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Posts from the ‘Parenting’ Category

Subsistence Living Can Help Raise Strong Children

Highlighting the strength, pride, and familial resilience that subsistence activities offer

By Kayla Gilbert

Growing up, I was introduced to subsistence living from infancy in rural Alaska, as a child of the Copper River Valley. Fast forward 30 years and here I am raising my family of 8 in the same way in Tazlina, Alaska.

Subsistence can have many different meanings to people, but in our family, subsistence is the act of maintaining, producing, and supporting our household self-sufficiently and taking from the Earth at a sustainable levelWhether that’s hunting, fishing, trapping, gardening, or preserving, anything that resources very little to nothing from manufacturers or at a mass production level is subsistence to us.

I see so much value in teaching my children to pursue subsistence living. I feel that pursuing a subsistence lifestyle creates unity in our family dynamic and brings us closer together, building trust and confidence, which can be lost arts in our society. 

Hard work. Self sufficiency. Independence. Learning. Teaching. Growing. All these play a huge part in our happiness and are also necessary for survival. I like to teach my children that we work hard and play hard. We turn normal everyday chores and survival needs into entertainment and fun. For example, when we are picking vegetables and berries, I will make a game of it by giving my children a weight and whoever gets the most in weight gets to help bake a dessert or choose the dessert we bake. I know that by working hard and constantly learning how to ‘figure it out’ my kids will also feel more satisfaction and success in the long run.

Show your children that the experiences you create together, learning, growing and doing with a subsistence living mindset is what can help build your healthy family bond. Instead of hushing a child with a smartphone and trying to get their excitement under control with technology, try to get outside together! You’ll be astounded by how spending time in the great outdoors can calm (and exhaust) children and how much pride they will feel when harvesting… and of course, getting to eat some sourdough Alaskan blueberry pancakes that they know they contributed to. The delicious eating part always helps!

Plus, a subsistence lifestyle allows you the time to get to know your children in a deep and meaningful way. Families nowadays can become distant and know more about buttons on a controller than they do about the individuals they live with. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen families gathered for a meal that don’t know how to have good old fashioned dinner table talk! The time you spend outside with your kids helps them open up like a tundra flower, giving them space to be loud, be free, and get the attention and love they deserve and need.

One subsistence story that always stands out in my mind is a time when we were moose hunting and every attempt was a fail. I had just hours before I had to be out of the woods. We made the decision to make one more hopeful attempt….it seemed promising, yet so did every other time. There is a lot that is factored into the pursuit of wild game, especially when it is your food for the next year. With just a few minutes of daylight to spare before needing to head back on the trail, we were successful! I was so proud of the success because I had the opportunity to show my children that despite the failures and seemingly unending road blocks, success is founded in perseverance, a good attitude, and focus. These traits transfer over to all areas of life, not solely subsistence living, and my children had the opportunity to learn how important it is to take pride in what you put your mind and heart into and love the life you lead.  

Subsistence living is so ingrained in me that I don’t really know how to live any other way. While my husband went to college, we were newlyweds living in a tiny apartment in Eugene, OR and I had literally everything ‘easy’, manufactured products were right at my fingertips. Yet, I couldn’t help myself but to go back to my roots. I thrive when I am creating, making, and figuring out how to DIY (Do It Yourself). I would grow my plants in tiny planter pots, preserve, use everything, and make things go as far as I could. Picking wild berries was a favorite of mine because it seemed like such a shame to go buy some from the market when nature was providing an endless bounty right out my backyard AND I got a good dose of Vitamin D while doing it!

Of course, your level of subsistence use can vary greatly, I’m not saying you need to completely isolate yourself from consumerism and kill and grow only the foods in your backyard, but rather that you take opportunities to harvest from the world around you, use your resources, and involve your family by learning together how to do things for yourself and feel successful without spending a dime or worrying if you’ll have WiFi.

My favorite season in Alaska is fall, it is a special time here and, for rural Alaskans, extremely important for preparation. There is something special about gathering your harvest. About going out and storing up for the cold dark winter. Harvest season in Alaska is abundant and can overfill your freezer several times over if pursued correctly. Just think, eating meat that you sought out, worked hard to shoot, field dress, and prepare for the coming days. Think about the endless berries and herbs that you know have been nurtured and grown free of chemical sprays, dollar signs and quantity limits- goods not shipped up from the lower 48 or countries far away. Goods that go right from nature to your dinner plate or your canner to prepare for later in the year. In winter, you’ll have the security of knowing all is well AND I bet you and your children won’t take for granted what now stuffs your freezers because your sweat was poured out for it, your diligence persevered it and your goals were successfully met. Think of the powerful effect it will have not only on you but on your children and their children. The act of feeding your family from the land connects you not only with the land itself, but also with each other. You’re able to step back and see (and eat!) your handiwork and have memories to bond over with your children for years to come.

I grew up knowing many other kids with a similar lifestyle to me and I have not met a single person that doesn’t talk about their experiences without at least a little pride and satisfaction. It’s amazing what we can accomplish and succeed in when we use the resources that nature provides. The memories I have growing up in a subsistence living family provided me with the stamina to pursue life with a perspective that I can do anything I put my heart and mind to, and I know the same is the case for my own children. It has also helped create a beautiful harmony of living life together as a strong and confident family.


