A description of Johanna
It’s still early in the morning and I’m sitting at the kitchen table and looking out the window. Our 6-week-old son Mikko lies blissfully asleep in my lap. After a really sleepless night with several feedings, massaging the tummy and repeadlingly changing the diaper, it is a particularly nice feeling when the child has finally calmed down and fallen asleep.
Kathi and I already had coffee together at 5 a.m. and discussed the day. Now I can watch her through the window preparing and harnessing a dog team for training.
It makes me very happy to see how, after the pregnancy and the physical limitations after the birth, she finally regained her strength and enthusiastically took over the dog care and training again.
A child will change many things
This time last year we had endless conversations about what it would be like to become parents. Having a child and taking responsibility for the little creature, promoting it, demanding it and everything else that goes with it. It was not easy to imagine how it would change our lives and at the same time not.
We decided to have a child and in December Mikko was born. The birth and the first few weeks with him were very intense, exciting, challenging and wonderful. Time loses its frame, unimagined worries and needs arise and the little fellow dictates to us how, when and what should be done without being able to speak.
Definitely a new experience. And yet you don’t want to miss a day, keep looking at him and hugging him. You are bewitched.
When we decided to have a child, we knew that you never know what a pregnancy will be like. You can make plans, but you should be aware that everything can turn out very differently.
For us, the central issue was the care of the dogs. How are we supposed to do that when Katharina is pregnant? After all, that’s almost exclusively Katharina’s area of responsibility. I’m privy to most of it, but more theoretical than practical. And especially when it comes to training the dogs, I had no “own” experience at all. Up until then I had never trained a dog team alone, neither in autumn nor in winter.
We “planned” that if the pregnancy will be easy, Kathi could take care of the dogs with my help during the summer, that we would do the autumn training together and Kathi might also be able to go sledding a little at the beginning of winter, before the dogs either get lots of activity in the free running area or I would have the courage to train them alone. Knowing that the dogs get a rather light training this season, we chose the motto “Exercise the dogs regularly, no experiments”.
Until December, my part would be to relieve Kathi of the heavy work and to support her where she needs help. In December and January I would take full responsibility for the care. From the end of January Katharina would be fit again and would take over the dog care and training again while I slip into the mother role and take care of our son. That was our plan.
Katharina became pregnant and our “role reversal project” began.
What was I thinking?
We’ve been together for so many years and I often nicknamed Kathi Superwoman. Whenever she fell into bed in the evening with a satisfied grin after having completed such an enormous amount of physical work that my muscles ache just from watching or listening.
During our planning phase I had probably suppressed that. Somehow I didn’t realize that I was basically going to be Superwoman’s pregnancy replacement. What was I thinking?
During the first three months, February to April, Kathi was reserved and careful not to endanger the pregnancy. Which in Kathi’s world meant that she continued to do dog training on a daily basis and several times went on a multi-day mountain tour in the Swedish mountains with a team of 10 dogs. Everything is “normal”.
May is generally a month when you can’t do that much in nature. The snow is melting, the waterlevel is rising and the dogs are slowly shifting into their summer mode as it gets warmer. The fact that Kathi was very tired during this time and slept a lot matched the weather, the dogs and my pace.
I slowly took on many of the daily chores that involved heavy lifting. The dogs were running in small groups in the free-running-area every day and we spent a lot of time with them in our “dog cabin” to cuddle, massage and care for their paws and fur. It was difficult for Kathi to shift down one or more gears, but her body gave her no other choice.
I was motivated and powerful. At the same time, my new job at the municipality began.
By the time summer came I was well accustomed to the daily routines with the dogs. Filling and carrying the food buckets, feeding, cleaning the kennels and carrying the waste buckets to the pit, cleaning the dog kitchen, and much more.
We continued to do the dog activities together. I learned a lot of new things and slowly prepared myself to work more independently. Dogs have a keen sense of choosing who to listen to. If Kathi is nearby, the dogs will always check my announcements with Kathi for accuracy before they react accordingly. This often makes it difficult to take her place…
Slowly there were more and more things that Kathi couldn’t do. Especially anything that had to do with heavy lifting or lots of walking.
The original plan contained the idea that Kathi will take her time and stack the 30 cubic meters of wood that were in a huge heap in the yard in the shed. When she got started, however, it didn’t last two hours and she felt sick to the stomach. Bending, getting up and turning caused dizziness and nausea.
My to-do list kept getting longer…
Gathering blueberries and cranberries for the winter were on my list. Laying out the nets in the lake, carrying the buckets of water for the dog’s outdoor kitchen to cook the meat soup and rinsing the bowls. Cleaning the kennels, scrubbing the floors, collecting the straw, repairing the kennel sections, digging holes for the fence posts.
In August I noticed more and more clearly that Kathi’s “normal” workload definitely exceeded mine.
