By Jamey Bradbury
When my friend, Sara, became a mom, I knew things would change. As a non-mom, I braced myself for endless conversations about diapers and feedings, cancelled dinner plans and a Facebook feed that would no longer feature pics of fun camping weekends and ladies’ nights but photo after photo of the drooling stranger who’d stolen my BFF.
I was right: Sara did change. But I was oh so wrong about the kind of change that took place. Always a kind, patient and laidback friend, Sara became even kinder and more patient when her daughter, Rae, came into our lives. Motherhood brought out a side of my friend I’d never seen, one that opened her up to the world; she seemed to laugh more, to question more, to find a secret joy that someone without kids couldn’t quite grasp.
She also turned into a dynamo of doing-it-all – one of those women at whom you marvel, shaking your head and wondering, How does she do it? as she coordinates playdates, bakes the most delicious cupcakes you’ve ever tasted, wrangles pets, volunteers and dazzles her colleagues by day at her full-time job, all with seemingly no effort.
Looking on as Sara raises her daughter has shifted my perspective, too. Every day, I watch as my friend teaches her child everything from how to read and ride a bike to how to be a decent person in an often difficult world. It’s made me appreciate my own mother more, and the role she had in shaping the person I am today.
The irony of mothers is that they’re all around us, shaping the world by shaping the people in it, but because they’re everywhere, we don’t see them. That’s why we’re taking time this issue to single out some Alaskan mothers. From hometown heroes to high-powered executives, we’re focusing the spotlight on those women who’ve taken on the job of bringing up the next generation. They’ve founded organizations, built schools, written blogs, started businesses and danced on TV, but they all have one thing in common: They are all helping to raise Alaska.
When Shallon Craddock looks at the kids on Eielson AFB, she sees herself. “I grew up here,” she explains. “First through seventh grades, my dad was stationed here; my parents built a house in North Pole. I went to Eielson Elementary. I have a special connection to this community and these kids, because they’re all me.”
That connection is what compelled the pediatrician and mom of two to start the Medical Explorers of Fairbanks, a high school club for students interested in learning more about healthcare professions.
“We bring in healthcare providers to talk to the kids,” Shallon says. “The students do volunteer work and resume writing, all the things that will help them compete as they apply for colleges. I’m just really passionate about youth development.”
She hopes to pass that commitment to community and caring for others on to her two children, Daniel Lawrence, 5, and Lillian Grace, 1. Told by her doctor that she wouldn’t be able to have children, Shallon says she feels that her son and daughter are “two little gifts.”
“I want to do all I can to make sure they have a strong foundation so they can meet their full potential,” she adds.
She’s already taught them another crucial part of life: Dance. The international professional salsa and hip-hop dancer appeared with her then-boyfriend, Daniel, on Soul Train in 2003; today, Daniel is her husband, and the two of them perform with a Fairbanks flash mob. “Our kids are definitely dancers, too,” she says. “That’s an integral part of being a Craddock.”
“ ‘Mom, what’s for dinner?’ That’s all I heard from my son,” recalls Laura Sampson of the Mat-Su Valley. “It became a joke, until I started thinking, Wow, I’d better have an answer.”
That answer eventually became the blog, Hey, What’s for Dinner Mom?, where Laura posts ideas for meal plans, recipes, crafts and ways to thrive in Alaska – a place where motherhood can be its own unique challenge, she says. “Motherhood in Alaska is cold and wet. Sometimes I want to hibernate, but we stay active as a family. We also don’t have a TV or iPads – our sons have to amuse themselves. It sounds kind of harsh, but when kids are forced to work through boredom, they get really creative.”
Laura’s do-it-yourself attitude also led her to help found Birchtree Charter School, a Waldorf-inspired school that grew from her own desire to reconnect with the values her parents instilled in her. “When I had my first baby, it brought me around to thinking about the food we ate, the life we were living and, ultimately, the kind of education we wanted for our kids.”
At 21, her oldest son, Dwight, is now a plumber. Her younger sons, Delano, 10, and Declan, 8, attend Birchtree, where they learn skills that are useful beyond the classroom. When she and other parents started the school, Laura says, “We made something for this community that binds us together and creates these little people who go into the world and have ways of educating themselves and are just really well-rounded.”
Who knows what each day might bring for Megan Ancheta and her daughters, Kylie, 8, and Abbi, 5? “We might decide, hey, let’s go to the zoo today and check out the animals, and that will be our lesson,” Megan explains. “Or we’ll go to the lake at the park and do ecosystems in a jar.”
That’s the advantage of homeschooling her kids: “We set our own schedule. When you raise kids in a place where there are only three months of warm weather, it’s great to be able to take advantage of the sunny days year round.”
Being her girls’ primary teacher is an opportunity to explore the world in new ways, says Megan. “I get to see the world from their eyes and their innocence and creativity, and get excited over the little things, like they do. I love that.”
From time to time, Megan lets her husband, A.J., take over teaching duties or help with special projects while she works on Allergy Free Alaska, the gluten-free and allergy-friendly blog she’s turning into a cookbook. Diagnosed with several auto-immune diseases, she radically changed the quality of her own life by improving her diet. Her daughters, who have food allergies, also benefitted.
