I have up to 15 pages of a manuscript due at the end of the month for an editor/agent to review as part of the Katchemak Bay Writers conference I'm attending in June.
As well as another Arctic Entries story to prepare for May.
So I may not update here for a bit.
(Unless of course I just have to write.)
So in the meantime...
This is the view from lower Mt. Marathon of the town of Seward where we will move this summer:
And here is another view of the town from the road to Lowell Point, the spit of land we will call home:
Not a bad commute, eh?
When I walked into Olive's room last night to snuggle with her before bed, she was sitting up with a pen and notebook.
"Mom, I'm drawing our new house. Do you want to watch me?"
"Sure Babe. Slide over."
We sat together as she drew a layout of a home that not only included a bigger bedroom for her, but her own private office. She drew bookshelves and a closet and a great big deck around the whole house.
"I like it," I said, as I looked at my six-year-old daughter who is more and more like her father, a little builder able to turn visions into tangible entities with her two small hands.
"Do you think we can build it, Mommy?"
"I think we can build something like it."
"Can you get Daddy so I can show him?"
And so here's the news, as big as a mountain:
Our family is finally doing what we've dreamed about for years--taking a giant leap and moving to Cuzuncle David's property above Lowell Point in Seward.
We will live in a 30 foot trailer at first. And tents. And outside on the 40 plus acres of land that backs up to both National Forest and State Park.
We are moving to my heart's home, to the place I fell in love with the first time we drove up the driveway.
I could live here forever, I thought.
Little did I know then that David would someday invite us to join him on the hill, in this place where eagles and porcupines reside as neighbors, in a space nestled between mountain peaks and Resurrection Bay
We may need to rent a house or cabin for the winter (not sure how long we can survive in the trailer) as we work towards a home of our own, on the side of a mountain, at the end of the road.
Nick has accepted a job as the Seward Educational Coordinator for Chugachmiut, a regional Native Cooperation. My job (at first) will be to transition the kids, develop support networks, and to write.
I want to write a book, I've wanted to for years, but with full-time work and parenthood my writing hours fall off my plate far too often, rolling beneath the fridge, lost for days. My hope is we can survive on one salary, for at least the fall, so I can write while my kids are at school instead of waiting till they are asleep at night.
I am still in awe that I will be given the gift of time to write.
And I owe this to Nick, who is jumping into a new job days after leaving UAA, giving up his summer vacation, stepping into unfamiliar territory, all so we can see if our dream of Seward matches reality.
How will we ever know if we don't go?
We will finish up the school year in Anchorage, and be back and forth over the summer, before settling into Seward full time by August.
Adventure awaits, and yes....
...you can come along for the ride.
"It comes in waves," I say about grief to a student in my office. "There will be moments where you don't think about it and then suddenly there it is again, making you feel sad or angry or numb or confused or a whole mixture of feelings all at once. And they are all OK to feel."
He looks at me with tears in his eyes and nods.
"Everyone experiences grief when they lose someone they love. It just doesn't always look the same."
We color as we talk with pencils in a variety of shades, some sharp others worn down from previous use. I work on a horse with a long flowing mane; with careful strokes I place red and orange between the black lines, adding fire to white. The student works on a turtle, bringing a rainbow of colors to the page.
On any given day, in a different hour, my picture could look completely different. More indigo and violet, a cooler palette, or perhaps the softer shades of pastels.
"What is your favorite color?" kids often ask.
"Orange, green, and purple."
"No, just one."
"But I can't pick just one."
It depends on the day, on my mood, and on what I'm picking the color for-- I can't choose only one shade.
It's been a rough stretch, both at work and at home, more gravity less light, but it seems to be lifting, just a little, as Spring stretches our days, and the heat of the sun reminds me that the only constant is change.
With change comes a longing for what we leave behind mixed with hope for what lays ahead.
I find myself here often, in this middle space between familiar and unkown, between yesterday and tomorrow, pulled between poles as if I can keep one foot in each space, a finger on the pulse of both history and future.
How many times must I say to myself, there is only today, only now, until my mind remembers and stops its wanderings into past decisions or out into days unseen?
I can be fully present for the children who sit in my office, who hand me their heart wrapped in a story of loss and pain, but I don't often give myself the same attention.
I don't write when I know I need to turn to the page.
But, again, the only constant is change-- and I feel the wind shifting, more of a warm breeze than a bite, more patient, soft, and forgiving.
More like a hug than a hurricane.
More to come...
Or the Start of a Letter I won't Send
I am late in writing your birthday letter. I keep putting it off because 12 is not easy, it comes with mood swings and hormones and upheaval and unrest-- and I find myself looking at you as a different kind of being than the little boy I once held to my breast.
