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.
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.
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.