As a young adult my favorite Alaskan summer was working nights on the Kenai City Docks with R &J Seafoods.
Such kind, loving people. On cold work nights they’d bring us something delicious in a Crockpot to keep us warm. Our job was to wait on the dock in full waterproof gear until the commercial fishing boats would pull up next to the dock. A crane would lift a net above a large hopper and the fish would dump into it. Small amounts of fish would spill out onto an attached long metal tray and we would sort and identify salmon according to their species.
We would talk, laugh, and say things like, “hot chumbalaya” when sorting to keep ourselves entertained. We would let our legs dangle off the dock, watching the sun go farther down as the season went on and making false bets with our unspent paycheck as to when the overhead lights would click on automatically or if they would bother to at all. A variety of boats would patiently wait on the water as the deep reddish, burnt orange colors blazed across the horizon behind them, which happened to poetically match the gear we wore. You were pretty sure somewhere in the universe a unicorn was being born.
That’s my best Alaskan summer memory. Now I have a 7-year-old boy and an 11-year-old daughter and I’m trying my best to help them make their own beautiful memories. Being a stay-at-home mom makes sense for our family (especially when they aren’t in school), so I embrace it. However, there is still so much to get done, my priorities and obligations don’t stop just because it’s summer. It makes parenting feel like extra work. No one wants to be stressed during our three months of summer, especially when it feels like three weeks. So maybe making memories takes planning.
Summer time mentality is work! During a winter evening you’re used to not doing much, because it’s freezing, there’s school the next day, and it’s super dark so you can’t really see what is staring at you from the woods or if it has the ability to eat you or not.
Once it’s summer we have options again and you have to think a little more. It’s what we’ve been waiting for! When my kids are asking me to go play on the beach, usually I can handle such requests with a yes or no. But not when we’re in the middle of the store or in the middle of traffic and literally everybody is invading my personal space. I need a time out.
Then the kids goes to auntie’s or grandma’s house or I drop everything (even my diet, omg) and we party down. I remind myself I miss my kids like crazy when they’re in school and to soak up this uninterrupted time with them. They’ve surprised me the past few weeks with how much they’ve grown and the people they’re becoming. I can’t keep up, so I don’t even try. I just help guide them when I can or when they need it.
Sometimes it feels like I’m sitting in the back of a movie theater and I’m just watching a slingshot montage of them growing up. My heart makes the sound of a whip, because that’s what happens with me now instead of crying. It’s weird, because my entire life I have been a crier of the simplest things like saying goodbyes, commercials, when the mood hits just right, you know. Things like that. I hear the whip crack and it makes me stand a little straighter. Time is limited, so my time out is over.
Here’s the thing: Maybe it’s OK that we’re not camping every night like I expected or fishing or swimming in lakes constantly. Maybe it’s OK that what I get out of summer is getting real time in with my kids. Being a parent is hard work. Love conquers all. It hits deep knowing that if my kids have a good relationship (or not) growing up, they can be a powerhouse of support for each other in good times or bad.
If Alaskans are great at anything year round, it’s family time. I think that’s how I know the tides have changed with me as a mother. Instead of staying busy with various kid activities, and trust me we are, it’s more about me understanding this time in our life is going to happen for only a short period of time. Time can be ruthless. So instead of stressing or getting caught up feeling like a failure, I think I’ll keep the optimism of knowing this is a beautiful time of year and not to waste it.
Maybe I’ll show them the city docks.
Kasi McClure enjoys being a wife and mother of two in Kenai. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.