A.K.A.

The first word my son learned to write was “Batman.” The second was his name. The third (which took me a while to decipher because I could not believe that he understood an acronym) was A.K.A. Ethan aka Batman, that’s how he defines his place in the world.

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Ethan invites his friends to “Wayne Manor” on his fourth birthday. Photo credit: Leslie Hsu Oh.

Batman isn’t just a favorite character or toy. To my son, Batman is someone he aspires to be someday. A hero. A man who puts aside his own needs to “defend people, defend myself ,” Ethan wrote on his “me” poster for Kindergarten.

The first time he could articulate this to me, I think he was two and I asked him, “Why Batman and not Superman or Wolverine or the Hulk?”

Before I tell his answer, you’ll need to know that this boy already knew more than I did about each superhero and their affiliations and powers and weaknesses. His bedtime reading included Marvel Encyclopedia, D.C. Comics Ultimate Character Guide, or Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

You also need to know that he’s a product of superhero fans. My husband always jokes that the only reason why I married him was because he read more comic books than I did. Before we had kids, we had bedtime conversations like “If you could be any superhero, who would you be and why?”

These conversations became dinner ones once the kids were born. The first thing they wanted to sort out was our secret identity. Daddy aka Hulk was the easiest for all the obvious reasons of how the kids view him as the strongest in the family, their protector, and discipliner.

My oldest Kyra, who just turned nine, was a no brainer too because ever since she could grasp a car in the palm of her hand, she has wanted to be a race car driver. Naturally, she likes anything that requires speed. Kyra aka Flash.

My youngest, Riley is only one years old but this baby has the deadliest nails ever, no matter how we trim and file them down. Since the day we brought her home, she digs those nails into our flesh or claws our face in her enthusiasm to show us her love. Those angelic chubby cheeks would lure you close and then she would swipe your face. Riley aka Wolverine.

IMG_6476 Ethan picks out an outfit for his six-month-old sister on Christmas morning, 2013. Photo credit: Leslie Hsu Oh.

Ethan picks out an outfit for his six-month-old sister on Christmas morning, 2013. Photo credit: Leslie Hsu Oh.

My identity is still being debated. Ethan, who is now five, insists that I must be the Batgirl. But my husband says hands down that I’m Rogue.

I worry whether it is okay that my family lives within the comic book world. Superheroes are the rose-colored lens with which we make meaning out of the meaningless events that occur in life.

We are faithful patrons of the superhero genre, watching every blockbuster superhero film on opening day in 3D IMAX. I would take photographs of the kids dressed to the nines in the heroes depicted in the film we are watching that I never post on FB because I don’t want to be judged. Am I introducing my kids to violence at too young an age? Or am I teaching them how to be a hero?

Because secretly, I kinda like that my kids are growing up believing in superheroes. Perhaps, this is a trickledown effect of the way my artistic mother raised me in which I was actually pen pals with Santa Claus until I came home one day from high school in tears searching for the letters as proof to my friends that he was real and poor Mā Ma had to sit me down and say, “Oh finally, I can stop writing those letters.”

But mostly, I enjoy seeing them run around with a cape fluttering in the wind behind their backs. I like that I can be their sidekick and see them teach me things. I like that they believe in the idea of heroism, superpowers, and hope that when you think someone died, they actually didn’t. Certainly, this is influenced by the fact that I lost both my mother and brother to the same disease in my early twenties.

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I also like how I can get them to learn just about anything as long as I tie it to superhero trivia. For example, Kyra and Ethan learned the alphabet quickly with our road trip game of identifying a superhero for each letter. (My favorite is pointing out how important homework is when Iron Man or Spiderman solve a problem with their wit.)

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At age 3, Ethan figured out that Batman is much better with homework than Bruce Wayne.

Of course, I’m careful to spend a lot of time talking to my kids about what is right and wrong, what’s Hollywood vs. reality, and the things that are okay in the superhero films but not okay for them to act out on the school playground.

So back to my question to Ethan when he was two, “Why Batman and not Superman or Wolverine or the Hulk?”

He was quiet for some time. All I could see was his round brown eyes blinking behind his Batman mask. He brushed off some lint off his padded muscle chest and adjusted the gadgets on his utility belt. “Because I can’t fly.”

