THIS WEEK THE power and importance of family has been in the forefront of my thoughts. My partner left this past weekend with our 7-month-old son to travel Outside to Florida. While my oldest son and I are digging out from another dump of snow, they are basking in the heat and glory of 80-degree sunshine. She's checking in with her older brother who is recently separated from his wife. My partner has been very concerned about her sibling but also for her young nephews. While in the Sunshine State, she'll also see her parents who live in the same area as her brother. They have recently relocated there and it has created some challenges establishing their place in a much larger and isolated community.
Our own home now feels incomplete with the absence of my partner’s voice chatting with our oldest son about a line from Cars or the shrieks and gurgles of our youngest. I can almost hear these sounds around our home as the daily routine continues. I can almost see Lil’ A when I look at the play area where observes his world or discovers new shapes and textures with his mouth. Their absences are felt in many, if not most, of the moments that we are home.
I wouldn’t say that my partner is close to her family, so I was a little surprised when she expressed interest and a need to make this trip. Now that there are grandchildren, nephews and nieces in the family dynamic, my partner’s family seems to have grown closer. I knew we needed to make the trip happen despite the realities of splitting our family locations for nine days. Close or distant, our priority is putting family first.
"I didn’t want mommy to go," our almost 4 year-old said in the first days of this temporary separation. "I did not want them to go either," was my response. I knew I had a teaching moment: "If Atlas lived somewhere else and he was in trouble, you would get on a plane to help him."
"Yeah, and if I was in trouble and lived somewhere else, Atlas would get on a plane to help me,” was his response. Yes, this is the response I wanted! This is proof that he is continuing to connect the importance of family. The infrequency of our visits with these family members is dictated by distance, but this is the reality we chose by living in Alaska. A reality shared by so many other families in the 49th state.
"Family first" is a value priority that we want to imprint on our sons as they grow. This experience is not only allowing my partner to connect better with family members in crisis, but also shows our sons how we care for family and to what lengths we go to make it happen. I tasked our son who is here at home with the job of taking care of me in the absence of his mother and brother. "I will take care of you while they’re gone and I need you to take care of me."
"And the animals," he adds. Yes, and the animals, which we value as family, too.
THIS PAST WEEK, my life has been like a boat bobbing around the ocean in light swells and unpredictable chop. I am not seasick yet, but I am feeling queasy.
I am still feeling some symptoms of cabin fever and my level of motivation for anything is minimal. But I feel grateful to have a healthy family to come home to in a warm and comfortable house. I feel grateful for a good, reliable job that provides for our needs and then some. I feel grateful to be waking up in the morning with the dark already turning to gray. I feel just as grateful for the light lingering a little longer at the end of the workday. I always value friendships and I think friendship is next for an acquaintance I connected with this weekend while our children were in ski class. This connection felt good.
I have been a dismal partner this week. I have had some true feelings that I have not communicated clearly. This has lead to some tense moments between my partner and I. “When do you have time to connect?” a friend asked me over a brief lunch date. I did not have a good answer and it made me suddenly feel disconnected. I know my inadequacy in this realm and have been honest about it. Are we the only partners struggling with this issue? I know enough parents to know we are not, but it does not make our situation better, easier or less lonesome.
As a parent, I feel like I have done a good job understanding that I can always do better. I took our youngest son, now 6 months old, on two outside outings, just the two of us. I also spent some time with him while his brother and mother had a date. This past weekend, I accompanied our oldest son to his second ski lesson. Not only did he enjoy the instruction, but we also spent an additional two hours on the slope after our lunch break. When I told him that we needed to head in, he whimpered. It made me feel successful that he is enjoying something I love. I also joined him for a lunch date at his school, which we always enjoy. His friends seem to like having another big person at the table, too.
As a son, I attempted to connect with my father by inviting him to lunch. It was an odd meal arrangement to begin with but I thought it would be a unique opportunity that we have not had before. One hour and one lost order later, we failed to connect in a meaningful way. It was a missed opportunity and I feel like I wasted his time.
I am fully feeling the solitude of parenthood as I bob and roll through this week. I hope to get to a place soon with calmer waters or a port for rejuvenation.
T.S. ELIOT WROTE "April is the cruelest month" but February is the hardest month for me here in Alaska.
The quick solve to this problem would be to vacation during this month. Unfortunately my current work-commitment does not allow me to escape during this month. I do what I can to make it through and do my best to disguise my struggle from my family.
