ending sophomore year at The Rural Alaska College of Life

Moving here, to rural Alaska, was, in a lot of ways, like going away to college.  I packed up everything I had known all my life and headed off to where my neighbors and roommates would become my new family and friends. Where experiences would shape the person I was to become, and I would walk away richer, more experienced and more mature than I was when I arrived.

As we close our second year in Marshall, I am feeling reminiscent.  Reminiscent of colleagues Josh has seen come and go; reminiscent of our family's journey in being separated, reunited and now having been together a year and a half, living the crazy life we do; reminiscent of my roller coaster of emotions from Day One at the job fair in Seattle, meeting Robert Stewart and his lovely wife, to this morning, when I rolled out of bed, glancing out my window at the melting snow on the tundra and shook my head at how fast the year has gone.

I am ready to be home. Don't mistake me.  I want to take the kids to the park, the zoo, the library.  I want to see my sister, my mom. I want to hug Julie and let her boys hear Wyatt talk.  I want to have playdates and birthday parties and get groceries at Winco.


But as we close our second year, I am enjoying the opportunity to look at how far we've come.  I have written before about our journey up to this juncture.  I have written about blossoming here.  I have also written before about Mary, and how she is the person I want to become.

In a lot of ways, I already am her.  In reading Women Food & God and starting Life Code last week, I am discovering new things about myself.  I am owning my strengths, as well as my weaknesses. And it's true that I don't always see myself in the clearest, truest light.

Yesterday Josh picked me and the boys up and we all went to the post office.  We rode, bumping along the potholed dirt road, chatting idly with two of our neighbors, friends, Leah & Samantha.  Wyatt, on Josh's lap, needing desperately to be near him; and the twins in the back, staring out the windows as we passed houses heading downtown, pointing out dogs & diggers alike.  As soon as we arrived at the post office, I was bombarded by villagers, friends, whom I have met and gotten to know in my time here.  It was full circle for me.  And here's why.

Last year, I remember following Mary, just steps behind her, as she worked her way up the stairs into the post office, and it seemed as if she couldn't take two steps without running into someone she knew, who wanted to say hi and see how she was.  I remember thinking, "I want to be like that. I want to have that.  To be as open and kind and genuine as she is."

And yesterday, it happened.  First I saw Pal, who works at the clinic and calls Wyatt our future nerd. ;) Then I saw two of Josh's students who wanted to talk to Wyatt and know which twin was which.  Then I saw Augusta, our friend and the mom of two of Josh's students. I was so happy to see her, as she's been out of town, and she was overjoyed to see Wyatt and squeeze him up.  She loves my kids, and has been nothing but warm to me.  In fact, she was the first person in Marshall to give me a hug, other than Josh, my first month here.  That hug soaked into my bones, and meant so much to me.  After making it up the steps, we meandered into the post office and said hello to Natalia as Josh paid for our packages.  And as we were leaving there, we ran into my Parents-As-Teachers advisor, Katrina, and her adorable little boy and puppies, stopping to say hello and let Wyatt pet the puppies.

It wasn't until I got home last night that I realized I had had the afternoon I'd once only dreamed of.  Where Marshall (outside my house) felt like home the way that Vancouver does.  Where I run into friends, students and acquaintances with big smiles on their faces.  Where I am welcomed, and welcoming.

In addition to working to become who I want to be, I have been owning my roles as mother, wife and homemaker.  I have learned of the prejudice that exists against stay-at-home mom's and the belief that is held in society that I have no value. I am lucky, though, in that I am surrounded by a support network that tells me otherwise.  They know my place in the home is creating opportunities for my children that they would not receive elsewhere.  They know that my heart and soul being poured into my marriage and children will come back to me tenfold throughout my life.  And they know that even if the world seems to be against me, I know I am in the right place.

Embracing my role in the home is important here, and creating a sense of community among the school employees is also important.  We are all we have.  Nine months of the year, these are the people I call for last minute ingredients, sanity saving advice, and to throw celebrations so we can find joy together.

It's true that life out here is different. It's different in many obvious ways-- how we get groceries, seek medical care and what we wear out of doors... but it's also different in less obvious ways.

I mean, how often is it that you find yourself hanging curtains for your coworkers?  In their bedroom? How often do you spend your Saturday night in their living room? In front of them in your pajamas?  Lines are blurred here.  Intimacy nearly forced.  It's hard to remember certain social constructs because it's an "anything goes" mentality out here.

