Tag Archives | midwest

changes in the heart(land)

Camp Grandma convened this summer at Grandma’s new house in Illinois, just one state over from Indiana, where she used to live. You would be forgiven if you got confused between which state is which, if you were driving on one of the many small farm roads that criss-cross these states: lots of corn and soybeans, the occasional picturesque silo, a cow or two.  I grew up in Illinois and consider my mother’s time in Indiana a minor aberration; in family lore we credit her doorbell ringing and phone-banking with why Indy went blue for Obama in ’08; it went for Romney in ’12, as mom was getting ready to move out of state.

These states are flyover country, as those on the coasts like to call it, or sometimes “the heartland,” usually by a politician trolling for votes or a CEO announcing more manufacturing plant closures.  Why this part of the country is still called “the heartland” I’m not sure. Does America like to pretend it’s still an agrarian country, even though according to the 2010 census, more than 80% of the population lives in cities?  Does it mean that this flown-over swath of land is somehow the pulse of the country?  If so, that means the pulse of the country–my mother’s efforts notwithstanding–beats red: the heartland went mostly Republican in 2012 (although Iowa and Illinois went for Obama).

And I guess the election maps don’t lie: the heartland is home to a host of people who seem hell-bent on out-TeaPartying each other: consider Michelle Bachman, although don’t think too hard about her or your head will explode; or Ohio’s John Kasich, who just signed some of the most restrictive reproductive rights laws in the country; or John Thune from Nebraska, who says that the family is the most basic unit of government (and is against gay marriage, natch). The heart of the country, it seems, beats red with fear of People Who Are Different.

“Different” in this context of course means “people who aren’t exactly like I am and thus must be weird and dangerous and somehow controlled, patrolled, quarantined.”

Sometimes, then, it’s a grim exercise to read the local newspaper out here (although let’s face it, reading any newspaper anywhere these days feels like a pretty grim exercise). Almost daily I think that the world is going to hell in a handbag–and not even a designer handbag, but a cheap handbag, some faux-leather knockoff.

But visiting my mom this time, I’ve seen a tiny glimmer of hope, in a rather unexpected place.

Water balloons.

The other day, out here in Americana-ville, where the trees are big and green and fluffy, and the hiss of the sprinklers competes only with the sounds of birds, my kids dragged a plastic wagon filled with water balloons out to the front yard.  My stepfather, an African American (who voted for Hilary, god love him, in the 2008 primary), orchestrated a massive water balloon battle with my two kids, who call my stepfather Grandpa (and whose biological grandparents come from Chicago…and Karachi and Manila) and the two boys next door, whose gay fathers adopted them from Guatamala, and the six-year old girl across the street whose hair is so short that Caleb spent the entire afternoon thinking that she was a boy.

They played for hours, these kids, moving to hoses and water guns when the water balloon supply ran out; they played without thinking about who had what kind of parent or whose skin was dark brown or light brown or white with freckles; they screamed and laughed and slipped on the wet grass, and they were at home in the heartland.



Continue Reading · on July 18, 2013 in family, Kids, Parenting, Politics, Travel

Schadenfreude Beach


Driving from Camp Grandma to Chicago on our midwestern vacation last week, we stopped at a secret: this beach. This beach which is in Indiana. Yes, Indiana. The same state that gave us the smells of Gary, the sound of Dan Quayle, and the Indianapolis 500, has an amazingly lovely string of beaches that follow the southern tip of Lake Michigan.

We had a wonderful day here, romping with cousins, in and out of the waves, until sundown. We gave all the kids pizza on the beach for dinner and they thought they’d died and gone to heaven. Pizza? and the beach? Bliss.

And somehow out there on the lake shore, it seemed okay to be wearing a two-piece bathing suit. Maybe because I was with “just” family? Or maybe it was because I was in the midwest, where a startling number of people resemble large pink hams?

Were I to appear on a beach in, say, Southampton, however, someone would doubtless call the local constabulary who would then have to invoke the mandatory caftan ordinance. I would be summarily swathed in designer linen and escorted to the nearest westbound jitney.

East Hampton, where we are going to visit friends later this week, has a slightly more relaxed caftan policy, thank goodness, so I think everything will be fine. After all, once your town has counted Jackson Pollack and co. as residents, you can’t be too uptight about anything, can you? 

But just to be safe? I’m tucking a caftan into my overnight bag.

And if you’re thinking about a vacation for next summer? You could do worse than flying to Chicago and then heading east to the Indiana beaches. It will be our secret.

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Continue Reading · on August 14, 2010 in Travel

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