MANY NEW YEAR'S ago I made a resolution not to make New Year’s resolutions. I am a firm believer that if I want or need to do something, I should do it and not wait for a new year to set a specific goal. With children in my life, I have now softened my New Year’s resolution approach.
Resolutions are difficult concept for young children, but “fun size” resolutions in the form of goals are much easier. Teaching children how to set simple goals is an important aspect to their life growth. They can be quite simple: Being helpful with the morning routine and on time for school, being helpful around the house, not whining and using words instead. As the father of two children under 5 years old, these are not lofty goals, but realistic to their current developmental stages and attainable. Some days. Hopefully this is establishing the practice of making bigger goals and working toward the success of more difficult achievements.
This frequent goal setting happening at our household makes me recognize that having bigger goals—resolutions, really--may be beneficial to my partner and me and instructional to our young family members.
In the hopes of maybe inspiring some thoughtful resolutions for your family in the coming year, here are some that I have for our family in the new year, in no particular order after numbers 1 through 3:
Happy New Year’s to you and your family. It is my hope that you value every day with one another in the coming year and beyond.
THE MOMENTS LEFT before Christmas are speeding by. The time to think about giving a thoughtful gift is now!
My parents always told me that "it's the thought that counts" which never made me happier to receive socks or underwear for Christmas but it is a valuable lesson I learned with warm feet. I am passing this lesson on to our offspring, hopefully. In the hopes of inspiring your last minute gift purchases here are gifts that I am giving this year:
1. EXPERIENCE. Give the gift of an experience! This year I gifted tickets to our local performance of The Nutcracker to my partner and oldest son. Our family also gifted a holiday miniature gold experience to our son’s daycare class. Give a ski lift ticket, admission to the ice rink, a pool pass or a ticket to a once-a-year event. As a parent, this could be a win-win, providing a great gift that is not stuff and an opportunity to have a special experience with your child.
2. LIGHT. At this time of year, all Alaskans know about the surplus of darkness. Kids do not glow, so give them the gift of a zipper light, head lamp, a flashing light or reflective clothing that will make them more noticeable at the bus stop or walking around the neighborhood enjoying sleds or holiday lights.
3. BOOKS. Give books with Alaska themes. We want to create readers in our family so there is no better way to get kids motivated to read and gravitate to books than purchasing books with subjects that they know. Alaska has many great topics that kids enjoy and there is no shortage of literary works for all age levels. Also consider a subscription to a magazine that ties in with a child's interest such as National Geographic Kids, Highlights, which I remember from my youth, and Ranger Rick.
4. GEAR. Getting outside this time of year can be challenging. Updating jackets, gloves, goggles, ice skates, skis or even the plastic sled that has been in-use for a couple of years can be a great gift.
5. CLOTHING. The gift of clothing. I am fortunate that our sons have no input on what they wear because of their ages. Holidays and birthdays are a great opportunity to give them something special to add to their clothing collection. For our oldest, a shirt with an NFL or college logo is something he really appreciates. With older children I would suggest you go on a shopping trip with him or her and take notes.
With the main gift-giving day looming it can be easy to just grab something quick and easy such as a gift card but a little thought can go a long ways in giving something that will be enjoyed for many days and maybe years into the future! I hope you and your family have a great holiday together.
WITH CHILDREN THE lights of the holiday season are brighter. Christmas carols are more danceable. Expectations are bigger. And the list of events to do and see seems more unmanageable than ever!
This year our management of the holidays was off to a great start. A day after Thanksgiving, eggnog replaced cream in our morning coffee. The following day, Christmas decorations were brought down from storage, and, as a family, we had our first sighting of the Jolly Man in the Red Suit who arrived at the local mall via helicopter. Three days after Thanksgiving, Christmas lights around our home put our neighborhood on notice that this family was ready to celebrate.
Despite my best plans and intentions I have started to have small panic attacks about what else needs to be done, mailed, purchased and coordinated in the last 25 days of December.
I have not yet sent one Christmas card although friends with families are taunting me as some have already arrived in our mailbox. We have family that lives in England and their box of cheer should already be en route but it is not. I have purchased some gifts for the boys but lack a clear gift plan. I have some ideas of gifts for my partner but I am indecisive when I should be placing orders now ensuring the desired and purchased items arrive on time.
Our family has plans to take in the First Friday event in the downtown of the capital city visiting the various galleries and gift shops. This is a holiday tradition where we enjoy the hustle and bustle, holiday refreshments, carolers and a glimpse of old St. Nick! After years of talking about it to members of our family (yet to be decided), we will embark on a Holiday Lights Helicopter tour. Two members of our family will be attending the annual performance of the Nutcracker. For the first time in our Juneau experience of four plus years, I will miss the annual Governor’s Holiday Open House at the mansion on Dec. 9. Although I will be out of town, my partner and sons will be in attendance. This is a unique event that we enjoy and support whole-heartedly! Last year we finally made it to the live nativity here in town and drove through three times at the request of our oldest son. This will be on our Holiday To Do schedule this year.