Kapow. Splat. Whoosh. This answer settles uneasily in my stomach. On one hand, I’m glad he is wise enough to aspire to be a superhero that could actually be possible within the limitations of reality. But I’m also terribly sad, that he has already  begun to define what he can and can’t do.

Dear Readers: I just returned from Squaw Valley Writers Conference where I wrote this piece. It has  inspired me to return to Love+eMotion, which I took a hiatus from to work on my memoir. 

The Couple in Trouble

A sticky fog descended as we made our way up loose boulders that peaked relentlessly towards the Summit of Chilkoot Pass. My stomach growled from missing dinner. Nothing in this historic landscape had been stable for the past few hours. My fingertips were raw from clawing my way up. Knees scraped. Feet duct taped and sore.

Getting ready to summit Chilkoot Pass.

Somewhere up ahead sending mini avalanches upon my head was my husband. “I’m not having any fun,” he had blurted out yesterday a few hours after we started the Chilkoot Trail and his back had gone into spasms from a pack that was too small.

“Good thing the kids aren’t with us,” he yelled as he slid and had to jam his hiking pole in a crevice to stop his fall. Crossing the Chilkoot Trail off my bucket list seemed like a good idea when we discovered we both had work in Anchorage. We thought five days off the grid would be a great way to celebrate our ten year anniversary.

A product of parents who never did anything without us, I worried whether I was being judged for leaving the kids behind.

Before we boarded our plane, Kyra, who just turned seven, blinked with her big round eyes.  “We want to go home too.”

“I miss Alaska,” Ethan, who just turned four, added. I nearly snuck them into my carryon.

But whenever we called them, Ethan was too busy playing to talk to us while Kyra yelled into the phone, “We’re fine. Gotta run.”

There were other parents on the trail who were feeling the same guilt. One couple cried when they called their one-year-old, who refused to stop balling.

As things grew colder and darker, two hikers approached us from the Summit. “Where are you headed?” we asked, relieved that we weren’t the only losers still hiking around 9pm.

“We’re actually looking for you.” They were the rangers stationed at the top of the Summit, who had spent the day asking hikers that crossed the pass whether they had seen a “couple in trouble.”

To ease our embarrassment, they offered “How would you like a honeymoon suite?”

They settled us into the warming shelter at the top of the pass with two steaming thermos of hot water. We collapsed beneath the weight of our packs and stared at the signs posted inside the cabin. One said, “Happy Camp is still 2 to 4 hours away. Do not stay here overnight.”

Warming shelter at the top of the pass.

We felt like teenagers that had snuck behind barricade tape. Peeking out the windows at a cloudless turquoise sky layered on top of snow covered peaks and emerald lakes, I said to my husband, “Now are you having fun?”

He smiled. The world was so quiet up there we could hear nothing, not a peep from an animal or rustle of wind. If we held our breath, we might hear the drip of ice melt into a clear stream.

We savored the silence, the kind of peace we rarely experience now that we are parents. I felt as if my brain was getting a desperately needed reboot, a chance to dump all the complications of parenting and return to the nuts and bolts of our marriage.

In the morning, we enjoyed an incredible view before heading down the side of the steep glacier.

That night, Thomas cooked me dinner and we had a chance to dry out our gear and talk. Ten years had braided and frayed our relationship so we were grateful to finally have the time to mend and forgive.

Without 24/7 connectivity and the stress of bills or deadlines or obligations, it was easier to relax into the present moment. With four days of nearly twelve hours of hiking where we had to worry about nothing but placing one foot before the other, we had time to hear rain staccato on our tent or photograph the gills on an orange Alice-in-Wonderland mushroom. Finally, I could enjoy Alaska the way I dreamed of and give myself a chance to be a kid again.

Resting on the trail.

Fellow hikers reassured us that that’s why it was critical for parents to take time away from their kids. Rekindling the parts of yourself that you had neglected after you became parents, they said, made you a better parent. When things got tough in the future, we had moments like this to grip onto. Mothers reminded me that it was important to show my daughter that when she became a mother, it’s okay to take a break and take care of yourself.

A man in his late sixties who kayaked from Washington State to Skagway in order to hike this trail patted me on the back and said, “You can’t sacrifice your life for the kids. That’s really smart that you are doing this now, when you are young.”

