bush mama

Living in the bush itself presents a lot of challenges.  But living in the bush as a mama can be particularly challenging.  There are many aspects of it, and I thought I'd explore them one by one.
Perhaps the scariest part of being a mama in the bush is the lack of medical care.  There is a clinic here, and you can get appointments, or walk in same-day, to receive care.  The workers are neither doctors nor nurses.  Honestly, I'm not sure what they are called, but they can diagnose many illnesses and get necessary medication if need be.  Having that is really helpful.  But sometimes I wish I was back in Vancouver where a seven minute drive could land me in a real emergency room with all the necessary diagnostic tools.

I often resort to simply calling the advice nurse to go through symptoms.  First I have to explain where we are (in the bush, with no roads, no hospital, no doctors' office) and detail exactly why I don't want to visit the ER (three airplanes away).  It is difficult to relay this information without sounding like a bad mom.

"Yes, he is covered in a rash, head to toe, and seems miserable, but do you really think I need to head out, leaving behind my other two boys, forcing my husband to miss work, and risk traveling with a small baby in a city I've never been alone in before?"

I rely a lot on the internet, WebMD and the MayoClinic websites, to self-diagnose my children.  

This lack of immediate medical care also has me enforcing rules I wouldn't normally care about. Like jumping on the bed or climbing in the bathtub.  If you ask the boys why they can't engage in these behaviors, they will answer in unison, "Because there's no hospital in Marshall."

They also talk about the "pokes airplane" (AKA the medivac helicopter) which we tell them has shots on board as a means of scaring them into submission on some of these bizarre rules.  The pokes, to the twins, are the scariest part of imagining a Medivac trip, but for me, the scariest part is the weather.  When Logan hurt his foot so bad a while back, and we were thinking a trip to Anchorage might be in order, the weather was horrible. Wind howling and snow blowing, nothing could have landed or took off here. I think that's the worst part. Being at the mercy of nature.

(rugged four year old Alaskans wear short sleeves on sunny thirty degree days!)
As I mentioned above, the weather can make leaving the village quite stressful.  Trying to get out, or trying to get in, can be put on hold for any amount of time depending on what the weather is doing.

It also makes getting out of the house challenging. Even when it's nice enough (ie: over 10 degrees with no wind) to go outside, I don't always have the energy or mental fortitude to get all three kids geared up and out the door. But I do it anyway, because that's what good mom's do.  When we finally walk out the door and the twins are playing and running and screaming, and Wyatt is talking to Angel our neighbor dog, I feel like the Best Mom Ever, and imagine that confetti should fall from the sky as I prepare my acceptance speech.

When we are out and it's only 10 degrees, we can usually stay for about twenty minutes before those tell tale white circles (the beginning of frost bite) appear in the middle of their rosy cheeks and we have to head in.

At twenty degrees, we can stay about forty minutes up to an hour and a half, depending on whether the sun is shining or not.

Getting out means eating snack (because hungry kids don't play as long), going pee (because un-gearing a need-to-pee four year old is a nightmare) and gearing up- sweatshirt, snow pants, gloves, hat, big coat, boots and scarves- and filling my pockets with kleenex, chapstick, my phone and my camera.  I slip on my sunglasses, which are a must to avoid snow blindness, particularly if it's sunny, and I also make sure my ice cleats are on all the way because they are a pain to try and fix if they fall off in the snow.  Then I text Josh so he knows we went out.

Once we're outside, I have to warn the boys to watch for icicles and not walk directly under them.  They are really big here, some over two feet long, and are known to crash in the mid to late afternoon when the sun is shining its brightest.

You learn that when it comes to gear, name brands are where it's at.  We have tried off-brands, and they tend to be not warm enough, and also not water proof. Water proof is especially important in the spring when the snow is melting and wet, and the boys want to play in it anyway.
Our top brands are:
North Face
LL Bean

When we get back in the house, I get the teapot full of water warming up so we can have hot cocoa, which the twins like with marshmallows or whip cream, and have them hang everything up on the hooks Josh conveniently placed at their height in the arctic entry.

