Brace Yourself

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This summer, I was determined to celebrate my children’s birthdays with an outdoor adventure. Three years ago, we had to uproot them from their place-of-birth (Alaska) and move to the Washington, D.C. area. I feared that they would lose their confidence in nature where at age 2, they could traverse a crevice in crampons with the biggest smile on their faces. So you can imagine my disappointment when I suggested whitewater rafting for Ethan’s birthday and both kids said, “No” without even looking up from their iPads.

“Do you even know what I’m talking about?” I asked after confiscating their iPads.

“Sounds scary,” Ethan said.

I sat both of them down in front of my laptop and searched for some videos. I explained how my parents took me rafting as soon as I was old enough. Ethan was turning six and I wanted to give him the same gift.

“I’d rather get toys,” Ethan said. That statement alone made up my mind. I was going to take them no matter what obstacles I had to overcome such as how were we going to afford the trip and who would we beg to watch my one-year-old.

Kyra, who turned nine a month ago, studied one of the rafting videos I found. For her birthday, we fished for flounders on the ocean but returned empty handed. “Boo,” she had said as she did now when she saw someone fall out of a raft on a Class 5.

“Boo,” she said again on Ethan’s birthday after all the arrangements I made to get us on the Shenandoah River. Our River Riders guide, Kaitlyn, had just maneuvered us through a series of Class 3 rapids. “The Doah” as Kaitlyn called it sloshed into the raft soaking our shoes.

Ethan complained, “Ack, I don’t want my feet wet!”

In an effort to get some reaction from my stone-faced kids, Kaitlyn pointed out some of the wildlife. “Do you see that bird with the long neck on the shore? That’s a blue herring or West Virginia Pterodactyl.”

The kids got frustrated that they couldn’t see the bird. Five rafts with the rest of the passengers guided by River Riders swept by.

Kaitlyn asked Kyra, “What can I do to make you smile?”

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Kyra said, “I’m hungry.” For the month of August, we had a rare day when the sun did not burn my skin and a gentle breeze lifted the hair on the back of my neck and my child who was knownas the “thrill-seeker” in the family was paying absolutely no attention to her surroundings.

“Forward paddle,” Kaitlyn shouted at my husband and I. “Back paddle. Together please.” She had seated us at the frontof the raft and instructed us that the more in sync we were the smoother the ride. The river fought my paddle and a blister developed on my right thumb. I kept thinking, please, don’t let any of us fall into the river. Images from the safety video River Riders showed us at the start of the trip played in my mind. Feet trapped on the river bottom. Helmets slammed against rocks. So far, my husband had not made one comment about whether he thought this trip was a good idea or not. It seemed like our paddles were also not communicating too well.

By the time, we landed on a massive pile of boulders in the middle of the river I started to worry whether the city had ruined my family. As soon as each of us stepped onto the rock, we immediately scattered in different directions. Plus, with what seemed like thirty other people that landed with us, it took a while for me to herd the four of us together.
None of us said much as we downed several cups of pink lemonade which the guides reassured us would be the sugar kick we needed to get through the rest of the rapids. Kyra finished a granola bar that Kaitlyn had given her.

“Want to take a swim?” I asked Kyra and Ethan.

“I’m scared,” Ethan said.

“You know how to swim and you have a life jacket on,” I said, taking his little hand and helping him into the river. We all had the right gear, that’s something I am religious about, so our wet shoes gripped the slippery rocks as we made our way deeper into the river until the water rose to my waist. My husband seemed much more relaxed than I. He chased and splashed the kids while I just stood there observing them all. By the time someone snapped a family photo for us, both kids were floating on their backs and giggling.10553782_553026271469369_5096286803175696260_o

After our swim, Kaitlyn deftly guided us through a rapid called the “Dragon’s Tongue.” The boat spun 180 degrees and white froth coated our backs. Ethan loosened his death grip on a webbing strap and said, “I felt the tongue lick me.”

Meanwhile, Kyra started to warm up to Kaitlyn. She started to ask questions like “So can we pretend to fall off the boat?” or “When can we go down a waterfall?” or “Can I scuba dive?”

Scuba dive? How did my daughter know what scuba diving was?

Kailyn asked, “So if you could scuba dive anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

Without hesitation, Kyra replied, “Atlantis.”

Ethan agreed.

When we entered the Potomac River, Kaitlyn pointed out Virginia and Maryland and said we were now in the “State of Confusion” and I thought that’s exactly how I was feeling. Confused that I didn’t know my kids as well as I thought I did. Confused about whether my parenting had failed in the city.

Fortunately, Kaitlyn had a solution. First, she “surfed” our raft in Lower Staircase for a long time, long enough for the bucking, spinning wet ride to remind me to enjoy the present moment and the thrill of not being in control. Second, she hooked a flip line to a biner on the bow and asked Kyra and Ethan to hang onto it for our last rapid of the day.

