Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Middle Place

Photo by: Jared White Photography
See the original photo here.

Each Thursday I'll be posting my "Thoughtful"'s a change from the usual funny stuff but I hope you'll enjoy it just the same. And I'd love to know what you think about it...if any of you are also in the middle place. And while it might seem bizarre, I'd like to dedicate this to a certain Beth, whose trials in the middle place are now over. I'm sorry I didn't know you better, but I prayed for you just the same.

I’ve lost track of time since I arrived in this middle place; where days seem to disappear in a breath and yet minutes in those days stretch on for eternity. I neither know what I want or who I am any better than I did when I was 12, or 16, or 25. As the days pass I simply know more about who I am not, but this knowledge produces no new answers.

The thing I like least about becoming an adult is witnessing and experiencing the pain in life and understanding that it is now my job to keep that from settling onto my children like caustic volcanic ash—affecting their views, their dreams, the delicate fibers of their safety net constructed by ignorance, illusion, and hope. I sit and lay and dance and sleep with my arms outstretched trying to filter the ugliness from this world, so that for a time, my children can focus on the sunlight streaming in through morning windows or giggle at the ant struggling to carry a crumb twice the size of his miniscule body.

As an adult I know that too much sun will blister their skin. And that ant may be a bird’s next snack.

This middle place in inevitable. When you are young you envision how you’d like your life to be—where you’ll live, the things that will motivate you—you dream and plan and prepare and then you meet Mr. Right. or Miss Perfect.

Together you both dream about a shared union of compromise and compassion, talk of kids and jobs and kitchen colors, promising to always, always keep communication open. You laugh about each other’s iniquities and peccadilloes; the toothpaste tube squeezed from the middle, the urine on the toilet seat, the nail clipping she leaves on the bedside table. In naive earnest you promise each other you won’t let the kids change you, you will always talk through everything, and most importantly—you’ll grow and change together. Forever. Promise. Whatever it takes.

You awake the next morning and ten years have gone by and you find yourself wondering over morning coffee and a sink load of dirty dishes how you ever got to this place and what happened to the goals and dreams you had and the promises you made to yourself, and wait a minute…

just who are you anyway? A glance in the mirror reveals the child you were just yesterday, in fact you’re pretty sure you graduated from high school last week, but suddenly there are more wrinkles and lines, and you don’t recognize the face staring back at you. Where did you go?

This middle place produces casualties; marriages of your friends ending around you because maybe they too woke up one morning and wondered who was lying next to them in bed and it occurs to them they don’t know this person any better than they know themselves. They’ve slept angry for years. The nail clippings and toothpaste tubes and peed on toilet seats become F-5 tornadoes that threaten to destroy the house, ripping out walls and scattering crayon pictures and homemade popsicle stick frames. The storm is always brewing just beneath the how-was-your-days and the peck-on-the-cheeks. All us middle people smile and dance because there are always little eyes watching and tiny ears listening and their dreams at night are scary enough.

The middle place house is not the one you pictured before, in that previous life before children and calendar boxes crammed with fine ball point writing. The leggos and Barbies, school backpacks and homework piles, have all settled in next to your furniture and on the floors and stacked on the kitchen counters. There are bins in the hallways filled with last season’s winter jackets, coats, and scarves that must be put in the attic, adding to the inventory of clothing and baby toys and luggage. And also up in that attic are the boxes of your wedding china that never made it into any china cabinet, let alone got used for a dinner because wedding china isn’t practical. Your life has been about practicality forever. And those crystal vases you loved so much and golf clubs your husband used to take to the course every weekend gather dust up in that attic too, because you’re saving your pennies for summer camp and braces and private school and there just aren’t any more pennies for fresh flowers for that vase or a round of 18 holes. You start wondering if maybe that attic contains more of you than you do anymore, because you’re still not sure who’s staring back at you in the mirror.

The middle place makes you question. Yourself, your choices, your life, your situation. The most important question—and yet the one that could change it all…

Is this it?

Is this life that I’m living right now….it?

And what of the answer?

And there you are an adult again, realizing there are no easy answers, that with each different answer there are deaths: of your dreams, or yourself, or your hopes, or your children’s innocence, or your marriage, or your happiness, or the very family and life you’ve created that has ironically led you to this very question.

