When I gave birth to my daughter, I had no idea I also birthed a whole new identity crisis.
Even after becoming a mom, I still wanted to be a best friend, an employee, a wife and a woman. But I quickly learned these roles would become as challenging and elusive as a good night’s sleep.
I first discovered the problem when my husband and I were living in Washington, D.C., and tried taking our newborn along for date night. The busy restaurant had no room for our stroller, the waiter gave us dirty looks, and neither men's nor women's bathroom had changing tables. I found myself forced to change a diaper on the dirty floor of a two-stall bathroom, on my knees in fear and shame.
The message was subtle but clear: You and your baby are not welcome here.
So years later, when our rental agreement was up for renewal, my husband suggested we move west to his home state of Minnesota. At this point we had two kids, two full-time jobs and too many struggles. My daily life felt like I was running through mud.
When I heard the promise of a "kid-friendly" state with excellent public schools, I packed up our family as quickly as a pioneer in search of land. I didn’t even care about the cold.
Sure, we arrived to find plenty of kid-friendly institutions such as children’s museums, indoor water parks and the Minnesota Zoo. But I found family outings to these destinations made life even more stressful. My kids usually ended up eating off schedule, missing naps and throwing tantrums when it came time to leave.
What I needed was more routine and less hassle, but I couldn’t buy that at the Mall of America. I couldn’t even buy wine at the local convenience store — or anywhere else — on Sundays (Urgh!).
Things were not looking good.
So I shifted my focus. I stopped judging whether or not Minnesota was kid-friendly based on self-affirming internet lists. The question became whether Minnesota was "mom-friendly." Or at least "me-friendly."
After a few months, I started to notice subtle improvements in my daily life that native Minnesotans probably take for granted.
For example, the public infrastructure seems designed for the parenting struggle. Because the parking spots are wider, I’m less likely to find myself tossing my toddler into the backseat before buckling him in with one hand while stuck between SUVs.
The outdoor playgrounds have public bathrooms. I no longer find myself squatting with my toddler in the grass with our pants around our ankles.
And there are more jacked-up mega Target stores per square mile than all of Washington, D.C.
In short, Minnesota seems to understand a mom's most basic needs: breathing space, bathrooms and convenient ways to buy a shiny new bra.
I was previously out of shape, stuck at home and regularly unshowered. Here in Minnesota, I found myself nearly weeping with joy when we joined a local gym with on-site child care.
I even find more time to shower because we live in a neighborhood where my kids are regularly invited to play dates.
I also find that Minnesotans are less likely to center their lives around work. Yes, Minnesotans are hard workers, but they don’t seem to work late. It is accepted that everyone has lives outside the office. I've met plenty of working moms with flexible schedules and job shares, which means less guilt about attending soccer games and swim practice.
Back in D.C., the most popular question for newcomers was: "What do you do for a living?”
When we moved here, not one person asked me this question for months. They were more interested in what beers I like, which local church I would join and the family I created.
I’m not saying my Minnesota life looks like a magazine spread. I still have terrible mom moments when I want to chug red wine straight from the bottle. I sometimes cry in grocery store parking lots. And I’m not always showered.
But I found exactly what I was searching for — acceptance and a few mom friends who relate to my daily struggle.
Here in Minnesota, I have struck gold.
Erica Neubert Campbell is an East Coast native and the mother of two kids. She's also a human resources professional, extreme multi-tasker and founding member of the Laundry Knob Society, a blog about life, work and parenting.
ABOUT 10,000 Takes: 10,000 Takes is a new digital section featuring first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota. Got a story to tell? Send your draft to firstname.lastname@example.org.