Driving around town looking at Christmas lights is a fond memory I have of my youth and there are many areas throughout Juneau to participate in this activity. With the sun setting well before 4 p.m. this is an event that can be done at the end of a weekday. We do have one holiday work party to attend and we are planning a New Years Day open house at our residence for neighbors and friends.
Whatever the holiday event is, we do everything in our power to experience all of these activities and events as a family. Despite the moments of panic and the hustle, the family moments are what the holidays are about for us. The everlasting gift of children in our lives has made us more motivated to participate in the season. We see the lights with fresh eyes, hear the sounds with sharp ears and young curiosity makes us even more engaged in all of the activity that this month brings to our community and home.
THIS PAST WEEK our community lost two young men in a boating accident. One was 26 years old and a co-worker of mine about three years ago. He was friendly and personable and enjoyed by his peers. I remember him always reading classic literature when he had down time, which led to some in-depth conversations for a person of his age. When I saw him this past spring he was in great spirits and excited about his summer job with Alaska Department of Fish and Game. His smile was playful and sincere. I remember thinking that he seemed to be in a good place with some positive direction in his life. I was happy for him, as he had seemed to be searching for direction when we were working together. The second young man was 23 years old and I did not know him. They were brothers.
Yes, I am very sad for this loss of life at such a young age. I cannot imagine what the parents of these men must be going through. Every parent I have talked to about this tragedy echo the same sentiment; we hurt for their loss and their lives without their sons to follow. Most parents hope to be outlived by their offspring and when this does not happen it is a life-altering event.
As a brother and a parent of brothers this loss of life has affected me to my core. This past week just thinking about this event no matter what my setting has forced me to tears; my sympathy for the family is overwhelming. It’s hard to pinpoint my specific fears, feelings and reactions but I have been and continue to be moved!
This event has also reminded me that our boys are only ours to direct and guide for a short period of time and once they reach a certain juncture of life, how they live, what they do and what situations they put themselves into will be out of my control. This reality is also a reason for my numerous tears.
I continue to cherish all the moments with our boys and show them my love for them every opportunity that I get as I do not know what our future brings.
WITH COUNTLESS PEOPLE, things and situations to be thankful for this Thanksgiving I am challenging myself to think of one encompassing thing to be thankful for. I am thankful and grateful for time. In the past 365 days as a father I have been able to watch our sons develop into their own people. This time has not passed without demands and challenges, but when I think about the year since last Thanksgiving, the good memories are the first that come to mind.
In the past year, I watched our oldest learn to ski down a gentle slope with ease and no fear, which made my eyes tear up with joy. This was a fantastic moment that connected him to my numerous memories of winter youth. Celebrating his 4th birthday and watching him be showered with thoughts, care and love of all who care about him showed me the Meadester is already making a memorable difference in his own world. This past year we took our first boys’ trip together. It was more fun than I ever imagined having with a 4 year old. I think I may have gotten more out of the trip than he did!
Many parents fear a walking baby, but I was elated when our youngest took his first steps in pursuit of his brother. The motivation of keeping up with his older brother was inspirational to watch. We could see his mind was there but his body was working to catch up. How fortunate we were to have daily front row seats to this evolution of our son pulling himself up and around furniture to eventually chasing down his mentor. Celebrating his first birthday was very exciting with enough chocolate-cake-smear and joy for everyone’s enjoyment.
Our children spend time with my parents almost daily since they’ve made the move to our town just over a year ago. The time that they have together has bonded them for life. Our boys also spent three weeks with my partner’s parents and there is a bond there that has been established with this investment of time.
As a family we have had the time to take multiple trips—more than five weeks of dedicated time with one another, enjoying new experiences. This time together experiencing the new and the mundane that is always present in families with children and the simple flexibility just to be a family has nurtured the strong bonds that were already firmly in place. With this year of time I feel more bonded to my sons and more vested in our family. I am beyond thankful for this last year of time.
Thank you to the staff of Kids These Days for their dedicated time to this resource. Thank you for your time in reading my musings, thoughts and reflections.
I hope you are making the most of our commonality - time. Happy Thanksgiving!
IN MY FAIRLY new world of parenthood I know from personal experience that many organized people can often be reduced to flying by the seat of their pants in many aspects of life. That is never more true than during the holiday season - a time that demands even more planning, thoughtfulness and attention to the family's needs and wants than usual.