As February goes this year’s has been fairly mild. The clouds have disappeared for a number of days. We have experienced many days with direct sunlight. The temperatures have warmed-up enough for outside activities to be comfortable. I have even taken the time for some outside running which is an activity I enjoy. The snow and rain have been reserved. The five plus minutes of daylight gain per day have been noticeable and added a spring to everyone’s step. This month of the year has still been a battle of cabin fever and the strong desire to be less encompassed in wet black and dark gray.
At least the ocean never freezes up!
Just because this month has been a struggle has not stopped the schedule of my commitments to continue. I still need to work full-time. My monthly meetings have still taken place. Deadlines continue to demand my time and attention. The layers of logistics of our family are still a day to day dance of all parties involved despite my personal struggle!
February is a great time to learn to ski
Our youngest son reached his 6-month milestone this month. His personality is showing through more and more each day. We hosted a successful family Super Bowl party. We have made multiple visits to our local pools. I had the opportunity to visit another Alaska city for three days and I had some moments to catch-up with good friends. We attended a party at our son’s daycare. My partner and I have been on two dates this month which is a record. My partner made a serious work deadline and her stress at the workplace has been lowered. Our oldest son just started ski lessons this past weekend and enjoyed the experience. This event alone gave me great joy. We have been on many outdoor outings as a family and paired-up with one another. We are now in the preliminary process of planning our summer family-vacation.
Yes this month has been full of activities, diversions, and events to look forward to in the future. This active, demanding, and involved family-life has aided me to get through this challenging month but I am still excited about its conclusion. March where are you?
BEFORE PARENTHOOD I never looked forward to Valentine’s Day. I have had some memorable Valentine’s Day events in my life but I have never harbored any expectations about this day. My thought has always been that if you love someone you should tell them whenever possible in as many ways as possible, but parenthood has compromised my position on this odd "holiday".
Parenthood has presented many challenges to the partnership that I am committed to. One of these challenges is when and how do we express our love to one another now that we have a family? Complicating the issue for me as a father is that I feel like our sons have a monopoly on my partner’s displays of love and care. I know I am not alone in feeling this way. Other fathers in my circle of friends have commented and joked with me frequently about experiencing the same feelings.
My partner and I entered into partnership knowing full well that our love was an ebb and flow arrangement. In the beginning of our commitment our love flowed often and freely with the luxury of time for ourselves and the ability to fully be in the moment when we had time together - time that was free of disruptions and any other being vying for our attention. We also had the luxury of often being in very good health and well-rested. Now that we are a family of four with two very young members, it feels more like an ebb period.
I struggle with prioritizing us. I know my partner struggles with this as well and balancing a robust family life of four that includes two young members. I know that prioritizing this "us time" is one of my biggest failures as a parent. I am hopeful that this period and commitment will not last forever. I also hope to be more proactive in making this time together happen.
Photo credit: Abby Lowell
Sharing the family love...
This year our three year-old son and I shopped together for some flowers to show our love for this special person in our lives. Two days before Valentine's we arrived home bearing our individually chosen and wrapped tulips. “Happy Valentines Mom,” was not only a gift to my partner but also a gift to me. It was the sincerity of this 3 year-old and the display of his love for his mother that was a gift.
I try every day to show my partner in some way my love and care for her. These messages often become drowned-out or disrupted in the controlled chaos of our days. Valentine’s Day is now a day that I look forward to. I know that on this day my partner and I will take the time to recognize one another. This recognition often is communicated with a card, a small gift, and some sort of small surprise. I know my partner and I share a steadfast and enduring love every day but this specific day now gives us an added reason to express it - and to teach our sons a valuable lesson about showing love on this day, and the other 364 days a year.
THIS WEEK'S NEWS in child safety has not been good.
As an admitted news-follower I do not need to look beyond the headlines of our state to see frequent and reported violence committed against children: Mother, boyfriend charged in beating death of Barrow child. Looking beyond our state and recent publicized events the violence against children is horrific; Josh Powell kills 2 young sons in ‘act of evil’ authorities say. I try not to follow many of the grisly details. I have seen and heard enough to make my body physically hurt, and these headlines jolt my mind into thinking about what I am doing to keep our sons safe.
It’s hard to know everything my partner and I can do and foresee every act of evil against children. We should all do what we can in our home, schools, and communities, to keep children safe, of course.
Here is my active and ever-changing approach to keep my and your children safe.
