Editor's note: Former KTD blogger, Leslie, moved away from Alaska about a year ago, so we thought it would be great to check in with her, see how life on the east coast was treating her and the family since she'd completed her writing gig with us at Love + eMotion last October. Turns out she'd recently revisited Alaska - sans kids - for a hike of a lifetime with her husband. Of course we asked her to write about it for us...
A STICKY FOG descended as we made our way over loose boulders, a relentless effort towards the Summit of Chilkoot Pass. Nothing in this historic landscape had been stable for the past few hours. My stomach growled from missing dinner. My fingertips were raw from clawing my way up. Knees scraped. Feet duct taped and sore.
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 at the same time. 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 carry on.
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 bawling.
As things grew colder and darker on this evening, 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 at being that couple, they offered, “How would you like a honeymoon suite?”
We settled into a warming shelter at the top of the pass with two steaming thermoses 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.”
We felt like teenagers that had snuck behind barricade tape in this not meant for overnighting rest stop. Peeking out the windows at a cloudless turquoise sky layered on top of snow covered peaks and emerald lakes, I asked 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 a 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.
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.
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.”
Leslie Hsu Oh wrote the flagship blog - Love + eMotion - for KidsTheseDays.org while living in Alaska. She now lives in the Washington DC-area with her husband and two children. Read more of her work at LeslieHsuOh.com.
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.
Continue to follow Leslie's family's adventures in Virginia by visiting LeslieHsuOh.com.
For the past year or so, Ethan refuses to sleep in his bed. He would rather curl up like a puppy in front of our bedroom door: baby cheeks squished against his pudgy arms, butt propped high and proud. The boy is stubborn, but respectful. He never enters our room. He just waits, patiently, sometimes in his bed or on the staircase for all of us to settle into sleep.
His method is not perfect. One time, during a Netflix movie several hours after we had tucked him into his own bed, Thomas spotted a black bear in our yard. As soon as Thomas yelled “bear,” we heard little feet thunder down our stairs and his excited and not-sleepy-at-all voice, “Where? Where? I want to see it?”
Other times, when he is extremely tired, he’ll pass out on the staircase.
My friends tell me I’m lucky. “Aww, he’s so adorable. What a polite boy.”
Yes, I know what you’re thinking; this “polite boy” has me wrapped around his finger. When I wake in the middle of the night, I actually crack open my door hoping to see my bundle of love. I tell Thomas that we will miss his devotion when one day, he might come home from school, run into his room, and slam the door shut (which might be in three years, since Kyra just started doing this).
However, I am worried that I’m cultivating a stubborn chord in my son. (See Who’s the Alpha Now?) Our day, for instance, consists of one negotiation after another.
“Can I have juice?” he asks.
“Only after you drink a glass of milk. You know the rules, Ethan.”
This exchange (which can also be about cookies, chips, or candy) can go on all day where he would rather starve or sit in timeout than lose his battle. In order to get him to do what I want, I have to give him choices and make him believe that he’s in charge. And even then, if he doesn’t hear a choice he wants, he’s clever enough to offer his own.
Most frustrating of all, if he detects the slightest educational motivation at play, he pretends to fall asleep. Superheroes are the only angle with which I have some leverage. Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker is willing to tell me a color, letter, or number on his toy, but never for very long. However, I’m not keen on encouraging Superhero play since I caught Ethan nudging a spider with his toe. “Look Mommee. Spider bite me. I Spiderman now?”
Meanwhile, Kyra thrives on academic challenges. Lately, she would rather practice writing sentences than watch a movie with the family. At a restaurant, on her own initiation, she entertains herself with iPhone educational apps or workbooks throughout our meal. Thomas and I actually encourage her to “put it away,” because we don’t want people to think that we are “Tiger Parents.”
My friends tell me not to worry. They say I’m only seeing the negative aspects of a stubborn child. The positives of a stubborn personality are leadership, confidence, toughness, an ability to focus which boosts learning. As it turns out, I’ve already implemented some of these recommendations on how to handle stubborn kids:
How do you handle your stubborn child?
