Growing Up Minnesotan

It’s a funny thing, to move halfway across the country when you have children. When we made the decision to pull up our roots and haul it west and north, we forever altered not only our own lives but the lives of these four people with whose care we have been charged. So far, they seem pretty happy with the choice we made. But it always strikes me how differently they are growing up.

We left behind a lot in New Jersey. We left people who loved them and who would hug them and play with them. We left our familiar geography and the ability to drive them past the places we had always known and the opportunity to share memories attached to special locations in our histories. We left the beach and the whole beach culture.

I always thought my children would grow up riding cruiser bikes with those distinctly shaped handle bars and fun beachy colors, not mountain bikes or hybrids. That they would spend their Friday nights at diners and at the boardwalk. I figured the smell of the ocean, the distinct saltiness to the air would evoke feelings of home for them and that the sound of the waves would bring the ever-present peace that it brings to me. But that was not to be. We are 1,500 miles from the ocean, from sea level, from cruiser-bike culture.

Cruiser bikes at the Jersey Shore

My oldest daughter, Maddy, has the most Jersey left in her. At 8 years old she was pretty well-trained in Jersey-girldom. She is really the only one who has any sort of accent left (except for a few distinct words, like “orange” which we all say “ahr-ange”) and she has the most vivid memories of the boardwalk and the beach. But the others, not so much. They, fer shewer, are growing up Minnesotan.

This has become very apparent in recent weeks. First, I went to my youngest daughter Hannah’s classroom to read a story for her half birthday. While I was there the teacher asked her some getting-to-know-you type questions. She asked, “If you could snap your fingers and go anywhere in the world, where would it be?” Hannah didn’t say Disney World or the beach or some European country. Oh no. My girl said, “Duluth!!” WHHAAAATTTT??? Good grief. Now, I like Duluth and all but that never in a million years would have been my answer. It’s funny because one of the first things I noticed when we moved here was that people may say they want to go on a vacation but what they really mean is that they want to go to “the cabin” “up North”. This cultural norm was illustrated particularly well by a billboard we saw last year when we went up north.  It read, “If you’re lucky enough to be up North, you’re lucky enough.” Truly, people love to go up North and apparently so does my daughter.

The next week it was time to build their Imagination Fair projects. The Imagination Fair is done in the style of a Science fair where all the kids can make a project, but it can be any sort of project or artwork that they want to create. Then the projects get displayed for a day and families are invited to come and see them. My son decided he wanted to make a “Cupbot”, a robot made from leftover paper cups from my husband’s work. But Hannah, well, she decided all on her own that she wanted to make a cabin out of paper towel and toilet paper tubes. She then added to the idea that her cabin would actually be on “the lake” and it would be a houseboat.

Cabin Houseboat on the Lake

Ok. When I was a kid, I am pretty sure I never ever saw a cabin, except in books and I certainly didn’t think to build them, unless I was using Lincoln Logs. The whole concept of a lake was pretty much reserved for those big ones, you know, the Great Ones. We didn’t go to lakes to spend our summer days, we went to the ocean. I looked at my beautiful little girl the night we built her houseboat cabin and I realized how different her growing up experience is from mine and how happy she is anyway.

So, it is true that they might never need a cruiser bike, they may never learn to surf or boogie board, and they probably won’t love seafood or the smell of salt air. They are without that crew of people who had known them since they were babies, but their lives here are so full anyway. They will grow up thinking going to the lake is a great way to spend summer, that a vacation doesn’t mean you have to board a plane, and that there are plenty of things to see and do when you go to the woods and sleep in a cabin. Although the boardwalk will be out of reach, the State Fair will be their outlet for carnival rides and funnel cake. They will grow up knowing that Minneapolis air is nice, clean everyday air even if it isn’t ocean air and they will learn that the sound of the ocean can be easily imagined if you get to spend a night up North camping on the shores of Lake Superior. They may grow up thinking Mary, marry, and merry are all pronounced the same and that the sweet, bubbly substance in a can is called pop, but as hard as it is to admit sometimes, growing up Minnesotan is actually a pretty good thing. Yes, I think for sure, for now, they are lucky enough.