1. Communicate. From the moments our 4 year-old wakes up until he talks his way into sleep we are communicating with him. We also talk to our 6-month old son as much as possible. We are setting precedents and foundations of open-communication that we hope continue throughout their lives. My partner and I continually communicate about what is happening with our sons - good, challenging or otherwise. We are always communicating with his daycare teachers, daycare manager and the other parents in our son’s class.
2. Advocate and Participate. My partner and I are active advocates and participants in the activities and any other event that happens at the daycare our son attends.
3. Connect. When my schedule allows I attend a father’s playgroup. This is a good opportunity to connect with fathers. There is solidarity in active Fatherhood! Connecting with fathers supports and engages new fathers that are living many of the challenges that new parents face.
4. Convene. Once a month I lead a Father’s Community Café. This event provides support for fathers, grandfathers, and others that are interested in the safety and well-being of children in our community.
5. Show Up. I attend any event dealing with families and children if my schedule allows. Many of these events lack fatherhood participation. I am an active participant and/or father-advocate when the opportunities present themselves at these events.
6. Listen. When given the opportunity I listen to other fathers and how they are participating in their children’s life and actively keeping them safe.
7. Don't Panic. I am realistic about the safety of our community and potential threats that exist.
8. Be Informed. I subscribe to the newsletters of state and local agencies and providers that may provide any advice on parenting and children well-being. (Alaska Children's Trust)
9. Pay Attention. I follow the local news concerning events affecting children and their safety.
By no means is this a complete list of things that can be done to insure our children’s safety. I continue to look for strategies that will increase my toolbox of approaches to child safety as I am fairly new to this position of fatherhood. Safety of our children is one of my primary concerns as a father.
THE BUSYNESS OF our daily schedule ebbs and flows similar to the tidal forces that surround our town. There are some days that are so busy and demanding that I cannot wait for them to be over; there are others that seem to be a manageable pace.
My partner and I both are engaged in full-time commitments to the workplace. My partner’s employer is a non-profit entity that supports healthy and supported birth. For these reasons alone our family is supported in policy and practice. Our youngest son currently spends half of his day with his mother in the workplace. I work for a state entity that has a distinct busy period and a slower period. My employer is very flexible with my family commitments seen and unforeseen. My direct supervisor is the mother of a child that is the similar age of our oldest son. She prioritizes family in her life and extends understanding to my family. As a supervisor of a small staff I accommodate any requests created by family challenges and priorities. My partner and I know that our family-friendly work environments are unique in policy and practice. We know many other friends and members of our community that are much more challenged in the family friendliness of their workplace.
Beyond our work hours we prioritize simple family time together daily. At nightly dinners we exchange reports of our day, listen to one another and talk about future events and activities. During the weekend we spend as much time together as a family as our commitments allow. We prioritize at least one full day together and in practice we spend most of the weekend days together as a family.
Throwing rocks into the ocean with your son = life balance regained
With two children in our family now, I feel some guilt for volunteer commitments that I made when we were only a family of 3. I have not pared these commitments down but I am open to the reality that I may need to do so in the future. I try to coordinate my commitments to the working day as to not infringe on family time, putting more demands on my partner. Unfortunately this is not always possible and my committed time becomes a family commitment of time. This is a factor that puts our family time balance at risk. I am currently logging my volunteer hours to see what my time commitments are and then I can look at ways to minimize them or manage them better.
My partner and I are committed to quality time to one another but this seems to be the first thing that is sacrificed in our life schedule. In the moments and times that we have had the opportunity to separate ourselves from our children for brief moments we rediscover our initial connection to one-another and our commitment to life together. I have been a failure in creating these times often with my partner and prioritizing this time and I know I need to do better.
As a family we take yearly trips together and other mini-getaways as the opportunities present themselves. My partner and I are passionate about travel and we want to expose our children to travel and as many other places in the world as we can! Time away from our daily-life-routine life is something we relish.
Without fail the daily schedule rushes in with its surprises, plans, and demands, and most days quickly flow away into history. Our family-work balance is strong. It is the other activities of our family, children, and my commitments that I find challenging. My experience has shown me that balancing family life is much easier in theory than in practice.
Keep up with Steve and his family's daily balancing act at his personal blog AKDad.com.
CABIN FEVER SEASON is upon us!
According to Wikipedia, the noticeable symptoms of cabin fever are: restlessness, irritability, paranoia, irrational frustration with everyday objects, forgetfulness, laughter, excessive sleeping, distrust of anyone they are with, and an urge to go outside even in the rain, snow, dark or hail. Sound familiar?
