Why I love Albert Lea
Published 8:49 pm Monday, February 24, 2020
Why I love Albert Lea by Erin Haag
Around the breakfast table, I told my children and husband what I was writing about. I asked them what they loved about Albert Lea. Hearing their answers, I firmly believe my children are going to be rooted in memories of love, connections and experiences. It’s unanimous in my family that our favorite things about Albert Lea are the library and Albert Lea MOPS, a local mom’s group that meets once a month. These two places are where I found my community as a new mom. Shortly before my son was born, I finally found the courage to go to my first MOPS meeting. I met a few people, was invited to story time at the library, but as a working mom, I never went.
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At 3 months old, our son was diagnosed with a rare disease called Hirschsprung’s disease. We spent a couple of weeks with emergency surgeries and frantically trying to learn everything we needed to know how to care for our baby. After coming home, my husband encouraged me to go to a MOPS meeting. I went, and tearfully stood up in the group, asking if there was any mom with any experience with this disease I had never heard of.
That was the moment my mommy meeting became my community. Along with countless hugs and offers of support, a mentor mom took the time to do research for me, find me a list of resources and verified with the state that our son was the only child in Freeborn County with Hirschsprung’s. To this day, I am still overwhelmed by the power of that connection — the effort to show a worried mom some love and caring. The connections developed are so powerful — it was obvious to my husband and children. When my daughter was 4, she once planned my birthday party. She declared the theme was “Mommies” and that the decorations would be pictures of my mommy friends, and it would be a mommy and kid playdate for the celebration.
Eventually, we made the decision for me to stay at home. Suddenly, I had a 2 year old with energy and a high needs 8 month old. My new mom friends told me, “Come to story time. It’s OK, we’ll help you.” It was more than OK. I found a safe place for my children to play and be part of our community. More than books, my children put together puzzles, watched magic shows, did crafts and ate snacks. They saw their friends and made new ones. They stood at the window and looked over our beautiful lake and watched the firetrucks come in and out of the station. The parents banded together and took turns watching the children so a mama could slip away and find a book for herself.
Last year, we were at a Ronald McDonald House halfway across the country. Included in our stash of books from the library were some books that Ms. Patty ordered specifically because she knew our son loved those characters. Ms. Patty even called us, reminding us about the family reading program, and helped us sign up long distance and track our books. My son was wide-eyed at the fact that his favorite local celebrity Ms. Patty knew how to call his mama on the phone.
My children are in school now, and I’m a working mother again. We may not be going to story time like we used to, but the library is still a precious place to us. For our family, it’s the embodiment of classic small-town life and the sense of tight-knit community — what we love about Albert Lea. It’s cliché small-town descriptions, but clichés are based in truth. While it could be any small town, it’s not. It’s Albert Lea, and we’re so happy to call it our home.
Erin Haag is the executive director of United Way of Freeborn County. A Kansas girl that still thinks it’s surreal to walk, drive and barbecue on a frozen lake, she still has a southern accent, according to Minnesota natives, and her Kansas family teases her about the northern accent. She and her husband, Mike, live in rural Albert Lea with their two children, Ethan, 5, and Grace, 7. Her family also includes an Aussie named Ginger and a cat named Boo. In her capacity as director, Haag serves on the Homeless Response Team, the leadership team for Blue Zones and the Healthcare Collaborative.