The epiphany came to Acooa Ellis of St. Paul right after she asked her kid the most mundane of questions: "What did you do at school today?"
She remembers her loquacious boy, Asa, responded, "We played a game. Do you want to play, Mommy? It's Duck, Duck, Gray Duck."
Ellis, an Iowa native, had never heard of this oddity, so she pressed Asa for more details. "He started to describe it," she recalls, "and I said, 'Baby, that's Duck, Duck, Goose.' "
"No, it's Duck, Duck, Gray Duck," he insisted.
And so it began. A household torn asunder over the most popular children's game in America, and an "aha" moment for one Minnesota transplant mom.
"I just looked at my husband and I'm like, 'Oh, he's officially a Minnesotan,' " Ellis said. (On the goose vs. gray duck debate, she got no sympathy from her spouse, Jeremiah, a seventh-generation Minnesotan who claims "the game has no other name.")
When your toddlers transition from calling you "Mommy" to "Mom," you know they're growing up. When they come home telling you about gray ducks, you know you're not in Kansas anymore. (Or Oregon. Or New York. Or Alabama. Or any of the 50 states except this proudly defiant one right here.)
On Twitter, I put the question to Minnesota transplants who are rearing children, "When did you realize that your kids, for better or worse, were definitely Minnesotan?"
Here are some of your responses.
Complaining about perfect weather
"On the first day of spring that the temps reached the mid-60s, my daughter came inside from playing and asked, 'Is it going to be this hot all summer?' " said Patricia Stockland of Eagan, of her daughter, Reese, 7. "I was torn between laughing and crying. She was completely serious."
Unironic use of 'uff da'
This was a popular one: Three-year-olds sighing with "uff da" in earnest, or uttering, "Ope, sorry!"
Another startling phenomenon is hearing our own progeny pronounce the word "bag" as "bayg," and the word "bagel" as "baggle."
Marty Walsh, a self-professed "naturalized Minnesotan" from Chicago, said his 6-year-old didn't get the joke, "Why don't seagulls fly over the bay?"
The punchline is (wait for it ...) "because then they'd be bagels."
But Walsh's daughter couldn't follow along because she says "baggles" instead of "bay-gles."
"She was just utterly clueless and couldn't figure out what we were even trying to say," Walsh said.
Impervious to cold
Elisia Cohen, who grew up in Kentucky, easily pinpointed the time she knew her middle-schooler was a Minnesotan.
"When they insisted on standing outside for the bus in under 32-degree weather without a coat, and when they had an unzipped coat and no gloves on at zero. 'Mom, it's fine,'" Cohen recalled.
Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria moved to Minnesota from Lima, Peru, when he was 10. He says even though he's lived here for 30 years, it is still remarkable to see his three children adopt the cultural norms of their home state.
He remembers asking his 14-year-old daughter, Giselle, to shovel the snow. What did his kid do? "Put on a hoodie, wear shorts, no boots, no hat, and goes out and shovel," he said. "That identity is part of them now. That is who they are."
They're friends with Bashir and Mai See
Jack Norton said he knew his elementary-school kids were Minnesotan when one of them corrected his pronunciation of the name of his Somali American classmate.
"Our kids banter about Somali names that I never, in rural northeast Ohio, encountered growing up," Norton said. "The kids assume a diversity of cultures, languages and experiences is normal."
He said his kids live in a "beautifully diverse metro area that belies the mythic land of Nordic, dairy-obsessed hockey lovers."
"I suspect the first Olympic athlete my kids will remember as adults will be Suni Lee who we watched this summer, and there is no more Minnesotan story than hers," Norton said.
The beach is 'salty'
Mohamed Ahmed of Minneapolis was born in Somalia and raised in the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya. He remembers devouring fresh seafood and admiring the ocean. "The sea has its own sound," he says. "If you sit close enough to it, it's soothing to the mind and the soul. I grew up around that all my life."
But when his four kids went to Kenya for a vacation this summer, they complained to their mom that the ocean was "too salty," he said. "Can you believe that? We took them scuba diving, deep sea diving, fishing, but still they didn't take. They were like, 'When are we coming back?' These are Minnesota lake and pool kids."
California native Stephanie Braman of Edina said her 14-year-old son, Mitchell, doesn't really like having friends over. As the pandemic restrictions were lifting, she remembers asking him to invite his buddies to get together.
"I'll do something with them," she recalls him saying, "but not here at the house."
Ellis, the St. Paul mom and a senior vice president at Greater Twin Cities United Way, said she's working with 8-year-old Asa on direct communication and to not be so passive-aggressive. "He'll say, 'I'm hungry,'" she says. "And I say, 'So? What is it that you want? State what you want.'"
This November will mark 20 years since Ellis moved to Minnesota for job opportunities. She said her son is a walking, breathing, living reminder to her that this is home.
"The more I see in him, the more I have to acknowledge that I am a Minnesotan," she says.