Finding hope and happiness somewhere in the middle
By Lauren Green
Illustration by Jennifer Hart
The middle seat. Is there anywhere more uncomfortable?
I am three hours into my first substantial flight in more than a year, sitting, as you probably guessed, in the dreaded middle seat.
Actually, there used to be a time when I purposefully sought out the middle. I remember being a little girl, eyes wide open in the dark, imagining all sorts of nighttime threats coming from under my bed and out of my closet. With fear-fueled intention, I would tiptoe into my parents’ bedroom and search for the red light of my dad’s bedtime cigarette, glowing like a beacon.
It was the mid-’70s, and the perils of co-sleeping (not to mention smoking in bed) were not on my parents’ radar. So, most nights my dad would throw back the covers and help me scramble into that space between him and my mom. The middle was just where I wanted to be, but not for very long. My feet, confined to my footed Barbie PJs, would start to sweat and with every flip of position, that barely full-size bed got even smaller. Before long, safety felt more like suffocation. The middle is a complicated place at best.
Recently, my parents traveled here from out of state to attend my daughter’s college graduation. Without skipping a beat, conversation bounced from future plans to partial plates. Welcome to my current middle. On one side I have young-adult children, bursting with promise and smooth skin. On the other side, aging parents, doing the best they can to keep track of their prescriptions and where they parked the car.
I’ve been living in this space between my children and my parents for more than 20 years now, but somehow, what once felt secure nowadays seems less comfortable. It was not that long ago when my kids would trip on something, spill a drink or run around yelling. Now, it’s more likely that my parents are the ones tripping, spilling or talking too loudly (which could be attributed to the fact that a certain someone — I won’t mention names — won’t get her hearing checked)
“IN WHAT SEEMS LIKE BOTH YESTERDAY AND A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, I WAS A KID SNUGGLING BETWEEN MY PARENTS, SEEKING REFUGE. IN THE NOT-TOO-DISTANT FUTURE, IF I’M LUCKY, I’LL GET TO BE A GRANDPARENT. TODAY, THOUGH, FINDS ME FIRMLY POSITIONED HERE IN THE IN-BETWEEN.”
To be fair, I suppose soon enough my kids will be making the same observations about my husband and me. And most days, I am OK with this. I concede that the march of time stops for no one. Once in a while, though, like when I wore those footed PJs, I start sweating the details. How long will things stay the same? What will it be like when change comes
Maybe a solution is on my phone. Thinking back to my daughter’s graduation, it was a terrific weekend. As is our norm during such milestones, we took lots of photos. My husband used his fancy camera; I used an iPhone. Surprisingly, the images from the phone turned out better, mostly thanks to the portrait feature. With this setting, there is a tab that allows you to magically control the blur. Slide it to the side and the background fades away, in effect bringing the designated subject into clearer focus. I admit the background of my own big picture, or lack thereof, can get crowded with pesky questions like what if, how come and why now. Perhaps a targeted blur is in order, bringing clarity to the precious impermanence of living tucked in tight in this middle place.
Not long ago, I guided my son as he set up utilities for his first apartment. Later, I was talking with my mom and brainstorming how and when she and Dad should downsize into what might be their last address. As personal as these experiences are, I know they are not unique to me. In what seems like both yesterday and a hundred years ago, I was a kid snuggling between my parents, seeking refuge. In the not-too-distant future, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to be a grandparent. Today, though, finds me firmly positioned here in the in-between.
Thankfully, I am hardly alone. The middle is a real place for many of us, even though the specifics and circumstances might be different. If the number of you juxtaposed between people you love is any indication, then Southlake can be considered a sandwich community to be sure; all of us sliding that tab, looking for clarity as best we can. So, scoot over y’all, make room and know that I am grateful you are with me, here in the middle.