Before we reunited with our kids, we squeezed in a fishing trip, which would fill the bellies of our family and friends. We even ran into a former classmate of mine passing through Whitehorse. Similar to our reasons for moving away from Alaska, my classmate and his girlfriend had tears in their eyes when they told us that Alaska was the only place they ever felt at home or made any friends. They were grateful to hear how we’ve stayed connected to Alaska. It had been a year since we left Alaska and I was surprised to hear myself say, “When you miss Alaska, just remind yourself that home is wherever your family is.”

Sidekicks

2011 has been a quite a ride.  It started off with Kyra and Ethan snowboarding, followed by snowmaching and dogmushing in Trapper Creek, then hiking with crampons (yes, even two-year-old Ethan) on Root Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, photographing 1100 pound bears in Katmai National Park, dipnetting, rock climbing, and moving from Alaska to Virginia.

Oh family standing across a crevasse

Photo credit: Kate Schousen

When I reflect upon this year, I feel like I finally settled into motherhood.  My mother used to always tell me that the best thing that ever happened to her was having kids.  Honestly, while I adore my kids, I have never felt this way until now.  Moving away from Alaska was incredibly difficult for me and my kids were sensitive enough to support me through it.

Kyra has matured into a tough six-year-old version of my mom.  While I balked at the school bus system, she embraced it.  Insisting on the first day of school, just a few days after we moved to Virginia, “Mommy, you are not allowed to take me to school.  I’m a big girl now and I want to take the bus.”

Every morning, she dances at the bus stop excited about going to school.  And when the bus drops her off at the end of the day, she leaps off the steps into my arms and says, “I love you!”

To every question I ask her regarding how she’s adjusting to the move and whether she misses Alaska, the girl always says she’s doing great and showers me with kisses. 

She’s incredibly independent.  This year, while the three of us napped trying to recover from a cold, Kyra decorated the tree all by herself! 

“I’m your best sidekick,” she proudly announces daily as she helps me with everything from putting away groceries to unpacking.  When Thomas traveled in Cambodia and Poland, she even worked up the courage to kill stink bugs for me.  For those of you who are familiar with my phobia of bugs, you’ll know that this is huge deal. I had trapped about five of these ugly critters under cups when Kyra finally said, “Can I just get rid of them for you?”

“Aren’t you scared?” I asked Kyra 

“Nope, I’m brave.”

Ethan is my sensitive sidekick.  He never leaves my side and constantly pays attention to my feelings.  “Mommy, are you sad?” he might say. “Do you need kisses?”

Nearly every day, he finds a tender moment to stroke my cheek, look into my eyes and say, “Mommy, you are so beautiful!  I love you so much.”

Seriously, are all boys like that?  In addition to all that, you’ll find him on my lap most of the time with his arm wrapped around my face, stroking my ear.  He is as devoted to me as my brother was.

And if you haven’t heard, he’ll do anything for you if you call him Batman. He explained that he can’t be Superman because he can’t fly.  But as Batman, he can fly with his cape. He also tries to find spiders in the house that can bite him, so he can turn into Spider-Man.

In the past few months of weathering a difficult move, I really got to know my kids.  I know that sounds strange considering that I am their mother.  I guess I had no idea how resilient they could be.  They laugh their way through all the hard parts of life and they are always, always living in the present.  

They also believe that they can do anything they dream of.  I talk to the kids a lot throughout the day because I’m fascinated by their ability to live in the present with such confidence.  At breakfast, I ask the kids to tell me about their dreams.

My favorite quote from Ethan’s clip:

“Robin was Daddy and I was Batman and Mommy was Wonder Woman and Kyra was nothing.” Ethan said.
“I don’t want to be nothing,” Kyra frowned.
“Kyra was … Kyra.”
“I don’t want to be nothing,” Kyra fussed.
“You are Kyra.”
“Oh,” Kyra smiled.  How did Ethan know that was the perfect answer Kyra wanted?


My favorite quote from Kyra’s clip:

“Once upon a time, we lived in a Castle.  Mommy was making a dragon for herself to ride on.”