In case you didn’t know, I’m in love with dragons, specifically the Western kind with talons of an eagle, spikes from head-to-toe, fabulous wings of leather, a tail barbed and arrow-tipped, a breath of fire, acid, or ice. Think J.R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling.
When adults used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the first answer I could remember giving, thanks to Anne McCaffrey, was a dragonrider! Her protagonist, Lessa, continues to be the heroine I hope to be.
Naturally, the first stuffed animal my kids received from me was a dragon. Both Kyra and Ethan believe that dragons protect them from the monsters under their bed.
Kyra sleeps on the back of a spring green dragon, a marvelous pillow complete with soft white spikes and a tail that wraps around her body. She won’t go to bed unless I cocoon her with a How to Train Your Dragon blanket.
Ethan’s first word was dragon. This clever three-year-old knows that he can wrestle a toy out of me at a store as long as it has anything to do with this magical creature.
So you can imagine my tears of excitement and sadness when Kyra came home from school the other day with this drawing.
My initial reaction: A teacher or classmate drew this for Kyra. (See Confession Part I and II.) But after asking her a dozen questions about when, where, and how she created this masterpiece, I realized that somehow I had missed a major milestone in my daughter’s artistic development.
“Wow, did anyone help you with these details: the spikes, the talons, the teeth?”
“Nope,” she beamed. “I did it all by myself!”
When Kyra was taking art classes twice a week at the Pacific Northern Academy, her teacher Ms. Jaeger, had reminded me, “Encouragement is all kids need to be creative because when they get older inevitably they will have a habit of being self-critical."
I showered Kyra with kisses and hugs and displayed her first dragon drawing proudly on our window sill, along with a red crayoned heart she gifted to me the day before as soon as she jumped off the bus, “Mommee, in art class, I made a gift for the whole family.”
Biting my lip, I resumed serving Kyra an after-school snack while pondering whether I should frame her first dragon artwork. I worried that it would always remind me that I had been absent.
Confession: This summer, I never had time to make art supplies accessible in my household. I’d like to blame it on the move, but perhaps the deeper truth is that I did not place artistic development as high on my list of parental duties as academic pursuits.
I figured that they could simply do art at school. About a month ago, a caretaker at the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Child Development Center hourly care had approached me and said, “We need more parents like you.”
When I looked surprised, she said, “Look what your daughter gave me?” She pointed to the wall which displayed an elaborate 3D construction of a nearly life-sized eagle.
“Kyra, did you do this?” I asked.
“Yep, I’m making one for you too.”
The caretaker thanked me for raising two of the most delightful children to teach. As she explained in detail the rapid artistic progress of both my kids over the summer, I forgot to breathe.
I did not deserve her compliment. Teachers had made all the difference in my children’s art education. Probably the only thing I contributed was the subject matter or artistic genes.
That evening, I wrapped a gift for a six-year-old birthday party with packing paper. I invited Kyra and Ethan to decorate it. To my astonishment, Ethan had graduated from lines to shapes. He articulated that he had drawn Batman and his Batmobile. Kyra whipped out several dragons, twisting along each side of the package.
This time, I made sure to contribute. “Kyra, would you like me to show you how to add wings?”
She clapped her hands. “Yeah!”
I only had time to outline five webbed “fingers” each ending with a claw when she grabbed the crayon out of my hand and said, “Got it.”
Kyra and Ethan were so proud of their creation that the next day at the birthday party, they toured their masterpiece and spun complex tales about Batman riding dragons to save the world. When the birthday boy ripped off the wrapping paper, the three of us looked at each other with pouty lower lips.
Before the day heats up, Ethan and I slip on our Bogs, still caked with mud from the mouth of the Kenai. We inch our way down the steep incline behind our house. Ethan marches confidently ahead of me. His raspy voice bounces between the trunks of oak trees, “Where did the Mommee deer go?”
