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.
Rachel Vidoni is a freelance writer and essayist currently mired in the middle place. She chronicles her status as a mediocre mom and wife on her blog East Coast Musings and is currently working on two books. Grab a drink and muse along with her.
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