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The Gift of the Midwest

The gift of the Midwest is sometimes we are snowed in. Today is one of those times, a forced day of rest within a forced year of exclusion. You asked me not to leave, and though I am busy, I will sit and watch you sleep. Your blue blanky is hugged tight beneath your chin and the sun makes lines across your body, slipping through the blinds. Our baby sleeps near you. The waves rise and fall from the machine that makes sound.

It’s 4:59 in the evening and this will make for a long night, this late nap. I rock and make lists, gazing out the open door towards the house that keeps moving. An open closet door is filled with aging spices. On it’s handle, hangs a white garbage bag that must be gathered tonight with the rest. Just beyond, near the food bowls, stands our Wendell dog, aging like the spices, perhaps beyond his expiration date- one can never know with rescues- he looks up expectantly, waiting. “Dinner” looms, sitting on my shoulders while calling from the kitchen, admonishing me for another day unplanned, unprepared, happening upon the time we eat without an idea of what I will set out for it. Dinner doesn’t like me. But the feeling is mutual.

You both, my elder two, the ones who are a pair, with names I say together like one, you’re languishing in another day of nothingness. This year has been like a river, some days smooth, others that are filled with currents. But the shores are soft and overflow easily; water spills onto plants that have enough and aging wooden docks buckle under the pressure. The river used to be murky, impossible to see beneath the glistening layer of sun kissed water at the top. But suddenly now, it is shockingly clear, straight to the bottom, here, in this river that has been this year. We are floating downstream, lazy on tubes, feet grazing the wet at times, heads tipped back just enough to cool our necks. If we try to look down, to absorb this chance to finally see what is beneath the top layer of glistening sun kissed water, the tube tips. So we float aimlessly like a dream, then grip the tube sides when the current suddenly pulls us this way and that. Wet hands and wet tube are mostly futile, when matched. But we try. And when I tip just a bit and take a look downwards, on my break from looking upwards where I basked in the sun, I see that the river bottom is only quicksand. The promise was that the river was built well, but now I see that the seahorses were fake and the plant life simply plastic. If we fall from our tubes, the sand beneath the water will swallow us whole. Now we are plummeting faster and faster downstream and all I have are my two arms, so I pull my children atop both our tubes. We link together and with hands held tight, we are balanced. Eyes match eyes, not up or down, but straight on. Children on our laps, they keep us from tipping this way or that. We cannot depend upon the clouds or the river floor, and if we turn forward or back, our tubes may tip. So we are finally steady, and we take the turns together. It’s not calmer, there is still chaos as the dams break and water wins relentlessly, mercilessly, but we have our own foundation upon which to travel these clear waters.

It’s 5:34 and I’m on 1%. I promised I wouldn’t leave, but I need to recharge. I’m quick but not quiet and the baby cries when I re-enter the room. You can’t jump ship without rocking the boat, or tube. You can let the phone die and sit in the dimming room, as the sun sets, and just listen to the manufactured ocean in tune with your children’s miraculous breaths, or you can get up and keep moving. Keep charging. You’ll miss out on a moment but you’ll be active in the next. Maybe you’ll make friends with dinner. Maybe you’ll think of a way to save your boys from the lazy river they found that they love, within the year that the quicksand swallowed the structure beneath our plans. Maybe you’ll just enjoy the snow, the imposed break, the gift of the Midwest, the moment in time where life shuts down for Mother Nature to make her way despite us, in spite of us, or just because.

Written by Melissa Lipnick, a writer and artist in Cleveland, Ohio.