Monthly Archives: June 2013

Yellowstone: Oldest & Best

We took a family vacation last week to Yellowstone National Park. It is the first trip we have taken since half of our children have received complicated diagnoses. It’s the first real family getaway in nine years.

And it was a success.

It was short and busy and super fun.

It felt like a giant victory.

I felt repeated inward amazement that we were camping and everybody was behaving themselves. We were driving long distances and people were generally pleasant. We were hiking to waterfalls and looking at geysers and spotting bison. We were not wiping poop off walls or stimming off electronics or tantruming about eating lunch. We were traveling, by gum, and enjoying ourselves!

It wasn’t perfect. We discovered a few gems that we are salting away for the next vacation: Pringles, for instance (Jack demands we must bring oodles of them), and more gum (those sensory-seeking boys thrive on chewing it), along with the road trip car kits for the boys (place them in the car next time, and don’t forget them at home). Nuggets of wisdom we gleaned from experience, each.

I learned that camping is no excuse for lousy cuisine, at least according to my sister, whose family we camped by. You’ve never eaten Tandoori chicken while camping? Well, then you’ve never camped with my sis. Greek yogurt parfaits with berries and almond granola, veggie-laden taco salads, and spaghetti with skillet-toasted garlic ciabatta rounded out their “roughing it” meals, which made our s’mores and cheddar brats look like amateur hour.

We found that Jack does not like any sustained uphill climbing, but he absolutely loves scampering and skipping along a downward slope. Charlie, it appears, has a way of finagling piggy-back rides from any familiar face during longer hikes. Henry, as we suspected all along, has an eagle eye for spotting wildlife and always enjoys a game of pick-up football, even in the wilderness.

My family went to Yellowstone every year when I was a child. I remember from my preschool years descending the hundreds of metal stairs on Uncle Tom’s Trail along the sulfurous yellow canyon walls to stand in the roaring mist of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. The Biscuit Basin geyser boardwalk and the trail to Morning Glory pool are paths I can easily retrace in my mind, they are so familiar.

The last time we took our little brood on such a family vacation was when Henry was two and Jack a newborn. Then life intervened and the crap hit the fan, so to speak. It felt mildly revolutionary to be back after a nine-year hiatus during which time we could barley function at home, let alone in the woods. With hot pots. And buffalo. And many, many European and Asian tourists.

There was a strange and fabulous moment last week as we finished rounding a geyser basin and headed to get ice cream cones at the Hamilton Store across the way. A young man completely decked out in cold weather gear and photographic accoutrements barreled across a wooden bridge toward us. He didn’t break his running stride when he saw us, but he called out to us, a group of complete strangers, that nearby Beehive geyser was about to erupt. “It’s happening in ninety seconds!” he enthused. His excitement was airborne.

It vaguely reminded me of an experience as a teen during a trip over Dunraven Pass between Canyon and Roosevelt. We were driving around in the twilight hoping to see animals as they became more active at dusk. A group of cars had stopped in a pull-out overlooking a sweeping valley. My dad lowered his window and asked, “What do you see?” An exuberant young man replied without missing a beat, “Bears! In an hour!” as if the wildlife were waiting behind a curtain for the clock to tick to show time.

That animal-rich viewing drive is still known as Bears In An Hour to my people.

Yellowstone is glorious. I don’t blame anyone for being freak-show excited about experiencing it.

When we climbed last week to Mystic Falls, picnicked at Nez Prez, and tramped along the Old Faithful geyser boardwalk, my psyche marveled at what we seemingly nonchalantly had achieved: we came back.

“This is happening,” I thrilled. “We are actually doing this.”

I almost wanted to scream it out to a pack of tourists at Grand Prismatic pool.

Pioneering Spirit

The youth from our church just returned from Trek, which is a reenactment of sorts of our Latter-day Saint pioneer ancestors who crossed the Great Plains of the United States in the mid-1800’s. The pioneers were escaping religious persecution in Missouri and elsewhere, and made the long, harrowing journey on foot to the Salt Lake Valley where they could live and worship in peace. They faced hunger, cold, disease, wolves, and freezing rivers on their way west. Many died en route.

It has been entertaining to read the newly-updated Facebook and Instagram accounts of the teens in my neighborhood rejoicing over toilets, hot showers, and soft beds waiting for them at home. Many of them have posted about their awakening gratitude for the faith, fortitude, and courage of their ancestors. The pioneer clothing, the handcart-pulling, and the “roughing it” conditions are designed not just to help the youth appreciate modern creature comforts; the Trek experience affords participants an experience in examining their faith.

It gives people a change to don a dress, apron, and bonnet (or trousers, button-downs, and hats), pull a handcart across a dusty plain, push themselves physically, and evaluate if they would’ve had the faith sufficient to do this for months. For real. With no support crews driving into camp each day with hot meals and a fresh supply of drinking water.

