Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lost in Kansas, planet earth

I live in Olathe, Kansas. Before that, I lived in Lawrence, Kansas. Before that, I lived a hundred other places, or so it seems. I moved here after I married and we needed to find a place closer to Kansas City, where Jim worked. Olathe was a compromise, a suburb that was a close enough commute yet not quite a suburb in the traditional sense, a farming town swallowed up by the spread of construction flowing out from the population core. Some of my friends make fun of Olathe. They wouldn't live here because it doesn't have a Whole Foods or a Williams-Sonoma or a number of other upscale money-siphons. Our local grocery store is flanked by Brown Bag Liquor and Tina's massage parlor.

Then again, I chose it precisely because I couldn't live in one of those other suburbs, which I consider special versions of hell, not the brilliant hellscapes as painted by Bosch or Delacroix, but rather hell as depicted by a mediocre no-name artist churning out canvases for mid-grade motel rooms.

I don't particularly like Olathe, don't feel at home here, it's full of milo farmers and churchgoers and kids who drop out of high school and women who knit and vote Republican. But if you looked at an aerial view of Kansas City, Google maps maybe, you would see that Olathe is teetering on the edge of civilization, flanked on one side by farmland and wheat fields and acres of wide open nothing. And this is why I live here, because when I am too full of the world I can drive a mile or two out of town and breathe in the life-giving air of the almost wild.

Anna was four months old when we moved here. I thought I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. After I tried it for a while, I grew depressed and bored beyond belief. This had nothing to do with my love for my daughter, which is so keen it knocks me double sometimes, only with the activities that filled a typical day.

Though I had doubts I would find my niche in Olathe, in the beginning I made a concerted effort to get out and meet other women. I introduced myself to the other stay-at-home moms in my subdivision. I joined the YMCA and subsequently, their book club. They read books like “Let's Roll”, which was written by a 9/11 widow and as far as I could tell was a paean to the Bush administration and Christianity, I really don't know because I ended up throwing it across the room before I ever finished it, or maybe into the fireplace, I don't remember. I quit after a short time. So that left me to the neighborhood moms. Sometimes we would chat on the sidewalk while our children played. Sometimes we would go so far as to meet for coffee.

Our conversations were mostly benign. We would talk of the weather, decorating schemes, what we were planting in the garden, was so-and-so’s gazebo allowed under association rules and of course, our children. Endless, endless talk of children until I thought my head would explode. We avoided any mention of the delicious underbelly of life, the raw and the dangerous. Our social antennae steered us clear of potentially charged topics the way air traffic controllers guided jets in along separate trajectories to avoid collision.

Sometimes, over coffee, I would break custom and venture deeper. We would first get the children settled with toys or cartoons or what have you and then we, this other mother and I, would begin a process of trying to find something in common. She might talk about the croup, which they just finished with, and did Anna get the croup? We both liked to cook, yes, though finding time was a challenge. Haven’t quilted in ages, no. I did enjoy plays. She happened to have extra tickets to Peter and the Wolf and would Anna and I like to join them? How kind of her! Was I a reader? I was! But no, didn’t care for Mitch Albom, read mostly literary fiction. Her handbag? Well, it was lovely. No, I hadn’t heard of Coach. Wasn’t really much of a shopper. Bought my purses at Target (ha ha).

She says something about carrying her breast pump in there, in her Coach purse, and I think, aha! And I tell her about how I tried to breast feed and how Anna wasn't growing and my pediatrician told me I needed to put her on formula, failure to thrive they called it, and I sat in her office and cried inconsolably, and she put a hand on my knee and told me this, she told me it was not God's will that I breastfeed. My doctor! Can you believe that? As if God looked down upon my child and said thou shalt have Enfamil. Of all the things. And then she actually quoted something from Paul's epistle to someone-or-other and while I'm not Christian I can appreciate a lot of the New Testament, especially some of the gospels, but I always thought Paul a bit of a noob, thought he missed the point entirely, but I realize she was just trying to comfort me and people so often fall back on religion to do this. In fact, wasn’t that what they were getting at in Life of Pi, at the end when he was rescued and you realized the whole fantastical story was one he had made up to maintain his sanity and keep himself from being consumed by the grief of losing his family and that really, really, he was talking about religion, and wasn’t religion truly just a bunch of fantastical stories we tell ourselves to maintain our sanity and settle our souls? And I don’t say that to belittle religion, though I often do belittle religion, but in this regard I think it serves a rather beautiful purpose, which is to help salve the human heart. Not mine specifically, but I'm talking about humankind in general. However the whole irony of religion, in my opinion, is that to benefit from it you have to be deeply engaged with humanity and I've always just felt like a tourist here myself, does that make any sense at all?