I am grateful that this year nurtured deeper roots with my children.  Now, when I leave the house, they both cry, “Your sidekick is going to miss you.” And when I’m away from them, I do miss them because I slip right back into my worries and fears.

Here’s my gift to you all this Christmas.  The wisdom Auntie Rita, one of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers and first certified traditional healer in Alaska, shared with me before I left Alaska: 

This is how you got to become. Learning to be here and now. We instinctively knew how to do this when we were children and we were busy watching a beautiful butterfly or examining any interesting new aspects of the world.  We were completely absorbed by what we are doing.  We have the capacity to be aware of only that butterfly, that patch of ground or that toy. 

The animal that many have used to symbolize this capacity is the mouse.  Our little mouse sister that’s what she does with her all her tiny being.  Many people can’t do this.  They are always looking to the future or the past.  Or inside or outside or faraway. But seldom to the activity of the present moment. 

The point of power is in the present moment.  Right here and now our minds, it doesn’t matter how long we have negative patterns or an illness or a rotten relationship or lack of finances and self-hater.  We can begin to make a change today.  

Stop for a moment and catch your thoughts.  What are you thinking right now?  If thoughts shape your and experiences would you want this thought to become true for you?  If it is a thought of worry, anger, or hurt or revenge, how do we think this thought will come back to you.  If we want joyous life, then we must think joyous thoughts.  Whatever we send out mentally or verbally will come back to us in like forms.
It is time to listen to the words you say.  If you hear yourself saying something three times, then write it down.  It has become a pattern for you.  At the end of the week, look at the list you have made and you will see how your words fit your experiences.  Be willing to change your words and thoughts and watch your life change.  The way to control your life is to control your choice of words and have no one think in your mind but you.  That’s the first lesson for healing. 

Home

Forehead pressed against the cold window, I waited impatiently for the plane to descend through thick clouds.  My breath held and released only when Turnagain Arm welcomed me “home” with a ripple of its silky waters.

The jagged gray mountain peaks that I loved were already coated with termination dust, hinting at my favorite time of the year.  As the wheels touched ground, I sighed, the kind you release when you’re coming home after a long business trip, even though I was now a visitor with only ten days to teach a class for 49 Writers, wrap up loose ends with various jobs, and put our house in Eagle River on the market.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, home is “a refuge, a sanctuary a place or region to which one naturally belongs or where one feels at ease; a place where something flourishes.”

A few moments with my feet on Alaskan soil and I felt as if I was wrapped in the softest robe, sipping a cup of tea.  Physically, I am extremely comfortable.  My metabolism is such that in places like D.C., even in an air-conditioned environment, Thomas catches me climbing into refrigerators or freezers.  Cold temperatures calm me down so that I am more willing to let things be.  Emotionally, I flourish in nature.  A placid body of water, so still that it reflects the drifting clouds in the sky, inspires poetry, while manicured lawns, office buildings, and traffic jams put me on edge.  Shrink-wrapped in pantyhose, high heels, and a tight suit, I’m not only uncomfortable but I feel judged.

Escaping the rat race of job titles, houses, and cars, is one of the main reasons why my friends swear they will never leave Alaska.  Here, we can smoke salmon in our pajamas on our front lawn.  Or wear Bogs and Carhartts to work. Or crash into a friend’s truck and simply be forgiven with the words, “Don’t worry about it.  I’ve done worse things to this piece of shit.”  For many of us, it’s hard to find another place in the world that makes you feel so much at ease.

For all of these reasons, Alaska will always be my “home,” which is why it was difficult for me to accept that eventually I would have to write a “last post” for KTD.

The Oxford English Dictionary also defines “home” as “the family or social unit occupying a house.”   No matter how much I might savor a long soak in a hot tub beneath skies lit by the Northern Lights and a full moon, my mind lingered in Vienna, Virginia, worrying about whether Thomas remembered to brush the kids’ teeth or whether anyone made him breakfast.

My phone conversations with my family went like this:

“Hi, it’s Kyra Oh.  Mommee, I didn’t miss the bus today.  Mommee, I love you.  I miss you.  When you come home, I have a surprise for you,” Kyra speaks so fast that I can’t get a word in. “Come home soon, okay? Here, Ethan talk to Mommee.”

