Friday, July 30, 2010

Cincinnati's Just OK

I wrote a piece that's in CityBeat this week; here it is.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Life of the Mind

Jay returned from an evening walk with the boys and again proclaimed that we must move out of our neighborhood. Alas, we cannot afford to, as you've heard me griping about already. When I hear him say, "I make what I make. We don't have enough money," what I hear is, "If you had a real job, we could afford to move (and afford a million other things)." The message I hear sends me into a tailspin every time.

The job thing. It's more complex than having or not having a job, firstly because the pay in my field is modest. Adjunct English jobs pay a pittance, generally not enough to make it worthwhile if it necessitates childcare. For example, a course at a local community college pays $900 for a nine-week term. Childcare for two would mean about six hours per week. Do the math. It's sobering.

But as my one adjunct gig wants to see me "professionalizing" in my field—writing papers, presenting at conferences, getting articles published—I realize that my hang-up with teaching isn't purely economic. It's the challenge of maintaining the life of the mind when my daily life leaves no room for such luxuries.

Why, I ask myself, did I pursue an area of study so irreconcilably at odds with the practicalities of life? I'm baffled by my oversight. And now I'm scrambling to figure out how my schooling may transfer to some kind of livelihood outside of academia, because I don't see any way of scraping together the massive amounts of thinking time I'd need.

So now I'm thinking of all those other mothers out there, whose life of the mind is challenged by raising a family. Our minds are never idle—not by any stretch. Rather, they are occupied constantly by the daily details, vigilant attentions, to-do lists, decisions, and tiny teachable moments that have taken the place of quiet reading and careful scholarly contemplation.

Truthfully, it's much easier to attend to the daily life than it is to retain academic conversation in the foreground. The struggle comes with hoping they'll reside under the same roof. It's hard keeping house here, sometimes.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Elbow Grease

Those of you who have visited my home have no doubt noticed that our bathrooms don't typically exude that "We Were Expecting You" feel, even if we were, in fact, expecting you. We knew you were coming, but still, it wasn't enough of a nudge to clean the damn bathrooms.

First of all, I apologize. I love a clean bathroom as much as the next person, but for some reason I just don't get enthused about cleaning my own, and there are a million other things to keep clean: dishes, diapers and duds immediately come to mind. What's more, a bathroom in my house stays clean for about forty-five seconds (just like the litter boxes). Maybe there's a bat-signal I don't know about: Clean bathroom! Clean bathroom! So although it makes no sense, there's little encouragement. At least I can admire my clean sink until the next meal.

Well, back to the bathrooms. Did you notice the toilets were not as sparkly as they should be? That they even had stains in the bowls? Why am I asking? Of course you noticed. Who hops onto a toilet without looking in the bowl? No flies on you. The toilets were atrocious.

Well not anymore, I smugly report. I whipped them into shape. So come on over, 'cause they're clean as new and we all know they won't stay that way for long. I'm not going to include a snapshot, because you know what a clean toilet bowl looks like. You haven't seen one in my house, so all the more reason to stop by. Have a drink. Visit the powder room.

But my post, though brimming with satisfaction, is not simply about Mission Accomplished. It's the means, my friend, not the ends. "Scale remover" topped my grocery lists for the past month because I was too miserly to spring and exorbitant eight bucks for a bottle of mystery chem. I absolutely hate spending money on something like that, potent but undrinkable. Gawd. If I'm going to get a bottle of whoopass, it's bleach. Bleach is bleach. Cheap, mean, and gets the job done. End of story. It's my version of having a gun in the house.

So no scale remover. Just me versus the toilet. I did use some bleach, let it sit, let it think about the possibilities. Not much help. Then, scrubbing away with my yellow gloves and scrubby sponge, I began to think of other tactics. What is this stuff like? It's the question I ask when I don't have the right word, or tool, or technique. It should have been so obvious, perhaps: removing toilet scale is like getting my teeth cleaned. Scrape scrape scrape. So I grabbed a small flathead screwdriver and got to work, carefully chipping away. It worked like a charm. Pretty nifty.

Now I'm thinking of all those other chemicals people use in their home, and I wonder how we'd all make do without them. We'd probably have stronger, well-greased elbows—and minds too.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Quiet time

When Elliott's asleep it's hard for me to reconcile this picture of peacefulness with the ball of fire he is when he's awake. Lately he has become more assertive, getting angry when he comes up against all those "can'ts"--can't hit or kick or sit on Ezra; can't use the windows as drums; can't have cookies instead of dinner. And on it goes. It's damn difficult redirecting him, changing can'ts into cans in the blink of an eye. I'm not that good at it, really, and I say "no" an awful lot more than I'd like.

But then I look at him sleeping, and I think, "How on earth do I say 'no' to this guy all day?"

Friday, July 9, 2010

Forget about the Toe!

As I sit here at my laptop, late at night, in the quiet house, I'm searching to learn what my fellow Cincinnatians are saying about Westwood. I live in Westwood. It's the city's largest neighborhood, and its reputation is complex and generally unflattering.

This all matters to me because I think we'd like to move (away from here), which will be very difficult unless something miraculous happens. But that's another post.

As my head spins with a million conjectures, my thoughts naturally turn to my two boys, who are sleeping soundly. Elliott, poor dear, has one fewer toenails than he should. While romping in the back yard last night, he caught it on something, and pulled the pinky toenail right off. He has taken it well, though he limps around a bit, and I am doing my best with the Bactine and ointment. If our luck holds, we won't have a toe situation on our hands.

I can't protect them from everything. Try as I might, I can't ensure that all toenails will remain on their toes, as we hope they will. But I do my best. And that's why we're trying to move, away from our corner lot, and a bit farther away from the rough-around-the-edges parts of our city. I look back at the environment my parents created for me, and contrast it with the one I'm providing for my kids, and I keep wishing I could do better. Something quieter. Something greener. Something safer.