Sunday, April 28, 2013

Second Best

I'm currently the second-best mother in our family.  I hear "NO! Mommy! No Mama!" way too often.  This regime started slowly around the same time I started doing overnights in Baltimore.  It's good that LB and B function really well while I'm gone, and LB feels safe and secure with her Mommy, but it sucks being second best.  I know it sucks for all those dads and straight-moms who are second best, but from my humble perspective, being the second best of two moms digs just a little bit deeper.  A parent who is second best in an opposite couple at least has the excuse of "of course a small child would feel closer to her [insert mother or father] at this stage in her development."  Meanwhile, I'll I've got is "of course it's natural for a young child to prefer a mom who is more fun and entertaining, and generally less pissy."

We hit a low point when LB was sick and shrieky and miserable.  I spent five solid days with her and could not maintain a good attitude about not only dealing with a miserable child, but a miserable child who wanted me to go away so that she could have Mommy.  Since then I've been redoubling my efforts to find joy with LB on her terms.  Although we've only been once so far, swimming is a good activity we both enjoy, and one during which she is happy to cling to me without thinking of Mommy.  When I can get past my grumpiness and be silly with her, we can have a good time, and even if it's only for a few minutes, I try to focus on that time.

My second-best-ness in motherhood has dovetailed nicely with my second-best-ness in employment-and sadly that is probably a massive overestimation.  I assume that when you send out your employment materials and hear nothing, you aren't second best, you are hundred-and-something best.  These are times when it sucks to be an academic, and not only because I am the most overqualified underqualified person out there (or rather one among too many such people, I read this post and felt sympathy, empathy, and fear).  Academic life habituates the experience of failure.  Of course, there is the job market.  When I was still young and tender, I sent out my tens of dossiers each season.  I did reasonably well in the getting of interviews, and spent a good amount of time on long, awkward interview visits.  The worst were the ones when I realized a few hours after hitting campus that it was highly unlikely anyone would vote for me, and I was only there because of a favor to an old friend or a departmental rivalry, neither of which would get me an offer.  Slightly better were the visit where I didn't bomb, was reasonably witty during dinner, and held out hope that maybe I might get a call for a job that was too much work for too little money in a place I had no desire to live.  Then hope would die slowly over the silent weeks that followed.

Eventually after what felt like a few hundred application packets, I did get a job.  I'm trying to remember that you don't need to get every job, you just need one.  Beyond the brutalities of "the market," academia teaches you that anything good is suspect, that you're not smart until you disassemble something and reveal its flaws.  That training did make me smarter, but it also made me aware of my flaws to a degree too honest to be useful in an entrepreneurial society.  Maybe I could monetize second-best-ness by inventing a new genre, not the failure memoir, but the not quite good enough memoir.  Probably that already exists.

I welcome advice, and that is not something I say very often.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"because you look so fine/ and I really want to make you mine"

In breaking news, Same Sex marriage bill passed Rhode Island Senate by a wide margin. Easy passage is expected in the House, and the bill has support of the Governor.  B and I must have the touch, first Maryland, now Rhode Island.  If we moved to every state in the Union (and Puerto Rico), do you think they would all pass gay marriage?

Today was a beautiful Baltimore day, sunny and warm, with just enough cool breeze.  My students and I went on a tour of historic West Baltimore.  We saw lovely boulevards and historic homes, abandoned orphanages, vacant homes, schools loud with children, churches, brutalist buildings, housing project with attempts at modernist finishes, and the wide open spaces of urban renewal.  Through it all cherry blossoms rained down on us.

At home, LB got a diagnosis of pneumonia on Monday, after a few days of albuterol induced madness.  She is rallying, but it's not a time that I want to be away from my ladies.  As my time in Baltimore winds down, I find myself at the same hotel where B and I stayed when we first visited the city to look for a place to live.  I'm hoping I'll sleep the sleep of closure tonight.

Friday, April 19, 2013

City of Hate/ City of Love

Like everyone else I was horrified and freaked out and saddened by the bombing at the Boston Marathon.  I'm also a bit mystified by the city that responded to that horror, a city, apparently, where people are helpful and kind and behave admirably in a crisis.

I moved to Boston in 1990 as an eighteen year old.  My city was the city of hate.  In 1990, 152 people were murdered in Boston, almost three times the number murdered in 2012.  My Boston was violent, grubby, insular, and angry.  It's strange to think back, because I don't really remember those years as bad times, but when I enumerate the "incidents," they were many.  I was punched in the back of the head for no apparent reason, choked at a show, cursed out so many times-the most memorable time was being called numerous versions of "ugly white bitch" on a long, long trip on the Green Line.  So many men exposed themselves to me-for me Red Sox will always mean gross men in dirty sweatpants.  I was offered money for sex many more times than a mousey, bookish girl would really expect.  In Boston, there were places I didn't go because my friends who had grown up there warned me that those were places where they would jump you for being an outsider and a freak.