Thomas had left hours ago for his first day of work. On our way back to the house from Kyra’s bus stop, a white-tailed deer froze in the middle of the street studying our every move. Ethan and I stared at our first animal sighting in Virginia. Then, the deer flicked her head and two fawns appeared out of the woods. The three of them ran into our backyard with their tails raised, white underside flickering.
Still in our pajamas, we follow the deer into our backyard and check out the areas that had been underwater just a few days ago. We are outside for no more than five minutes when Ethan screams “Spider” and hides behind my back.
Nearly every tree is linked by fine strands of spider silk. Some hang elaborate orb webs, glistening with dew. Others are so fine; you can only see the fat body of a spider twisting in the wind.
Putting on a brave face for my son, I use my camera bag and fling it ahead of me in hopes of taking down some of these webs to create a path for us. The hike is not fun. We’re brushing whispers of webs across our faces. Our feet trip over roots and mushrooms. At one point, I turn around to check on Ethan and the boy has one tiny mosquito on his forehead and another one on his neck.
With arms folded across his chest and his lower lip sticking out and a red bite swelling to the size of a nickel on his head, Ethan says, “Mommee, let’s not EVER do this again.”
Back in the house, Ethan deals with our setback by slipping on his Batman suit. While I’m scratching irritably at three new bites on my back and arms, he sits down and starts his daily routine.
I wish adults could adapt that easily, too. My mentor, Elaine Abraham, Naa Tláa (clan mother) of the Yéil Naa (Raven Moiety), K’ineix Ḵwáan (people of the Copper River Clan) from the Tsisk’w Hít (Owl House), encouraged me to “feel the earth. If you go into the woods and just sit there and rub your hands up and down on a tree or put your hand on the soil, there’s warmth. The spirit of the land is warm. You can make connections with the earth anywhere anytime because today we are traveling people. Now, we can adapt. You have to have a real strong spirit to adapt.”
Looking out my ceiling to floor windows at the maze of webbed trees, I can now appreciate the strong spirits of my military friends, who had to leave Alaska. Keilah Frickson, who moved to Wisconsin, last year, says she misses “the smell of the mist on the mountains on cool, rainy days, the texture of the landscape, the road trips through breathtaking vistas, and the constantly changing moods of the mountains.”
Alaska taught her to slow down and take breaths regularly. “I tried things I never thought I would do, and I loved it! The broad, ruddy foundation of the Chugach range still grounds me. The fierce winds whipping off of the ocean and through my hair still remind me that I can weather any challenge in life. The cool mountain air still helps me stay calm under pressure. The muddy bottoms of every shoe and sandal I wore in Alaska still remind me that ‘it's just dirt and it won't hurt anything.’”
The Conaboys, who left in 2007 for Japan and currently reside in Massachusetts, still fill their bellies with Alaska Amber, salmon, and halibut. Jed has managed to return to Alaska every summer on business trips and charter a boat with his squadron.
The Registers, who left in 2008 for Florida and currently reside in Texas, say that Alaska is their “measuring stick” for every place they travel. “Plus, our first child was born there. We will always have a connection to Alaska, especially through her.”
I know that eventually I must adapt too. After all, I have survived the death of my mother, brother, both sets of grandparents, and my father-in-law. And I will always have to chase down my Alaskan babies, who ablate grief in seconds.
But for now, change is not my friend.
A loud THUMP-thud-thud-thud skips across our roof and lands on our deck.
“What’s that?” Batman asks.
“It’s an acorn,” I tell him about every hour, when this disturbing sound echoes through the house and makes my heart skip.
“You want me to stop it?” Batman throws two punches into the air.
“I wish you could,” I answer. “I wish you could.”
Two weeks after moving to Vienna, Virginia, Tropical Storm Lee kills at least seven and forces tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes. A fifteen minute drive home turns into several hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic, something I’ve never had to deal with in Alaska.
