 salmon in one day, often pulling two ten pound fish out of the water at one time.
My parents watched in awe from the beach as Alaskans from every stripe converged on the Kenai on the hottest day of the summer run.
This year, well, the sun shone down on us as we stood chest deep in frigid water, but I spent a lot more time thinking then I did catching. Over four days of fishing, I only caught nine fish. I lost more than I landed and spent almost eight hours in the water over two days before I dragged my first sockeye to shore.
But you know, I loved every minute of it, even when the waves went up my nose and down my waders, and I had to stand on my tip toes to compensate for being only five foot two. I loved the calm mornings and the three foot waves to jump in the afternoon. I love the ache in my arms and the easy conversations with the people around me.
And most of all, I just love the idea of catching my own dinner. Of a direct line from sea to plate. I love the down and dirty work of fishing, work you can taste and smell and that makes your body remember its alive. In this world of abstraction and screens there is something so sweet about holding a five foot net attached to a six foot pole and waiting for a salmon to find you.
Not the person next to you.
Oh, and when it hits, there is nothing like the rush of trying to tangle that Red in your net and drag it to shore.
So I will stand in the water and wait.
And wait I did.
But you know, I stood watching the mountains change in the light, with my back to the beach where my family and beloved friends played in the sand, and for those few hours everything was alright.
In our uniforms of waders or drysuits, I am no longer a white 40-something special needs mama but a hopeful provider in a long line of humanity wanting nothing more than to feed our families well.
And wild Alaskan salmon, it doesn't get much better than that.
So I'm already looking forward to next year.
Sitting around the dinner table, Olive makes a comment about how she can see small things but Elias really can't, which leads us into a discussion about vision and impairment and how all our eyes work a little differently. We talk about Nana who needs contacts or glasses to see clearly and our friend Dan who lost his eyes to a bear.
"Elias's vision may not be as clear as yours but he can see a whole lot," I say to Olive, as Elias looks at his plate, listening, but not yet participating in the conversation.
We talk about the difference between being fully blind like a girl we often see skiing at Challenge and legally blind like Elias.
I remind Elias of the camp he attended two summers ago where all the students were blind or visually impaired.
"Oh," Elias says, "I didn't notice that." He raises his eyes from his plate and rests them somewhere between us and the ceiling above. "I was too busy looking at something else."
God I love him.
And here, while Olive and I smile with ease before a lens, putting on our social face, Elias struggles to manipulate his expressions for a camera-- but as is often the case, the result is just a bit more true:
Happy Friday all!
I just left you in bed with Superman and I can't hear the words you share with your coveted balloon, chosen in Seward, after you ran in the mini Mt Marathon race, number 247, you at the back of the pack looking at the crowd, 1,000's strong, cheering on a group of 4 year-old girls who know nothing of winning and losing, of competition that breaks a soul, only know the feel of sneakers on pavement, your arms swinging as your little legs churn.
You who learned how to ride a bike on two wheels, without all the pomp and circumstance, just as if of course you would ride, and why not now, pedalling on your own as you do at playgrounds when I make a choice to leave you stranded on the rock wall, unsure how to climb down, to observe and most likely mediate your older brother's interactions with children younger than you who flock to the same slide.
You who tells other kids at the library, "My brother struggles with balance, that's why he grabbed you." Or when Elias sits directly in front of the TV, announces to the women gathered at a friends' home to watch the World Cup, "It' because he doesn't have very good vision."
My girl who says, watch this, and pulls a perfect tree pose while standing on a log at Tonsina Point, after hiking down the switch-backs and waiting for your brother at every second turn-- letting him know you were in front, but wanting to wait all the same.
My girl who straddles the cusp of understanding, the edge between the sun and the view from the planets that surround, this enlarging time of stepping out into a world bigger than our own.
When I zipped up your sleeping bag, after a time spent in the shadow of mountains and above the sea, surrounded by Hemlock and Fur, when the meltdowns were fewer and farther between, you looked up at me with your eyes that mirror mine and said, "I'm so glad we're back in our country."
And you might have meant Alaska, and not our four person tent, but as I kissed your forehead I wanted nothing more than to weave your words into the fabric of my life.
To embrace the moments between all that is to do.
I love you.
"Do you want to dance with me Mom?"
How can I resist?
"I'd love to dance with you Elias."
"But I need faster music."
"What do you want to dance to?"
He stands in the middle of kitchen. It's bath-time but Nick offers to finish up with Olive so I can dance with my son.
"7,8,9," Elias answers, stating the first track of the Bare Naked Ladies' kids album Snacktime.
"Ok, I'll put it on."
When the music starts, Elias bounces and jumps in place, almost moving his body in rhythm with the instruments. I jump around with him. When the second track, The Ninjas, plays I snap my fingers and step forward and back.
"What are you doing Mom?"
"Dancing, try it, step backwards, now forwards, yes, back, now forwards..."
Elias takes big steps, arms out for balance, but he mimics me, and we dance together. Back and forth, back and forth.
I spin. He swings his arms and spins halfway around, catches himself, and spins back to face me.