For our family, January and February seem to be the months when the phenomenon of cabin fever is most likely to occur. Although we prioritize outside time in the rain, sleet, or snow, during this period of the year the shortness of days and the changeable forces of nature can challenge our best intentions!
Despite these best intentions to get outside daily we were challenged with the perfect storm this past week. The storm consisted of very cold temperatures and every member of our family battling the flu. This storm led to some brief moments of cabin fever. Our young sons cannot put the feelings of cabin fever into words but the symptoms were clearly evident in our older son as the week progressed. At moments he acted like a confined animal pacing in his cage, then pulling out all of his toys and distractions.
Get on your gear and go!
Up to this point of the winter I would give our family a B- for our efforts to stave off cabin fever and here's how we attempt to do that:
1. Get outside. When temperatures are in the negative this is easier said than done. It is often during these colder months that just getting dressed to get outside can burn some calories. We notice significant changes in attitudes including our own when we spend even a short amount of time outside. Our mantra: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear!”
2. Do fun stuff outside. Just going outside is not enough of a draw for our son when the wind is howling and the cold temperatures are felt in his breaths. We have exposed him to some outside activities that we enjoy too; sledding and skiing which he enjoys! By doing this we can all get excited about going outside despite the conditions.
Try out a new winter sport.
3. Do fun stuff inside. (Just not in your own house.) Get out of the house by visiting a mall or other indoor space where physical activity is possible. In our community we are fortunate to have indoor swimming pools, open gyms, and a field-house. We get to the pool whenever the schedule allows.
4. Get social. Accept any invites to other homes for a change of scenery.
5. Invite in friends. Host a family for dinner or play date.
6. Check local schools' event calendars. Attend a theater, music, or sporting event. Most schools host many of these events frequently during the winter months.
7. Hit the playground. The darkness can add another dimension to the experience and finding the wind-sheltered areas of the playground can lead to educational conversation about how to deal with the elements of weather.
8. Go on a gallery walk. This is a family friendly event because there is a good balance of outside time and inside time and usually there are sweets along the way. Enjoying and experiencing art is just an added benefit of this experience.
9. Visit your library. It is not the best place for children to get crazy but winter weather is the best time to discover this community resource.
Turn cabin fever into outdoors chillin'.
The darkness and inclement weather in our state can be very oppressive. Cabin fever happens to most Alaskans at some point during the year. Be prepared for it to affect you and your family and be prepared to do something to make it go away!
THE OLD YEAR is gone and with it, too, the recognized "season of giving" - this is a yearly recurrence that must be stopped!
For the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s charitable giving is en vogue - many people are donating time and resources to others during this season, there is targeted emphasis on making sure that families in need have the perfect turkey dinner or the children of those family have something to open on Christmas. To donate to any cause is admirable and feels good; unfortunately this does little to nothing to solve the problems of poverty and homelessness that exists in our communities and in our state year-round. Now where does help for families in need come from the other 363 - non-holiday - days of the year? This is what you and I should be thinking about every day of the year.
Homelessness has crept closer to the comfort zone in many of our lives. The loss of a job - or maybe even two - has put many families into a tailspin and forced them into worst case scenarios where they no longer have a roof over their heads. Children that are considered our future find themselves without a place to call home when home and routine is what they need the most to develop.
According to a 2010 State Report Card on Child Homelessness produced by The National Center on Family Homelessness there are 4,400 children who become homeless every day!
For me, the thought of wanting the best for my children yet struggling day after day to find a safe place to sleep at night makes me nauseous. For thousands of children in the USA this is their daily life. According to this same report, Alaska had 7,272 homeless children in 2010. This situation is unacceptable and with current temperatures in many of our communities far below zero degrees this is situation that is also inhumane.
Non-profit organizations are always ready to accept donations. Non-profits who are dealing with the fallout surrounding increased homelessness have even more monetary needs today. Yes it is good to recognize and contribute to these organizations during the holidays but they need even more financial help during the other 10 months of year. Please consider making a donation that is spread over 12 months of the year. This gives you the comfort of making more manageable donations and also allows your organizations of choice to forecast their income better.
As the year 2012 continues to move forward I hope that you will seriously consider where you commit your charitable donations. A simple way to start your donations for the year is to commit a portion of your PFD.
I hope that the needs of our young fellow citizens are also part of your consideration in your 2012 giving plan. Children are our future and for many children their future looks cold and bleak at best.
To learn more about Alaska's homeless youth, check out Kids These Days! Show 54: Homeless Youth in Alaska.
