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Stutzman: Raising children in NE Michigan

March 5, 2012
Mary Beth Stutzman - Inspiring A-Town , The Alpena News

I'm fairly new to this parenting thing. So far, my husband and I have one daughter who is almost 3 years old. While we have no idea what we are doing most of the time she seems to be turning out to be a pretty amazing little person. I've found that one of the things I am enjoying most about parenting is the chance to re-experience life all over again through her perspective, and more importantly, life in Northeast Michigan.

Having grown up here I often don't realize how much of our community I have taken for granted until I have a chance to point it out to her. But, I can't think of a better place to raise our children. My husband, who grew up in the Bloomfield Hills area, agrees. I am fascinated by my daughter's view of the world and all the simple pleasures it has to offer. As she grows I feel the need to be her tour guide or program director and expose her to all the great things in our piece of the state and her intrigue constantly reminds me why our way of life on the Great Lakes is so special. It's easy to think of the big things we want our children to experience but there are bucket-loads of little things that matter just as much.

This summer our little one spent some time on Grandma and Grandpa Kline's farm and came home one day with a monarch caterpillar in a jar. She picked the caterpillar off a milkweed plant. We watched it make its chrysalis and turn into a brilliant orange and black butterfly. We let it fly around the house for a bit and then released it outside. Now she believes that the butterfly has taken up permanent residence in the neighbor's oak tree.

At her Grandma and Grandpa Stutzman's cottage she learned how to say Lake Huron, played with her first beach ball, and watched a porcupine lumber across the yard. She already can't wait to go back this summer.

This fall we took her kayaking on Thunder Bay River with some friends. It was months ago and she still brings it up now and again. She saw turtles in real life for the first time sunning themselves on a log, herons flying overhead and even a giant snake (I don't have the greatest memories about the snake but she thought it was neat).

This winter we went for a walk up and down Second Avenue to look at all the holiday lights and decorations in the storefronts. One of my earliest memories of our downtown is when my Aunt Leslie took me for a walk and for the first time I saw lighted white reindeer in a store window. I thought they were magical. Now, months later, our daughter is still talking about the elves she remembers seeing downtown (she was devastated when the Christmas tree disappeared from the plaza but I think we're past that now).

While these are all similar to experiences I had growing up I also want her to do new things that I never did. So today we went to the beach. It's March. It was 16 degrees. We just had a major snowstorm. Not typical beach weather. But who says the beach is just for the summertime? For an hour my husband and I snowshoed around on the big snowdrifts while she followed in our footprints. We headed over to the playground where she ran around with the whole place to herself. We couldn't find her flying saucer before we left home but it didn't matter because she had a blast zipping down the snow-covered slides.

Northeast Michigan is the most incredible place to raise children. We have low crimes rates, fantastic schools, good medical care, a caring business community, compassionate neighbors and never-ending activity choices. Yes, my husband and I would make a lot more money in a larger city but then our daughter wouldn't have this special Northeast Michigan upbringing; hatching butterflies in a jar, making snow angels on the beach, walking into a downtown store where they remember her name. You can argue that big cities have more opportunity but is it really opportunity when it comes at the price of a lesser quality of life? Commuting in rush-hour traffic, reading about animals in books but never seeing them in their natural habitat, growing up as another anonymous face amongst thousands. Raising children in Northeast Michigan is worth every imagined sacrifice. This is what life is all about.

Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town appears bi-weekly on Tuesdays.



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