*** Alaska Children’s Trust acknowledges the critical role subsistence activities take in Alaska Native culture as a means of gathering food as well as a deep and powerful tie to the land and to family and ancestors. We are always encouraging new voices in our blog, and encourage you to contact us at kidsfirst@alaskachildrenstrust.org if you have a blog topic you’d like to write about or a topic request you’d love to read about. You can also comment below!


Kayla Gilbert was born and raised in rural Alaska. When she turned 20, she began to travel to see what there was beyond the tundra life. It wasn’t long before the deep love for the Alaska lifestyle brought her back to her roots where she now lives. She is a full time Traveling Photographer and business owner of ZAG Photography. When she is not traveling to capture weddings, couples and new places she is a full time mom to her 6 crazy cool kids. Kayla and her husband, Justin, have been married for 10 years; they love adventure, nature and raising their family to appreciate what life has to offer. They have one son in heaven, Zimeon Arrow Gilbert. While he isn’t with them physically his legacy lives on through his family by being their drive to live every day to the fullest with gratitude for all those around them and to treasure the close-knit family unit. Kayla’s heart in life is to be inspired by others while also inspiring others to have incredible joy for everything in this crazy journey called life. It’s not always an easy path but it is so much fuller when we choose to have joy and positivity as we embrace each new and crazy situation. She loves meeting new people and connecting with them!  Feel free to follow her journey as a photographer-mom on her social media platforms: Website: www.zagphotography.com  Facebook: ZAG Photography Instagram: @zagphotographer 

Choosing the Right Babysitter in a COVID-19 World

By Ethan King, Summer Intern at Alaska Children’s Trust

These days, more and more families are having to seek alternative methods for childcare. With COVID-19 limiting childcare and afterschool programs, and amid concerns of children being exposed to the virus, more families are relying on individuals within their safety bubble to babysit.  

If you are considering hiring a babysitter, here are some basic items to consider to ensure the safety of your children:

  • How old is your child/children? The younger the child, the older and more experienced the babysitter should be.
  • How many children do you have? It is important to consider the number of children an individual will need to supervise. Again, the more children the babysitter needs to care for, the older and more experienced they should be.
  • Does your child have any special needs like medical care or behavioral challenges?
  • What additional duties do you want the babysitter to accomplish, such as preparing meals or helping with schoolwork?
  • What schedule do you want the babysitter to follow while watching your child?
  • What training do you want the babysitter to have, such as CPR/first aid training or Red Cross babysitting course?

The presence of COVID-19 in our communities requires families to consider additional factors to reduce exposure to the virus. For example:

  • Start by exploring options within your existing safety bubble (people who you are already in your social circle).
  • If no one is available in your safety bubble, extend that circle to circles of your friends. They may have connections outside of your safety bubble that could be potential sitters. 
  • When interviewing a potential sitter, it is important to communicate your expectations related to exposure levels and ask about their expectations. Develop an agreed-upon plan for your family and your babysitter with regards to COVID precautions so that everyone is on the same page. Outline expectations related to mask wearing for them and the child, hand washing, and social contact. This will help both your family and your babysitter feel more comfortable sharing space.
  • If the sitter or anyone in your family becomes sick, have a well-established communication plan. Let the sitter know they should not come to work until they receive a negative COVID test result or complete a 14-day quarantine.
  • Prior to the babysitter entering your home, you are encouraged to clean, with a focus on high-touch surfaces like counters, door handles, light switches, etc.  

Families who do not feel comfortable having a babysitter in their home can consider other options for temporary childcare. For example, Zoom is not just for work anymore! It is also being utilized for “electronic babysitting.” Electronic babysitting is usually short term (15 to 30 minutes) and for children of at least preschool age (3+).

During an electronic babysitting session, the child uses Zoom or another video conferencing app to call and interact (i.e. play Simon says or talk about their day) with a babysitter. This is a simple option when you need to make a quick call or need some time to focus on a project without being disturbed. During an electronic babysitting session, it is important that you remain somewhere in the house, in case of emergency. It is also important to consider how your child would handle a 15- to 30-minute video call because only you can determine if they would enjoy or be able act responsibly.

Another option is for your child to go to the sitter’s home. In this case, questions to consider are:

  • Does your babysitter live by themselves or with other people?
  • How comfortable is your babysitter with taking your child into their house?
  • How much will transportation cost?
  • Does the babysitter want to be paid more for having your child at their house?
  • How long would your child spend at the babysitter’s house?
  • Is your babysitter’s home adequately childproofed?
  • What games and activities do they have to entertain your child?

With so many people working from home due to COVID-19, there is an increased need to find balance between work productivity, family time, time for self-care, and time together with your partner. Babysitting can be a safe solution in this era of COVID-19 by asking the right questions, developing solid plans, following health precautions and being open in your communication with your babysitter.

Need more information on babysitting and coronavirus? Continue your research with these additional articles:  

Do you have suggestions of your own for navigating this difficult topic? We’d love to read your ideas and stories. Feel free to comment them below.

Ethan King, author of this blog and summer intern at Alaska Children’s Trust

Halloween is Not Cancelled: How to Celebrate Safely During COVID-19

Halloween is less than a month away and we know what’s on your mind: “How will my child have a safe and fun holiday this year?” Don’t despair; Halloween is not cancelled. With a little planning, this Halloween could be your family’s best one yet!

First off, let’s go over basic safety. You’ve heard it a million times: wear a mask. That still applies on Halloween. Truly, Halloween is the perfect holiday for masks – many kids wear masks on Halloween every year! This year, we just need to be a little extra creative with them.

