Samantha Martinez is a 30-year-old mom to four children who moved from Alaska to Florida.
She says she was worried about her kids getting into trouble in the cold, dark Alaskan winters.
She says now, in sunny Florida, her children are kept busy and have lots of opportunities.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Samantha Martinez. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I grew up in the North Pole, not in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, of course, but in a town in central Alaska.
Our winters lasted for nine months of the year, with temperatures getting as low as -60 degrees, which is the point when schools would shut. During these months, we saw very little daylight. It was often pitch black until noon.
Although it was bitterly cold, Alaskan winters were beautiful. The skies were crystal clear. Snow would dampen any noise, making everything quiet. I didn't appreciate just how unique my home was until I was an adult.
Growing up as a kid in Alaska was tough
Even though I loved so many things about Alaskan winters, I didn't love how little there was to do growing up when it was cold, dark, and snowy for so many months of the year.
Other than snow-machining, there wasn't much to keep us busy except do drugs, drink, party, have sex, and cause trouble.
There weren't any amusement parks, entertainment for kids, or other indoor activities. Our "mall" consisted of a literal hallway of four stores. There wasn't even the chance to do school sports because if you wanted to compete, you had to fly out of the state.
I realized I wanted my kids to have more opportunities
I'd wanted to escape Alaska for years, but it wasn't until I had my own kids that I actually did it.
My husband and I married and had two young children. Since having them, I'd noticed that friends I had grown up with had become addicted to drugs. The habits they started as kids continued into adulthood.
There was a moment just before I had my second child when I looked around and said to myself that this was not what I wanted for my kids.
At the same time, my husband was looking for a job. This, too, was a difficult task in Alaska, where there weren't many jobs available to apply for.
Moving to a new state was difficult but made our family stronger
In February 2015, we visited some family in Washington state, and while we were there, my husband decided to apply for some jobs. He got one. Within a month, we had sold everything in Alaska and moved to Washington. It was our chance to give our kids more opportunities as they grew up.
We lived in Washington for seven more years. I had a lot of regrets when we first moved. We were totally alone as a family unit, with no help from family. At first, it was really hard. Our marriage was on the rocks, too. There were so many times we thought about packing up and moving back to Alaska.
But we got through it, stayed, and in the end, we became a strong, independent nuclear family. We needed to figure out who we were as a family — what our values and priorities were — without the influences of extended family.
We moved closer to family but shared a small house with 19 people
However, we were tired of how cold and wet Washington was.
My mom and some of my siblings moved to Florida from Alaska while we were in Washington. In December 2021, we decided to join them. Once we had set our minds to move, we once again packed up everything and moved to Florida within three weeks.
For the first two months, we lived with my sister and other family members. There were 19 of us in a 2,000-square-foot house.
We knew we needed to get our own place soon, so we found a house to rent minutes away from my sister. It was located just outside a town in an area called The Villages, which is a town of elderly people.
Moving to Florida provided my kids with a safe, fun childhood
We love the sun, the parks, the lakes, the warmth, and the close proximity to the beach. There's never a time I can't get outside, except maybe during a hurricane.
Because the whole point in moving away from Alaska was to keep the kids busy so they stay out of trouble, we are looking to move again — to a town called Lakeland. As much as we love Florida, we have to drive at least an hour to get to a lot of places for the kids. I want them to be able to explore art classes, piano, dance, and football — all things they will be able to do once we move from our very rural area.
Living here, especially once we finally move to Lakeland, I'm much less concerned about my kids falling prey to the culture I grew up with in Alaska. If I can keep them busy, I feel safer and better. Florida is going to make for an awesome growing-up experience.
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