It’s a spiritual journey.

I didn’t get to go with the youth on this Trek, but I did experience an enlightening and memorable pioneer trek when I was sixteen. This time, my contribution consisted of preparing beef stew and chocolate chip cookies to feed the weary Trekkers. I would’ve liked to participate with my young women class this week, but it wasn’t meant to be, and it’s okay. Here’s why:

I am currently on a lengthy, dusty, rigorous pioneer journey of my own. I’m raising two children with autism, both who have other complicated diagnoses as well. I also have two typically-developing children with their own needs and challenges. It’s a life-long journey. It’s totally rugged. Sometimes I absolutely feel like I’m on a trail in the middle of the wilderness.

I don’t have to deal with wolves, and cooking over a fire, and giving birth in a wagon on the trail. My challenges are in raising sons who have behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and communication issues. I clean up a lot of poop. I’m navigating my sons’ healthcare and education. We do a lot of therapy. We work on overcoming the bigger stumbling blocks as we shepherd the boys toward greater functionality.

My journey is not harder or easier than my pioneer ancestors’. They are both strenuous. The common denominator for us is faith. None of us feels that we are on this trail alone.

I’ve been humming the hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints” all week. One phrase from the second verse has been an inspirational bit of manna to me.

“Gird up your loins,” it says
Fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake.”

It’s enough to shake you out of your reverie, pull you to your feet, and encourage you to keep on pioneering. That’s what it does for me, anyway.

And then this bit of Old Testament wisdom from the book of Joshua was a balm on my trail-weary feet:

 “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest.” 

It’s a rocky trail: vast and overwhelming in it’s length and complexity. But knowing I’m not going it alone makes it better. Happier. Smoother.

Summer Fever

When the mom gets sick and it’s summertime, this is what happens:

* The mom doesn’t sleep at night because she can’t breathe.

* The mom gets up early and hauls her zombie self into the car with Jacky to make the long drive to see the University psychiatrist who they’ve waited two months to see.

* The mom sounds like a honking, diseased buzzard throughout the doctor’s appointment. Jacky is a peach the entire time.

* The mom tries to take a short nap later when the baby naps, but instead changes the five-year-old’s poopy pants and oversees a mid-afternoon sensory bath for Jack.

* The mom incurs the wrath of the third child when she says she is too sick to jump on the trampoline with him.

* The mom takes her feverish self downstairs to repeatedly feed people and do the dishes. And keep the laundry from taking over the house.

* The mom whines about it to the dad, who is sympathetic, but who is also on call and has to work late.

* The biggest brother becomes the mom’s hero when he entertains his younger brothers in the basement for a wonderfully long time.

* The mom, achy and chilled, bundles up for a ninety-degree day and remembers a June two years past when she was pregnant and sick with pneumonia. The mom is grateful that is not now.

Ten Things That Are True

I don’t have enough free time or brain cells to construct a cohesive, essay-like post. Summer has come and is squatting here for the foreseeable future. But here is a random list of things people said, or did, or that are happening.

1) We all caught colds. Or the same cold, rather. Kids shouldn’t be allowed to get sick in the summer, nor should the ones who spend their days taking care of them.

2) Because of the sinus stuffiness, Charlie told me his nose is full of hamboogers.

3) Henry quipped a funny, off-the-cuff remark to his friend wherein he compared the baby’s glance to Medusa’s. When I asked him how he knew about Medusa, he said, “Duh Mom. I’ve known about Greek mythology since like second grade.”

4) Jack smashed together two tubs of yellow and red playdoh, which he then chewed up and spit out in various corners of the backyard. According to his behaviorist, kids like eating playdoh because it tastes salty. And it comes in bright, pretty colors. Whatever, Jack. Now there are red and yellow doh-blobs all around the lawn. Guess he favors the salty snacks.

5) Henry and a posse of neighborhood boys are spending their afternoons playing The Hunger Games in the pocket park. When I asked how this game works, he said, “It’s like the movie.” Except they don’t have weapons and they all come home alive after playing, which I’m down with.

6) Books are my summertime lifeline. My recent reads are eclectic and all meet this requirement: suck me in. Also don’t ask too much of my brain.

7) Jeff deserves a major award for sitting next to Jack during every sacrament meeting. I discovered this when I sat next to Jack instead on Sunday and learned through experience that Jack likes to pull the arm hairs of the person sitting next to him. Repeatedly. For quite some time. It’s an intriguing sensory experience, don’t you know.

8) Some days are just crap-tastic. I mean literally, they just are. And the three younger boys seem to be in cahoots about when these days will happen and when they will let the poo fly.

9) Eating my mom’s homemade taquitos with cilantro bean & corn salsa on top on a Sunday evening al fresco: pretty much perfection. Especially when followed with homemade Skor ice cream.

10) Summer can be really good, and peaceful, and pleasant.. Except when it is really bad, and hard, and endless.