Regular Halloween masks are not recommended for COVID protection. While they may be cute, they just don’t hold up for preventing the spread of illnesses.

Instead, try revamping your usual face mask! Buy a face mask that goes with the theme of your costumes or decorate the face masks you have at home. Your little vampire can have vampire teeth on their mask, your kitten can have whiskers, and your princess can have princess lips!

This year, you may need to pull a few tricks to give out some treats. While the usual doorstep-style trick-or-treating is not recommended, there are many other fun options to choose from.

Bring out your true Alaskan fisherman by tying bags of candy to the end of your fishing line. Most fishing rods are over six feet. Bonus – you can wear your waders as a fisherman costume!

Or you could try making a candy slide out of wrapping paper tubes or PVC piping. Decorate your tube however you like and slide your candy to your trick-or-treaters from a safe six feet away!

For an easy night of candy-giving, leave colorful bags of candy spaced out on your porch or lawn. Trick-or-treaters can grab their candy from a safe six feet, and you can say hi from your porch or from the warmth of your home.

No matter what option you choose, there are a few important rules to follow:

  1. Only use pre-packaged candy – no homemade treats this year.
  2. Wash your hands before handling the candy and wear a mask while handling.
  3. Stay six feet away from others.
  4. Wear a mask while distributing candy.

Of course, if you don’t want trick-or-treaters coming by, that’s fine too! Just turn off your porch lights, arrange some pumpkins in between your door and the sidewalk, or make a sign.

For trick-or-treaters, it’s important to remember to wear a mask, sanitize your hands often, and wash your hands when you return home. You may also consider sanitizing the packaging of your child’s treats. While the CDC holiday guidelines state that there’s no evidence that handling food or eating is linked with spreading COVID-19, it’s still possible that people can get COVID-19 by touching an object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes. You can sanitize by using a disinfecting or rubbing alcohol wipe on the packaging. Just remember not to let these cleaning chemicals come into direct contact with anything you or your child will eat.

The CDC says the safest way to celebrate Halloween this year is to celebrate at home with only the people in your household. We know, this sounds dull. But staying at home doesn’t have to be boring! There are dozens of at-home ways to make Halloween pop.

Food lover? Try hosting a creepy feast! Make your favorite creepy Halloween recipes for a family dinner that is sure to fright. Our favorites are these Bloodshot Deviled Eyeballs, Snakes and Soup, and the No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecake Brain.

For those who aren’t a chef, you could instead try doing a candy taste-test. With all the limited-edition candies that come out around Halloween, this is sure to be a hit.

What about a Halloween Easter egg hunt? You can easily transform the Easter eggs you already have at home into monsters and goblins. All you need is some permanent markers, or some art supplies if you want to get ✨crafty ✨.

Not into crafting? Turn your regular Easter eggs into glowing Easter eggs by stuffing them with mini glow sticks. Wait until the sun sets and you can have a ghoulish Easter egg hunt at home!

If these just don’t seem big enough, you can turn your home into an all-out Halloween party! Start saving your toilet paper rolls now to make mini Halloween mummy piñatas. Get your kids and teens excited over this easy and grossly fun Eyeball Dig game. Use toilet paper or white streamers to have a mummified gunny-sack race. Or try any of these other 40 Halloween party games.

Many kids are excited to spend the Halloween holiday with their friends. However, we need to be as careful this Halloween as we are every other day during the pandemic. COVID-19 does not take the holiday off.

Instead of participating in gatherings, encourage your kids to do socially distanced Halloween activities. To show off their costume, they can get dressed up and ride bikes in costume by their friends’ houses. Or they can do a virtual costume contest. Up the ante by having each kid or family chip in $1 and then vote on their favorite costume. The winner gets the money!

Instead of visiting grandma’s house to show off costumes, give her a FaceTime or Zoom call. Or better yet – take some photos and send them as postcards!

Movies are also still a great option. Arrange a virtual movie night with friends. Use Zoom to watch a movie together or take advantage of the Netflix Party extension.

What better way to make this Halloween amazing than to make it last all week?! Lead up to Halloween by picking seven movies from this list and watching one each night on the week of Halloween with your kids or teens. Make it extra special by making an easy Halloween treat or drink each night to accompany your movies.

If you’re trying to avoid all that candy and TV, then get your kids excited with crafts! Once or twice a week, make one of these easy Halloween crafts. You can slowly decorate your house more and more as a lead up to Halloween. Then, when the holiday finally comes, your kids will be absolutely pumped!

You could also stay in costume all week! Put those old Halloween costumes to good use by getting dressed up for a walk, a grocery run, or for Zoom class during the week leading up to Halloween. Your fellow grocery shoppers will love it.

We hope these ideas, tips, and tricks helped you to feel good about Halloween 2020. We know the idea of celebrating Halloween during a pandemic is daunting. Many kids are distraught over the idea of not having their usual Halloween activities. But you can still create amazing Halloween memories without the usual social activities – all it takes is a little planning and creativity.

And remember, COVID-19 is temporary. This will not be your child’s last opportunity to celebrate Halloween.

The New Look of a New School Year: How COVID is Changing Back to School

By Mike Hanley, Educator and Alaska Children’s Trust board member

Fall is typically an exciting time of the year for families, with schools promising new beginnings, new teachers, and new friends for our children. When disaster and trauma came unannounced to our communities this spring in the form of a virus, all that was set aside. Unlike typical disasters, when a specific event occurs and those in its wake work to recover, COVID-19 has persisted for over seven months now, challenging the health and well-being of even Alaska’s strongest families.