My windshield wipers cannot keep up with the rain pouring at a rate of four inches per hour from the skies. Every detour that GPS offers routes me back to the same closed road leading to my neighborhood. Meanwhile, Thomas, Kyra, and Ethan, dry inside our rental home, call me on my cell to report that our neighbors and their horses are being evacuated.
Stuck only a mile away from my family, I have a lot of time to ponder the wisdom of resisting change.
Kyra and Ethan ride change like champions. On our last day in our Eagle River log cabin, Kyra woke us up in the morning with, “Come on guys. It’s time to go to D.C.”
Whenever I look down, Ethan asks, “Are you sad Mommee? Is it Alaska? Do you need kiss?”
Starting first grade was rough for me, but not Kyra. The school encourages all kids to ride a bus to school. Since Kyra has never ridden a bus before, I begged her to let me take her to school on the first day. I was worried about her transition from a tiny school with one classroom of kids in her grade to one with five classrooms of first graders. The school is so large that the four of us got lost during open house.
Kyra said to me, “Mommee, I’m not scared. If you don’t let me take the bus, I’ll be mad.”
The kids ask me from time-to-time when we are going back to Alaska. They will even say that they miss our house, but I can tell they have moved on, something I’m not very good at.
To be honest, I’m still at Patricia (“Trish”) Opheen Redmond’s Celebration of Life, the eve before we depart Alaska, grieving about my loss of Alaska and Trish, a colleague of Thomas’ who always made me feel loved.
With the rain beating down all around me and the shrill of passing ambulances with boats strapped to their roof, I remember that Trish’s best friend of 40 years, Carolyn Bettes, encouraged all of us to “move forward” in her remembrance speech. She offered a list of moving forward ideas, things that Trish used to do: prepare an amazing meal and share it with friends, send a postcard to a best friend about your day, walk a dog, be a mentor, volunteer, live up to your own potential, live out loud.
Mike Redmond, Trish’s husband, defined Trish’s attitude towards life as a woman who could never cook the same thing twice, “no matter how strongly I pleaded, because there were so many other recipes to try.” If it was a sunny day, she would cancel whatever they had planned for the day. “Even if we had planned something for weeks, nope, she would change the plan so we could be together outdoors: hiking, biking, backcountry sledding.”
Adapting, letting the waters of life sweep you off your feet, moving on. I grip the steering wheel and force myself to move. Approaching the cop car that blocked my road, I roll down my window and plead with him. I tell him I need to get to my family, that I am driving our only form of transportation.
The cop says, “Well, you can go around us, but do so at your own risk. Your street might be underwater.”
With images of Trish coasting down mountains lit by moonlight with the engine turned off or sipping a glass of wine to the sunset on the landing of their Resurrection Bay cabin, I maneuver around the cop and make my way slowly down the slick street. I’m the only one on the road and I can see a lake where the road disappears around the bend.
Fortunately, the entrance to our rental is still above water. I drive into a forest of trees, where my friends joke that I managed to find the only Alaskan cabin located in Northern Virginia. Thomas is waiting anxiously at the front door.
“This is not good,” he escorts me into the house and points out our glass sliding doors facing the backyard. Through the dense trees, what used to be roads and homes is now a lake as far as our eyes can see.
“Let’s go to my sister’s house. Pack your bags,” Thomas announces.
Kyra and Ethan erupt into excitement at the prospect of playing with their cousins. “Yeah, I’m Superman!” Kyra yells, then starts to run in circles around me.
Ethan chases her and says, “I’m Batman!”
My heart is pounding and my knees feel weak from “moving on” and I can do nothing at the moment but lie down on the carpet where I stand.
I never thought that one day, I would be sitting in front of my wood burning stove with the heat warming my back against an emptied house, not just any house, but the first I ever owned. A log cabin my husband and I chinked every summer. Maple hardwood floors carved by my kids learning how to walk. A weathered porch where I surrendered the things I couldn’t control in life to the roar of Southfork Eagle River.
