It’s the summer after I turned 8. I’ve just spent a whirlwind few months in my home away from home, with my “other grandparents” depending on who I’m talking to, doing city things like swim lessons, Greek dancing, cultural festivals and wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle. Now we’re standing in the steamy parking lot of a Portland Shari’s diner, doing the handoff. I’m heading back to my country life: 45 minutes from a store, outside all the time, eating food that was gardened, canned or even hunted.
It’s autumn and I’m starting first grade. I wait with my grandma in our country driveway. We’re the second to last house before the bus turns around, a quarter mile before the National Forest entrance. It takes 45 minutes to get to school, so I have a tackle box full of barbies to play on the way.
Snow falls in the Cascades and I’m in middle school. Every weekend I get up early to ride a bus to Stevens Pass to snowboard with my bestie. We do this every year until we think we’re good. In February one year, we ride a train to Montana overnight, meet up with some kids from another high school and ride our boards for 8 hours straight.
The days are long and I’m spending my last summer in Oregon before I beg my grandparents to let me get a summer job and stay in the city all year. One day, I read for 6 hours. I used to spend weekends with my dad, but he went to prison recently so now we spend a few days every vacation doing inmate visits at a penitentiary in Eastern Oregon.
It’s a school day in sixth grade. I’m sort of a late bloomer but for the first time ever I have to share a bathroom with the exchange student staying with us for six months, so suddenly I care a lot about how long I get in front of the mirror each morning. We fight like we’ve grown up together and gab late into the night. I learn a lot from Natalia about what it’s like to live in another country.
I’m graduating from college in Eugene and I take Chris to meet my mom for pizza. She went to the University of Oregon, and in another life I’d enjoy hearing stories about how campus has changed since she was a student. But mental illness has taken its toll and we keep our conversation light. She is hard to love because she’s stuck in her own world, but she’s my mom and she made a good decision all those years ago. I want to honor her.
I was exposed to very different people, needs and lifestyles as I traveled back and forth between Oregon and Washington for my school vacations. My two sets of grandparents could not have more different. But what they shared turned my life around: they loved me, wanted the best for me, and had hope that my parents might one day make it work. In these very different households, there were similar expectations for respect, good behavior, and being an excellent citizen of the world, no matter which part of the world you’re in.
Constant homesickness, culture shock, regular travel, saying goodbye, entertaining friends from far away cultures and even feeling like a guest in your home were all normal to me, growing up, and we know they’re a normal part of life on the mission field. Not that those things won’t still be hard, but I’ve had a taste in my life, and so much good has come from the life I was given.