I'm gearing up to stay on top of what I know is expected of me this year. Here's what I am thinking about as the holiday season quickly approaches:
1. Charitable Donations: The closer our family gets to the gift exchanging events of the Christmas season the less room we seem to have in our budget. Making a charitable donation now will get this very important item off our list. This is also helpful to the non-profits as they can pre-plan the delivery of their added services during this active time of year.
2. Gifts: I have already made some decisions about some gifts I will be giving to family members so I am purchasing them now. I am doing so to continue to get things checked-off my list. We have family that lives outside of the United States and shipping can take up to two weeks to those locations, so I am beginning to think about our seasonal care-package to them.
3. Greeting Cards: At 36-years old I can be old fashioned and I still look forward to personal mail. I like to give this gift to others. Every year I send out 50-85 greeting cards to family and friends. It is never too early to confirm my address list and start considering my options for greetings.
4. Santa: If writing letters to St. Nick is part of your family’s tradition, considering asking him to send a reply this year! For over 20 years, "Santa's Helper" in Washington state has been composing personalized replies to children's "Dear Santa" letters for a nominal fee of $5. The look on our son’s face when he hears that Santa wants him to clean-up his cars or be more helpful with the morning routine is well worth the price. (Send letters & 5 bucks to: Santa’s Helper 141 Alder N.E. Castle Rock, WA 98611.)
5. Thought: Battery toys lose their pep and most toys will eventually break beyond repair. The latest technology will soon be replaced. Giving myself a little extra time to prepare for family gifts I have time to think about giving experiences as gifts as opposed to stuff. This is a priority in our family to give experiences and not stuff! A family trip to the ski slopes, the ice rink, or a fancy holiday dinner can create moments and memories beyond the life of stuff.
Even in the Last Frontier it can be difficult to avoid getting caught up in the commercialism and market driven hype that is the holidays - especially when you have kids. Giving myself a little extra time to plan a thoughtful season will hopefully keep me away from frantic stress or a less meaningful season. Start planning now.
ALASKA TAUGHT ME about voter apathy that I had not experienced before moving here twelve years ago. I still hear residents of this state say: “The election will be decided before I get the opportunity to vote. Why should I bother?” This apathetic approach damages the spirit and privilege that every citizen of our country has to vote for representatives in our government. Regardless of where our family lives now or in the future the civil responsibility to cast a voter at every opportunity will be something that my partner and I model.
When I was born, my father was not a citizen of the United States of America. My partner was born into a household where neither of her parents were citizens of the USA. The day my father became a citizen in 1982 there was a school board election in our town. After driving 160 miles to be naturalized my father also cast his first vote as a US citizen. He has never missed an opportunity to cast a vote since. Both of my parents clearly modeled what was expected of citizenship in a country where citizens are given the right to vote.
Baby's first visit to the polls at 2 months old...
Looking back at my childhood I cannot recall any conversation that I had with either of my parents about the importance of voting but, now as an adult, I could easily direct you to every polling station where they would cast their ballots. I can do this because they always took my brother and me with them to the polls.
Without ever discussing how to impart the duty of this civic exercise to our own offspring, my partner and I have included our sons in every vote we have cast since their births. I can only hypothesize that our parents modeling strong examples of what citizenship means has led to the strong examples we are modeling for our sons.
Yes, I understand that you could be suffering from being over exposed to political choices and views every time you turn on the radio or television and/or every time you walk around your neighborhood. Yes, I understand that you may feel that your choice of candidates is a choice between the lesser of two evils. Yes, I understand if there is not a contested election in your state district but there is still the choice of our State Representative and our country’s President. The next generation of Alaskans needs to be shown the importance and value of the votes we have regardless of the fact that our votes are counted second to last in our country of 50 states. Please vote and take your children with you!
IN OUR TRAVEL with children we have noticed that one thing is a constant: our boys are instantly attracted to other families traveling with children, too. So we get the opportunity to meet many families and briefly discuss their travel for the simple fact that it is too awkward to just stand there while our kids stare at their kids or their children’s toys. This is also interesting, because it gives us a peek of how other parents approach the family travel experience. And we recently got that chance to connect with other traveling families in the last couple of weeks vacationing in Florida.
I watch many parents with tight control over what their children are allowed to see and do while traveling and I know that they are not taking full advantage of the travel opportunity. Whether you travel to another area of the state or across the country it's expensive so ensure you are getting full return on your investment! Travel is about getting out of the box of normalcy and children should be allowed to spread their wings and stretch out into the world.
Spread your wings and fly little one!
Traveling with children, especially young ones, is an adventure no matter what the destination. I am proud to say that our 4-year old is a fantastic traveler for his age and our 14-month son is learning to be. His personality seems to be a little bit impatient. He has no words to fully communicate what he needs but he appears to be learning what travel is all about with every new trip and travel experience that he is exposed to.