“Wait!” I say, but now I can hear my son walking around with Thomas’ iPhone.  “Mommee?  Mommee? Mommee?” his voice reminds me of the pitiful cry of a hungry baby bird waiting for his mom to feed him.

“Ethan?  I love you!” I say, but my iPhone goes silent.  The connection is still running.

“Hello? Ethan?  Thomas? I think Ethan hit the mute button.”  I pace back and forth in frustration.

Finally, a child’s voice comes through, “Are you in Alaska?”  Now, I understand why my relatives can never tell the difference between Kyra and Ethan on the phone.  Their voices are virtually indistinguishable, but as the mother, shouldn’t I be able to tell?

So I try to be quiet and just listen.  Once the words “I’m mad” and “Spiderman” and “Batman” surface, I sigh with relief.  It’s Ethan.

Finally, I decipher a full sentence. “Mommee, why are you not home?” Ethan demands.  Then the connection drops, probably because he hit the “end” button.

The longer I stayed in Alaska, my refuge and sanctuary, without my family, the more I felt uneasy.  Soon, I heard myself saying that I couldn’t wait to go “home.” I scrolled through photos of my kids on my iPhone and counted down the hours to lying in bed with a kid tucked under each arm and a book propped on my belly.

When I did reunite with my family in the D.C. area, I filled their tummies with smoked salmon and blueberry jam made by my Alaskan friends.  The kids insisted that I read Kiska and Kobuk every night as they snuggled with their Kiska and Kobuk huskies.   At the center of our dining table, I filled a vase with dry reed grass I picked from a hike on Glen Alps, where I dozed to their gentle rustle in the wind.

I have a feeling that part of me will always be curled up like my son  in front of Alaska’s door, waiting patient and loyal, cheeks squished, butt propped high and proud.

 

The Upside of Stubborn

For the past year or so, Ethan refuses to sleep in his bed.  He would rather curl up like a puppy in front of our bedroom door: baby cheeks squished against his pudgy arms, butt propped high and proud. The boy is stubborn, but respectful.  He never enters our room.  He just waits, patiently, sometimes in his bed or on the staircase for all of us to settle into sleep.

His method is not perfect.  One time, during a Netflix movie several hours after we had tucked him into his own bed, Thomas spotted a black bear in our yard.  As soon as Thomas yelled “bear,” we heard little feet thunder down our stairs and his excited and not-sleepy-at-all voice, “Where? Where? I want to see it?”

Other times, when he is extremely tired, he’ll pass out on the staircase.

My friends tell me I’m lucky.  “Aww, he’s so adorable.  What a polite boy.”

Yes, I know what you’re thinking; this “polite boy” has me wrapped around his finger. When I wake in the middle of the night, I actually crack open my door hoping to see my bundle of love.  I tell Thomas that we will miss his devotion when one day, he might come home from school, run into his room, and slam the door shut (which might be in three years, since Kyra just started doing this).

However, I am worried that I’m cultivating a stubborn chord in my son.  See Who’s the Alpha Now? Our day, for instance, consists of one negotiation after another.

“Can I have juice?” he asks.

“Only after you drink a glass of milk.  You know the rules, Ethan.”

This exchange (which can also be about cookies, chips, or candy) can go on all day where he would rather starve or sit in timeout than lose his battle.  In order to get him to do what I want, I have to give him choices and make him believe that he’s in charge.  And even then, if he doesn’t hear a choice he wants, he’s clever enough to offer his own.

Most frustrating of all, if he detects the slightest educational motivation at play, he pretends to fall asleep.  Superheroes are the only angle with which I have some leverage.  Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker is willing to tell me a color, letter, or number on his toy, but never for very long.  However, I’m not keen on encouraging Superhero play since I caught Ethan nudging a spider with his toe. “Look Mommee.  Spider bite me.  I Spiderman, now?”

Meanwhile, Kyra thrives on academic challenges.  Lately, she would rather practice writing sentences than watch a movie with the family.  At a restaurant, on her own initiation, she entertains herself with iPhone educational apps or workbooks throughout our meal.  Thomas and I actually encourage her to “put it away,” because we don’t want people to think that we are “Tiger Parents.”

