Being in the Midwest last weekend reminded me of all the conflicted feelings I have about that part of the country. On Sunday morning I slipped out of bed and left my husband and baby girl asleep, excited for a short adventure. It was warm for 7am and the sky was streaked with a light pink. Orange glowed in the West before the sunrise. The faint outline of the Sears Tower under the smog. Car keys in hand, I stood in the middle of the hotel parking lot, smelling the familiar chemical odor of Midwestern air. It makes breathing feel heavy somehow. "I'd be happy to drive you there if you want," said a front desk staff person when I asked about the nearest Starbucks. His tone was genuine and kind. I drove myself anyway. Speeding by a cop and then having to catch my breath imagining getting ticketed in my in-law's car; a McDonald's on every corner; deciding not to lock the car in front of Dominick's. Everyone in there was nice. The teenager staffing the in-store Starbucks apologized for the lack of muffins and we chatted. There is more space and time and warmth in the Midwest, but more abuse, too, more ugly development, more smog, more body fat. I pondered this as I drove back to the hotel. That part of the country is where my family comes from, and where my daughter's family comes from, too, although I have removed myself and been removed. At least, I keep trying to remove myself. The old conflicted feelings popped up, and not just for what lies outside. Memories in disbelief of the trailer court where my relatives lived, guns and children, general aimlessness and childish fights between adults. My husband's family is very different, and his aunts and uncles and grandparents accept my baby with a loyal, kept passion that is entirely tender and pleasurable. I am so glad for that. And yet visits there still posit me as an outsider to his parents, and for the first time, I actually felt in the way, like I was blocking the light of my daughter from falling entirely onto his parents. And perhaps I was blocking, since there's a darkness that falls in the other direction, and that is what the Midwest means.



We drove out to Weston today to check out a single family house. There were a lot of twisty roads, beautiful snow-filled fields melting to reveal old cornstalks and horse jumps, and tall trees one month from first bud. Finally, the little blue house. On the market for 148 days. A BMW in the driveway: Realtor #1 was on the premises. We parked the Geo as a Mercedes SUV pulled up behind us. Ah, Realtor #2. We couldn't help but laugh, remembering our old house-hunting days and the glitz and glamour of realtors. Why? How? And apparently still lingering despite the times. A lady in suede boots hopped out and introduced herself to my husband as I pulled Peony out of her car seat. "Ooo, how old?" asked the realtor. "Eleven weeks on Monday," I said. "I can't believe there is a house in Weston that is this cheap!" she exclaimed. We went inside.

Standing around the family room, Realtor #1 said apologetically of the owner, "She really likes to decorate for the holidays. I guess right now it's St. Patrick's Day." The house was clearly loved, and every little nook and cranny had some beach detritus or shiny plastic shamrock on display. "This is sooo affordable...a great way to get into Weston," said Realtor #2. She fiddled with her diamond earring and tugged down her fur vest. We looked in the three little bedrooms, the neat and tiny kitchen, and the big living room. The ladies tottered down the basement steps in their subdued three-inch heels. We gaped at the huge oil tank and thousand year old furnace, a true relic. I'm not going to live here, I thought to myself, so I didn't look too closely or worry too much about the details.

But later I wondered, why not? There were people walking around the rural neighborhood in the warm air, but in our more urban neighborhood, we'd seen almost no one outside. There was a floor plan we could work with, a usable kitchen, decent floors and good yard space. Excellent schools and a nursery school on the corner. Good commutes to work and walkable public transportation. If I lived there, would I always be reminded of what I didn't have? Or would I just be happy?

Driving home, we mused about how nice it would be to not have upstairs nieghbors and to have a bedroom removed from a five-car driveway. How much we could do to make it ours.

And now I'm left wondering.