It’s my last night in Alaska and I am weighed down with grief. Tomorrow, we will board a flight to Washington, D.C., where Thomas grew up, where his extended family and college buddies still reside, where we first met and married.
We are returning to a place that once made us happy and yet, all I could think about was the calving of events that started last year when Thomas’ dad was suddenly killed in a metro accident.
Many Alaskans return to the Lower 48 due to a death in the family. I have certainly uprooted myself in the past due to MaMa and Jon-Jon’s death. And yet, this time, I resisted.
I think I wanted death to take pity on us, just this once.
A week before the movers arrived at my house, I attended a potlatch, a gift-giving ceremony to honor a clan member who died and a naming ceremony, in Yakutat. I told Thomas I had to accept this invitation even though the timing was terrible. At the potlatch, I heard a translation of something Tlingit Elder Jessie Dalton had once said:
Does death take pity on us too?
It does not take pity on us either,
This thing that has happened.
Death does not take pity on anyone. I let those words sink in during the 20-hour long potlatch. I let them sink in as Yakutat soaked me down to the bones the few hours I had before returning to Anchorage to face my remaining two weeks in my beloved Alaska.
I walked and collected some Yakutat flowers for Kyra and sat on the earth until the anger and resentment I had towards all the forces working to uproot me seeped away. I had not expected to come to any peace about this move in Yakutat. I thought it would make me miss Alaska more. Instead, I realized that I learned a great deal about balance.
In the potlatch, every action was thoroughly discussed and planned out years in advance. Each sad song balanced by a happy one. Each sad story balanced with a happy one. Each person’s contributions no matter how big or small remembered and repaid.
I learned that everything has its turn. That things never happen when I want them to. That I can be stronger than I think.
And I was strong for the most part, until the movers drove away with all our possessions. Faced with an empty house, all these words of wisdom floated beyond my reach. I knew what I needed to do when I was ready. But now, I simply wanted to mourn.
Leaving Alaska was equivalent to a loss, a death to the good life we had here, where my kids could strap on crampons and hike glaciers, where we could scoop salmon out of the ocean.
A time to say how grateful we are to the people who have become our family these past seven years. We form these tight bonds with adventurous adaptable souls. We give and give, even though we know that like the plucking that occurs in glaciers, we might lose this family at any time.
Shehla threw a farewell party for us even though she was just as upset as I was about the move. She lent us air mattresses, pillows, and sleeping bags. She took my calls no matter what time of the night and told me to look for the positive aspects of the move.
Erica brought me meals and held my hand in the park while my kids played and told me everything happens for a reason. She promised to keep my fridge stocked with salmon.
My neighbor, Lian, whom I met only a year ago, snuck into my house after the movers left and cleaned my nasty fridge. She lent us a car when ours were shipped out and babysat my kids so that I could focus on the move.
Even Thomas’ colleague, Patricia (“Trish”) Opheen Redmond, who died unexpectantly a few days ago, inspired everyone to live life to its fullest at her Celebration of Life, which we attended today. When the pastor urged us to examine our reflection and see that Trish still lives in us, I wondered whether Alaska will always live in me too.
After Kyra turned six this summer, she started telling me that she’s going to be sixteen soon. She flexes her independence by digging through the refrigerator or freezer and making her own meals and pouring her own drinks. The few inches she gained in recent months allow her to reach the microwave or toaster. One day, I even caught her sneaking some juice off the top of the fridge!
“Look Mommee! I can reach things,” she says while pushing random buttons on the microwave.
This could be good and bad, I thought, as she hit the start button. “Kyra never stand that close to the microwave,” I tell her as I move her back a few feet.
Inside the microwave, a plastic plate spins. I hit “stop” and tell Kyra, “Never microwave anything that is plastic.”
“Why?” she asks.
I realize that some plastics are microwave-safe, but for Kyra’s first lesson in plastics, I’d rather take the conservative approach. As Urvashi Rangan, PhD, technical policy director at the Consumers Union, states “We know that heat degrades any plastic over time.”