He does it again and then reaches for my hands and we spin around together, until his legs slide out and he ends up on the floor, laughing, "I don't know what I'm doing!"
Either do I, Bud, either do I! But I'll drop everything to dance with you.
Happy Friday All!
Run, run from the waves!
Just flap my winds and rise above the stubborn whines of children.
Not that I want to get on a plane again after 20 hours of travel from Cape Cod to Anchorage, but my kids are falling apart now that we're home. The post vacation crash. And sure, I'm tired too and a bit overwhelmed so my responses to their complaints are less than stellar, but man, they exhaust me.
Nick is asleep as I write, in bed with Olive, lost to the goodnight battle with children. Missing this precious time when we are not called upon to react.
So back to flying.
I must say Elias and Olive rocked the flights. Well-behaved with a few minor hiccups, like Elias throwing up on one flight and knocking a man's beer over on another, but besides these blips they made me proud. Slightly embarrassed at times but not ready to disown them.
An older woman asked Elias his age as we waited to get off the plane in Seattle.
"I'm ten. How old are you?"
"Oh, almost 100."
"Really!!! You are almost 100?!!!" he shouted.
"Well, I'm 80 something, I forget."
"My Mom is 41 and my Dad is 36." Laughter from the surrounding aisles.
"He says it like it is, huh?"
"Yep, thats my boy."
Concrete and literal.
On every flight he looks over the safety information card but I just realized on this trip he pulls it out of the seat-back compartment right after the flight attendant shows it and says, "Please look over the card before take off."
On all five flights, Elias pulled the card out directly after the flight attendant recommended we look at it. He might have been the only one on the plane to do so.
"If there's an accident I'm following him," said the young woman next to me on our last flight when I told her to watch.
And yet we made it across the country without any major mishaps.
I apologized to the man with the white ponytail who, when Elias walked down the aisle cane-free, suddenly found his Alaskan Amber in his lap, and I asked the stewardess to give him a towel and a second beer.
"Sorry, my son has Cerebral Palsy and his balance is a bit off."
His scowl lightened and he said, "Its ok."
And really, it was ok.
And here too, I will be ok.
I will survive the meltdowns and the tantrums and the whining because really, what else is there to do but to carry on.
When we landed in Anchorage, Nick carried a sleepy Olive to the parking garage to pick up our car and Elias and I waited for our bags. Elias stood at his favorite spot, where the bags come out of a dark hole to fall to the circular conveyor belt below. "Bang!," he said after each bag fell in a louder than inside voice and it would have been nice if his shirt said: I'm not strange I'm autistic.
"Bang!' He'd smile and jump up and down on his canes as I looked for our blue and orange bags."Bang!"
When all four emerged, I strapped two to my back along with my backpack and dragged the other wheel-less two across the airport as people stared at Elias and me. I caught eyes with a small Hmong woman surrounded by children who smiled at me in a knowing way.
I smiled back and carried on.
In between Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic sits my parents house in Eastham MA on a spit of land about three miles wide. Nestled in the woods on a dirt road, a mile from the bay and two miles from the ocean their cedar-shingled house surrounded by pine needles, Oak trees and roses is just how I remember it.
With the same rules as when I was kid. When we return from the beach we go straight to the outdoor shower. Say please and thank you. Eat some veggies before you get dessert.
Olive and Elias have both ditched me in favor of Nana and Papa and I couldn't be happier.
Nick and I just returned from four nights away, our longest reprieve from parenthood together, ever. We spent time with old friends of mine and time by ourselves as we traveled up to southern Maine and back to Boston. We walked cities and woods, holding hands and talking about our lives in ways nearly impossible with small children.
So many uninterrupted conversations.
Long moments of silence.
Meals without meltdowns.
As I packed for our getaway, I walked past some pull-ups and paused as I realized I could leave them behind.
And leave them behind I did.
And sure, now that I've been back for a day I already have scratch marks on my upper arm from Elias who grew frustrated when I wouldn't let him play with the packaging around some of Nana's stored glass vases in the basement. And after falling asleep easily for the grandparents, the kids fought for me last night over whether it was too dark or too light in their room.
"This hasn't been a problem," my Mom said. "They're harder on you."
And I'll take it. I'll take the worst, if it means I can leave them with loved ones. I'd rather Elias freak out on me then to get a call when I'm hundreds of miles away, say sitting in the sun on a deck overlooking Booth Bay Harbor, across from the glacier blue eyes of the man I fell in love with almost fifteen years ago. Long before I knew how vulnerable and strong parenthood would make him.
I went to Alaska on a whim, not planning to meet my future husband my first week in Anchorage, never expecting to call the state home, so far from this sandy peninsula of my childhood. Summers on the Cape. What a life. And now my kids get to experience it too, playing in tidal pools, finding sea clams and horseshoe crabs, running barefoot on the beach.
This morning I ran to the ocean alone and stood on the shore as I watched the waves surge and retreat, surge and retreat, I paused as long as I dared before turning and running home to my parents' house where my children played in the basement with my childhood toys, saved by my Mom for days like these.