Who is this child with hands larger than mine? This boy who can eat four salmon salad tacos for breakfast and still have room for salami and toast. Who says thank you without prompting one moment, and smacks me in the gut the next.
Elias, I write about you often, and lately my posts have been more brick than air. More hurricane, less rainbow.
And yet despite the weight and the wind, I won't stop loving you.
Not now. Not ever.
You should just send him away, someone essentially told me through Facebook. Stop feeling guilty and show some compassion for yourself and your daughter.
And oh, Elias, how her words worked their way under my skin, into my nerves, through my veins, and settled in the chambers of my heart, only to make me want you here in our home to the tenth degree times all the questions you have ever asked multiplied by the number of times I have said your name.
The morning after I read those words, you sat on the bench, brow furrowed, saying, 'I don't want to go to school today."
And I embraced your resistance with the patience of a thousand elephants, for I saw you not in the light of stormy weather, but as this miraculous almost teenage boy finding his way in a world that will never be easy.
And yet here you are, rising in the morning, all on your own, to start another day.
Even though its hard.
And I too shall rise.
Please tell me I'm not the only parent who (at times) dislikes their own child.
I love Elias.
But I don't really like him right now.
Not when he has our family on high alert for a possible explosion. Over a Leggo piece on the floor that his sister Olive dares to pick up for him.
Or a new thermometer that Olive attempts to open and he wants the torn pieces of cardboard from the package back on RIGHT NOW!
Man hands swinging, claws out.
"Mom," Olive says to me after an especially aggressive episode, "I wish we had a different brother who wasn't born so early."
They refer to kids like Olive, without special needs or disabilities, as typical-- but how normal is it to live with an older brother who is part invalid, part charmer, part terrorist, part companion, part stalker, part audience, part mystery, part grenade, part comedian, part Jekyll, part Hyde, and part of our hearts.
Olive's life is anything but typical.
"It's always going to be hard," Nick told Olive tonight, after she fled from the kitchen and her brother's rage, and sat scrunched on the blankets stuffed between her bed and the wall, with tears in her eyes, trying to explain that she was just trying to show Elias how to fix his Leggo plane when he grabbed her arm and pulled it really hard.
Its always going to be hard.
This we know.
I live in my own heart of hardness, my bricks of worry, my stones of what might have been; I get so lost within my own walls that I forget to see my daughters view, from her own barricade, of this family we call home.
And then what about Elias?
How is it for him to have his little sister, six years younger, half his age, telling him he's doing it wrong--that's not how the piece goes, here let me show you, let me do it-- see how easily my hands and eyes follow my brain's commands.
No wonder he sometimes just wants to squeeze and yell and hit and kick and hurt the people he loves the most.
I can't imagine what it would feel like to be unable to control my own body, and to fully understand that I can't, but be unable to express how that makes me feel.
A lion in a cage.
No wonder he roars.
Believe me, if I could have kept him in my womb for that third trimester, I would have bargained with the devil to do so. I would have laid on my left side for another sixteen weeks and given up my freedom of movement for the health of my boy.
No soccer, no running, no stretching, no dancing, no foreplay, no sex, no movement.
A mattress my only arena, like the lion, my space limited to a box for days on end-- but I can't go back.
This is it.
Olive can't have another brother.
Elias can't have a body that listens to his brain.
So here we are.
Un-likeable-- and in love.
"I don't know," Elias's stock answer these days, like an eye-roll, a turning away from conversation, from connection, from childhood, my boy whose hands have finally outgrown mine.
"I love you Bud," I say every night, with my hand on the doorknob as I reach for the lights.
As I reach for Elias's covers, I spy a small white object on his bed.
"Elias, did you just lose a tooth?"
I hold one of his baby molars in my hand and ask, "Did you lose it this morning?"
"No." He lies down and waits for me to cover his skinny frame with the seven blankets he keeps in his loft bed. I figure he's in one of his "no--moods" where no matter what I ask those two small letters will rise from his mind to mine.
"I lost it on Monday."
"Monday? Its Thursday Bud. You lost it Monday?"
"And you didn't tell me? Let me see." He opened his mouth and sure enough I see a space where one of his back right premolars once stood.
No running to tell Mom.
No casual mention at breakfast Monday morning: Hey look Mom I lost a tooth.
Nothing. Not a word.
"Well, do you want to put it under your pillow for the tooth fairy?"