And here this other mother looked at me like a deer in the fucking headlights and I realized I had lost her at Coach and Anna and I were never going to see Peter and the Wolf.

After two years I went back to work. I got a job as Executive Director for a small nonprofit. I worked ridiculously long hours for ridiculously low pay until I realized someone would pay me more money to do less work, and I opted for that. Now I work with spreadsheets and it's better, okay. I started out there three days a week, so I could write on my off days, but there was too much work, so I moved to four days and then to five, and the days bleed into weeks into years.

Sometimes in the summer, it's still light when I get home from work and I drive past the turnoff to our subdivision. I keep driving out past town and into the farmland. I roll down my windows and breathe in the scent of young wheat green after a fresh rain and let the wind play through my hair and turn up the music until I feel it in my arms and my throat and the corners of my eyes and let it all take me away, far away, somewhere, I don't know where.

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  1. Well said. My "wide open space" has become this computor, it's not fresh air and farm smells, but it's better than the bottle.

  2. feels like you are visitor on another planet..not quite fitting in, but all the same feeling yourself in this place. We'd love to have you as an author on Writers Rising. Please send me an e-mail at and I'll send you details.

  3. Nice. I'm a city boy, born and bred, but I still like to drive out to Spring Hill (!) from downtown KC for my haircut. That way, I can see the country, catch a glimpse of the llamas, clear my head. You've spoiled "Life of Pi" for me. Fortunately, with age-related dementia, I won't remember.

  4. WOW! I was totally there with you, KB. Awesome post!

  5. I agree with Brenda, felt like I was there with you!
    I love living where I do now, only a 15 min walk and there are gorgeous woods to walk in with a burn running through it. So peaceful.
    I'm sure one day I'll get to go there without the kids... right? ;)

  6. Well, way to write that one! I enjoy the way you express your ideas - and i so agree with Life of Pi's asessment that we tell ourselves stories to carry us through...and some people's stories are of course nuttier as they gain momentum in the masses...:)

  7. I have nothing to say, other than I loved this posting.

  8. Nice post, thanks for sharing a bit of your perspective. The SAHM thing was hard for me at first and I think every SAHM would really just like a nice balance between work and kids. I have done both and am finally comfortable with being at home, though sometimes still wish I worked.

  9. Nice post K. Makes me wish I did not write so much drivel.

  10. I'll be coming back to this like a daily prayer for sanity, for space, for shared experience. Ever so much - thank you.

  11. Thanks everyone for the beautiful comments. Susan, welcome, nice to see a new face. So appreciate your compliment.

  12. Twenty years ago I walked into playgroup with my small daughter and was met by a deathly silence, the conversations stopped for a moment or two as the mothers looked me up and down and then they ignored me. I am able to strike up a conversation with anyone and that day I tried and failed miserably. I ended up going and playing in the sand pit with the children. I charmed their children but I was never able to crack the ice and feel welcomed by these women.

    Even now after 20 years in this community I feel an outsider. My girlfriends don't live close enough to casually pop in for a chat and I was desperately lonely. Then I discovered blogging.

    There was a 15 minute info/doco thingy on the Tea Party last night.As I watched it I thought of you. Aaah now this is what Kristin is talking about, now I understand. Watching that Palin woman work a crowd of people also gave me the shivers.

  13. I cannot put into words how much I enjoyed reading this. So happy to have found your corner of the web. --JM

  14. You are fabulous. I'm so glad I found you, and I can totally relate living smack dab in the middle of the Bible/Bush belt and always feeling a little odd being there. I'll definitely be back.

  15. I blame this post for giving me brain pain.
    It got me thinking - and thinking - and thinking.
    Then I had to have a lie down.
    You know - the choices we make - seems they all involve a sacrifice of some kind.
    Trying to fit that square peg in a round hole.
    So I got in the car, wound the window down and lost myself in the wind and the grass and the trees.


Mmmm, comments - nom, nom, nom, nom!


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