Although life in Minnesota has been challenging, there are some very good things about this place. After sharing two of the more difficult aspects of living in here, I thought I’d share something positive. There are rays of sunshine that I will miss when we eventually make our exit.
We have four children. For the sake of cyberspace let’s call them Natalie (age 11-6th grade), Skyler (age 10-4th grade), Connor (age 8-2nd grade) and Piper (age 5-kindergarten). And they go to school with really great kids. The kids here in the western suburbs of Minneapolis are different from the kids out on the east coast. From the very beginning they have taken our children under their wings, they’ve shown an interest in learning about where we are from (and in hearing us talk funny ;-)), they have been welcoming and for the most part really kind. (I say for the most part because Natalie and Connor have had minor run-ins with bullies, but nowhere is perfect).
It’s kind of strange being able to say that, given the experience we have had as grown-ups trying to make friends and I am not sure when the transformation from hospitable, friendly child to stoic, insular Minnesotan takes place, but it isn’t before age 11 for sure.
Growing up and going to school in New Jersey, I had a completely different experience than my kids are having here. My family was middle class without a lot of extra money, so I didn’t have name brand clothes. My mom shopped at Kmart for me until 5th grade when I threatened to go naked, at which point we started shopping at Fashion Bug, which was still not Macy’s or Brave New World (a super cool surf/ski store with all the clothes the cool kids had). For whatever reasons, whether it was my clothing, my friends, or the fact that I was smart, the powers that be soon decided that I was not cool. By the time 7th grade hit the lines were drawn in the sand and it became clear that my friends and I were not at the top of the social scaffolding.
Now I’m not saying that these social groups don’t exist here in MN, they certainly do, but the kids just aren’t so mean about it. There are definitely kids with Uggs and North Face, but there are plenty of kids with Fuggs and Northern Exposure (Kohl’s brand) and no one makes anyone feel bad about it. There is a sense of midwest practicality that pervades and an economic sensibility. There is much less a feeling of having to keep up with the Joneses, or to make sure your kids are keeping up with the Joneses kids.
Skyler is in fourth grade. She has lots of friends who travel and has recently been dropping hints about how she too would like to travel someday. One of her friends leaves the country for vacation every year at winter break. When Skyler told her that we have never left the U.S., the little girl didn’t mock her for it (though Skyler can’t BELIEVE that she has never had this opportunity). Instead, her friend brought ber back a friendship bracelet from Mexico.
Natalie was 8 when we moved here and she probably had the most trouble making the adjustment. After all, she had lived the longest in Jersey and therefore was the most different from the kids she met here. Soon after we moved, we realized that people here just aren’t as loud as we are, and I had to coach her (and myself) on toning it down a bit, and on the usefulness of not saying everything that comes to mind. Her friends still tell her she’s LOUD and crazy, but I am continually awed with the acceptance she finds. One of her friends, who is very sweet and quiet, told her once, “You are really loud, but I like it. Life wouldn’t be as interesting without you.”
Maybe that is the up side of the Minnesota Nice. People may not be outgoing and welcoming, but they are polite and nice, and therefore, so are their kids. And for the years when friendships don’t need to be to too deep, that works out just fine. We just need to make sure we get out of here before our children make the transformation, along with their friends, into grown-ups who are just a little too Minnesotan!