Now it is time for our kids to head back to the classroom, some virtually and some physically, with the same anticipation and hope that they have always had. They know that they will be tasked with academic expectations, but more importantly, they hope to build memories, experiences, and friendships with adults and peers alike that will last long after the math and reading lessons. Teachers hope for the same.

We face two challenges to be able to do that while under the umbrella of trying to mitigate this virus. The first is that a majority of our students will arrive in school with more stress and potentially more ACES (adverse childhood experiences) than when they left in the spring. The pressure that our families have felt for the last seven months have been experienced by our children as well. That tension has been sustained, and for most, hasn’t let up yet. The comfort of a healthy rhythm in their lives, from a normal school schedule, summer activities, and travel, have all been disrupted – without a healthy alternative to engage their minds and bodies.

The second challenge that our teachers are faced with is the ability to be emotionally connected while still physically distant from their students. On their path towards certification, every teacher has learned that before a child can learn, there has to be a sense of safety, and basic physical needs must be met. The ability to address that through a computer screen or from a 6-foot distance is difficult at best. The loss of a simple confirming touch from a teacher or even the inadvertent bumps and touches between peers in the hallway or during lunch will make these critical social connections hard to make. The requirement for masks in our schools will restrict yet another needed means of connection.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes that our schools have always been key components in the overall health of our children. Schools provide needed social interaction, a sense of belonging in a setting beyond the family, and the opportunity to gain a feeling of accomplishment and self-esteem. Each of these build resiliency and increase the ability to deal with the stresses in life. This is even more important for our children living in poverty and with disabilities, who disproportionately face the effects and stresses of being isolated from their peers and other positive adults in their lives.

This fall, our schools will look differently than they have in the past. Their goal amidst increasing challenges hasn’t changed, though. Every teacher will be working to meet the needs of the children and young adults in their classrooms so that they can, in turn, meet their needs as students.

We all want our children to be prepared for the world when they leave our K12 school system. This fall especially, let’s not jump to the scores on a test or quiz as the measure of our children’s success or preparedness. That will come, but only after we help them navigate this time in their lives that none of us had to experience as kids and none of us could have anticipated. Activities that may seem non-academic may be some of the most critical aspects of a child’s time as they re-engage and work to rebuild those connections with their school community.

Our kids will get through this. Our schools are working hard to make that happen.

Mike Hanley has been an educator in Alaska for the last 30 years. He has been an elementary classroom teacher, a principal, a superintendent, and the commissioner of education under two governors. He has raised two children, who both spent 13 years in the public schools. He and his wife, Angela, have been blessed with two new grandbabies.

The doctor is in!

Why it’s important – and safe – to go to the pediatrician during the pandemic

By Lily J. Lou, MD, FAAP

Our world has been utterly transformed by COVID-19 but we are still here, trying to find a new normal and live our lives as best we can in the face of the pandemic. We’ve put a lot of things on hold for the past few months, but it’s important to get back to some essential activities that keep us healthy and safe. Keeping up with your child’s pediatrician is one of those.

Wouldn’t it be crazy to go to the doctor now, with COVID-19 going around?

Absolutely not! Pediatricians do many things to keep our kids healthy and safe. One of the things that comes immediately to mind is staying up to date on immunizations. We see what COVID-19 — an infectious disease without a vaccine or good treatments — is doing to our country; the last thing we want is an epidemic of measles, diphtheria, hepatitis, or any of the other terrible diseases for which we do have vaccines, just because we’ve fallen behind in going to the doctor to keep on schedule with routine immunizations!

During the pandemic, Alaska has seen an alarming decrease in the number of vaccines given. We’re improving a little, but we need to correct this trend or we’ll lose the herd immunity that has protected us for many years. It will also be crucial that we get our flu vaccines this fall — who knows what the combination of COVID-19 and influenza will do!

Pediatricians also screen for many conditions that are treatable if they’re picked up early. These can include physical or mental health issues. Routine screening is important in navigating the process of normal growth and development; it also picks up on children falling behind in key milestones. Children are amazingly resilient and generally respond well to treatments that are started before problems progress too far. Developmental delays can often be ameliorated with early intervention.

What are pediatricians doing to make sure it’s safe to come into the office?

Pediatricians have put a lot of thought into how they can minimize risks of exposure so children can be seen in ways that keep them safe. Some now have separate entrances for sick and well patients. Some only see well patients in the mornings and ill children in the afternoons. Some practices have designated a few doctors and staff to only take care of well visits and immunizations, while different ones care for children with symptoms. Some pediatricians will come out to your car to provide care to maintain safe physical distancing. Most offices have options for telehealth visits, but some needs (like immunizations) do require being seen in person. Tips are available to get the most out of a telehealth visit.

Call your own pediatrician to see how things have changed and to make an appointment to keep up with important health care for your children.

A few words about masks

Wearing a cloth mask has been shown to be protective — as part of a community bundle that also includes physical distancing, good hand hygiene, avoiding crowds, and a system of testing and contact tracing that allows focused isolation rather than universal stay-at-home orders. This is the way we can start to resume some of our interactions.