My friends tell me not to worry.  They say I’m only seeing the negative aspects of a stubborn child.  The positives of a stubborn personality are leadership, confidence, toughness, an ability to focus which boosts learning.  As it turns out, I’ve already implemented some of these recommendations on how to handle stubborn kids:

  • Identify the problem and seek a solution by involving your kid (Parents zone).
  • Try sneaky or judo parenting strategies like playing the “helper card” or “yes game,” offering options, establishing a connection, keeping your cool, picking your battles, and making it fun (CNN).
  • Help your child learn that choices have consequences (Ask Dr. Sears).

How do you handle your stubborn child?

A Confession – Postscript

In case you didn’t know, I’m in love with dragons, specifically the Western kind with talons of an eagle, spikes from head-to-toe, fabulous wings of leather, a tail barbed and arrow-tipped, a breath of fire, acid, or ice.  Think J.R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling.

When adults used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the first answer I could remember giving, thanks to Anne McCaffrey, was a dragonrider!  Her protagonist, Lessa, continues to be the heroine I hope to be.

Naturally, the first stuffed animal my kids received from me was a dragon.  Both Kyra and Ethan believe that dragons protect them from the monsters under their bed.

Kyra sleeps on the back of a spring green dragon, a marvelous pillow complete with soft white spikes and a tail that wraps around her body.  She won’t go to bed unless I cocoon her with a How to Train Your Dragon blanket.

Ethan’s first word was dragon.  This clever three-year-old knows that he can wrestle a toy out of me at a store as long as it has anything to do with this magical creature.

So you can imagine my tears of excitement and sadness when Kyra came home from school the other day with this drawing.

Kyra Oh's first dragon, crayons, 2011

 

My initial reaction:  A teacher or classmate drew this for Kyra.  See Confession Part I and Confession Part II.  But after asking her a dozen questions about when, where, and how she created this masterpiece, I realized that somehow I had missed a major milestone in my daughter’s artistic development.

“Wow, did anyone help you with these details: the spikes, the talons, the teeth?”

“Nope,” she beamed. “I did it all by myself!”

When Kyra was taking art classes twice a week at the Pacific Northern Academy, her teacher Ms. Jaeger, had reminded me, “Encouragement is all kids need to be creative because when they get older inevitably they will have a habit of being self-critical.”

I showered Kyra with kisses and hugs and displayed her first dragon drawing proudly on our window sill, along with a red crayoned heart she gifted to me the day before as soon as she jumped off the bus, “Mommee, in art class, I made a gift for the whole family.”

Biting my lip, I resumed serving Kyra an after-school snack while pondering whether I should frame her first dragon artwork. I worried that it would always remind me that I had been absent.

Confession:  This summer, I never had time to make art supplies accessible in my household.  I’d like to blame it on the move, but perhaps the deeper truth is that I did not place artistic development as high on my list of parental duties as academic pursuits.

I figured that they could simply do art at school.  About a month ago, a caretaker at the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Child Development Center hourly care had approached me and said, “We need more parents like you.”

When I looked surprised, she said, “Look what your daughter gave me?”  She pointed to the wall which displayed an elaborate 3D construction of a nearly life-sized eagle.

“Kyra, did you do this?” I asked.

“Yep, I’m making one for you too.”

The caretaker thanked me for raising two of the most delightful children to teach.  As she explained in detail the rapid artistic progress of both my kids over the summer, I forgot to breathe.

I did not deserve her compliment.  Teachers had made all the difference in my children’s art education.  Probably the only thing I contributed was the subject matter or artistic genes.

That evening, I wrapped a gift for a six-year-old birthday party with packing paper.  I invited Kyra and Ethan to decorate it.  To my astonishment, Ethan had graduated from lines to shapes.  He articulated that he had drawn Batman and his Batmobile.  Kyra whipped out several dragons, twisting along each side of the package.

This time, I made sure to contribute.  “Kyra, would you like me to show you how to add wings?”

She clapped her hands.  “Yeah!”

I only had time to outline five webbed “fingers” each ending with a claw when she grabbed the crayon out of my hand and said, “Got it.”

Kyra and Ethan were so proud of their creation that the next day at the birthday party, they toured their masterpiece and spun complex tales about Batman riding dragons to save the world.  When the birthday boy ripped off the wrapping paper, the three of us looked at each other with pouty lower lips.