The Kids at the Lake

Political Evolution

Four short years ago there was another presidential election happening. I was a committed conservative back then, as I had been since the latter part of the 90’s when I started going to a Baptist Church. Everyone, or everyone who had anything to say about politics, at that church was a Republican. So, that’s what I became. Without really thinking about it, and based solely on the platform of being pro-life, I jumped ship and became a Republican. It seemed like that was the thing to do.

What a difference four years can make. After moving to Minnesota we joined a church that was more conservative (religiously, not necessarily politically) and further right than our other church had ever been and I began really thinking about this movement I was a part of, this wing of Christianity. I began to see a lack of love for people who were outside the “fold” and it started to really bother my conscience. My issues with that branch of Christianity make for another blog post entirely, but let’s just say that in right-wing Christianity, religion and politics are very closely tied and if you begin to wonder about one, you begin to wonder about the other. So once I started to question my religious views, I also started to question my politics. What I soon realized is that much of Evangelical Christianity has become very inward and very much a navel-gazing point of view, where the focus is you and your sin problems and your family and protecting us and ours from the evils of the world. This view can’t help but feed directly into a certain set of political views and policy choices which aim at protecting a set of morals deemed important by the powers that be, namely anti-abortion principles and marriage laws, while completely ignoring other moral issues such as income inequality, poverty, health care, etc.

Shortly after the 2008 election, there came into my life a set of more liberal voices, a few from Minnesota and two from back home, who started to bring up issues about the plight of people here in America and the consequences of our last 30 years of politics that I could no longer ignore. I started working at the University of Minnesota and reading a ton about life in inner-city Chicago, about the opportunities, or lack there of, for people born into poverty. Gradually I realized that I was a promoter of the mantra of the American Dream, of the whole pick-your-self-up-by-your-bootstraps type of thinking despite the fact that research and data show that many people simply don’t have the opportunity to do so. I started to become aware of what is essentially an American caste system where upward mobility is not actually an option for many because of our economic policies. Then one day, it happened. I was sitting in my car listening to a scathing broadcast on welfare by a well-known conservative radio host and I realized, “Holy crap. These people hate poor people. I, by ascribing to these views, hate poor people. ”  And although I had been in this process of political evolution, that was my lightbulb moment, a moment of political conversion of sorts.

I started examining every view I held, and why I held it. What I realized is that I had never REALLY thought about these things. I just got on the bandwagon because that is what right-wing Christianity implied that I should do. I was “pro-life” but anti-people. Anti-gay, anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-government, anti-regulation, anti-social justice. And somewhere along the way the Christians here in America have gotten themselves convinced that these views which promote hatred for people are right in line with the teachings of Jesus.  Somehow loving Jesus has become hating the world and everyone in it.

I know the response, “We don’t hate people. We would never say we hate people. We love people.” But, what I have come to realize is that if we are not doing things to actively love people, we are passively hating them. If we refuse to stand on a platform of taking care of people, if we are anti-assistance, anti-healthcare, anti-immigrant, then regardless of what our words say, there is no love in our actions. We will save babies, but leave them to starve? We will save babies, but demand their parents be deported? We will save babies but not provide them and their families with healthcare?

A very wise liberal friend told me, at the beginning of my journey, that there is no amoral public policy. There is no political decision that does not carry moral implications. The problem is that right-wing Christians seem to have determined that one set of morals is more important than the other. I disagree. I disagree. I disagree. I can’t subscribe to this point of view. Another friend here in Minnesota told me once that he is pro-people. I like that term. That is what I choose to be, pro-people. I won’t put myself in a political bucket. I refuse to ride on ANY bandwagon anymore. But what I do choose is to support candidates and policies that seek to bring good to people. If that makes me a lefty, then so be it.