I often reached my physical limits. I started to motivate myself mentally by trying to see the tasks as daily tasks, but still consciously pausing and patting myself on the back when I could check one from my list.
Kathi also made every effort to praise me and make me feel like I was doing well.
There were always these weird moments in our role reversal. Much of what was so incredibly difficult for me was so easy for Kathi and she did these things without much effort.
She couldn’t always understand my total exhaustion when I came in from outside whistling at the last minute.
But it wasn’t easy for her either. Her body demanded a lot of rest from her, especially from the 6th month of pregnancy. It was not easy for her to listen to it and rest on the sofa, knowing that I was outside and often struggling with myself.
Luckily, my work at the municipality could be scheduled very flexibly, so we were able to balance everything.
The best thing about this time was that we did a lot together. We had actually never been able to do that before. Feeding together, free-running-dogtime together, looking forward to the future together.
Finally fall training
Autumn training began at the end of August. We were both really looking forward to that. Kathi was now in her 6th month, her belly was already quite round and she was actually doing quite well. However, jerky movements were not pleasant. Even putting on the harness was only partially suitable for her, since there are wild and very wild dogs in our kennel 😊.
For putting on the booties, it quickly became clear that her baby bump was getting in the way and bending over was more than uncomfortable.
In practice, it looked like Kathi was my supervisor and I was her slave 😊
I learned a lot about dog training! Our relationship has definitely experienced new challenges – and mastered them.
Above all, our communication has become much better. My weak point, the lower back muscles, were activated by putting on lots of booties and, after a painful phase, were permanently strengthened!
Driving the training car remained firmly in Kathi’s hands for the time being. It was an unspoken law and clearly taboo on Kathi’s part. I think she had already “given away” so much that she was particularly attached to it. So we trained the dogs together every day.
The bumpiest paths were ok only at the beginning of the season, later these became problematic for Kathi because she then felt nauseous. It also became clear over time that she was still able to do it, but there were some days when she wasn’t quite fit.
Suddenly it was time
And indeed, the day came when I was allowed to take the steering wheel in my hands. And even had to/was allowed to drive all alone! My excitement was great, my tension even greater and halfway through the tour my wrists hurt so much from my tight grip that I had to laugh out loud at myself. It’s not like I haven’t been on countless training tours for many years!
But it’s different when the master suddenly no longer sits next to you and has everything under control.
Now I was responsible for the success of the training session, the right pace, the correct changing of sides, the peculiarities of all 14 dogs and just everything and a little more to keep an eye on.
It was not only new for me, the dogs were also confused as to who was in charge. Blizzard was up front on the first tour along with Jompa. After the start, it took about 500 meters until Blizzard realized that Kathi was not with us. She couldn’t believe it, kept turning her head back. If Jompa hadn’t done her job so well, we probably wouldn’t have gotten very far. My first command “Gee”,turn right, not only came much too late from me but also in a different pitch. Even Jompa was irritated for a moment, turns her head back with interest, but then turns powerfully to the right. It seemed a bit like she thought, “Ah, it’s you! Cool, then I can do whatever I want today, hihihi”. Which she later implemented — eye rolls —-. Well, we made the best out of it.
In the next few days I tried to do what I had seen and learned from Kathi. To soon find that it’s better if I don’t try to be her, but me.
After that it got better. The dogs probably thought it was funny because they know me for who I am. If I behave differently, it comes across as strange to them.
We found our way.
I accepted that Dika, as my lead dog, would stop and pee all the time. I understood that Kitkat can only run as wheeldog otherwise she has to turn around all the time. I made an agreement with Spice that she can do whatever she wants and I won’t say anything because we’ll never get along.
And the dogs accepted that my driving style was different, but that didn’t mean we wanted to stop all the time. They learned that I was always late stopping when a dog was doing its business because I just couldn’t get the hang of it. And the lead dogs quickly found out that I always confuse right and left and actually mean left when I say right.
They were amazingly lenient with me.
Kathi was very happy that I dared to do the training and that it went really well. That made us both feel good.
Nevertheless, we were both very happy that Kathi was almost always fit enough to come along.
A few times we tried that I drive and she is the passenger. Maybe three or four times. The fifth time, Kathi was already in the driver’s seat long before the dogs where in place. Without words we have returned to the natural order. We never talked about it 😊
Some things are just the way they are and will stay that way.
After the training tours, Kathi was usually quite exhausted and had to lie down. We drank some tea with the dogs and then she went resting on the sofa. And I took care of the dogs, cleared away and prepared for the next day.
Then I worked through my ever-growing to-do list.
We trained almost every day until the end of November and Kathi was almost always there. You can tell from our son Mikko, who is only a few weeks old, that he finds dogs barking completely normal, just like the hum of an engine and bumpy roads.
He was always there.
At the end of November, the weather made the difficult decision for us whether I would continue training alone, because it got so icy that we had to take a 2-week break. We used the time to prepare for our son.
