Tuesday, August 6, 2013

It's Kind Of A Thing

A guy came into my store yesterday and made a rather curious declaration, "People around here are kind of strange.". I knew straight away he was not from this neck of the woods, the accent placed him far, far south of Minnesota.  Privately, I agreed with the guy, but then people are strange everywhere, right?  I asked what he meant by strange, wondering if he had perhaps run across some of our fair town's more colorful citizens.  He said he'd been in the area for a few days and couldn't get over how nice people have been.  He was crossing the street and got a little paranoid when a car stopped, thinking he was about to have a COPS moment, but the driver was simply stopping to let him cross the street. A lady at the laundromat asked him if he wanted to use the remainder of her small box of detergent as she didn't want to take that little bit home. People he doesn't know said hi to him in the grocery store and gave that little wave while driving.  The guy at the gas station greeted him like a regular customer on his second visit.  After his recitation, the poor fella looked a little wild eyed, as if he had been plopped down in Stepford and wasn't sure if he was next.  He said he's from Oklahoma and people just aren't that pleasant down there.  I assured him this wasn't an area controlled by a cult and no one had been body snatched, and what he was experiencing is simply what's referred to as "Minnesota nice".

It's funny that niceness is rare enough that it's odd, commented on and even labelled as a quirk.  It got me thinking about the whole "Minnesota nice" thing and I realized that it's a real thing.  We ARE nice people, not just the country or small town folks, but the Minneapolitans, Saint Paulites and the Duluthians as well.  We say hello to people we don't know, or at least make eye contact accompanied by a half smile or head nod.  We give up seats on crowded buses, we hold doors open and tend treat wait staff like actual human beings. We chat with strangers when we're all stuck waiting in line, we help when we someone trying to lift something heavy, we push cars out of snowbanks and put our carts away in the Kart Korral at the store.  We say please and thank you, and when we say "have a nice day" we genuinely hope you do.  "Can I help you" isn't just part of the script, we actually want to help.  Louie Anderson had a funny bit about Minnesota nice and four way stop signs that brings a smile to my face every time I encounter four cars at the four way.  He talked about the stages of the Minnesota four way stop:
1. We all smile at each other and wait for someone else to go.
2. We all wave for the guy across from us to go.
3. Everyone starts to go.
4. Repeat steps 1 and 2
5. "No no, I'll back up, you go."
6. One brave soul goes for it, breaking the stalemate and setting the others free.

 I think Minnesota nice comes from the fact that once upon a time, we truly had to rely on each other to make it. Whoever the first settlers of our fair state were, I am reasonably sure they did not settle here in January.  My bet is they showed up sometime in May and thought they had found the perfect climate.  Imagine their surprise that first December, but which time they were completely screwed and couldn't leave.  They had to help each other out, share resources and make sure the guy on the next farm was still around come spring.  Our forebears had to, literally and figuratively, huddle together to make it through.  I think some of that mindset still remains.  We see it every blizzard season in the neighbor with the nice snow blower who does the whole block.  We see it in the college guys who roam the streets looking for cars to push out of snowbanks.  We see it in the cup of coffee offered to the mail carrier as they struggle through waist high drifts.  It shows every summer on the lakes and in the parks that we flock to for as many days as we can because we know what's just around the corner.  We have the shared experience of coming out of hibernation every spring, happy to each other after the long, dark months.  We compare blizzard stories, we admire towering piles of snow that will occupy the end of driveways until May and we are glad to see everyone made it through the winter.  Minnesota nice started simply because our settler ancestors were so damn glad to see everyone made it through the winter, they just couldn't be mean to each other.
Yeah, something like that.

It's sometimes said mockingly, "Minnesota nice", but it's one of the best things about living here.  As Frank Burns famously said "It's nice to be nice to the nice."  I'm happy to be from a place that's known for being nice, assholes are overrated.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Few Things To Know

I see a lot of "Rules for dating my daughter" essays out there, most of them usually involve guns or God or ridiculous, fluffy sweet bullshit. There aren't as many about dating our sons, maybe because we see girls of dating age as fragile, innocent creatures and boys are only after that one thing.  What a load a crap, this notion that boys aren't as emotionally vulnerable and girls can't look out for themselves.  We still have such a long way to go on the whole equality thing, don't we?  In the spirit of equality, here is my take on the dating rules.

If You Plan On Dating My Son, Know These Things

1. He's not a doormat because he treats you well.

He treats you well because that's how he is expected to treat you and he knows that if his father and I find out otherwise, the wrath of God will look like a love fest by comparison. Being a gentleman does not translate to being a pussy.

2. Good manners are also not a sign of weakness, nor are they an attack on your feminist sensibilities.

He will do things like open doors, help with your coat and walk you to the door because it's polite. He grew up saying "please", "thank you" and "you're welcome", you'd do well to incorporate those phrases into your vocabulary as well.

3. Make sure we, his family, like you.

You do not have anywhere near the influence over him that we do at this point in his life.  We will win in the long run if it comes down to it.  No one on this earth knows him like we do and no one loves him as fiercely.  Learn to participate in our conversations and laugh along with us and we will welcome you with open arms. We will protect him from anyone we see as dangerous and we do not forgive easily.  We can be either your best allies or your worst nightmare.