Mary used to call it "Summer Camp" because our houses are lined up like cabins at the lake.  When she would leave, she would joke, "Lights out!"  Oh, I miss that girl.  And now my other sidekick is leaving.  Susan.  I don't even know what to say about her that encompass all she's been to me.  I remember feeling really intimidated when I first met her. She is highly intelligent and educated, teaches high school science here, and, as a side note, has lustrous brown hair that forms a pony tail as thick as my wrist.  As I've gotten to know Susan, I am less intimidated, and more impressed. She knows what she wants, lives life to the fullest, and has very little fear. Traveling on a 207 at -40 degrees? She's done it.  Traveling by herself multiple times to Anchorage (all those planes, the rental car, the snow!)? She's done it.  I am happy for her that this next year is going to hold opportunities that Marshall couldn't afford her, but I am sad that we're losing her.

... I guess it really is like college.  When the year is through, everyone scatters.  Like seeds in the wind, settling in unexpected, distant places.  It's also true what they say, people are meant to be in your life for certain seasons. God knew I needed Susan for this season.  I guess he's trusting that I can carry on without her. But I don't want to.

It's like college in another way, too.  When I came out here, my mom was, understandably, very upset about my going away.  I, on the other hand, like a know-it-all 18 year old, was happy to be leaving.  I was ready to go, start my life, and do it all by myself.  Now, two years in, I understand that I can love Marshall and Vancouver.  I can be an independent woman, and still sometimes need my mom.  I can confidently raise a family and run my marriage, but still admit I don't know everything.  Life doesn't have to be so black & white.  I am learning all about shades of gray.

I have learned in my time here that change is possible.  I have learned that I don't have to prove anything to anyone anymore.  I get to decide what I'm going to do with my one "wild & precious life".  The only person I have to please is myself.  I have learned "People who matter don't mind and people who mind don't matter."  I have learned that God has placed challenges in my path to grow me into the woman I am to become.  He has been there, by my side, through all of it.  I have learned how important gratitude is, and am working hard to pass that concept on to my boys.

I have learned (thank you, Krista) that Josh and I are part of an elite 10% who come back for a third year.  Of 46 staff members they have seen come and go in their seven years here, only four have come back. Josh is the fifth.

I have learned from my bestie Leah, as well.  The message? Actions speak louder than words.  Leah has watched my kids at the last minute so I could go see the Aurora Borealis.  At the store she saw they had FunDips on sale, and knowing I love them, she bought me a whole box!  While in Anchorage she got me creamer for my coffee, and surprised me with real live watermelon (!), as well as popcorn flavored Jelly Belly's.  These tiny, everyday moments have imprinted on my heart.  It's those little things that have truly touched me.

I find that I am learning from every person that steps foot in my life up here.

I have been working on writing up the philosophy of life I would pass on to my children.  I am not sure that this is a philosophy per se, but it's what I believe is important for a happy life.  And as their mother, that's all that matters to me.  Their happiness.

  • Follow your heart
  • Do what YOU know is right. (Don't be bullied into making the wrong choice.)
  • Be grateful for all you have
  • Get an education so you can do what you love
  • Don't compare.  You are exactly where you're supposed to be.
  • You are loved, worthy & wonderful.
  • Trust your gut
  • Record it all- journal, take pictures...

And to take the college metaphor over the top, I will close by saying:  When our time in Marshall is up, I hope to have earned a degree in humanity.  With a minor in growing up.  I hope to continue opening myself to new experiences, friendships and life lessons.  I want this yearbook to be amazing. I want to see my character as an incoming freshman lined up with my character post senior year and be able to see amazing leaps & bounds in confidence, flexibility and decisiveness.  In short, I want to become the best version of myself.

I am proud that we made it through another year in rural Alaska,
and I am proud that we've signed on for a third.

And finally, in closing, I thought this quote was appropriate:
"In the depth of winter, I learned that there was, within me, an invincible summer."
-Albert Camus


Rox said...

I miss you! What a beautiful post, thoughtful and touching. I enjoyed the pictures, too! I'd like to write down what I want for my boys, too... Good idea.

Alida said...

Shelly , you two really did a good job with the boys. They are cute ,smart & sweet. And they have a pretty Mom.

The Studers said...

so beautifully written, Shelly! Bravo to you - you are always so insightful and write with a fullness of grace. And that Albert Camus quote is one of my favs! I think we are kindred spirits. xxox

Barb Miller said...

What a wonderful post...you made me teary-eyed again, Shelly! It is truly wonderful to see you continue to blossom in your roles of wife, mom, friend, neighbor. I love the Alaska Chick sweatshirt--and the big smile that goes with it!

Marilynn Raatz said...

I love this post. I love that you are thinking about what you want your children to learn from you. They learn so much from watching, and I know that watching you make friends and embrace your life in Marshall and love your family and care for them is exactly the example they need. And Josh being a loving husband and father, and a caring teacher and important member of the staff will mold them as well. I am proud of you.