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.



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5 Responses to changes in the heart(land)

  1. Rosanna July 18, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    I love the way your words flow. What a nice post, so subtly honing down on the message. Yes, we do have a lot to learn from children.

  2. Arnebya July 18, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

    Oh, to have the unaffected view of a child. Let’s just be, let’s just have fun. It is so innate and easy and…correct.

    Separately, how are you IN Illinois but can’t make your way next week to Chicago? Hmmmmm?
    Arnebya recently posted..Guest Posting at Things I Can’t SayMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn July 18, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

      I know–it was going to be perfect: leave the kids out here in cornland & head to Blogher. And then two friends decided to launch their second marriage (to each other) ON BLOGHER WEEKEND. Can you imagine…they didn’t even *consult* me in terms of their timing. So it’s off to Cape Cod for me next week & while lord knows there are worse places to be on a July weekend, I am really sad to miss Blogher. And you. And…well, that’s another post, my missing Blogher.

  3. Michelle Longo July 29, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    I grew up in a very multi-cultural neighborhood. The other end of town was all white, but my end of town was not. Half the kids that would be in my yard didn’t speak English, but as long as they could figure out the game and they weren’t jerks, they were allowed in to play. It helped when we knew their names, but honestly, some of them I don’t know where they came from or who they were, but I definitely knew which ones I wanted on my kickball team.

    I love that I still see that innocence in my son. I hope it lasts a very, very long time.
    Michelle Longo recently posted..Back From Vacation.My Profile

    • Deborah Quinn July 31, 2013 at 6:28 am #

      I hope your son’s innocence lasts too — I grew up in a pretty lily-white neighborhood but luckily had parents who didn’t think that quality was particularly valuable. They always wanted us to see & explore the rest of the world, and it sounds like you’ll make sure of the same thing for your son.

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