“Brace yourself,” she yelled as we paddled hard down a chute. The raft tipped back and the kids were launched into the air above White Horse Rapid. As the raft pitched, Kyra and Ethan whooped so loud that the other rafters smiled at us.

Later on the way back to the car, after Kaitlyn arranged for all the rafters to sing “Happy Birthday,” Ethan grabbed my hand and pulled me down to his eye level. He whispered as if he were telling me the greatest secret ever, “Thank you, Mommy.”

I couldn’t resist asking, “So if you could only play your iPad or raft, which one would you choose?”

His cheeks turned pink. “The White Horse,” he said.

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Also posted at Spawn and Survive

Is Batman Real?

The week before Ethan turned six, Barnes and Noble announced that Batman was going to make an appearance. I don’t know if I was more excited or my son.

Ethan dug his Batman costume out of the closet and cleaned it with a lint brush. He dressed his Build-A-Bear in a matching Dark Knight outfit and tucked a batarang carefully into his belt. I pieced together a Batman costume for Kyra and Riley from Ethan’s loot (masks, utility belts, flashlights, grappling hooks, and of course batarangs) and made sure everyone had a cape. Kyra dressed her Build-A-Bear in a Superman costume.

The night before, we tattooed the back of each other’s hands with the Batman sign.

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Then, everyone (except me) passed out, exhausted from all the preparations. Earlier this month, in a fit of anger, Kyra had said the worst possible thing she could have ever said to Ethan, “Batman is not real.”

So the timing of Batman’s visit was perfect. I tried to make sure it was even more perfect by arranging for Batman to acknowledge Ethan’s birthday. Barnes and Noble promised to do their best to make it special and maybe even get everyone in the store to sing “happy birthday” for him.

Whenever I asked “Are you excited Batman is coming to town,” Ethan played it cool with nothing more than a manly shrug.

Sometimes, he would ask, “Do you know which Batman is coming? Is Bruce Wayne coming or Batman? Where do you think Batman is coming from? Do you think he’s staying with Wonder Woman?”

To which I played it cool. “I have no idea.”

He pretended that he didn’t care, even refused to keep his suit on when the event finally started. Clark Kent read two books while Ethan studied him closely.

When Batman entered the room, Ethan froze. He couldn’t put on his suit. He stared at his shoes. I was a mess too. I couldn’t decide whether to film the moment or photograph it. My girls disappeared with the crowd that rushed to form a meet and greet line. My husband helped Ethan put on his suit. Ethan refused to put his mask and cape on. All the time, I’m thinking: When is Batman going to say anything?

About 15 minutes later, it was our turn to be photographed with Batman. Kyra and Ethan hardly looked at him. They stood to his left while my husband with Riley in his arms was on his right. They all stared at me as I snapped photos. Then, Kyra tried to put Ethan’s mask and hood on. Ethan shoved her. The two of them started squabbling. Nobody said anything to Batman. I handed off my camera to a friend who captured the scene. My husband started walking away. The moment was passing. Nobody was saying anything!

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So I started blabbering to Batman about what a huge deal it was for Ethan to meet him. He looked down at Ethan who stared at him and said, “Hi.”

Ethan said nothing.

A Barnes and Noble employee handed a goodie bag to Batman and whispered something in his ear. He got down on one knee, handed Ethan the bag and said, “Happy Birthday.”

Ethan looked like he was about to pass out.

I was filming this awkward exchange. Later when I viewed this footage I heard my high-pitched crazy voice, “Ethan, would you like to hug Batman?”

Ethan frowned and shook his head at me. I snapped photos of the two of them looking at each other and me as if they had both landed on an unfamiliar planet.

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As we left Batman, I asked Ethan, “How do you feel? Are you excited you got to meet him?”

To each question, he would shrug until at last he said, “It’s my personal business.”

It would be a few hours later as I’m tucking Ethan to bed that he started talking.

“Do you think Batman knows that I want to be him when I grow up? How did he know it was my birthday? How come his grappling gun looked like plastic? Isn’t Batman supposed to be old? Did you tell Barnes and Noble it was my birthday?”

I climbed into his bed and wrapped my left arm around his little body. He rubbed his nose against my cheek and held onto me as if I were his lifeboat. As I cleverly quelled all his anxieties, I wondered how much longer my son and I could have moments like this. How long could I convince him that Batman is real? Is it good or bad parenting that I want him to believe Batman is real? Maybe I made things worse by getting Batman to say “happy birthday” to my son?

In the darkness of his bedroom, I felt his tender kisses peppering my cheeks, my forehead, my nose, my ears. He took his time planting each one and letting them bloom. I never felt kisses like this from him before.  Each kiss perhaps an acknowledgement of how hard I worked to keep his dreams alive.

Before sleep snatched my son away, he whispered, “Mom, I wish no one else was there but Batman and our family. I get shy when I’m with someone that tall and someone I like that much.”

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.