Masks are generally safe, except for very few exceptions. They do not decrease oxygen levels or cause your carbon dioxide levels to go up. Children under 2 years of age should not be masked. Nor should people with severe baseline breathing problems, those with developmental disabilities that make them unable to tolerate a mask or remove it in an emergency, or some with severe sensory intolerances. Most children with asthma can safely wear a mask unless their disease is severe, requiring frequent emergency treatment or hospitalization. COVID-19 and mask wearing are good reminders of the importance of getting asthma under control — another reason to visit the pediatrician.

Masks with fun designs, practicing wearing a mask properly, education about mask effectiveness and safety, and role modeling by parents and other respected adults will help children with this new habit.

Stay safe and call your pediatrician!

Please follow common sense in the precautions you and your family take to avoid getting sick in the pandemic. Know that it is safe to go to the doctor and keep up with the routine care that keeps us healthy. Make it part of your new normal to call your pediatrician!

Lily J. Lou, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician/neonatologist in Anchorage, and past president of the Alaska Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A letter to my child; a letter to my mom

Julia and Casey prior to Kenai River rafting trip, 2019.

Reflecting on National Parent’s Day

By Julia Martinez, VP Philanthropy & External Affairs and Casey Martinez

Dear Casey,

I’ve just noticed that July 26 is National Parents’ Day. Funny, I never really thought about the day too much, but this year is different in so many ways. It seems like the right time to share some with you about what it has meant to be a parent – your parent.

Parents’ Day promotes responsible parenting … and recognizes positive parental role models. Wow, that is a tall order! It’s a nice idea to celebrate parents and their roles, but the truth of the matter is parenting is much more than one day. It is a big and difficult job that never really goes away. I used to think it did. I used to think that once you and your siblings reached adulthood I’d be done, but I know now that is not true. Instead, it has evolved – from caring for your every need as an infant to offering support as you navigate adulthood. And I’m glad for this – being your parent has only grown in meaning and fulfillment, even with the ups and downs, as you became an adult.

Responsible parenting. Another wow. I’d hate to claim, and you’d probably agree, that I was 100% responsible as your parent. Life has its challenges and people are imperfect even when we try. Stresses in life happen and life is seldom fair. For me, I can say I tried and cared and wanted to be responsible, but then again – this is a tall order. My parenting had hardships but to a much less degree than so many in our communities and state. I admire and respect the many other parents who are parenting with difficulties like unemployment, food insecurity, substance misuse and difficult home situations. My hope is, as an adult, you can forgive me for mistakes and use them to be resilient and better able to make a difference to a child you will influence one day. I remember when I forgave my parents for mistakes and imperfections I understood only as an adult. I wish the same for you.

The special bond between parent and child.Oh, I can speak to that. Perhaps one day you will choose to be a parent, or an influencer in a child’s life, and assume this most marvelous role. I’ve learned the best things in life are those you work the hardest for – and parenting is hard. As I reflect, here are some nuggets of truth to help you and other parents out there:

  • Everyone is a parent for the first time; you only know what you know.
  • Parenting is the great experiment of life; an experiment with great joy yet great responsibility.
  • Parenting is as difficult as it seems; but I would not trade it for the world.
  • Life is not fair; not all parents have the same tools and supports they need to nurture to the extent they would like; be kind, compassionate and help others.
  • We make mistakes with varying consequences; we should amend, learn and ask for forgiveness.
  • Parents were once children, who can reflect and grow in their own understanding of their parents as people, and forgive their parents too.

I hope my sharing has been useful to you as you face the evolving role of adult/parent relationships. Happy National Parents’ Day, Casey.

Love,

Mom


Casey Martinez on Halloween in elementary school.

Dear Mom,

I’ve just noticed that July 26 is National Parents’ Day. Funny, I never really thought about the day too much, but this year is different in so many ways. It seems like the right time to share some thoughts with you now that I am an adult – and you were my parent. 

First, I just caught myself saying “were my parent.” I realize now parenting is forever, a club you join and never leave. Even though I am an adult now, you can’t help but parent me, but hopefully in a new way that allows space, acceptance and unconditional love. I make mistakes, but know they are mine to make. Though hard to admit, I was listening, learning and leaning on you to guide me. Growing up, your words of wisdom were hallowed when I was young, rejected when I was a teen, and now, as an adult, reflected upon for at least consideration as I make my own way. I’m not perfect, but it’s my responsibility to make my way.

At some point, I realized childhood can be portioned in two phases. First, the years when you were my whole world and I relied on you the most. It could be called the “honeymoon” stage, where a mother or father can do no wrong. You were perfect to me. I remember it so clearly! My brave, giving mother. I remember you cared for me, participated in my life, making things better. I was protected and felt loved. There were stresses and pressures in your life that I felt protected from, but I also know family challenges and stresses do impact everyone; no one is immune. But I was mostly unaware, though consequences can be real. I realize raising a family can be very hard, especially if there are additional challenges like lack of finances, dysfunctional relationships and more.

You were not perfect. As I grew up, the imperfect details of our family life and relationships came to light. You were a mother working full-time and raising four children, and not in an easy environment. I started to see my parents as flawed humans. It was hard to accept and forgiveness did not happen overnight. It wasn’t until my adulthood where I could look you in the eye and know you did the best you could with circumstances and the information you had. And I am one of the lucky ones. As an adult, I see the challenges that so many families face, especially here in Alaska. While our family faced stresses, we always had a steady source of food, a warm bed and lively, yet stable family life. I can see how parenting can be oh so much more difficult than what I experienced. I hope parenting will be a joy to me and a joy as it should be to every family, and that the stresses and pressures that challenge families would be no more.