In preparation for tomorrows show Young Artists & Arts Ed in Alaska, how have you been surprised by the artwork your child brings home from school?

The Ablation of Grief – Part III

Before the day heats up, Ethan and I slip on our Bogs, still caked with mud from the mouth of the Kenai.  We inch our way down the steep incline behind our house.  Ethan marches confidently ahead of me.  His raspy voice bounces between the trunks of oak trees, “Where did the Mommee deer go?”

Thomas had left hours ago for his first day of work.  On our way back to the house from Kyra’s bus stop, a white-tailed deer froze in the middle of the street studying our every move.  Ethan and I stared at our first animal sighting in Virginia.  Then, the deer flicked her head and two fawns appeared out of the woods. The three of them ran into our backyard with their tails raised, white underside flickering.

Still in our pajamas, we follow the deer into our backyard and check out the areas that had been underwater just a few days ago.  We are outside for no more than five minutes when Ethan screams “Spider” and hides behind my back.

Nearly every tree is linked by fine strands of spider silk.  Some hang elaborate orb webs, glistening with dew.  Others are so fine; you can only see the fat body of a spider twisting in the wind.

Putting on a brave face for my son, I use my camera bag and fling it ahead of me in hopes of taking down some of these webs to create a path for us.  The hike is not fun.  We’re brushing whispers of webs across our faces.  Our feet trip over roots and mushrooms.  At one point, I turn around to check on Ethan and the boy has one tiny mosquito on his forehead and another one on his neck.

With arms folded across his chest and his lower lip sticking out and a red bite swelling to the size of a nickel on his head, Ethan says, “Mommee, let’s not EVER do this again.”

Back in the house, Ethan deals with our setback by slipping on his Batman suit.  While I’m scratching irritably at three new bites on my back and arms, he sits down and starts his daily routine.

I wish adults could adapt that easily, too.  My mentor, Elaine Abraham, Naa Tláa (clan mother) of the Yéil Naa (Raven Moiety), K’ineix Ḵwáan (people of the Copper River Clan) from the Tsisk’w Hít (Owl House), encouraged me to “feel the earth.  If you go into the woods and just sit there and rub your hands up and down on a tree or put your hand on the soil, there’s warmth. The spirit of the land is warm. You can make connections with the earth anywhere anytime because today we are travelling people.  Now, we can adapt.  You have to have a real strong spirit to adapt.”

Looking out my ceiling to floor windows at the maze of webbed trees, I can now appreciate the strong spirits of my military friends, who had to leave Alaska.  Keilah Frickson, who moved to Eagle River, Wisconsin, last year, says she misses “the smell of the mist on the mountains on cool, rainy days, the texture of the landscape, the road trips through breathtaking vistas, and the constantly changing moods of the mountains.”

Alaska taught her to slow down and take breaths regularly.  “I tried things I never thought I would do, and I loved it!  The broad, ruddy foundation of the Chugach range still grounds me. The fierce winds whipping off of the ocean and through my hair still remind me that I can weather any challenge in life. The cool mountain air still helps me stay calm under pressure. The muddy bottoms of every shoe and sandal I wore in Alaska still remind me that ‘it’s just dirt and it won’t hurt anything.’”

The Conaboys, who left in 2007 for Japan and currently reside in Massachusetts, still fill their bellies with Alaska Amber, salmon, and halibut.  Jed has managed to return to Alaska every summer on business trips and charter a boat with his squadron.

The Registers, who left in 2008 for Florida and currently reside in Texas, say that Alaska is their “measuring stick” for every place they travel.  “Plus, our first child was born there. We will always have a connection to Alaska, especially through her.”

I know that eventually I must adapt too.  After all, I have survived the death of my mother, brother, both sets of grandparents, and my father-in-law.  And I will always have to chase down my Alaskan babies, who ablate grief in seconds.

But for now, change is not my friend.

A loud THUMP-thud-thud-thud skips across our roof and lands on our deck.

“What’s that?” Batman asks.

“It’s an acorn,” I tell him about every hour, when this disturbing sound echoes through the house and makes my heart skip.

“You want me to stop it?” Batman throws two punches into the air.

“I wish you could,” I answer. “I wish you could.”