KidsTheseDays.org is pleased to present this weekly serial from writer, Shirley Kurth Schneider. Shirley and her husband moved to Alaska in 1962 and in 1965 they broke ground on a rustic two-story cabin, located off the grid just outside Fairbanks. It was the same year that they decided to adopt a baby. Adoption: Alaska-style is Shirley's story about becoming a mother in rural 1960's Alaska, excerpted from her memoir-in-progress and presented here in five parts. Read Part 1: Placing the Order
March arrived. One evening, Larry invited me along for a ride in the country to take our dogs for a run. He steered the station wagon onto the Steese Highway up a dirt road. A couple of hills and a few curves later, having reached a level spot, he pulled the wagon over, announcing as he did so the purchase of the tree-covered property, as well as his intention to self-build our home.
Although we hadn’t discussed it specifically, I’d presumed we would purchase a home in one of the subdivisions once we had built up our savings. Now, on the verge of an adoption, both of us working full time, he wanted to self-build a home on land void of electricity, in a country where spring arrived in late April and temperatures began to steadily drop by August to lows in the negative forties midwinter. I was more than a little upset.
“No!” I said, “I won’t live out here. No, no, no!” Tears flowed down my cheeks and angry words rushed from my lips.
“We can do it, Schneider,” he insisted. “Lots of people in Alaska build their own homes.”
Although I felt strongly that my willingness to return to Alaska hadn’t included an invitation for my husband to locate us out in the middle of the tundra, Larry had already bought the land and made the decision. To reverse that decision, I would have had to take a stand I was not ready to take, possibly risking divorce. My heart said no, but eventually I acquiesced. We would continue to live in our apartment until our new home was complete enough for us to move in.
In April, the phone finally rang. I had prepared for this moment. The nursery was ready. Stacks of washed flannel diapers, sleepers, blankets, and numerous baby clothes filled the dresser drawers. Baby-care items were assembled on its top, next to a copy of Dr. Spock’s manual. Brightly decorated birds dangled at the end of their strings on a mobile suspended over the crib. Downstairs in the tiny kitchen, one counter had been designated for the baby’s use only, the surface covered with sterilized bottles, formula, and assorted baby paraphernalia.
The blue wool suit I would welcome our son home in hung in my closet, sales tags still attached.
We went to the hospital to meet our baby. Peering through the window of the nursery, I watched as the nurse dropped the blankets from around the infant to reveal a pair of skinny legs and arms. As if to reassure us, she laid his thin fingers over one of her own and placed his feet at a viewable angle. All toes and fingers accounted for. I noticed a small scratch over his left eyebrow and eyelid. At that moment, I took emotional possession of my son, sending a silent message toward him. Hi Christopher, I said. I am your mother!
In the first days, I responded to his tearful demands with rapid heartbeat, uncertain of my ability to identify the reason for his discomfort. However, as the days turned into months, my self-assurance increased on par with my adoration. There was no task related to the baby’s care I did not either welcome or gracefully accept. I tolerated 3:00 a.m. feedings and unexpected spit-ups on dry-clean-only apparel, even the rinsing of extremely messy diapers. And, although I’d arranged to continue working after the adoption, I decided I didn’t want a hired babysitter to raise my child.
The only time I spent away from Christopher was the time I spent with my husband, building our log home. During those times, he spent the day with my best friend, Myrnie, whose daughter, Cindy, helped babysit.
Self-building was a massive undertaking leaving no time for play, trips to the movies, or dinners out. Because we could not afford to build and to continue renting, we had to make the house livable before winter. From late May, when the bulldozer cut through the virgin soil to clear the home site, to October 25, when we covered the last inches of the basement roof with black roofing paper, we worked, elbow to elbow, toward the moment of occupancy.