ONLY IN THE recent years of my life have I discovered and acknowledged how much of a mentor my father has been in my life.
My father mentored me by exemplifying certain values in his life. He showed me strong work ethic by being routinely early for his shifts and being dedicated to his position. Get your work done first son and then you can play! He showed me the importance of education by enrolling my brother and I in private schools and holding us accountable for our academic performance. This school is going to cost your mother and I a lot of money, but I think it is worth the sacrifice we will need to make. He showed comfort in his skin and appreciation for what we had in our lives. We may not wear the newest fashion of clothes and have the most current vehicles but we have what we need.
Flashback! - Steve, dad and brother in the early 80's
My father’s mentorship provided me with a firm foundation and the skills to find other mentors throughout my life. My list of mentors includes, teachers, instructors, clergy, family, friends, supervisors, co-workers and community members. I feel very fortunate that I have had at least one mentor in every stage of my life.
The humbling transition of becoming a parent immediately made me aware of the fact that I needed mentors in this stage, too. I have been fortunate to find some father mentors through a father’s playgroup, a father’s support group and fathers that I have met through the daycare our son attends, as well.
Through all these ages and stages of my life so far I have experienced the strong power of mentorship - it has guided my life in a positive direction and made it possible for me to avoid some of the pitfalls and detractions of life.
Steve and his dad today
January is Mentoring Month is Alaska. There are many children in our neighborhoods that attend the same schools as our children, who are teammates or band-mates of our teenagers; some of these kids in our communities do not have one strong mentor in their life - and they might be actively seeking one.
Being a mentor to a child can being as easy as including your child’s friend in activities with your family: hiking, biking, skiing, fishing, camping, picking blueberries, or even attending a music festival. Parents can also become a mentor by volunteering at a daycare, assisting in school projects or fundraisers, become involved in a club, or volunteering to coach a team.
There is Big Brother Big Sisters of Alaska whose sole purpose is to connect adults with children and create a mentorship possibility. This is an opportunity to become a mentor in a safe and monitored program that will benefit the adult and the child!
I want the friends and contacts that surround our sons to have strong mentors in their lives. I also want all of those children seeking a mentor to have the opportunity to experience this unique relationship. Mentoring the children of our state will lead to more grounded youth today and a stronger future for our communities. This is something that you need to do!
DECEMBER: THAT MONTH packed full of timeless traditions is over! I am relieved. Our family participated in many of these traditions - celebrating St. Nicks with stockings, Christmas with a tree and numerous decorations around our home, exchanging gifts with family and friends. Holiday music was the common soundtrack at home and our son singing carols made for a sweet sound. We attended holiday parties at work, visited a live nativity, drove around seeking Christmas light displays, and our son caroled with his classmates. We hosted a small Christmas dinner at our home and attended a family-friendly party to celebrate the New Year.
In addition to all of these these activities we have one tradition that was created by my partner and me that is now a staple from year to year.
This tradition was created during our first December together just seven years ago. In our home we noticed that there was a pumpkin that had survived well beyond the harvest holidays, so naturally we decided to drop it off a high spot - a bridge - on the first day of the New Year. The initial purpose of this activity was that it would be fun and it was! We then recognized that we should have another purpose if we were going to continue this event, so we decided that the pumpkin should represent all of the negativity of the past year. Letting go of it would be our way of putting it beyond and behind us.
The second year of participating in this newly created tradition proved to be challenging as we were in the middle of a long-term road trip. But, our tradition survived. Just 2 days into the New Year we dropped a pumpkin off a causeway in Tampa, Florida. This pumpkin had traveled with us at least 4,000 miles!
Living at sea level for the duration of this ritual has created a challenge. Finding "dropping locations" - a bridge that we haven't yet used or a high spot accessible in the winter to a young family - can be tough. Nevertheless, we’ve been successful in finding a different place every year to release the old year's negativity.
This year the opportunity to continue our tradition on January 1st eluded us but we made the time on the second day of the year. This year our oldest son noticed the pumpkin hanging around our home beyond the fall and this was our opportunity to talk to him about the tradition. He also actively participated in the dropping of the pumpkin and saying good-bye to it. It warmed my heart to see him excited and engaged in this tradition because now that he's participated it truly feels like a family tradition.
My hope for you is that you can build on the challenges of the previous year releasing the negativity. Now let’s see what experiences 2012 has to offer us!
Steve SueWing regularly blogs at www.AkDad.com