This year the weather has been far more mild than it was last year.  We have only had a handful of thirty-below days, whereas last year when I got here it was -30 for six weeks straight.  The snow is also melting faster than it did last year, and we were able to get outside a ton more than before.

That said, we have had a few severe snowstorms that dumped snow over Marshall, and then, for good measure, blew it all around.  So severe, in fact, that the only way to the airport for a while was by snow machine because the road couldn't get plowed.  Brrr!


When discussing the airport or travel, my head fills automatically with checklists.  Luggage, carry-ons, carseats...  The hardest thing is getting all of their gear to fit in their carry-ons.  I have learned you can't have enough snacks on hand and that being early really does make things less stressful. It's also smart to have extra clothes (for everyone) on the plane with you-- you know, in case of vomit. blech.

In terms of places to go when it is nice enough to get out, we choose the side of our housing, the school or the tundra out front the most.  The tundra out front is great for flying kites on a windy day.  The side of the housing is good for sending trucks (or bottoms!) down for a ride, and the school is good for seeing friends and sliding.
We occasionally will walk to the post office or co-op.  On the way to the co-op is the broke down forklift, which is the twins' favorite thing to play on in Marshall.

Sadly there is no Target, no Barnes & Noble, no YMCA, no library and no restaurants.  
There is also no radio station.  

It's interesting to me what I've learned being out here that never had to be taught. I can, by sound, tell you if it's a plane, a snow machine or a four wheeler that you hear.  I can also tell you, by what time it is, if that's a scheduled flight from Bethel, a cargo delivery from Ryan Air or a charter plane. 

About three weeks ago, I heard a plane at 7am on Saturday morning and knew instantly that it must be a Medivac. It was. Marshall sadly lost an elder.

At the beginning of the year we lost another Marshall resident and that was when I learned the school lets out for funerals. And the post office and stores close.  It truly is a small town where everyone knows everyone else, and the impact of a lost life is immeasurable.  I like that everything shuts down in honor of the person who has passed.

In addition to being cold, isolated and off the road system, Marshall offers another challenge.  When it comes to taking care of my children, I'm it.  I mean, obviously, I have Josh. But when it comes to needing a break during the day, or wanting to get out of the house with Josh, there's no one.

Basically, unless they are asleep or at Saturday Social with Josh, we are together, and I am parenting.  I had grown accustomed to breaks when I felt overwhelmed.  My mom, my sister and Josh's sister Julie would take the kids any time I needed.  I was so blessed to have such an amazing support network back home. When I got here and got overwhelmed or buried in work, I just had to dig myself out the old fashion way.  There is no chance to catch up. Day rolls into day.  I miss both my helpers and my friends.  I miss playdates and getting out of the house when the day needs a shake-up.

I guess what I'm saying is that I am a stay-at-home mom to the max.
So it's a good thing I love it!

I love the caretaking aspect in its most specific. I love bathing, lotioning, cutting fingernails and putting on chapstick.  I love filling the humidifer, brushing their teeth and washing their faces. I love tending to them when they are sick and holding them when they feel sad.  The days that are hard are the ones where they are well and the weather is not!

This mix of healthy kids and nasty weather leads to some serious cabin fever, which sadly can't be cured with 10 ml of Children's Ibuprofen like a regular fever can.  In an effort to combat this sickness that afflicts, I am certain, every household with children in Alaska, we try to use every square inch of our house.  The boys play in the kitchen, the playroom, the living room, their room and even our room.  

We use the kitchen/dining room for "running trucks", meals, school and art projects.

The laundry room doubles as a soccer goal when necessary.

The playroom is used for toy storage, the train table, the basketball hoop and jumping on the trampoline.

The twins' room is used mostly for sleep, but occasionally for nerf gun fights.

And our room is used for "whaddy stick" fights and story time.