Up until then we hadn’t really thought about what a baby might actually need… It’s a good thing that family and friends sent us a lot of their used stuff! In any case, we had basic equipment.
In December Kathi was not doing so well. Lying, sitting, walking, everything became uncomfortable. She couldn’t do anything she liked to do anymore.
It was very difficult for Kathi to let go, rest a lot and keep her physical performance below normal. I think that she was only able to do it because she always had the growing belly in front of her, in which, like a surprise egg, there is something wonderful that you are waiting for with joy and excitement so that you can finally play with it.
And now I did everything that Kathi used to do. Every day was a challenge for me because the last few weeks went far beyond my comfort zone. And yet I was mostly motivated. I did more than I thought I could, improving week by week. And there were more and more days when the tasks became easier for me.
But I also became more and more aware that I wasn’t as satisfied as Kathi. I lacked flexibility, creativity, being comfortable, just being easy and, above all, I missed seeing Kathi’s joy when she does “her thing” with the dogs.
An incredible experience is approaching!
At the beginning of December, I was asked whether I would dare to drive my own winter trail and then train with the dogs on the snow. Just when I was mentally ready for it, everything turned out very differently.
Kathi’s pregnancy had deteriorated in the last few weeks and Mikko’s care was no longer optimal. The doctors decided to get him early by caesarean section. And suddenly, Mikko was born!
What an exciting day!
Shortly before, Kathi’s mother Christine hurriedly made her way to the northh to take care of the dogs for the days when we are in the hospital. Without her, I would not have been able to be with Kathi and our son during the birth or the days after!
According to the circumstances, Kathi felt rather bad after the birth and it took quite a while before she got back on her feet. All the hormones on top of that – really no picnic!
Kathi’s mother did a lot for us with the dogs and the household and also helped a lot with her experience as a mother. She took over lots of tasks from my list in the coming weeks and I felt som “freedom” again.
A wave of determination grabbed me and I snowmobiled a track on the lake and in the forest, a loop of 25 km. I marked it and groomed it and now the dog training could continue. I have little experience with sledding and the snow conditions were not very inviting either, as there was still little snow and a lot of ice.
So instead of taking the sled, I decided to just take the snowmobile and hitch the dogs to it. This way I could guarantee my safety and that of the dogs and concentrate fully on the dogs.
The first start went great. The dogs seemed to sense my excitement and were very accommodating. Kitkat only chewed her own neckline but not her neighbor’s, Twix held back with the teasing of her neighbor, Thunder had the booties put on without any problems and Spice – well, she did what she wanted, as we had discussed 😊
I went on tour with the dogs almost every day. It was an exciting experience and a nice experience to build such a close relationship with the dogs.
But it took a lot of strength. I quickly realized how much it was a physical strain on me, but above all mentally.
I probably put too much pressure on myself to train Superwoman’s dogs. A claim that I set myself and implemented as best I could.
Now its the end of January.
Kathi has been operational again for 2 weeks. Starting again, gently and thoughtfully, was not easy for her. What does “do not lift heavy” mean? 3 kilos, 5 kilos, 10 kilos? What does a dogfood bucket actually weigh?
But in any case it was wonderful when she could be with the dogs more. Carrying the buckets, harnessing the team, I helped her the first time.
Now she has completely taken over the training again. I still like to carry the feeding buckets for her.
I am very relieved that Superwoman can work again 😊
How can I sum this special time?
Being Superwoman’s maternity replacement has been a real challenge for me.
It was educational and exhausting. I now know that I can carry kilos of meat every day and move 350 kilos of salmon and 500 kilos of meat in a few hours.
I now know that I can get up at 6 every day and think about dogs from morning to night. I now know that I can easily harness 16 boisterous dogs, put on 4 booties each, and train them on my own.
I now understand why Kathi is so pedantic with all her dog things and why everything always has to have its place.
And I now have even more respect for the performance that Kathi brings every day of the year and can now understand a lot better.
But I also know now that I appreciate variety in my daily routine and that I don’t want to be an early riser.
I now know that being creative is important to me and I need more breaks. I’m sure now that I’m messy and order doesn’t matter.
I now know that I love spending time with our sled dogs and wouldn’t want to miss a single one. But I also know now that I am not a musher and have no ambitions to train a team for me.
I’ve learned about myself that I can leave my comfort zone, but I’m happy to go back there.
And I have now ordered heated gloves and are proud of it.
The best of this time?
That our dog children were doing well the whole time and of course the birth of our little son Mikko, who makes us forget all the hardships and unites Kathi and me even more.
Mikko and I will enthusiastically stand by Kathi’s side over the next few years, wave at her, motivate her, accompany her on tours and cheer on her at long-distance races. And if Superwoman ever needs help, I’ll be there for her because now I know I can.