Monthly Archives: May 2012

Barefoot at the Beach in Alaska

Ahhhh – Finally the weather is warming up!   Of course, it might not stay warmed up.  The last couple summers have been unpleasantly gray and chilly with temperatures in the 40’s, but in the Right Now, things are wonderfully fantastic and we live in a phenomenal place.

This morning I took the kids down to the beach to play with a friend.  Our kiddos have never really been to the beach.  I mean, they HAVE, but not as Big kids which they are now at 33 months and 20 months.  The sun was out.  The wind was non-existent.  Small pieces of sea ice floated lazily in the tide.  What could be better!

At first they didn’t really know what to do which makes sense, but after checking out some rocks and having a little snack, they relaxed right into the morning.  Little boy took some time out from his conversation with the other kids to talk on his rock cell phone.  It makes me smile and laugh at how all important the cell phone is in their lives.  Everything becomes a phone and the funny thing is that we don’t really role model that.  Something about phones is just Very Grown Up and Fun – even at the beach.

Little girl did lots of digging, first with a trowel her friend brought, and then with the end of the dog leash.  She was caught up in the sweet world of just being in the moment.

A gloriously nice morning, followed by a lunch out with friends, a nap in a cool quiet bedroom and more time outdoors.  It was a good day.

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Camping in Alaska (With Kids)

My memories of camping take me back to the Virginia woods which were dark and damp.  The tents would be covered in daddy-longlegs spiders and the girls in my girl scout group would be awed by their sheer numbers and size but were not daunted by their spiderness.  What did daunt us was The Latrine (an outhouse). We would go there ALWAYS with a partner and we would shine our flashlights all around the inside including the toilet seat and just beneath the toilet seat to check for the non daddy-longlegs variety of spiders and/or dead bodies or dead body parts.

This was an activity of great drama and tension and fear and exhilaration – all the best of modern tv in our own real lives.

We performed this activity with squeals and screams and giggles and also outrage when our partner closed the door on us or turned off the flashlight.  Camping in Virginia was nothing like camping in Alaska.

In Alaska, you don’t need a flashlight at all during the summer.  When you leave your tent in the middle of the night, you can clearly see if there are spiders or bears or rattlesnakes or other scary creatures.  Even better, there aren’t very many spiders (up where we live) and there are no snakes that I know of.   There are, however, a lot of mosquitoes and there is the true chance of an encounter with a non-friendly bear, but somehow, in the light, things aren’t so ominous as those dark summer woods of my youth.

Except that now I have kids.

We took them camping this weekend for the first time.  We expected it to be an “Intro to Camping” kind of thing, and along with our newly realized awareness that we need to Adjust the Expectations, we went into the outdoors feeling pretty much like we could embrace any and all glitches.

We forgot about the light.

Our kids did great hauling stuff from the car.  They did great helping to set up the tent and unroll their sleeping bag.  They ate their dinner, explored the area and we went on an evening walk.  The weather was phenomenal and the mosquitoes were few and soon it was 9:00 and very much our kids’ bed time.  We got them into their pj’s and read them books and tucked them into the sleeping bags and all was good.

They lay in their bags and looked quietly at books.

But they didn’t nod off.

We double curtain their windows at home to make a semi-dark bedroom at night.  The tent doesn’t have that ability.  Nine thirty it might have been, but inside that tent, it was as good as five.  Our kids did not fall asleep.  And the longer they did not fall asleep, the tireder they became and the more difficult it became for them to fall asleep.  It was a nasty little spiral of a catch-22 and little boy’s eyes became wider and wider in their frantic wide-awake-exhaustion of not being able to relax.

Of course, it was not just the light that was the problem.  Sleeping in a tent in a new sleeping bag is exciting stuff and also very new stuff – definitely not the cozy warm routine of home, but boy, last night, I remember looking at the tent walls and just wishing they would darken up some and help out this process.  (The birds did not help out either.  I don’t think they every even considered going to sleep.)

Around midnight both kids finally did fall asleep and all was relatively good until 4 am when (still light outside) little boy woke up and nothing felt right.  He was oh-so-tired and oh-so-distressed and I was thankful there were no other people camping nearby.  Nobody was camping nearby because it’s still FREEZING (literally) out at night and while little boy was not freezing himself, he was not toasty roasty warm and everything just felt wrong.

But finally, after almost an hour of trying songs and stories and cuddling, he climbed into my mummy bag and asked to sleep on top of my tummy.  So he did, just like when he was a baby and it was sweet and we both warmed right up, but let me tell you – sleeping on my back with my little big boy on my stomach and chest does not make for a comfortable sleep!