I try to make sure that they get plenty of exercise, 
either by doing their Move N Groove video or just running around like wild animals.  

I also trade out toys in the playroom, so their toys always feel new and exciting.

And I must say I find, honestly, that school is our sanity. The last two days we haven't been able to do it, because I had a migraine Thursday and then Friday Logan wasn't feeling well, and it threw off our whole day to not have that focused time together.

The worst part, I think, is the NOISE!  When they are playing well, they are so stinking LOUD!  It's something I just have to accept, I know, but it's a toughie!

But above all the crappiness about cabin fever, I think that SPRING is the most insulting part.  It's April 6th, people.  And that thermometer is still hovering between ten and twenty degrees most days!  It's nice, lovely even, to curl up on the couch, reading books or watching movies, until about mid-March.  And then, we're over it.  It's been snowing since September... And last year, it snowed right through the middle of May.  This means the next seven weeks are going to be long, people!

The last part of being a bush mama is keeping house.
Last year I cleaned house room by room, assigning each room to a day of the week.  This year I have been more flexible (read: messy) than that. I would say I clean house every two weeks or so, but I am a happier mama, so the dirt is worth it!  This year I did try to clean the windows outside.  And I think it would have been lovely, if the Windex hadn't frozen on contact with the glass! Blasted cold weather!

Instead of cleaning this year I have focused much more in the kitchen. 
Trying new recipes, learning new tricks, and mastering some classics.  

I also spend a fair amount of time doing dishes (by hand- no dishwasher) and wiping down sticky counters.

Laundry takes up a great deal of my time, but with three built-in helpers, it's getting easier. Jack will switch the laundry for me, and the boys fight over who gets to help load the washer.  Then, for folding, Jack is my right-hand-man.  He can fold kitchen towels like nobody's business!

{moose meatballs! yum!}
Water is another time consuming part of the job. I am constantly filling the Brita filter with drinking water, and we also have to keep two totes full of water in the bathroom just in case it goes out like it did this fall.

Grocery shopping is the final aspect of my job that Alaska creates extra work for me.  Instead of meandering the aisles of Winco, list in hand, picking up inspiration as I shop, I search Amazon for someone who will ship me Minute Rice and Caramel creamer for my coffee.  It is time consuming, expensive and takes extensive planning ahead.  The hard part used to be going, and maybe unloading the car.  Now the entire thing is a headache.  Ordering, finding free shipping (or at least reasonable shipping), waiting for it to come, getting it home from the post office and then rearranging the pantry to accommodate the new stuff... it all feels like a pain.  But I will admit, when I finally get it all together, it sure feels good to have our shelves stocked with food!

  Holidays are another thing that require planning ahead.  I like to try and make each holiday special.  Ordering gifts ahead of time (I like to allow six weeks, if I can, just to be safe) has been a hard habit to create, but I think I'm getting the hang of it.  

In terms of other people, though, I have yet to master birthdays. I think 3/4 of the birthday cards I sent this year were late. I don't think to send them until the week of the person's birthday, and in rural Alaska, it just doesn't cut it.  

These are all things that make being a mama out here challenging.  But they are also true, in different forms, for mothers everywhere. We all face difficulties in our day-to-day.  It's these guys, our littles, that make it all worth it.

"Dreams do come true if we only wish hard enough; 
You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it."  
-J.M. Barrie

I dreamed for many years of being a stay-at-home mama.  In order for that dream to come true, it meant some things (okay, a lot of things) had to be sacrificed.  But I stand by my belief that it is worth it.  

...Even if I don't get to peruse the bestseller shelf at Target each week while sipping a tall Caramel Frappuccino.


Marilynn Raatz said...

I loved this post! So challenging. I love telling our friends that ask about you some of these challenges. It really fascinates all of us.
And you do deserve confetti to fall from the sky!

Kristina said...

The twins' faces are changing so much! They're losing that baby chub in their cheeks! Praying for you girl!