He has a point. What does the tooth fairy do with all those millions of baby teeth collected over the years? Has she built a small city out of pearly whites? Constructed a ladder to the heavens from the decaying teeth of children long gone? Circled the world with tracks made from porcelain veneers? Filled the sky with stars made from molars, canines, and incisors polished till they shine?
Creepy is right, and I don't blame my concrete logical son for not wanting his yellowing molar to lay underneath his head for the night.
So I let go of the myth, and kiss my boy goodnight.
How often must we let go?
Is this our lesson to relive and relive, like a Ground Hog day of epiphanies hammering us in the head every time we grip too hard. When we dare act as if we know the script, as if our memorized lines will carry us through this play called life the curtain rod falls on our noggin, knocking us to the floor.
Elias is changing as I sleep.
Olive grows older with each breath.
I can't keep them in any known form, like dough molded in the pan, they are more like mist, shape-shifting with the North and South winds of biology and experience, the East and West winds of nature and nurture.
They are beyond my influence, beyond my control.
Like many girls her age, Olive loves to sing, "Let it go...let it go..."
She butchers the other lines of the song as she emulates the characters from Frozen.
"Mom come look!" Olive yanks on my arm, pulling me down the grocery store aisle to the yogurt, band aids, and cereal with Anna and Elsa plastered across the packaging.
"We don't need those Olive." My standard response.
But what makes her think we do? What is it about princesses and marketing that captures our girls?
"Mom, when can I get high heels?" She's been asking me lately, even though I don't own any except the bright blue ones I wore under my Mom's wedding dress, which have not graced my feet since 2003.
Olive's six. What am I going to do when she's 13?
And god help me if she's anything like me!
And then there's Elias.
Who will he become as he enters adolescence?
As an adult? Where will he be?
Last week his class participated in a pine car derby. With the track set up in the hallway right in front of my office, I couldn't help but join the 62 kids cheering on the handmade cars as they raced along the track. Ms. Karen helped Elias make his car-- you could claim that as advantage, or you could see it as par for the course considering the challenges Elias faces just to participate. And besides, Elias wasn't the only student who asked for assistance in the design and creation of his wooden race car.
And guess who won?
You got it, my boy:
You just never know what to expect do you? We can't pre-write the story.
All we can do is drop our preconceived notions and go along for ride-- as we teeter between holding on and letting go.
The truth is, I tend to avoid social situations with both children, unless I have a backup plan.
Nick and I generally divide and conquer, but without him, I'm left to respond to the needs of two spirited children.
A mere single soul torn between conflicting desires.
And too often, I expect my six-year-old to relinquish her wants to the stipulations of her twelve-year-old brother.
This is not fair.
And yet I do it again and again to avoid Elias's melt downs and outbursts.
We dance around our boy with glass slippers, not wanting a sudden blip in his linear view to derail the whole day.
We try to anticipate the unexpected and prepare for any possible change--the irony of living like this is not lost on me, as I try helplessly to paint what has yet to be seen.
But I try anyways.
"Elias, when I say we have to go what are you going to say?"
As if rehearsing the words ahead of time will ease the transition when it arises. As if we can replicate the escalated feelings that come with sudden change, the way his nervous system kicks in and fires off his amygdala, how his thinking brain shuts down and leaves his body unable to comply with reason.
"Elias we need to go. Now!"
By the way he turns away from me, I know its coming.
I see the strength of his will to hold onto my previous words, spoken mere minutes before: Ok Elias, you and I can stay at the rink a little longer and Olive will get a ride to school with Brad.
He can't process the sudden switch.
It doesn't make sense: What does the image of Olive's mouth bleeding, her front tooth cracked, have to do with him?
I just said he could stay and now I'm telling him we have to go. Elias doesn't seem to care that Olive pulled off one of her skates and hit her front tooth with the blade.
He doesn't understand why this changes the deal.
With the fading light, I can't see into Olive's mouth well enough to know how much damage has been done.
And Elias refuses to come.
So here I stand, divided, unable to meet what both children need.
Unable to be both Mom and Mama.
I have to choose one.
"Alright Elias, I'm taking Olive home. I'll see you later."
Would I have left him there?
I don't know.
I didn't fully mean it when I said it, just another parental ploy, hoping to make him comply.
If Olive hadn't stopped crying, said it didn't hurt that much, that she still wanted to go with Brad to Family Fun night at school, what would I have done?
I don't know.
Elias finally left the rink and walked in my direction, only to fall on a puddle of ice and swipe his arm at me, a writhing snake of a boy who, in an altered voice, snaps: "See, this is why I didn't want to leave! Its too icy!"
He didn't want to leave the ice because of the ice.
Well, that's reasonable.