4. This is for both boys and girls: KEEP THE INTERNET OUT OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP.

Your relationship has legitimacy even when it isn't "Facebook Official", seriously.  Posting your every date, fight, conversation and sexual experience is not only unnecessary, it's stupid.  As you well know, everyone in the world has an opinion and the vast majority of the time, theirs will not mesh with yours.  This causes stupid drama and only makes everything worse.  If you thrive on that sort of thing, you will spend a lot of your time angry or crying and no one likes to be around someone like that for very long, it's exhausting and annoying. They're called "personal relationships" for a reason...they're personal!

5. Be yourself from the very start.

If you hate football, video games and zombie movies, say so right away.  Don't pretend to like them at the beginning and try to wean him off the things he loves once you've got him, it's dishonest, unfair and confusing as hell.  If you have nothing in common and are only dating him because he's cute, is a superjock or the most popular guy in school, the relationship is doomed from the beginning. Be honest about who you are because he'll find out eventually. 

6. Become proficient at at least one video game, sport or some other "guy" thing.

It'll blow his socks off and make you the most fascinating creature he's ever met.

7. Don't keep him on the string while you keep your eye out for someone better.

He deserves a girl who wants to be with him because he's a great guy. And don't sleep with his friends, chances are he will forgive them faster than he will forgive you.  Being drunk is no excuse for acting like a slut, seriously.

8. If you dress like a tramp, I'm going to point it out, to you.

We all know you are young and have a hot body.  NEWS FLASH: I did too, before I got old and squishy and had kids and began to care more about dressing for me than for boys.  I'm sure you have lovely boobs, I don't care to have them hanging out at my dinner table.  If your skirt/shorts are tiny enough that I can see your underwear preference, I will offer you a pair of sweat pants to wear while in my presence. 

9. Don't cling, physically or otherwise.

You do not need to know where he is, who he is with and what he is doing at all times, that's my job and I've been doing it for years.  I do not need or want an assistant.  It's okay to be out of touch for a while, it allows for a more interesting answer to the question "How was your day?".  Unlimited texting is a plague. 
You also do not need to be physically touching each other every moment you are together, especially if you're in the presence of other people.  It's rude and can make people uncomfortable.  I'm all for hand holding and sitting close to one another, but there is a time and place for the other stuff.  Seriously.

10.  Having his baby means you have to deal with me for the rest of my life.

I won't be one of those uninvolved, uninterested grandparents and I will not allow my son to be an uninvolved parent.  If you don't like me in your relationship now, imagine dealing with me until I die.  I will meddle, judge and interfere, I promise you this.

Many of these rules can be seen either way, they are universally applicable for the most part.  I don't need a gun or God to scare the hell out of someone, I'm an Irish Catholic mother of two, I have a million tricks up my sleeve.  Passive aggressive is my birthright. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What Works For You

 I have been casting about for a few years for a spiritual community that fits me.  I have decided there really isn't one.
I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school, the whole nine yards.  I even have an aunt who is a Catholic nun.  I was kicked out of Catholic high school in my sophomore year but had really left long before.  I hold no personal resentment for the church of my birth, I had no traumatic experience that drove me away, it was far more subtle and gradual than that.  As a kid, I loved going to church, dressing up in our Sunday clothes and sometimes going out for breakfast after.  I loved the ritual, I loved singing as a group, I loved the familiarity of the routine that was going to church.  The gospels and sermons never really left much of an impression on me, it was far more the experience that was church.  My long goodbye began rather early, in the third grade when I was sent to the principal and my mother was called because I asked a question that I was told was disrespectful.  (See the post titled "Sister Mary Anunciata Does Not Approve" for details.) I was not allowed to question, I was expected to accept without reservation everything the church taught me.  I am not built to accept blindly, I don't believe humans are truly capable of giving up wonder and curiosity, nor should they. It was this refusal to embrace or even allow questions that eventually led to my departure. And, as it turns out, I am WAY too liberal for the church of my birth.
My beloved and I have been married for twenty years and have had only one major, knock down, drag out fight.  Whether or not our firstborn would be baptized in the Catholic church.  He left the church long ago as well, but for him it was less a crisis of faith and more the fact that he got busy doing other things.  We did end up baptizing number one son but not number two.  Considering that number one has only ever been to church for a couple of funerals and a wedding, I think the decision to leave number two undunked was legitimate.  My issues with baptism stem solely from my feminista side, I don't buy into the whole washing away the "sins of Eve" thing .
I have three sisters and only one of us still attends Catholic church, another has become Lutheran and one has tried out a few different religions and, like me, has not found one that works for her.  I know a lot of people my age that have drifted away from their respective religions for one reason or another.  For some it is a deep division between their beliefs and the teachings of their church.  For others, life got in the way and they just never got back into the habit.  And even some that just never felt "it".  I think I fall into all three of those categories. Have we gotten too busy for church? Are we becoming too cynical for faith?  Is it laziness that keeps many of us away? I'm not sure.
  I miss the feeling of community I got from going to church and being a part of that.  I have even had friends advise me to join a church for that reason alone but that feels false to me and I would feel like I was lying.  I occasionally feel a bit envious of my friends who still have that kind of connection to their deity.  I hear more and more people call themselves spiritual rather than religious and I am definitely one of those.  I started reading (and oversharing on Facebook) some of the Dalai Lama's writings, to the point that my eldest sister called and asked if I had joined a cult. She said I seemed like I was on "bliss overload", she may have been right.  I like the idea of being excellent to yourself and being excellent to everyone else.  I can get behind the concept that being good and being happy are what God, whatever God is to you, wants for all of us.  The idea that science and religion and peacefully coexist seems logical and smart. So, Buddhism it is!  Now to find a temple in northern Minnesota....