Eventually we rolled to the side and he slept in till nine.  We did too.  It was a successful night.

And the next best part was that as we dressed and stretched and felt the warmth of the new day, our friends opened up their back door (for we were on their property out of town) and said that coffee was ready.   We all smiled and went inside for a great breakfast of pancakes with tundra blueberries from last season and plenty of Kona coffee brewed in a French Press.

And after that, we went back to our tent, dressed in our rain pants and boots and trekked down to the river before picnicking on salami and cheese and attempting naps.

Little girl fell right asleep in the now-very-warm tent.

Little boy fell asleep TWO hours later.

It was a long two hours trying to get him to relax and fall asleep.  He had trouble falling asleep as a baby and we got to re-witness that again.  But we knew that if he did take a nap, he’d have an easier time doing it again in the future so we stuck to our guns and just kept hanging out.

And now we are home with pizza for dinner and a very proud little boy and little girl who think they did a marvelous job camping and seem to be open to going out again next weekend if the weather allows.

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Adjusting the Expectations For Success

We live in Alaska, and this year we experienced a record cold snap.  I took the kids outside almost every day, but usually it was bundled up in jackets and snow pants in the stroller to go run errands or play at the gym.   A while back I read a post that referenced the idea that kids should be playing an hour a day outside.  That thought gnawed at me.

It gnawed at me because I agree with it.  I loved playing outside as a kid.  Of course, I think our kids were getting lots of great play time inside and were not deprived of opportunities to climb, move things, dance, flop, jump and explore.  But there is something special about being outside and learning to turn pine cones into people or build trails for ants or….

However, when we took our kids outside, it was always a disappointment.

Last year on a beautiful winter day we took our kids sledding.  Sledding.  Very fun outdoor activity.  The baby girl put up with it.  The toddler boy (then one and a half) liked it for about one sled ride and then was Done.  His hands were cold.  The wind was cold.  He wanted no more of it.   That was fine because we knew that learning to love the outdoors would take lots of positive experiences over time.  We packed our kids back into the car to discover our car didn’t start.

Some nice friendly guys in a truck said they’d tow us back to town with a rope.  That’s the kind of thing that you do here in Alaska.  We agreed, but it was a scary experience for me imagining our power steering brakes not working fast enough and us crashing or going over a ditch pulling the truck backwards with us.  (We got home just fine.)

But, what we learned, was that every time we went outside, what we expected from our foray into the wilderness just didn’t come to fruition.

We pictured glorious blue sky days.  We got them.  Along with freezing cold winds.  We pictured children playing in the snow.  We got that too, for all of five minutes.  We pictured skiing.  Our boy skied about ten feet (maybe twenty if we’re telling long tales).  Everything we did was hit with a major dose of reality.

So we adjusted our expectations.  Instead of taking the kids out for a hike, we began taking them out for outdoor time to do nothing.  Last weekend my husband and I each went out for a run in the morning.  In the afternoon we took the kids on a “hike”.  We drove to the local mountain, parked the car and began walking up.  We expected to just hang out by the car while the kids played on the dirt road, but the kids took off up the hill!  We followed.  We threw snowballs.  We poked at Musk Ox poop.  We walked through puddles.  We spent a good twenty minutes going UP and near the turn around point, my husband said, “I’m glad I ran this morning because I don’t feel like I need to hike or get exercise for me.”  It was exactly how I felt too.

And in the past month as the weather has finally gotten near the unfreezing point, we have taken our kids out more and more frequently to just PLAY in the outside.  It’s still hard because the puddles and streams are icy cold, the snow on the ground is still there, the mud is sticky and scares my little girl when it pulls at her boot.  The winds are still chilly, but more and more our kids are “feeling their oats” and having fun in the great old outdoors.

Today, we hiked on the tundra and sat in the sweet lemony smell of the Aiyu (Labrador Tea) and ate salami and cheese and listened to the birds and found some old bones and saw some arctic flowers beginning to bloom.  Both the kids wore their backpacks and traipsed over the soft cushioning wet ground just like true big kid hikers!

(But was I ever thankful that we weren’t THAT far from the stroller when we began our slow trek back)

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The Bad Babysitter

The teenager laughed at Bunny and called it babyish and hurled the toy telephone across the room. She was babysitting me and I didn’t like her in the least. I don’t remember every disliking anybody before, but I knew that she was not a kind person and I did not want her anywhere near my room.