He's on the edge of either tears or rage and when I reach down to help him up he almost pulls me on top of him, he's that strong, but I hold my balance and heave him up to his feet.
I'm on auto pilot too in a way. Stress filling my pours like a familiar lotion I wear too often even though I hate the smell.
Here we go again.
And all I want to do is hold Olive.
My resilient girl who chose a friend's car over her family's to avoid her brother's aggression, to go see her buddies at school with the taste of blood in her mouth, cracked front tooth and all.
By the time Elias and I make it to Airport Heights, Olive has found her friend Fiona and doesn't let me look in her mouth for more than a second before saying, "Mom?!" and pulling away to walk down the hall.
This was Friday night.
Olive skied and played hockey this weekend and today she sat perfectly still in the dentist's chair as Dr. Walsh "wiggled" her tooth out.
Laughing gas and Novocain helped, but Olive's iron grit carried her through as I watched squeamishly from a chair in the corner of the room.
The tears didn't come till our driveway: "Mom, it kinda hurt."
"I know Babe and its OK to cry."
We snuggled a lot this afternoon and tonight, with Nick and Elias on an overnight field trip in Seward, I let Olive sleep in my bed.
After three stories we lay together, our breath and hands intertwined, bodies warm with our combined heat.
"Mama, I'm kinda happy Elias is gone for a couple days so he won't hit me and stuff."
Oh my girl.
Elias has this habit of stopping and standing in doorways, especially when I stand behind him with my arms full. He pauses in this transition between spaces, adjusting to the change.
I, on the other hand, want to walk right through. Not my boy.
In public spaces, I grow especially irritated when he blocks a crowd's movement to and fro.
"Elias you gotta keep walking."
"You can't stop in doorways, Bud."
I don't always remember that limited vision, lack of motor control, and sensory issues make transitions more jarring for Elias than for a typical person passing from one zone to another.
I forget to put myself in his awkward frame, where every fiber works overtime just to process and move.
"Go!" I say, as my eyes easily take in what lies ahead and my muscles move with ease.
"Its so unfair," a Mom of a child with down's syndrome says to me, as we watch our kids play in an adaptive soccer program. "That our children are delayed in almost every area except this one."
We are talking about puberty.
Our boys, no longer little kids, with hair and acne and hormones--but still so young in comparison to children their age.
I remember myself at 12: Slamming my bedroom door and sobbing under my canopy bed, sneaking out of the house to meet my first boyfriend in the woods, tying up the phone line with hour-long conversations with friends I'd see the next day at school, only to "break-up" over a folded note passed behind desks.
Highs and lows with the shift of the wind.
Me painting my parents as the cause of my problems without seeing that the real angst came from within.
Elias pulls my arm into his lap as I re-read a Magic Tree House book to him before bed. His knee rests on my thigh, leaving no air between my body and his. Elias's fingers trace the veins on my hand as I read about Jack and Annie's mission to find Abraham Lincoln.
And bring him hope for a country united.
Elias smiles as I read, pulling the book closer to his face when a picture arises.
When we finish our nightly dose of two chapters, we hold hands as I walk him to bed, where he still wants me to tuck him under the blankets he's had for years.
"I love you," I tell him every night, regardless of how I feel in that moment.
"I love you too," he says, without fail.
"Do you want to tell your Mom what happened in Music?" Ms Karen asks.
"No," Elias says as he squirms in his seat in the office.
I see our Administrative Assistant smile and mouth: Not Mom.
What twelve-year-old boy wants to tell his Mom about the actions that got him in trouble?
When your mother works at your school she finds out everything.
Believe me, I know, I'm a former faculty child.
Of course Elias doesn't want to talk to me about pushing and hitting another student.
And yet I expect him to talk to me every time.
I drill him with questions only to hear: "I don't know."
I don't know.
I'd like to ban those three words from my sons vocabulary, zap his tongue when those nine letters start to form before he can use them to mask whatever lies beneath.
While I'm at it I'll banish the word: No.
"Were you frustrated?"
"Were you overwhelmed?"
"Were you angry?"
What were you thinking?
"I don't know."
If only I could be inside his mind for a time. Understand the inner workings of my son's brain.
And yet it's his developmental job to pull away from Mom's magnifying glass.
To refrain from telling me what he feels even when I seek to understand.
Elias stands on the threshold of childhood and adolescence and I'm not sure if either of us is ready to cross that line.
We may need to loiter here for a spell.
Pause at this critical doorway.
Get our bearings before extending ourselves beyond what's known.
And yet time doesn't wait.
So we are left to follow.
Ready or not: Here we come.