The question I get most often now is: “So what do the kids think about moving to Alaska?” The second most common question is: “How are the kids handling the move?”
Those are fair questions, but as a parent, I find it tough to answer for the kids. So I asked them about how they feel about the move.
My oldest son, Cole, answers that he does not wish to leave Missoula. When pressed for reasons, he’ll say that he’ll miss his best friend Grant, running cross country and his school friends.
Cole is a focused kid. When he was born, people would remark about how calm he was. As he grew up, we realized we had a little man on our hands and not a toddler. He always prefers to hang out with the adults. He likes to be part of the conversation, and he hates to be left out.
He wants to attend Stanford University, after which he plans to get a master’s degree in computer design. His goal is to be the next CEO of Apple Computers. To that end, he works very hard at school and serves on the student council. I sometimes wonder where on earth this kid came from.
Alaska is all right, he says. He’s looking forward to the adventure, but he’s sad to be leaving all that he put so much energy into these last three years.
As a parent it’s sometimes difficult to quantify all that a child has seen and done in the same period of time. I have to learn to value those things that my kids value in order to assess the cost of moving them away.
Our middle child, Carson, is a dreamer who lives inside his imagination at least 10 hours a day. He doesn’t vocalize things well, so I can only assume he’s struggling with the idea of moving. He’s 52-pounds soaking wet, and he dreams of playing football for the Griz, because his best friend Dylan has the same dreams. Carson plays flag football and absolutely lives for the game.
When I’ve asked him how he feels about moving, he shrugs his shoulders and throws his surfer-length blond hair out of his eyes. “Ummm, I don’t know. It will be cool,” he says.
That’s about as far as I’ve progressed with him. But I can see other signs of nervousness there. He’s struggling with leaving what he’s become comfortable with. Carson has huge dreams, but he, more than any of us, needs a firm foundation on which to have those dreams. Unstable ground means he lives more in the here and now, and when you live in the here and now, it’s very difficult to fly. I know this, because Carson is me. I was once the very 9-year-old he is. I dreamed the same dreams and lived in my imagination as much as possible.
In some ways, I empathize more with Carson than anyone else, because I see some of this through his eyes. I can remember how he feels, and I feel bad that he can’t express himself through what adults consider normal pathways of expression.
Gabrielle is, like most four-year-olds, along for the ride. She doesn’t seem to show any anxiety, and she’s legitimately excited about some of the things she’s heard about. Almost every park in Anchorage has a frozen field for hockey and ice skating. She’s excited to see moose in town, and this will be her first airplane ride.
Mostly she just asks questions about those things that affect her day. “Mom, what are we doing today?” I don’t think she has a concept of leaving friends behind. She certainly didn’t when we moved to Montana three years ago. It bothers me a bit that this move will teach her about the pain of losing friends.
Mostly I tell people that the kids are doing just fine. Fine is a relative term when considering that we’re packing up our lives, leaving our own house and moving to the last frontier, a place from which we have to fly to visit family instead of the one-day trips we used to be able to do under cover of darkness so I could drive in peace.
The easiest explanation, and the one I struggle with the most is this: The kids aren’t alright.
As the Offspring song says:
Chances thrown, nothing’s free
Longing for, used to be
Still it’s hard, hard to see
Fragile lives, shattered dreams
But kids are resilient in a way that adults are not. Those shattered dreams change up a little bit. Everyone wants to be a garbage man, an astronaut and a firefighter at some point in their lives. Relocating can push dreams around a bit, like puzzle pieces, but kids are nothing if not masters of putting those puzzle pieces back together. And often as not, they’ll get a new picture and a new dream out of the deal.
This is my chance to learn something about rebuilding from those little master craftsman of dreams.