But I was a six year old kid and she was the teenager in charge so I just stood quietly while she made fun of my most favorite stuffed animal and threw – threw! – my plastic phone.

I told my parents I didn’t like her and they respected that, though I vaguely remember that she almost babysat again another time when my parents couldn’t find anybody else. I know her name came up and I voiced my objection and I know I never played in my room with her again, but maybe she hung out in front of the TV while I slept.

I had another babysitter that I did like – I adored her. When I went to bed she’d tell me a story about “coming to get you” and I’d say I’d hide somewhere and she’d say she’d go there and I’d name another place and she’d get there too. Not so imaginative in retrospect, but I was entranced and in giggles and loved every second of the game of trying to stay up as late as I could with this never ending story.

I also loved that babysitter nights meant I got to eat a TV dinner with those cool gross little cranberry crumble deserts and fried chicken with odd pieces of something not quite chicken hanging out in the gristly parts of the joints. They were delicious.

The other night we had a babysitter over to watch our kids and it was great. We generally just take our kids out with us, but on this particular night we each wanted to attend a different community event and needed to be kid free. Our sitter came over and we took off and it was fantastic. It was freeing to be able to go out and it was even more freeing to hear how much the kids liked this teenage girl.

She was respectful and kind and she smiled and read them books and played with them and picked up the toys as they played. Picking up toys is not a requirement, but I think it sent the message to the kids that she somehow knew the secret adult safe world of doing the right thing and taking care of kids.

The kids think she is terrific and I have a feeling she likes the extra cash, so we might find ourselves going out just a little bit more.

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“Sister is Not a Fan of Fish”

“Sister is not a fannafish” kinda threw me off this morning. What the heck was he talking about? Little boy has been playing with rhymes and pretend words and interspersing them into his sentences but this sentence seemed like he was trying to talk in all seriousness.

He was eating his breakfast, a bowl of shredded wheats, purchased for the low sugar content, but which were decidedly not a hit, when he looked up and made this cryptic statement.

Luckily, thankfully, we can ask him to clarify.

“I don’t understand. Sister is not a ___?”

He repeated himself several times before I finally figured it out.

Last week, Dad made them some salmon salad. He said they both liked it and ate it up, but the next day she wasn’t having any of the leftovers.

We try to minimize the food likes and dislikes by suggesting that some days we like some things and other days we don’t. This gives us some future leeway, we hope, for little boy to reclaim broccoli which he used to love, and little girl to begin to like anything with a cooked zucchini or mushroom like texture.

But yet we see some pretty obvious food preferences. Little boy loves salty things. Little girl loves the sweets and the bread products. Little boy likes apples and pears and little girl likes berries and kiwis. They both like pesto. Thank goodness! And they both used to like Thai food and Mexican food and we just figured we had it easy, but there are those days where we’re pretty certain our kids would be quite content to eat pretzels, oranges and chewable vitamins from Trader Joe’s on a desert island for years on end.

Neither like olives. Both love peanut butter. Brother does not care for blueberries and sister is not a fan of fish.

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Attack of the Ants

I plastered my body across my bedroom door so my friend couldn’t leave. She’d threatened to go home. I have no idea why, but I knew I didn’t want her to leave. There might have been some possibility of getting in trouble if the adults asked what happened, but really, I have no memory of what happened.

I know that we loved to play in our imaginations and I think on that particular day we had piled every single possession I owned on my bed and with our backs pressed against the wall, standing on the bed, we threw the items as hard as we could at the monster ants invading the room. They were coming in through the bottom of the door morphing into creatures quite large; larger than Italian Wolfhounds.

I have no idea what my mom thought. She was somewhere downstairs.

In my memory we were in the throes of battle and surely the noise level must have been as well. Yet, my mom never came up. In retrospect, I realize that most of my possessions were stuffed animals and I didn’t have a very good throwing arm so perhaps we didn’t make much noise at all quietly lofting fuzzy bunnies two feet off the bed.

Karen and I were definitely best friends. I don’t remember any arguments or problems getting along. I don’t recall feeling upset because she didn’t share or hurt feelings because she told a lie. I just remember playing in a world that we could both see as vividly and clearly as if it were really there. Except for this one occasion where she used her taller ways to command me to move away from the door.

I didn’t want her to leave, but I moved away.

We moved away in third grade and our parents set up play dates here and there, but it was never the same and we quietly grew apart.

Writing Prompt from BlogHer.com
Who did you play with as a child?

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