Our relationship has certainly changed as I’ve become an adult; and I think for the better. I know and accept the truer version of you, a beautifully imperfect role model and mother. Happy National Parents’ Day, Mom.

Love,

Casey

No matter how the world changes, and time passes, the relationship between a parent and a child can continue to endure and evolve.

Julia and Casey participating in a Pride cycle in a safe, socially distanced way. (2020)

First Father’s Day: New dad reflects on importance of family-friendly workplaces

“My relationship with my daughter wouldn’t be the same without it”

Spring 2019 was an exciting time for Pili Queja. He and his wife, Reanne, found out last February that they were expecting their first baby. Shortly after, Pili received a job offer from Alaska Children’s Trust as the program specialist with the Alaska Afterschool Network.

Among all the preparations that go into getting ready to welcome a new baby, Pili and his wife, both of whom were working full-time jobs, had to figure out how they would balance caring for their newborn while providing for their family.

At the time Pili started his new job, ACT did not have a paid family leave policy, and since he was such a new employee, he would not have much personal time saved up before his daughter’s arrival. And with all the expenses that come with having a baby, he preferred not to take unpaid leave. At the same time, being home to support his wife and help care for and bond with his daughter was a top priority.

“It was our first baby and I didn’t know what that would look like. What would I need to do to support my wife? How do I take care of my family and be present and fulfill my job? It was a stressful situation,” Pili shared.

A conversation with ACT early in his employment quickly got the ball rolling on the development of a paid family leave policy. Several months before his daughter’s birth, the new policy was in place, offering new mothers and fathers two weeks of paid leave, plus the ability for co-workers to donate their leave time to the new parent. Under the new policy, Pili received six weeks of paid family leave, including four weeks that were generously donated by his co-workers.

“It was amazing,” he said.

The knowledge that he had the time to care for his family was a relief, especially when Pili and Reanne’s birth plan went awry, with their daughter – Shiloh’Grace “Maluhia” – arriving two weeks early via c-section.

“I didn’t understand what went into recovering from a c-section. I can’t imagine having to leave my family and go back to work right away,” Pili said.

“Emotionally having the ability to be present with my family made me feel like I was being a good dad – while I was figuring out what that meant. There was no manual. We were learning by the hour how to work with her and we were growing together as parents. We had to learn how to feed her, learn her cries, her sleep schedule, how to burp her at 3 a.m. Going back to work in that time would have been crazy,” he continued. “My being able to be home was a huge support to our family.”

Among Pili’s most precious moments with his daughter were the nighttime feedings – something he would not have been able to help with if he had returned to work shortly after her birth. “Some of our best bonding time was late at night, feeding,” he recalled.

ACT’s family-friendly approach didn’t end with the new paid family leave policy. After Pili returned to work in early December, he was able to bring his daughter to work with him for the first six months. His wife’s employer also welcomes babies in the office for six months.

“Between the two of us, we both returned to work without needing to put our daughter in child care. She’s 6 months old and has never been to child care,” Pili said. “Our work family has seen her grow up.”

In the office, Pili felt very supported by both his employer and his co-workers. They put in a changing table so he didn’t have to change his daughter’s diapers on the office floor. They gave him a pack ‘n play as a baby shower gift so Maluhia could nap in his office. Co-workers offered to watch the baby when Pili had a meeting or phone call. And Pili’s officemate didn’t mind when Pili closed the door and played boy-band lullabies to get Maluhia to sleep.

“Knowing I was supported by my workplace was huge. They are sensitive to what families are going through, and want to help, not add stress,” Pili said. “My coworkers were always happy to see her and happy to help. I never felt like my having a baby was an inconvenience.”

Combined, the time at home after Maluhia’s arrival and the time with her in the office was a game-changer for Pili.

“My relationship with my daughter wouldn’t be the same without it,” he said.

Mother’s Day in the Midst of a Pandemic

Families are likely going to be celebrating Mother’s Day a little differently this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect nearly every aspect of our lives. In recognition of Mother’s Day, we spoke with several different moms, who provided their diverse perspectives on handling the changes in work and family life brought on by COVID-19 – and shared their advice and encouragement for other families.

Anna: “You don’t need to be super mom”

Anna and Mike with their son, Nolan

Like everyone, life has changed a lot since the pandemic for Anna McGovern, her husband, Mike, and their 19-month-old son, Nolan.

Anna, a program specialist with the Alaska Afterschool Network, has been working at home since late March. As their day care has been closed due to COVID-19, Nolan is his mom’s new co-worker. “It’s impossible working with a toddler,” she laughs. “He gets into everything and loves to touch my computer.”

As a juvenile probation officer, Anna’s husband, Mike, has continued going into work for the most part, with some remote work from home. This means Anna works around Nolan’s naptime, as well as in the evenings when her husband is home.

“It’s hard to spend all day with the baby, then work until 9 or 10 at night. I’m fortunate that my work is flexible, but it is tiring,” Anna says.

With no day care, library or play dates, Anna and Nolan fill their days with car rides, going outside, FaceTime with friends and family – and lots of walks. “The dog is getting pretty tired of walks. She’s thinking, ‘You’ve never walked me so much!’” Anna says.

Keeping a schedule is one way the family strives to maintain normalcy. Two things Anna makes sure are on the daily schedule: eating dinner together and working out.