Lesson 1: Toss 3, 6, 7 types of plastic.
On the bottom of most plastic, there’s a recycling symbol with a number between 1 and 7 indicating the type of plastic and chemicals that might leach from them. I decide to turn this into a sorting exercise and ask the kids to help me toss all our plastics with the number 3 and 6 and 7, which are plastics that contain harmful chemicals like BPA and phthalates.
BPA acts like estrogen and disrupts hormone and reproductive functions in animals. The National Toxicology Program found that BPA can cause breast cancer, early puberty development, learning disorders, and prostate cancer. Check out FDA’s BPA Information for Parents.
Phthalates are often found in children’s toys or vinyl shower curtains. They disrupt the endocrine system and have caused malformations in the male reproductive system in animals. Research in humans has shown an association between high phthalate exposure and low sperm quality, high waist circumference and insulin resistance.
Lesson Two: Toss single-use plastic.
Every day, my kids insist on drinking from Lightning McQueen Take and Toss Sippy Cups. I had no idea that my indulgence for their favorite cup could actually be hazardous to their health. Single-use plastics break down over time and aren’t designed to withstand heating and cooling. So in our sorting exercise, I will ask the kids to toss any plastic with the number 1 and takeout containers and anything that looks like it’s meant for single-use.
Lesson Three: Wash by hand.
By now, I’m feeling like a bad mom. I’ve never checked to make sure that the plastics I place in the dishwasher are labeled dishwasher safe. Apparently in the dishwasher, plastics are exposed to heat and detergents that may accelerate the leaching of chemicals like BPA.
Lesson Four: Don’t panic.
Bryan Walsh writes in a Time Magazine’s The Truth About Plastics, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 92% of Americans age 6 or older test positive for BPA — a sign of just how common the chemical is in our plastic universe.” I start to panic. Maybe, it’s too late. We’ve all been exposed to BPA and phthalates.
Fortunately, my husband pointed out a report that showed how many things in our life like smoking, poor diet, and driving a car, pose a higher risk than exposure to plastics. Still, it’s important to educate yourself about plastic.
My girlfriend, Mary, complains that in the middle of the night, she often finds her four-year-old son, Noah, tucked in bed with a tub of ice cream in one hand and her iTouch in the other. “Oh, how adorable,” we both say. I beg her for a photo of that scene and we laugh about how clever our kids are these days.
But after fireweed popped up in my yard, I started to worry whether this cleverness was going to kick me in the butt once school started. This summer, my kids lost interest in the hundreds of educational and game apps my husband and I loaded up for them on our iPhones.
At first, I was impressed that Kyra would rather write sentences with the notepad app on my iPhone than play Angry Birds. Her notes sprouted loving things like, “My Mommy is the best” or cryptic messages like, “Ethan lost.” Maybe, I even encouraged it.
At dinner, she often tried creative writing. Here’s a poem she wrote on her own when I was dining with a group of writers.
New Moose is getting in bed.
New Moose is going to school.
New Moose is doing a job.
“See, I’m writing,” Kyra would say. “Like you.” And my friends noted how smart my child was and that I must be so proud.
Even Ethan, who just turned three, wowed me with photos or videos that he figured out how to capture with my old iPhone. It was interesting to see what caught his eye and how he saw the world from his height. One time, we lost his favorite toy and we were able to scroll through his photos to see when he had it last.
Lately, however, updating or syncing our iPhones with our computers often fails probably due to the hundreds of photos and videos Ethan’s racked up and I haven’t had time to delete.
Then one day, Kyra managed to hide all my main apps like phone, text messaging, email, iPod, and browser into random folders that she created and labeled with proper names like “Games” or “Kyra” or “Ethan.”
Fortunately, she did not delete them, but that could easily happen next. I realize that I should deprive them of iPhone privileges all together or purchase a Leapster or some kind of toy that offers similar technologies. So far, I haven’t and I’m wondering why.
