Editor’s note: This is part three of a portrait series highlighting families in the community. Earlier this year, Sheridan Press photographer Justin Sheely started the project, asking local families several questions: How has having children for the first time changed their lives? What are the challenges they face? What advice would they offer to new parents or those about to have their world changed forever?
SHERIDAN — Emily Swinyer describes her family’s life as one that revolves around her children, snack time and potty breaks.
The Swinyer family includes two children: Kathryn, 5, also known as “Squirrel” for being so small at birth, and their son Mason, 2, “the easy baby,” in contrast to the firstborn’s long and complicated third trimester.
Swinyer and her husband, Travis, live on 25 acres of land located about a half-hour drive northeast of Sheridan. Their humble slice of land is remote, but offers a commanding view of the Bighorn Mountains.
“This is what I wake up to,” Travis Swinyer said.
He prefers the slow life of the country. When he was single, he used to go into town to enjoy company of friends at bars, have fun at dances and shoot elk in the fall.
The couple had their first child early in their marriage.
“It changed my life, a lot, actually,” Travis Swinyer said. He now finds himself either at work, or at home with his children.
Emily Swinyer travels to Sheridan every school day to work at Sheridan Junior High School. Her husband works as a heavy equipment operator at a coal mine in Montana. His swing shifts takes him away for several consecutive days but he also enjoys several days at a time at home.
The Swinyers are lucky that they only need child care for about two weeks out of the month. The rest of the time, Travis Swinyer watches the kids when his wife works.
He doesn’t mind having the kids alone.
“When I’m off [work], they are mine,” he said with a grin on his face.
He reflects on the change his kids have brought and concludes that it is a good thing. He said that he doesn’t feel like searching to fill “the void” in his life.
“Heck, it’s all you need in life,” he said.
“It’s really great that they get to form a bond with dad, and [they know] that dad is a caregiver too,” Emily Swinyer said, adding that the two don’t have much of a social life anymore.
She said she and her husband still have social circles, but they have become smaller, with parents who “get it.”
Occasionally the Swinyers enjoy time alone, but, Emily Swinyer said, she doesn’t mind doing things as a family.
“We’ve decided to just embrace the craziness,” she said.
Moments to cherish
Throughout the day to day, the Swinyers have learned to cherish the moments. Emily Swinyer describes picking up her children from day care.
“When they see you, they drop whatever they are doing and they run to you like they haven’t seen you for weeks and they give you the most sincere hug — it’s just good,” she said. “Night time is good too, because they need like 50,000 hugs.”
The excessive hugs could become routine, but Emily Swinyer has learned to cherish them, because she knows that they will end.
“Kathryn used to always want to be rocked to sleep — up until two-weeks ago. She stopped,” she said.
Looking back, Swinyer marvels at the milestones her children have already reached; they are bittersweet.
“Every one of their ‘firsts’ is a last for me as a mom,” she said. “Their first steps means no longer being a baby-baby.”
But, Swinyer added, “It’s them growing up and you’re lucky to be witnessing it all.”
For Travis Swinyer, watching his offspring grow up as country kids is very satisfying. He cherishes the country life, and his children appear to share the love of the Wyoming prairie.
“I like to take life in — watch my kids play by the creek. It’s the finer things in life,” he said.
Advice from a country family
Just as she’s done with every hug, Emily Swinyer advised that parents take time to slow down and savor those little moments, “because it’s going to be gone, just like that,” she said.
Her husband was more practical. “Get a baby swing,” he said.
Travis Swinyer found the baby swing to be an invaluable tool to allow him to get chores done around the house when the kids were infants.
He also found a wrap to be a favorite way to hold the baby while buying groceries and doing other errands. The wrap is a cloth that secures the child snug against a parent’s chest.
Women are most often seen with the accessory, but Swinyer wasn’t concerned what other people thought.
“Heck, I’m tough enough to wear pink,” he said. “Life will change you when you become a dad.”
To recommend a family to be highlighted for this project, email firstname.lastname@example.org.