“We try to make a point to sit down for dinner all together. We make it a priority and meals together is one thing we’ve really stuck to,” Anna says. “I also try to work out every day, even when I don’t want to. The easiest way to lower stress is to break a sweat for 20 minutes.”

Writing a list of daily goals and jotting down things she is grateful for are other self-care techniques that are helping Anna navigate these strange days.

“There is something about crossing things off a list, even if it’s ‘drink 100 ounces of water a day.’ It’s something I can control in a time when I can’t control anything. That’s really helped,” Anna explains. “Also writing down what I’m grateful for, any little thing that is good. When I get in a mood, I can go back and read it and remind myself that there are still a lot of positive things even though a lot of craziness is going on.”

One thing Anna is grateful for is the extra time she is getting to spend with her son. “At this age especially, they change so fast and learn so quick. It’s fun to experience. Also, I don’t have to choose between being a stay-at-home mom or working. I’m doing both; there is no pressure to be one or the other.”

Anna’s advice for other mothers juggling work, family and the anxiety of these uncertain times? “You don’t need to be super mom,” she says. “It’s a weird time right now. It’s OK to just be an OK parent.”

Diane: “Everyone else is in the same boat”

Diane, Colleen and their two young children, Imogen and Alistair

Before COVID-19 made its entrance in Alaska, Diane Heaney-Mead spent her days working at her architecture office in downtown Anchorage, while her wife, Colleen, ran a home day care for children including their own: Imogen, 1, and Alistair, 3.

Fast-forward several weeks and Diane has been shuffling her work between her daughter’s bedroom to the dining table and back between naps. Meanwhile, Colleen chose to discontinue her business due to social distancing requirements and to protect their son, who is easily affected by respiratory illnesses.

“I often end up working late both because spring is a busy time of year and because I find myself trying to help out with kids during the day,” Diane says. “And our kids have a hard time understanding why we can’t hang out with friends, go out to restaurants or places like the museum.”

Even with all the changes, the family has been adjusting fairly well, which Diane credits to keeping a schedule and setting work/family-time boundaries. “We are trying to keep a pretty similar routine, no hanging out in PJs or watching TV. The kids go for a walk in the morning about the same time each day, and my wife is still providing circle time for our kids,” she says.

“I give everyone a hug and a kiss before I ‘go to work’ in the bedroom and try to be clear about when it is work time and when it is not. I also try to be flexible based on their needs each day,” she adds.

While things are going pretty smoothly, there have been some tough days. “The first week we stayed home, there was a string of gun violence,” Diane explains, recalling a car chase with someone shooting an assault-style weapon out the window, and a separate incident with someone walking down the street shooting a handgun. “It was completely bizarre and not typical for our street.”

The silver lining was that it brought the neighbors together. A Facebook group was established so neighbors could connect and share information. Several people created neighborhood walks with themes like Halloween and space. And Diane and Colleen lent sleds to a nearby mom so she could tire out her active kids. “I don’t know that we would have connected as well unless we had all been home like this,” Diane says.

Spending more time as a family is another upside. “I get to spend more time with the children,” Diane says. “And last weekend we had the opportunity to look after a friend’s son for the weekend while she was giving birth. It was our children’s first time having a friend sleep over and made for a nice break from the isolation.”

When it comes to encouragement for other families, Diane says, “Hang in there. When kids run up during a web conference, I just remind myself that everyone else is in the same boat.”

Andrea: “We don’t always have to be doing something”

Andrea’s adopted son, Mitch

Life hasn’t really changed that much since the pandemic for Andrea Conter, her 21-year-old adopted son, and her two high-school-age foster boys. Unless you count the fact that Andrea isn’t working, her oldest son is now just working part-time, and the younger boys are schooling from home.

This is a family used to living with change, which is perhaps the reason they are taking the current situation in stride. Growing up in foster homes, the three boys are certainly familiar with frequent change – in homes, caregivers, schools, schedules. And Andrea, who became a mother just three years ago at the age of 52, has adapted to quite a bit of change in her life recently as well.

As a single, career-focused woman, Andrea never thought she could foster children because her lifestyle didn’t allow her to care for young children. However, three summers ago, when she saw a Facebook post seeking a foster family for a college-age boy, she realized that older children needed homes as well. Soon after, she welcomed Mitch into her home. And last spring, at an adoption ceremony in Anchorage, Andrea and Mitch officially became mother and son.

More change came a couple months later when Andrea got a call asking if she would foster two brothers on a temporary basis. Almost a year later, the two boys are still part of the family.

“Prior to COVID, we just did normal stuff – school, work, homework, gaming, friends,” says Andrea, who is a store manager at Burlington.

When COVID hit Alaska, that all changed. Instead of working full-time managing 80 employees, Andrea now completes several hours of virtual training each week and tries to keep her employees engaged over social media. Mitch’s work schedule was reduced to part-time, and he and Andrea share the grocery shopping responsibility. And the younger boys have transitioned to doing school from home.

“The biggest change is now we are all home all day. Things have been OK except for battling to get them to do homework,” Andrea notes.

All the ZOOM meetings and school emails are somewhat overwhelming, but Andrea says she likes to see the assignments and due dates and grades. She’s also been thrilled to see the change in her oldest foster son, who left a more stressful environment at one of the high schools geared for teens with behavioral issues. “He’s become much more engaged, and his stress and anxiety has dropped. I’ve watched him bloom,” Andrea says. “That’s been a win.”

