By Shannon Kuhn
Standing next to them in the grocery line, you might not suspect their powers. You see them at the school play, at the hardware store, and at the park. They are your friends, your co-workers, your sisters. They are our world’s ultimate superheroes. They are moms.
This Mother’s Day, I decided to feature three local supermoms: Lia Keller, Erin Kirkland, and Leah Boltz. Each are on a mission, from building Alaska’s first 100% inclusive playground to getting kids outdoors. These women are warm and genuine, and also bold, brave, and beautiful. Their love for being a mom shines, and is impossibly infectious. Not only are they raising their kids to be sweet and caring global citizens, they are building community and providing a much needed support system for parents throughout the state. I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to work with these three moms. They are incredibly inspiring, not only to me personally, but to so many families across the state whose lives they are impacting. Although I spoke to them individually, they all had some words in common about raising kids in the Last Frontier. “Let them play and get dirty and be kids…and make sure you get down in the dirt and dig for worms with them every chance you get!”
Lia Keller is the founder of Skedaddle, a year round outdoor playgroup. An Alaskan kid herself, she grew up playing in the same parks that her kids now love. A few years ago, she tried to find a playgroup for her boys that was outside. Turned off by the exclusive feeling of playgroups that had an application process or membership dues, and also were focused on indoor play, she decided to start her own. “Skedaddle” is now a year-long outdoor playgroup that meets every Tuesday at a different playground in Anchorage. Although it was created for children, Lia has provided a therapeutic space for parents as well. With a masters in counseling psychology, she finds Skedaddle is just as important for parents as it is for kids. “We need to get outside too, and talk about stuff other than cheerios and cartoons” she told me with a grin. “But more seriously, it is important for moms and dads to have a place where they can be social. Especially for first time moms, it can help reduce postpartum depression after giving birth.”
- What is your favorite part of being a mom?
Watching my kids grow up and change. Every day they surprise me, every day is different.
- What is your advice for other moms who want to get their kids outside?
Get good (rain and winter) gear for your kids! It is the most worthwhile investment you an make. Then you won’t be worried about them when you’re outside, and they won’t be wet or cold and complain. It might be hard at first to get the kids dressed properly for the winter (I remember how long it took for us to get just our boots on!), but I promise it will get easier.
Lia’s favorite neighborhood park to bring kids is Bob & Arlene Cross Park on hillside. Oh, and yep, her son is named after Kincaid Park!
Erin Kirkland is the founder and publisher of AKontheGO, a popular website dedicated to family travel in Alaska. She was inspired to start AKontheGO in 2005, after realizing that resources were essentially non-existent for families who wanted to have an active lifestyle, especially while traveling. “I had a tween and a toddler, and I really just wanted to find stuff for us all to do,” she told me. Erin is a mom to two boys: Owen is 8 and Matt is 19. AKontheGO has become the #1 resource for parents, who ask her questions from best spot for New Years Eve fireworks, to where to rent camper vans in Valdez.
AKontheGO also encourages fellow travel industry professionals to embrace family travel as an important emerging market in Alaska tourism. Those businesses who go the extra mile for their youngest guests are presented with an “AKontheGO Family Friendly Business” sticker and certificate, so other families can be assured of a clear commitment to kids, and the adults who love them. Be sure to be on the lookout for Erin’s AK on the Go travel family guide book coming out in 2014!
- What is your favorite part of being a mom?
I love having the kids perspectives along with me. Traveling with kids is always more interesting, and is definitely one of my favorite parts of being a mom. When I travel, I see my son mature as this individual completely separate from me, which is so fun and so valuable.
- What is your advice for other moms who want to travel with kids?
Just go. It can be scary, but plan a trip with your kids and just go…you’ll be pleasantly surprised. There are unique things about every place that your kids will lead you to! Also, don’t over-schedule.
Leah Boltz is the founder and visionary behind the Anchorage Park Foundation’s Parks for All initiative. When asked what her inspiration for the project was, Leah says, “#1 was my daughter, Anna, who was about 3 at the time we started this venture (she is now 6.) She’s an Alaska girl through and through and LOVES adventure, the outdoors, playgrounds and making new friends. Like most Alaskans, our family lives here for Alaska’s unmatched recreational opportunities. Anna has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, walker or canes to get around (usually determined by how much snow is on the ground!). Two awesome moms I know–Christy Jordan and Rachel Leask–also have children with special needs who experience mobility challenges. When we met in 2009, all three of us were lamenting the fact that Anchorage had zero accessible parks or playgrounds for kids like ours. Not only that, but grandparents and parents or veteran soldiers in wheelchairs had no way to take their loved ones to play. Sort of seemed to defeat the purpose of living in the world’s largest playground to us. And our kids, like all kids, have the basic need to play–to teach them life skills, social interaction, physical activity and the joy of laughing with friends and family. So we decided to do something about it, so we could all play TOGETHER.”
Four years later, this dream is becoming a reality. The first truly inclusive playground in Alaska is being built this summer, because of moms like Leah and people that believe in the importance of play in our kids’ lives. When asked what the first thing she is going to do when the playground is finally unveiled, Leah says, “Probably cry. I’m a total sap, and I know how excited Anna is to play with her cousins together at the playground. The first time I see them all together and laughing on the equipment, someone had better have a box of Kleenex handy! But really what I’m most looking forward to is being able to sit on a bench in the sun and take photos while my daughter plays on her own, without needing Mom to carry her from her wheelchair or help lift her onto the slide. She’ll be able to do it herself! Watch for lots of Instagram and Facebook posts that day!”
What is your favorite part of being a mom?
Anna was doing a school project last night and asked me this same question. There are so many things! My answer to her was “hugs!” But there are so many things–making a child laugh and smile is the greatest gift there is. I feel so much pride in my daughter–and I fully chalk that up to just being lucky enough to be the one chosen to be her mother. Anna, in so many ways, is a role model for her parents! She teaches us a lot about strength and what’s important and what’s not in life. She teaches me how to let go and be silly and appreciate life through a child’s eyes. She also teaches everyone around her what it really means to be a positive presence in the world and just how far that will get you in life.
What is your advice for other moms?
My advice for other moms is to love and appreciate your kids and the special gifts each one brings to the world. Nurture those gifts and always strive to be positive in your interactions with your kids. Help them become their best, not someone else’s best.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing moms out there. You are our superheroes!