Should you continue to sit lay dance sleep with your arms outstretched over your precious children regardless of the price to yourself or your marriage? But how long before your arms fail or your children grow past your reach and the soot of knowledge comes to slowly settle on your children’s heads? Can you protect them forever? And if their learning will eventually come one day, why not tomorrow? Would tomorrow be soon enough to revitalize yourself? Resurrect those old dreams? Find the happiness you think may have escaped you?

Beware of emerald fields viewed from afar. The mirage dissipates only after you’ve made the journey, and you find yourself with the very same body and the very same mind asking the very same questions just with a different zip code or mailing address.

Hindsight is 20/20. The future is unknown. The middle place is filled with What Ifs and Why Nots and If Onlys.

In this middle place I have no answers. I have right now. I have the silence ringing in my ears and the stained couch beneath my body and three sleeping children with sparkling eyes who love to laugh and tickle and wrestle, whose safety nets—for too short a time—still remain delicately held together by ignorance, illusion, and hope.

And I pray I’ll have tomorrow, with the morning sun streaming through my finger-smudged windows and the ants crawling around on our cracked driveway carrying food too big for their tiny bodies.

The ants are always there.


Ryan said...

Rachel- An amazing piece that really touched me in light of recent events. You have an amazing ability to write candidly from the soul. I know exactly where you are coming from. Life IS messy sometimes and doesn't always go as planned. Just a serious of decisions really. We make the best we can at the time. Forget about the past and look to the future. Thanks for the read. Never stop writing :)

Anonymous said...

Rachel, as I come upon 40 in a few weeks, your post is very appropriate. Yes, where did those years go? On a fun note, I noticed that one of the blogs on your blog roll (the 10 year experiment) is someone who I went to college with here in Washington state! Any chance you're originally from the NW?

Good luck with #blog2011!

Tara said...

Rachel, this is really great. I'm going to share it on my blog's FB page.

I used to wonder why people made such a big deal out of getting older, but now it is starting to make sense. Where did all the time go? And if the next 39 years go as quickly as the first 39, well, I'm screwed.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't really thought about that middle place in this way before - I guess usually it is simply referred to as a mid-life crisis - characterized by red sports cars and questionable decisions regarding hair pieces.

But, it is that place where reality finally collides with idealized images of what life is all about, isn't it. It can be an enormously productive time as you come to grips with what it all really means. And that the definition has less to do with you than maybe you thought.

lisa said...

Beautifully expressed, Rachel. I have no children to shelter, but find myself in the same spot with years passing in the blink of an eye, yet the present stretching out for an eternity. Life is hard. I didn't know that it would be. I'm 42, nearing 43, and still learning so much about myself. No wonder it's hard to balance a marriage when we are each still growing and discovering. I appreciate the musings you've shared.

Bach said...

Touching and perfect. I love and completely relate to " As the days pass I simply know more about who I am not, but this knowledge produces no new answers." And I feel there's such a sense of urgency to figure it out. The clock seems to be ticking faster and has less time. Thanks for sharing with such brutal honesty.

CLARA'S BLOG said...

Hey Rachel, love this one...I completely understand where you are coming from and I find myself in that "middle place" at this very moment with no answers for you or me. Just hoping that at some point I figure it all out!

Rene said...

Wow, Racel, how amazing and a tad bit uncomfortable for those of us "cheek-peckers". Yes where DID the time go and why didn't anyone tell us it would shake out like this? On the whole, we're happy, right? It's just that sometimes, sometimes the drudgery sucks a little of the joy. :/

ladymoxie said...

Hi Rachel - I'm only just approaching the middle place, but I understand your thoughts. When I start to think how fast time flies and what I want to accomplish, I just try to be thankful for everything and think about what is right in front of my nose, right now. It's a teaching that I try to work on every day, and helps me not linger in how fast the past has gone or grasp onto the future. Thanks for the amazing post!

Sheila Callahan said...

Lovely, Rachel. Great images-- nail clippings turned into torpedos. I like the idea of Thursdays being a "reflective day."

Ms Panda's Blog said...

Honesty is the best policy and yours = beautiful insights into embracing the sacred messiness of life! Congrats on your success!

Bach said...

Congrats on This is a beautiful piece (as I commented before). I enjoyed seeing it move on farther in the blog universe!

LT said...

So well-written, just beautiful. I'm glad to have read it. I appreciated your use of the ash and soot imagery. Best to you and congratulations on the repost, Laura