A key to their success, Andrea feels, is being flexible with the family schedule. “I’m not too strict about schedules, but there are non-negotiables. Homework can be done at 2 a.m. but it has to be done. Same thing with chores. We have some structure in place, but there’s flexibility. Right now, it’s OK if there are a few things you let go.”

That flexibility, she has found, has opened the door to some important conversations with the boys that might not have happened otherwise. “If you’re too focused on structure and planning ‘family time,’ it can end up feeling forced. The biggest takeaway for me is we don’t always have to be doing something. We can just chill and allow conversations to naturally progress,” Andrea says.

While Andrea is missing the in-person interaction with her friends, employees and her volunteer work, she’s enjoying the time she has with her boys and their simpler lifestyle. “We were living in a go-go-go world,” she says. “I miss the engagement but realize that I don’t need it as much. I’m not going to require as much materially and socially after this is over.”

She hopes that will be true for others as well. “I’m seeing families together outside that I’ve never seen together before,” she says. “I hope that of all the things we take away from this, we keep that connection of family.”

Prevention in a Time of COVID-19: Building Resilience

In this time of COVID-19, with school closures and families isolating from others, building awareness of child abuse and neglect is more important than ever. This is an incredibly challenging time for all of us, underscoring the need and opportunity to build resilience in our children and in ourselves. We at Alaska Children’s Trust are here, dedicated to supporting Alaska’s children and families. Along with our partners, we are working to provide the resources, knowledge, skills and support Alaska’s families need to thrive, despite the circumstances.

April 1 marked the first day of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. And just as we are all pulling together to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we each must play a role in raising widespread awareness of child abuse and neglect, and what we can do to build resilience and make a positive difference in the lives of children and families around us.

For far too long, Alaska has had one of the highest rates, per capita, of child abuse and neglect. But there are many, many committed individuals and organizations working to change that – and we will succeed. Check out this inspiring map to see the partners across Alaska who are participating with us in Child Abuse Awareness Month.

The first step in any real change is awareness, and Child Abuse Awareness Month is our opportunity to be part of a coordinated, nationwide movement to do just that. Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Spread the word about #Resilient19. We know the COVID-19 outbreak has created an incredible amount of uncertainty in the lives of Alaska’s families. Our hope through #Resilient19 is to share a variety of ways children, families and communities can build the resilience to overcome these challenging times. Learn more about our efforts on our website, follow us on Facebook for the latest #Resilient19 posts, and be sure to share (or post your own!).
  • Download and post our prevention month poster in your home, school, workplace or online to raise additional awareness. It’s available both as a jpeg and as a PDF.
  • Get involved in our virtual statewide Go Blue Day Rally on Friday, April 3! No matter where you live, please join us. Wear blue, make a sign, take a photo and post it using the hashtags #GoBlue4Kids #DareToBeTheOne. Make sure your post is public so Alaska Children’s Trust can share it too! It’s one small, positive and proactive way to show you care.
  • Explore our parent resources. We have compiled resources that can help with building relationships with your child, organizations that can help keep a child safe, and information we trust to support children’s healthy development.
  • Discover ways to make a difference with these tips for families, friends and neighbors, and the community as a whole.

While the important work of preventing child abuse and neglect and building resilience is ongoing, this dedicated month allows us to shine a spotlight on the issue, and educate and inspire others to join with us in our efforts.

We invite you to join us in raising the volume on this issue throughout April – and beyond. Alaska Children’s Trust is actively addressing this complex issue in a variety of ways, and we need and ask for your involvement as we work together for healthier children and families across Alaska. Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.

Summer – your opportunity to strengthen your family

It’s summer vacation! While summertime schedules can pose challenges, summer also provides lots of wonderful opportunities for families to focus on building stronger connections.

Strengthening Alaska’s families is what Alaska Children’s Trust is all about, so we’re pleased to share these national and local resources that can help your family not just survive, but thrive, this summer!

Keep learning. Did you know that children can lose up to two months of essential math and reading skills during the summer months? Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can support learning during summer vacation. Mark your calendar for National Summer Learning Week, July 8 – 13. This week is all about keeping kids learning, safe and healthy during the summer, ensuring they return to school in the fall ready to succeed. Check out the family toolkit for tips and resources, like:

Go to camp. From math and sports to gardening and entrepreneurship, there is a summer camp for nearly every age and interest! Explore the possibilities with your child in the Alaska Parent Summer Camps and Programs Resource Guide and the Anchorage Daily News Summer Camp Guide.

Eat healthy. According to The Children’s Lunchbox, a program of Bean’s Café, there are approximately 21,000 children in the Anchorage area who don’t have enough healthy food to eat. This problem becomes even more severe in the summer for children who rely on school lunch programs. Families who need help can connect with numerous programs that offer free meals to children during the summer, including:

Find quality child care. thread is Alaska’s Child Care Resource and Referral Network, offering services to families, early childhood educators, early childhood education programs, and communities statewide. If you need help finding or choosing quality child care, or are looking for child care financial assistance, thread is a great place to start.

Get some fresh ideas. Best Beginnings is a public-private partnership that mobilizes people and resources to ensure all Alaska children begin school ready to succeed. Their website has great resources on growing readers, building strong families and engaging community around the importance of a child’s early years.

 Have resources to add? Please share with us on Facebook or Twitter