With school starting, I know I’m going to have weak moments when I’m driving the kids home from school and they are tired and hyper and screaming and then I’ll hand them my iPhones (yes, my old one and new one) to get a few moments of peace.
Or maybe, unable to find a babysitter, I'll take them along with me to some work meeting and have to depend on that iPhone to keep them entertained.
Plus, I’m embarrassed to admit that the geeky side of me wants to know how rapidly they can pick up on technologies. Already, my daughter knows how to manipulate the avatars in the apps faster than I do. She consistently finishes games that I have trouble mastering. And I love that she tries to spell and write sentences and construct stories. Isn’t that advancing her learning capabilities?
Finally, I actually do appreciate that she has the time to organize my apps when I never seem to get around to that task.
What’s your excuse for letting your kids play with your gadgets?
Balancing our heavy five-foot-diameter dipnet on my right shoulder, I plunged one foot at a time into the gooey mudflat. It was low tide at the mouth of the Kenai River and the mudflats had already killed Ethan’s talking Finn McMissile and petered out Thomas.
Every step was a gamble. I could fall flat on my face or sink so deep that I got stuck. As I plunged into the ocean with all my strength, the net whipped in the current and nearly knocked me over. Licking my lips, I tasted the spray of saltwater, the thrill of not knowing what was going to happen next.
The icy waters cooled my feverish excitement of being an Alaskan as I fought my net and tried to tame it against my ribs. To my right in one deft move, a neighbor knocked a salmon out with his club and hung it on a string tied to his waist.
It was our third year dipnetting and still I felt like a novice. Here are three tips that made this year’s fishing easier.
1. Bring the proper gear: The shore is often littered with fish guts, seagull droppings, and puddles that kids can’t resist touching. Last year, Kyra and Ethan were drenched and miserably cold five minutes after we started fishing. So this year, I invested in waterproof jackets, pants, and gloves. Check the label and make sure that it states the product is 100% waterproof and not just water-resistant.
Bog boots or something comparable that stays warm down to -30° F keeps socks dry, toes warm, and shoes on! (My kids love any excuse to go barefoot.) Those easy-on pull handles also saved Ethan’s boot several times when it got stuck in the mudflats.
Kid-sized camping chairs surprisingly act like an invisible leash. Last year, Kyra and Ethan couldn’t climb into the adult-sized chairs easily, so they drifted and complained that they were tired, and eventually buried themselves in the wet sand. We didn’t even bother bringing adult-sized chairs this year because we could squeeze our bottoms into their chairs if we really needed to rest.
Finally, it’s all about the toys and snacks. Supply them with easy snacks that they can open and dispose of on their own and make sure they eat first before they start playing. Check their pockets and make sure that they don’t sneak their favorite toy down to the beach. My kids each have a set of waterproof beach safe toys that they only get to play with when we go fishing.
2. Engage your sidekick: There’s something about the title “sidekick” that my kids love. Maybe, it’s because lately Batman and Robin are their favorite bad guy fighting pair. Or maybe, at this age, they want to feel like a member of the team.
Ethan was frustrated that he couldn’t fish and I had to keep a close eye on him because he kept trying to walk into the ocean like Dad. His hands would get caked with mud and he would start to wail. I asked Kyra to get a bucket of water to wash his hands and this evolved into their job. They never tired of lugging buckets of water to our side so that we could clean tools or fish.
Although Kyra can’t wait to cut fish, I told her she could start by helping me to vacuum seal them. She took this job very seriously and knocked aside my hands if I hovered.
3. Create teachable moments: The Alaska Sport Fishing Regulations guide came in handy when Thomas cleaned the salmon. I taught Kyra about the five different salmon species found in Alaska and asked her to identify each salmon. She then tried to teach Ethan who was much more interested in swatting away the flies.
With Ethan, I also played the “I spy with my little eye” game to review his numbers, colors, and alphabet. But unlike his sister, Ethan runs away if he thinks he’s being tested or educated.
What lessons have you learned about fishing with young kids?