Mother’s Day is just around the corner and elementary kids are busy creating paper posies and coupon books to let the “Mom” in their life know how much they are loved. You’ll notice I put the “Mom” in quotes, as this day has evolved to rightfully incorporate not just biological mothers, but any important female role-model in a child’s life. We can all point to those women who have done everything from kissed scraped knees, to driven hours of carpool, to professionally mentored us. In looking at our inspirational mothers I can’t help but notice Iditarod has some pretty amazing examples of “Mom”, too.
When I think of powerhouse women who inspire and encourage kids to chase their dreams I look no further than Jr. Iditarod Board members Julia Redington, Emily Dinges, and Barb Redington. From the pre-race musher meeting (with enough pizza to feed a teenage army) to the banquet (with enough raffle items to provide something for everyone’s interest) the Jr. Iditarod is successful because of the immense time and effort put forth by these women.
This year Julia Redington wore two hats at the Jr. Iditarod. Her role as Board Member and her role as Mom to two of the competitors, Ellen and Isaac. When it was time for the musher meeting Julia stepped out of the room, with all the other parents, because her children were racing. She had every right to stay in her professional role, but wanted her kids to have the experience of independence. As a Jr. Iditarod veteran, she probably has more advice to give than most. Yet, she stepped back to allow her kids to fly; illustrating one of the hardest parts of motherhood – letting go.
Luckily when Julia Redington was letting go, she knew she was sending her kids off into the capable hands of Emily Dinges. Out on the trail Emily juggled all the logistical challenges that came her way; but her job, at the end of the day, was to make sure each of these kids achieved their goal. She was everything all at once – cheerleader, organizer, worrier, encourager, problem solver – basically “mom” for the night. Mushers said “thanks”, but what they were really saying was “thank you for believing in me.” And Emily truly does believe in each and every one of them!
No Mom was more prevalent at the 2023 Iditarod than the aforementioned Barb Redington. She was everywhere. She is an ever present force of nature at the Jr. Iditarod – from the kick off meeting to emceeing the Jr. Banquet. At the Iditarod Ceremonial Start she arrived with musher Hunter Keefe, who ran Redington dogs this year. Then she was snapping a photo with Emily Robinson, 2023 Jr. Iditarod Champion. Then she disappeared. Only to pop-up leading out her son Ryan’s team, making sure his start went smoothly, before returning to Hunter! And at the Willow Re-start? Hunter and Ryan’s teams were on opposite sides of the lot, and I swear you could see the path Barb wore down in the snow from running back and forth.
Where was she the morning of Ryan’s finish? Well, that is THE Mom story, the one about motherhood that kids don’t see, don’t know to be grateful for, the feelings they aren’t aware of. I was thrilled for Ryan, but as a Mom myself I was curious how Barb felt about this huge accomplishment – a lifetime in the making. In recounting her morning she revealed the double edged sword of motherhood – hope and worry as constant companions. Knowing Ryan was in the lead on the morning of March 14, Barb was nervous and couldn’t sleep. So she walked the ½ mile from her lodging to the finish, in the early dawn hours, and no one was there. She walked back. A littler later she walked the ½ mile to the finish, and again, no one around, so she walked back. A third trip on that ½ mile trek and finally people were up and about. Her emotions were evident in her actions: anticipation, excitement, and a little fear. She said she just couldn’t settle the butterflies; that it wasn’t until Ryan actually showed up on Front Street could she accept it was real. Mom, sitting on the sidelines, watching and wishing for success; knowing the years of hard work that went into this moment to make this dream come true. When Ryan won, what did Mom do? Barb hugged, and smiled, and took a photo or two. And then she let Ryan have the limelight, and took on the job of snacking the dogs.
Because that is what Moms do – they wash uniforms and pack snacks, buy cleats and drive to practices, cheer in the rain and console with ice cream, help make dioramas and figure out fractions – and they do it because, at the end of the day, seeing a child succeed on the field or in the classroom is worth it all.
So Thanks, Mom! (And all the strong female mentors out there). We see you – doing your version of scooping poop, sewing booties, packing sleds, and snacking the dog team. We also see you worry, and wonder, and hope, and wish, and celebrate right along with us – whether we are navigating the Iditarod Trail or the trail of life.
Library Learnings: I love the book Mama, Do You Love Me? By Barbara Joosse. It’s a simple story that reminds children that a mother’s love is unconditional and unending! The illustrator Barbara Lavallee has lived in Alaska since 1970, when she came to Sitka to teach art at the Mt. Edgecumbe High School. This experience exposed her to the traditions and culture of Alaska Native people and greatly influenced her art and illustrations.