The day we moved in to our first apartment, a guy came stumbling out of the nearby park bleeding from his stomach.  Before cell phones, we ran to the frat house next door to try and find a phone.  In my Boston, I looked out my window one night and saw white frat guys and Vietnamese kids fighting in the streets with baseball bat and pipes.

In my Boston, someone always seemed to bust out with a racial epithet.  During the Clarence Thomas hearings, I rode the Green Line with a crowded car of BU students.  One Black girl doggedly focused on her textbook in car filled with white boys making jokes about Black bitches.

My Boston taught me.  It taught me to be safe in the city by becoming invisible.  It showed me what never having enough does to people and spaces.  Boston made me want to know the world in all its violent, horrible glory.  In Boston, I learned that any stranger who speaks to you is probably a sociopath, and I've spent decades trying to unlearn that lesson.

Time, the economy has softened Boston, but it still has hard edges, and in hard times people put those edges to good use, love in the city of hate.

Waiting for KittyCat

LB's obsession with kittycats has reached a new high and she is fascinated by the skittish feral cats who live on our block.    Recently her preferred activity is standing on the street looking at the bushes where the kittycats sometimes hide.  Unfortunately this activity is usually proceeded by some period of screaming "kittycat! kittycat! kittycat hide! kittycat bushes in there!" followed by a period of negotiation: "mama doesn't really doesn't want to stand in the rain waiting for a kittycat that may or may not show up." But waiting for kittycat is better than listening to screaming, so we wait.

Providence is no Baltimore.  In Baltimore, 5:00pm is prime time for friendly loitering.  Our residential street was full of people young and old, filled with stories and complaints.  If a kittycat was desired and not forthcoming, a sympathetic neighbor was sure to procure a mangy beast for a toddler's enjoyment.  In contrast, our Providence street was quiet.  We saw one fleeting kittycat, and someone smoking while wrapped in a blue surgical gown (we live near a hospital).

Hopefully as the weather gets warmer, others will join us on watch.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"England's not the mythical land of Madame George and roses/ It's the home of police who kill blacks boys on mopeds"

I've been really enjoying this week's lively discussions of Thatcherism.  This piece from NPR on music in the Thatcher Era was fun, although I wish it had been longer.  My childhood, my real name even, represented the dying days of Irish-American Irish nationalism in my family.  That political identity meshed well with the anglo political rock of the 80s, followed by good doses of Stuart Hall and E. P. Thompson in the 90s and 00s.  It's always interesting to think about how those cultural bits and pieces that you pick up throughout life form a self.

In my 80s youth in the barely middle class, I went to a mediocre public high school in a larger New England town, or maybe it would be a very small city.  It was the only high school in the area, and, thus, attempted to educate students of all kinds in a John Hughes-erific manner.  While the education I received was intellectually uninspiring, socially brutal, and ethically challenged, the teachers and administrators did offer us some surprisingly forthright life lessons.

A friend posted this article about a terrible motivational speaker for high school students (abstinence type), and so many memories came flooding back.

1) Wet Brain.  A visiting speaker warned us about the dangers of drinking hard liquor directly from the bottle because if you drink a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time, your body doesn't have time to send out distress signals like vomiting or passing out and you could get alcohol poisoning and die or be permanently injured.  The solution we were offered: always use a shot glass.

2) Never lie down in the snow when drunk.  You will feel very warm, fall asleep, and die of exposure. As I remember it, this lesson came from one of the popular kids who got really drunk on a school-sponsored ski trip to Canada and passed out in a snowbank.  I think he had to give the talk as part of his punishment.  Having snoozed in many a snowbank while drunk, I found his presentation a bit overwrought, but point taken.

3) "Drop a Dime." I thought this phrase was generally recognizable, but B teases me mercilessly every time I use it.  I think there were "Drop a Dime" commercials in the 80s, but there was also an officer of the law who came to our high school to tell us how much money we could make as police informants (narc!).  Maybe they were trying to build on the success of 21 Jump Street?

4) "Crack is Whack."  The version of these PSAs that played in 80s New England did not feature rap or break dancing, rather, we got three white boys with heavy Boston accents in a hospital room.  The crack smoker was unconscious, and his friends warned us of the dangers.

5) "Stop laughing-statistically two people in this room are gay." So said my driver's ed teacher to some kids making gay jokes.  I still don't have a driver's license, but he was a nice man.

Friday, April 12, 2013

"It's a hard-knock life"

6 hours, 15 minutes

That's how long I was on a plane on Wednesday night.  The flight should take 45 minutes.  We pushed back three times.  But, we did get home.  As I was walking out of the airport I overheard the woman next to me saying "It's the not knowing that kills you!"  And while sitting on a Southwest flight for 6+ hours isn't up there with say, being a Guantanamo hunger striker, it is the not knowing that makes it more painful.

Also, I hadn't brought a book.  I can't believe I didn't have a book-isn't that one of life's first lessons: always bring a book.  But I didn't feel like carrying a book, so I just brought a newspaper and figured that would keep me busy for 45 minutes.  Lesson learned.

