Saturday, March 9, 2013

Our Next Stop

I woke up way too early, hot tears streaming down my face. The dream had been silly, but real. I was at Salem Academy -- Jack's school -- and filling out his withdrawal papers. As we walked out, Jack tugged on my hand, begging to stay. "I love it here," he wailed. "Why do we have to leave?" But my feet and tongue were glued. Somehow, "Because the Air Force says we have to," just didn't seem right, whether awake or in dreamland. 

When the above photo was taken, I felt much differently. It was September 3, 2009, and I couldn't wait to get away from the wind and dust of the Idaho desert. I didn't know much about Salem, other than my brothers and sister-in-law had gone to college there, and it was Oregon's capital. I figured anywhere was better than Mountain Home (sorry, all you Idaho friends reading this. I love you guys, but not where you live.).

By the time we had lived in Salem for six months, I had completely fallen in love.

Yes, Nick and I have family about an hour away both to the north and south. But it's so much more than that. Family is awesome, but when we moved to Salem, I released an inner breath I didn't know I had been holding for more than five years. When I came back to the rains and the green of the Willamette Valley, to the passionate, simple lives of Pacific Northwesterners, my spirit jigsawed into place with everyone and everything around me, and I knew we were home.

Salem might not be Oregon's largest (or even second-largest) city, but it's got everything needed/desired to raise a family: a fantastic library system. Killer children's museum. Dozens of churches to choose from. Enchanted Forest. A hippie-yet-conservative vibe that is exactly me. A thriving downtown (with free garaged parking that always has tons of spaces!). Wonderful private and charter schools, and some pretty good public ones as well. The Kroc Center. A rural, smalltown feel with bigger-city amenities. Awesome parks, complete with summertime water activities.

But more than just things, Salem has offered us a chance to grow our family. First Jude through the normal route, then Celia via international exchange, and now Avinly.

When Celia initially saw that her destination would be Oregon, she immediately asked, "Where's that?" She had never heard of it. Someone said, "It's that state above California." Yes, it is. In more ways than one.

Obviously, as a military wife, I knew our time here wasn't permanent. I knew it was four years, and then on to the next thing. But somehow that knowledge of don't get too attached didn't translate correctly to my heart.

I firmly believe everyone has a place that belongs to them; more importantly, a place they belong to. My cousin recently married a Brit, moved to the UK and couldn't believe how quickly she fit in. "How is it that I've only lived here such a short time," she asked, "and yet I've made more friends and had so many more experiences than all my years in the States?" I totally understood. I enjoyed living in Seattle for college; I liked living in Idaho at MHAFB, but I've sunk roots here in Marion County.

Our church. Our friends. Our memories. Our family. Our growth, pain, tears, smiles. Here.

We've been prepping Jack for a few months now that we aren't going to live here forever. He understands, but not fully. About a month ago, he excitedly chatted away in the car about his 6th birthday theme and how he was going to invite certain kids from his preschool. I quietly reminded him that we wouldn't be here when he turns six.

And he lost it. Giant, genuine crocodile tears rolled down his precious cheeks as his breaking heart cracked through his voice. "But Mom, my friends are all here. I love Mrs. Wallace (his teacher). I love Salem Academy. I love our church. I DON'T WANT TO LEAVE SALEM!"

It was all I could not to pull the van over, grab my boy and cry right along with him. Me either, Jack.

That being said (or sobbed, whatever), I know God has big plans in store. I know there is happiness, growth and laughter in our future. There are fresh experiences and knowledge to be gained.


Yes, starting in November, we're retracing my Grandma Audrey's steps back to England. RAF Mildenhall, to be exact, for four years. I have family three and four hours away and my good friend Debra is about six away in Scotland. And funnily enough, Nick's good friend and current recruiting office partner Jason got orders to RAF Lakenheath -- about 5 minutes away from where we'll be.

So we won't be entirely alone.

Of course, since God -- and not the Air Force -- directs our steps, we never are by ourselves no matter who we do or don't know. My heart may be cracking with sadness over leaving, but it's merely expanding to make room for more life to be lived.

So here's to Salem, the place where we hope to return in about a decade when Nick retires. Here's to the UK, our next stop on our military adventure. Here's to the memories made and the ones yet to be crafted.

Ta-ta for now, Salem. But not for always.