Stop Whining and Bragging: What my Midwestern Family Taught Me

Sometimes I still do both.

Mar 2, 2012 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

My people come from Minnesota or “Minee-soda” as we’re used to hearing it pronounced. (Incidentally where we’re from, soda, is actually called “pop.”) Now, say what you will about the winters, they are long and cold. Tell me, like you’re the first to come up with it, that we talk funny (donchaknow!), call us conservatives (We started the unions!). Call the land of my grandmothers, the great expanses of wilderness the freshwater lakes and finally reintroduced wild wolf packs “flyover country.” Go ahead. I dare you. 

But never, ever call us a bunch of whiners. (OK, you can call me  a whiner but not them.)

I come from hearty Midwestern stock. My great aunt Ginny once shot a moose.

“Can you imagine, that little woman killed that big moose,” people said.

Not her, she'd never brag. (I am always tempted to reply that if the Moose had also been supplied with a firearm before hand, then I truly would have been floored.)

Still, Ginny can chop wood like a champ, then come inside and brew a perfect cup of tea, her bare calves muscular and sinewy as she reaches on her toes for the teapot.

We don’t whine and we definitely don’t brag where I come from. You may have won a Nobel Prize, but Lars down the road has a really powerful snow blower; everyone has their thing. Before meeting my family for the first time, I’ve tried to explain this "being humble" concept to several boyfriends, but it never seems to stick.

Upon introduction, more than one of them has confidently begun rattling off his manifold achievements only to be met by the open discomfort of my family members whose furrowed brows show they’ve just been force-fed something far too rich for their humble blood.

The idea, I suppose, is that your merits will show what kind of person you are; your mouth will not. Mouths are for eating crumbly shortbread and for pursing tightly while scanning the horizon for small game.

Despite what some New Yorkers I've met seem to think, the Midwest did not go untouched by the cultural revolutions that swept the world in the 60s. My grandma went back to college for her PHD, got divorced, protested the war and experimented with riding on the back of motorcycles driven by men she didn't know all that well. It was because of her I was born into a family, perhaps one of the first generations in our history, where we openly discussed our feelings with one another. Nowadays this is usually done over wine and cookies.

 It was and still is tricky if you're not familiar with our values. Complaining is a different beast from self-pity. Should one cross that line and become all "woe is me," the room will get uncomfortably quiet as the others silently chew their oatmeal cookies. The party guilty of whining will then offer a retraction along the line of, “But I will soldier on.” And the cookie chewers will nod sagely.

Then you will all take one last cookie for the road and go make something of yourself with minimal dwelling on the negative.

You may think this sounds unhealthy, but depression rates in Minnesota are the 5th lowest in the US (and that's despite the winter).

I guess what I'm saying is that all of this discussing what makes us different, our impairments and our difficulties, though satisfying to a certain extent, only helps us so much. Sometimes, even though I participate, it makes me uncomfortable just how many problems people find themselves in and how little people do to fix those problems. And while I think some commiserating is helpful,there comes a point where I wonder where all of this navel-gazing and rehashing of our problems truly gets us.

Perhaps we’d be better off going out to chop some wood.

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