“They’ve adapted well, and I think that’s one thing, as a mom, I’d hope to teach them about all of life,” shares Megan. “To have a love of learning, to be able to teach themselves and to adapt to the changing world.”
Before she ever became a mother, Kathy Day felt like she had a daughter. The owner of the Anchorage public relations firm KD/PR Virtual has volunteered with Big Brothers/Big Sisters (BB/BS) for more than 20 years. She’s watched each of her little “sisters” grow up, get jobs or have kids of their own; her current sister, Miranda, attends UAA.
“It really feels like she’s part of our family,” says Kathy, who now gives her time to the BB/BS Sync program, which focuses on kids who have been part of the foster system.
Working with BB/BS is one of the things that encouraged her to become a mother herself. “My little sisters have all turned out to be productive citizens and amazing people,” Kathy describes. “It made me understand we need more people out there to be good parents. I realized there’s a lot of kids out there who need help, and I can at least do my best to raise a couple of good ones.”
The former workaholic knew she had to readjust her priorities when she became pregnant with her first son, Trevor, now 14. “Three weeks into having him, I quit my job and opened my own company,” Kathy says. Today, Kathy shares her love of sports with Trevor and A.J., 10, both of whom play hockey and baseball. “My philosophy is you do the things they love with them, and try to spend as much time together as you can.”
Expecting moms, laughing toddlers, smiling couples: By day, Kaile Meyers looks through the lens of her camera and captures memories for Alaska families. Then she goes home to her own picture-perfect household, a bustling brood of three kids, three dogs and a husband who was her high school sweetheart.
“My clients ask me how I can be so patient when I’m photographing kids and babies,” says Kaile. “I tell them I’ve had on-the-job training at home.”
The busy mother dedicates lots of time to crafts and projects with her kids, who love to paint and color and dig through the huge drawers and cabinets Kaile keeps stuffed with art supplies.
“When I was pregnant with my second baby, I was talking with my mom,” Kaile recalls. “I said to her, I just don’t understand how you can possibly love another child as much as you love your first.” Like so many moms before her, she soon discovered that love doesn’t divide; it multiplies. Today, Kaile says, she’s “twitterpated” with her 8-year-old son, Wyatt, and her daughters, Aubrey, 5, and Avalon, who is 6 months old.
“It seems like everything I do, I compare to my own mother,” Kaile describes. “I look at my kids, and I know they’ll ask the same thing – What would Mom do? I hope to teach them compassion and kindness. From them, I’ve learned it’s not always the huge experiences that matter most. A lot of times, it’s the low-key, hanging-out-at-home with the family times.”
Lisa Herbert knows that life in Fairbanks can be hard for military families. “It’s an intimidating duty station for a lot of spouses,” she explains. “It’s cold, it’s dark, a lot of them don’t even want to drive because they’re not used to snowy roads.”
Lisa moved to North Pole from Boston and became a military spouse herself when she married Sergeant Pete Herbert of the US Air Force. She grew up in a military family, too.
“I saw the sacrifices my parents made to support my dad’s career,” Lisa recalls, “and the impact it had on my little sisters. That inspired my passion to make sure that military spouses in Fairbanks know what’s happening in the community and feel like they can be engaged.”
As the executive director of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, Lisa uses her position to volunteer for community events that put her in touch with military families – and give her a chance to show her four children how they can be civically involved.
“They’re at an impressionable age, so it’s a good time to show them it’s good to volunteer and give back,” she says.
Of her four children – Landon, 7, Madison, 4 ½, Hadley, 6 months, and her stepson, Aiden, 11 – two of them tagged along this year as Lisa served on the board of directors for this year’s Arctic Winter Games. “AWG was stressful; at first I thought, I don’t have time to include them. But Landon and Madison set up our retail booth and carried boxes – they had a great time. It’s a memory they’ll have forever, and it’s one way I can find that balance between doing what I love to do professionally and spending time with my kids.”
Sometimes a big idea comes from a small observation. “I realized we don’t have any opportunities for accessible recreation here in our parks or playgrounds,” explains Leah Boltz of Anchorage. “Some of us decided to see if we could raise a little money to buy accessible equipment. Parks for All came out of that: It was just a group of moms who came together to promote the idea of inclusive play.”
The Anchorage Park Foundation’s Parks for All initiative ultimately led to Cuddy Park, the city’s first fully inclusive playground where children of all abilities can play together.
But Leah might not have looked at parks in a new way if it hadn’t been for her 7-year-old daughter, Anna, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair and a walker.
“Our daughter has helped my husband and me to have a different perspective on life,” Leah says, “and that’s allowed us to do something to make our community better.”
Leah, who says she’d happily work until midnight every week if it means spending weekends skiing with Anna through Challenge Alaska’s adaptive recreation program, hopes to reciprocate an equally important lesson to her daughter.
“I hope that one thing I teach Anna is if she sees something that could be improved, she should absolutely do something about it,” Leah says. “With kids with special needs, you work to teach them independence, but I hope to take it a step further and show her she has the power to change things.”