On All the Small Things: An Ode to My Family and the Midwest

Not my actual family, but it looks like my grandparents’ backyard in the Midwest.

Not my actual family, but it looks like my grandparents’ backyard in the Midwest.

I don’t have a perfect life. Too often I have too many things going on at once. Then I feel overwhelmed and stressed. I’m disappointed when things don’t turn out the way I thought they would or I trusted someone I shouldn’t have. I worry. I flounder outside my comfort zone wondering if I’ll ever again be in a comfort zone. I’m not where I thought I’d be at this point in my life. I question the life choices that led me here. I question my intuition. I act out of fear more than I’d like to. I have habits that aren’t so great. Sometimes it seems like I’m heading away from my goals rather than toward them. I wonder if I’m behind. I wonder if I know where I’m headed. I wonder if anyone can really know where they’re headed.

I say all this not to feel sorry for myself. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I feel human. I recognize that we all live this human experience. Life is full of the stuff I mentioned above and it’s also full of all the small things that make it totally worthwhile.

The tough stuff actually makes me feel connected. Which is all any of us really want if we break it down. The tough stuff also allows me to appreciate all the other stuff that isn’t tough. I routinely practice gratitude, but every now and then I get an extra boost. Probably just when I need it.

And that’s just what I got this past weekend when I traveled back to the Midwest for a cousin’s wedding.

Trail at Side Cut Park in Maumee, Ohio, one of my favorite parks to go to when visiting my family.

Trail at Side Cut Park in Maumee, Ohio, one of my favorite parks to go to when visiting my family.

I don’t know that I’ll ever want to live there again, but I felt intense gratitude for having grown up in such a beautiful place and time. As I strolled in the humidity, gazing at the lush green trees and grass, I was instantly transported back to the summer days and nights of my childhood. The nostalgia was almost overwhelming.

I realized (yet again) that it’s always about the small things. Conversation with a loved one. The sun setting an hour later than I’m now used to. Fireflies. Not having to wear a jacket at night. A sip of wine. Baseball games. Laughter. The river. A lake. Neighborhoods full of life and dreams. Hugs.

There’s something about the Midwest. Something wholesome, innocent, kind, and welcoming. It’s blue collar and community-oriented. I left it because I thought it was boring (and cold af), but as I age I shift away from that judgment more to dependable. It’ll always feel like home to me no matter where I live.

I developed my best (and worst) traits in the Midwest. Naivety. Loyalty. Hard work. An open heart. Forgiveness. These characteristics don’t always serve me well in the dog eat dog situations of a competitive city, but I’ll always choose disappointment over cynicism.

This is where I learned to love the outdoors, sports, and games of all kinds (Shout out to Euchre!). The dark days of winter gave me a love of books and writing. Carbs and cheese are a food group in this magical place.

Card games were required in my family.

Card games were required in my family.

And as much as the geography and culture of the Midwest has shaped me, my family has played an even larger role. I come from a BIG extended family. My mom was one of nine kids, my dad was one of five, and they grew up in the same hometown. That means lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins that luckily are pretty bad ass. Holidays were always chaotic and fun.

In a family that large, I learned to love people. All kinds of people. I learned to connect and converse easily. I learned how to snag food and eat it quickly. I learned to think and question and debate. I learned to be open minded and have a sense of humor.   

Since I moved out west, time with my family has decreased. Even when I make it home I don’t always get to see everyone. We’re all busy and scattered about the country and planet. But when we do get together, it feels as if no time has passed. Never mind the marriages, new children, wrinkles, and retirements. It’s still easy like Sunday morning.

This trip I ran a race with one of my cousins, watched some little league baseball, had sleepovers with my mom and sister, dance partied at the reception, cuddled my niece, and pool partied before flying out. Just like childhood. Minus the niece part.

Sometimes we need a taste of childhood. It’s simplicity and innocence. A reminder of what’s actually important in life (Hint, it’s not those bills.).

I parted ways with my family, looking forward to the next reunion and laughing at the banter on the Cousins WhatsApp group. I returned to my other home refreshed, grateful, and at peace. This week the world has looked a little more like the Midwest and my family. And I know that I’m exactly where I should be in life having this human experience.