The intersection between being a Michigander and being a mom has been totally unique and rewarding for me. Ever since welcoming my son almost a year ago, I've realized that our way of life can really only be understood if you're raising a kid here too. Likewise, there are only some words that you'll understand only if you're from Michigan. (Like the fact that Holland is where we host the Tulip Festival, and we're not talking about the Netherlands.) The things that make the Great Lakes State so great also make our moms amazing. We're a hearty, kind, no-nonsense group of women who understand that raising kids in the Michigan Mitten requires taking them outdoors and letting them get a little dirty.
I am super proud and excited to finally be both the daughter of a Michigander mom and a new Michigan mom. My kid is still very young, so I haven't exactly had to impart my son with these very important Michigan Life Lessons yet, but I'm banking on the day I get to indoctrinate him in our way of life.
Moms in the mitten do just life just a little bit differently than moms elsewhere across the country. Our way of life is made in the snow, on the lake, and in amazing cities in each part of the state. Because of this, there are just a few terms that only a Michigander raising kids in the mitten will understand:
1. The "Hand" Helps
True story, I did not not realize this was weird until I moved away to New York for school. I told someone I was from Michigan, and they asked, “Oh, where in Michigan?” So I did what anyone else would do: I pulled up my right hand and pointed with my left. "Lansing, I said, "the state capitol, is a little below the center of your palm, almost to the heel of your hand." Then I kept pointing out landmarks all over the rest of my hand and the innocent New Yorker I was talking to looked positively alarmed.
Oops. Michiganders use their hands as a map, and this is the way most of our moms taught us to understand the geography of our state. It’s a handy (see what I did there?) albeit slightly inaccurate map that you always have with you.
2. It's All About Apples!
In Michigan, we grow apples — lots of apples. It's not just a fun fall activity out here. For us, it's a huge part of our lives. Right now my son is too young to understand just how important apple season is to a Michigander, but I cannot wait to take him to the orchards when he can actually pick his own apples and immediately eat them. Then, it's time for cider!
3. There's Only One Place To Go For Christmas Spirit
Every Michigan mom knows that if you really want to get into the Christmas spirit, there’s only one real way to do it: Retail shopping! But not just any retail, oh no. A Michigan mom is only going to take you to Frankenmuth. It’s biggest attraction is literally just a really big store full of Christmas ornaments, and it’s open all year round.
It's where you get special keepsakes that you’ll have for the rest of your life. Or, if you’re my wife and I, ornaments shaped like sushi. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
4. When It Comes To Fudge, You Need A Favorite
Here in Michigan, we're pretty serious about our fudge. Let's get one thing straight: There are definitely no jokes to be made about fudge. You talk to any mom in Michigan and she definitely has an opinion on where the best, nicest, most traditional, fudge comes from. Some say Mackinaw Island, others believe it's Traverse City. But for anyone who says Frankenmuth, do not trust them! In my opinion, Frankenmuth is definitely not where you go to get fudge!
Whatever anyone says, though, know this: The best fudge definitely, definitely, comes from Michigan.
5. We Love The Lakes
Michigan kids usually know how to swim, and it’s usually not because our moms signed us all up for lessons at our local community pool. No, our moms took us to the lake. It might have been one of the big lakes, it might have been a small lake, but lakes are where we swim.
6. Card Games Are Very Cool Here
My mother sat me down at a young age and taught me how to play the rousing game of Solitaire. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was less about learning that one game, and more about learning how cards work.
The ultimate goal of teaching mini Michiganders about cards? It’s teaching them to play Euchre. Michiganders love to play Euchre. My parents used to play with their friends all the time, and they started trying to teach me when I was around 8 years old. I still don’t play. (Everyone from Michigan reading this hates me right now.)
7. Vernors Is The Magical Cure-All
Michigan moms have very strong feelings about ginger ale, you guys, and of course the best ginger ale is the stuff that comes from Michigan. I know Michiganders who won’t even drink ginger ale that isn’t Vernors. It isn’t made in Michigan anymore, but that doesn’t change the brand loyalty for this thick, syrupy, dark ginger soda (except we call it pop, of course).
But not only that, Michigan moms believe this stuff has magical healing abilities. It’s true. If you are sick, and a Michigan mom is around, she'll pass you Vernors. I’ve heard different theories as to why it works, but it’s an old standby. In my family it is customary to actually warm the ginger ale before serving it to a sick child. It is as gross as it sounds, but it works!
8. We're Faygo Loyalists
Faygo is another popular brand that originated in the Great Lakes State. These sugary, carbonated beverages come in about a million different flavors, from “red pop” to “cotton candy” to various colas, and they are typically considerably cheaper than your Coke or Pepsi brand products.
People outside of Michigan may know about Faygo from ICP shenanigans, but around here it’s usually called “kid’s pop.” As in, if you’re having a party, and you know children are going to be present, you get a couple of two liter bottles of Faygo to keep everyone happy. My own mom took the “kid’s pop” idea so much to heart that she didn’t believe that any varieties of Faygo were caffeinated (but they are) so she let us drink them with abandon, much to our delight.
9. "Up North" Means Nonstop Adventure
To be totally honest, going "Up North" is the Michigan word I'm the most excited about teaching my kid. It's also one of the best traditions I'm so delighted to pass on to my son. Unless you live in the Upper Peninsula, it’s likely that one of, if not your biggest, yearly trip will be going “Up North.”
It means camping, it means swimming in lakes, it means playing in the woods, and yes, it definitely means buying a box of fudge. And as far as I’m concerned, no place further south than Sleeping Bear qualifies as Up North. (Yeah, I said it!)