Pawn to rook four, bro!
We are at the end of a 2-week trip with our sons that took us from the Capitol City of Alaska across the entire country to the Sunshine State. In our family travel approach we safely attempt to expose them to everything we can. We cannot help but focus on activities that pertain to children but we also include adult activities to make this exposure more comprehensive and foundation building for their future.
This past week we visited a turtle farm and it was a very enjoyable for the entire family. Our oldest also really enjoyed watching a hairy (human) chest competition so much so he pointed out the winner to me at lunch the next day! Yes, this is what happens on some Caribbean cruises - kids mesmerized by a full production, singing and dancing show that many children would not sit still for, while Dad and Mom were happy to be engaged in a more adult activity.
Fountain gazing: a favorite activity for all ages...
When traveling having a good routine can be a challenge. Moving from hotel room to hotel room in a short time span can be challenging. There are always unforeseen challenges, of course, but knowing where the known challenges are in our travel plans prepares us to prepare our sons about what's ahead. We approach the entire activity as an adventure and keep on repeating our travel mantra often: “this is all part of the adventure.”
AS A FATHER, more and more I realize how fortunate I was to meet my grandparents before they were gone. I met my mother’s parents and saw them frequently as we lived in the same geographical area. My father’s parents lived in another country so I only met them a couple of times. Although my relationship with them was scarce, I still remember these visits and the memories will always stay with me. My father had foster parents and they were a staple in my life for my formative years and our history is rich. Every birthday they would take me to a meal of my choice. This was a birthday present I would always anticipate year after year. Grandparents are something that all children should get to experience period.
The values of grandparents:
Acceptance. In many instances grandparents have recognized mistakes and pitfalls that they made with their first generation. Grandchildren are an opportunity to do things differently and simply accept this generations of humans for who they are. Parents learn about unconditional love and grandparents can be really good about demonstrating it!
Safety. Grandparents have obvious experience in the care for children. I am alive and if you are a parent currently reading this, your parents were a success too! Grandparents are a little “old school.” They let children explore differently and have simple failures when sometimes it can be hard for parents to step back and let natural consequences happen.
Spoil. I grew-up in a home that did not have a television. My parents still do not have a television in their home but our boys see plenty of videos on the computer in their home. I still have no idea when this transition to screen time being OK happened and when this disconnect took place. Grandma and grandpa sometimes get relaxed about things they were strict about when we were kids.
Time & Presence. My partner and I are conscious about being fully present but often times we are juggling multiple things in our family life when we are with our boys. Grandparents know how quickly time in these young lives passes and know how to be fully present in the lives of their second set of kids.
Yes, I know that all families do not have the luxury of having grandparents alive and involved in the lives of their family. If you do have grandparents alive - and regardless of what scar tissue is present from your youth - prioritize your children spending time with them. If grandparents are not alive or present find people of your circle of life that your children can treat as grandparents. Yes, your child needs you but they also need the input of someone else that thinks they are special and will adore them in a different way than you do.
I WAS IN a coffee shop alone recently. For a brief and rare moment I could enjoy being in a coffee shop. One of my many loves for the coffee shop setting beyond the caffeine drinks and things to eat is the people watching. When I looked up at the other parties sharing this space I was excited to see two men spending time with children. Upon second glance I became less excited and more bothered about what I saw.
One father and daughter sat across from one another. Dad had his head down and his fingers poked, dragged and tapped his Ipad. His young daughter was oblivious to her father's actions as she was engrossed in the screen of a smart phone.
I looked at the other man and boy at the next table in hope that their situation would be different. Again, I was disappointed. Man was typing on his laptop and boy was involved with a smart phone with ear buds cutting out the sounds of the surrounding conversations and activity.
When it comes to parenting I do everything I can not to judge parenting styles and approaches. Parenting is really hard and parenting styles are the choices of those involved. This did not soften my gut reaction to what I was seeing with these two groups that I watched. Missed opportunities of adults connecting with children were happening right in front of me and it made me feel sad for both parties.
Because I know that I am not a perfect parent I began to reflect on my own life and recent interactions and moments that I had with my sons. Am I making the most of my opportunities to connect with my boys? How often am I distracted by technology or other things vying for my attention when my boys just want me to be fully present and with them? I know that this does happen and they know when I am not fully engaged with them.
With this experience recently in my thoughts I am now even more committed to being connected and engaged with my sons when I tell them that this is our quality time. I want them to experience the value and possibilities of being fully focused on one another without distractions. There are enough things to distract all of us in life so I have no doubt they have and will continue to experience this challenge.