Other life lessons from this week: don't be afraid to try.  We have a free family membership to the Y, so I've been meaning to take LB for family swim, but I've been scared.  I didn't want to get all the way there and then have her freak out on the pool deck.  We finally went last week and she LOVED it.  She had no objections and we both had a great time and got some exercise, with the added benefit of better behavior throughout the day, presumably because she wasn't bored out of her mind.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Cheap Eats: Donuts

Today we had an excursion to Allie's Donuts, and since we had made the trip we had to buy a dozen and a "coffee, regular." Coffee regular (weak coffee with cream and sugar) is one of those New Englandism that I once thought was the way the whole world ordered coffee.  I always ordered coffee-cream-no-sugar, but probably haven't said that is some twenty years, because how many places still fix your coffee for you?  The donuts at Allie's were good, but not life altering.  B and I sample as many donuts as we can, although, sadly, the donut is a dying American gastronomic form.  The best donut I have ever had was at Old Fashioned Donuts on the far South Side of Chicago.  I'm still not sure if this memory was overly influenced by the hour drive on local streets preceded the donuts.  I just remember how tender they were, so tender.  After testing at least seven bakeries in greater-Portland, OR, B and I are agreed that Annie's Donuts is the best.  I loved the apple cider donuts at Atkins Farm in Amherst when I was in college, and eat a bag of them every chance I get.

I cannot abide flashy donuts like Voodoo and Fractured Prune.  I won't even mention the donut behemoth DandD.  They have ruined the donut through mass production, and likely run all the good donut shops out of town.  The donut is a food rooted in New England, and as such it's essential nature is to be simple and not overly sweet.  The important thing is the tender cake with a thin crust.  I like glazes and fillings, but not frostings or sprinkles--too much.  The Allies donuts had good interiors, tender and not too sweet, but the exterior was a little too crusty and crunchy, throwing off the overall balance.

After donuts, we went to the beach, which was cool and breezy.  LB collected rocks, and we temped the waves until we lost-resulting in wet feet.  I'm back home.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Bigger than a Hamburger"

Today, I was thinking about the death of MLK forty-five years ago, and Ella Baker's essay "Bigger than a Hamburger," came to mind.  In the essay, Baker critiques the cult of personality that surrounded King and other (male) civil rights leaders.  But when King died, he wasn't the man of adulation and crowds, he was a man tired but not broken by the weight of his responsibilities and the world's suffering.  He knew how his life would end, and still kept on, marching with sanitation workers in Memphis, who were striking for better pay and improved working conditions.

Baker reminds us of the goals of the young people she mentored.  Those goals were not only to improve their own lives, the lives of their friends, their family, or people who share their racial identity, but rather to make the world a better, more equal place.

The sorrow, frustration, and rage that followed King's death remains written on the bodies of so many American cities.  Those scars mark a moment in time, but the other scars of discrimination and inequality keep rising.  Today, I rode a bus filled with students from the local "struggling" high school. Black and brown students (90% in a city that's 55% white), low-income students (85%), all taking the bus to the central bus station downtown where they would likely transfer to another bus on the trip back home.  On my way back I walked, which took me past two private schools (world class!) with well tended lawns and young white students playing, older white students playing lacrosse.

Maybe our slogan for the marriage equality fight should be: "equality, it's bigger than a diamond ring."

If they were still here, I think Martin and Ella would be marching with us, but we owe it to them to remember the real goal of the fight.

This is a link to King's final "Mountaintop" speech, which remains an incredibly powerful piece of oratory.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I am an old woman

an old woman who has birthed a honey badger.

This was our Easter, blurry, mismatched, ruched Elmo, joyful.  LB had no fear on the big slide, even though she is such a peanut that she had to do an elaborate kick off move to get from the slide to the ground.  The sun was shining and the breeze was soft.  And still I was pissed.  LB threw massive fits as I tried to wrestle her into her Easter outfit, and Badger helped her out of it as I was running for bribes.  Of course Badger was right-there is no reason for a couple of agnostics to wrestle an angry child into an Easter dress.  But I really wanted to see my little girl running around in her dress and scuffed red sneakers.  I really wanted a photo to go with last year's very cute photos.  Objectively, I think that is a pretty stupid thing to want, but still I wanted it.  In my internal justifications, I opined that I do enough for our family that they should be willing to indulge me in this small thing.

Of course, I hadn't counted on Honey Badger.  Apparently she is lovely at school: a friend to all, a  clean-up helper get-with-the-program-er, and just tough enough to make sure no one takes advantage.  At home she has been a clothes refusing, shrieking, food-spitting ball of unpleasantness.  That wears on an old woman like myself. 

Lurking in the background are also the preemie fears (concerns).  Does she refuse to wear a dress because she is two, because she genetically stubborn, or because she has sensory stuff going on.  Maybe all three.

Yesterday I left the house for daycare pickup on a sunny, warm day, and walked home with LB in a cold, blustery rain.  By the time I took the trash out, I saw the sun setting over the neon Hess and Pep Boys signs.  Funny how life is just like life.