“Top three favorite things you saw or did: go.” My brother-in-law loves to ask this question after a person returns from a trip, and while it’s not contrary to how I shuffle through my post-vacation memories — a choice few mental Polaroids always seem to have extra shine, don’t they? — it definitely puts me on the spot. Discussing one’s travel highlights isn’t much different than firing up the long-outdated slide projector and clicking through images: no one wants to endure it for very long.

I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what blogs are for, though, so although I kept my answers brief when I talked with him, I won’t extend the same courtesy here. I’m sorry! Writing it down is the best way to anchor it in time a little more dependably, so here we go: my top 3 things about taking a 7-day cruise to Alaska.

3) Last but certainly not least, I had hours upon hours to relax and unwind from the inside out. I could let my mind drift on the waves and just absorb my surroundings, aware of the sun on my skin (my gosh, were we ever blessed with the weather) and the murmur of people and the occasional heart-lifting sight of a whale spotted through binoculars. I brought an excellent book (Daisy Jones and the Six, which I finished afterwards and really, really enjoyed) but rarely made any progress in it because I was so happy to sit and be present.

There are a million different ways to cruise and lots of people make good use of the activities on board, of which there are many. I prefer to peoplewatch and ocean-watch, and I cannot get enough of either. Most days I hit the gym long enough to feel slightly less guilty about all the amazing food, and I also liked soaking in the heated mineral pool, but my favorite thing was to find a comfy seat and watch the world go by.

2) I’m going to cheat with this one and lump a few things together. The most stunning sight I saw was the Hubbard Glacier, a towering wall of otherworldly blue ice that creaks and groans and occasionally calves away in great thunderous splashes. The most delightful experience I had was visiting a musher’s camp in Juneau, where my aunt and I met many charming sled dogs and even got to cuddle a five-week-old puppy. The most diverse and beautiful sightseeing I did was in Sitka, where we took a boat around the island-studded Sound and saw bald eagles, whales, and a ridiculous amount of sea otters.

1) The most special aspect of this trip was spending time with my mom and aunt. We shared a suite, which worked perfectly for the three of us and also meant we had access to some great perks like free laundry and a nearby lounge and concierge. (Also, a bathtub! I took a bath every night and marveled at the craziness of watching the bathwater slosh around with the movement of the ship.) We ate our meals together and spent time on the balcony and lingered over coffee and navigated the occasional crowd bum-rush to the elevators. We talked about life and shared memories and current events and commiserated about our ill-mannered pets and secretly named our dining room waiter “Mr. Giggles” for his unfortunate habit of snickering apologetically as he whisked plates on and off the table.

The two of them live in Port Angeles along with my mom’s longtime partner, in a house with a gorgeous view of the water (and on clear days, Victoria glimmering in the distance). They’re far enough away that I worry about the years ahead, how long they can rely on each other, whether or not they will be willing to tell me when they need help. I regret the years — so many of them — of distance between my mom and I, the ways in which the love we always had for each other could not make itself understood. I wish I could wave a magic wand and give them better health, more hope for our country’s future, a stellar publishing deal for my aunt’s increasingly impressive fiction lineup. Maybe a perfectly-behaved dog or two.

But there was a real magic in having this week together, experiencing some of Alaska’s wild and raw beauty and forging memories that we’ll each treasure in our own way. What a great gift it was, how we lucky we are.

(Some cruise info, if you’re interested: we sailed with Holland, on the Oosterdam, with departure from Seattle and stops in Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria. A+++, would do again in a heartbeat.)

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I had some specific hopes about Dylan’s 5th grade experience that unfortunately did not come to be. It’s been a pretty tough year in many ways, a lot of negative feedback from a teacher who does not understand that Dylan is not forgetful or inattentive or easily distracted on purpose. He definitely needs to work on putting forth his best effort, but it’s become clear that he’s facing a bit of an uphill battle when it comes to a standard class environment.

I now know how difficult it is to go from “Hmm, I think there’s an issue here” to “And now we have a diagnosis.” The process began back in November with a pediatrician appointment and stretched on until April, when the long wait for an evaluation came to be.

This is one of those topics that is not entirely mine to talk about and I’m simply unsure what the boundaries are, but in general terms Dylan is wired differently than some kids and that makes certain things a challenge. He is gifted with a staggering memory for details when it comes to things he’s interested in — I mean, he can tell you the final score for just about any basketball game that has ever occured, or the exact outfit he wore during a special dinner on our first family trip to Hawaii — but give him a list of three things to do and he’s got the last one wrong while the first two are long forgotten.

His executive functioning was described by a doctor as an inability (or at least a major difficulty) to categorize things in his brain in what’s typically thought of as an efficient way. It’s an exhaustive process for him to access and assemble information towards problem solving because he’s not grouping things together or applying certain logic like this + that = this.

To his teacher’s eyes, he’s not trying, but his brain is actually having to work extra hard for what appears to be minimum effect.

At this point, my goal for 5th grade is survival with as much self esteem protected as possible. Dylan’s greatest challenge is not believing in himself, a situation that has been exponentially worsened by a year of feeling like a failure at school.

Looking ahead to middle school, he’ll have a 504 in place and hopefully a chance to really sit down and get his teachers aligned with making sure he has what he needs to navigate 6th grade. Keeping materials organized, keeping track of assignments, staying on task — it’s all going to be difficult. We’ll help as much as we can, of course, but it’s largely a giant question mark in my head right now. Does he need accomodations? Tutoring? Counseling? All of the above, none of the above?

Academic success for Dylan is likely going to look different than what it looks like for Riley, and that’s a tough place for Dylan to be too. He constantly compares himself to Riley’s straight-A report cards and it breaks my heart. How can I continue to lift Riley up for all the things he’s great at, while helping Dylan understand that he has his own unique traits and they are no less valuable?

I want Dylan to realize what an incredibly special, sweet, funny, smart, and interesting kid he is. I want him to know it doesn’t matter what kind of grades he gets, as long as he’s trying hard. I want him to feel more confidence and more curiosity about his fascinating capabilities.

Most of all, I want him to know he’s not defined by a diagnosis, or one teacher’s close-minded and frankly crappy assessment of who he is as a person. He is so many things, a great complex assortment of wondrous thoughts and characteristics. He deserves much better than he got this year, and once again, I find myself hoping for a better set of circumstances next time.

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