Sunday, August 31, 2008

Life in a Dying Town

Yesterday, my family had a great brunch at a restaurant in Cleveland's Tremont section. Across the street, a small farmer's market attracted passers-by with its fresh produce. On our way back through the city, we passed the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, then pulled off the Shoreway to watch part of the Cleveland Air Show. Much to our delight, five parachuters drifted down to the lakefront airport leaving streams of red and green smoke in their path.
Finally heading home, we saw the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum, the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. Our car climbed the steep hill through Little Italy, where dozens of people strolled in and out of cafes, restaurants and shops.
Yes, it's good to be living in one of America's fastest-decaying cities.
According to Forbes Magazine, Cleveland is among a handful of cities dying before our very eyes. Indeed, the city has problems. The poor keep getting poorer, brain drain is a major concern and development downtown isn't what it could be. But if any city has the strong bones on which to build--or rebuild--a thriving metropolis, it's Cleveland. 
In addition to the aforementioned museums, Cleveland has a world-renowned orchestra and a beautiful string of green space known as the Metroparks. The city is a leader in biotechnology and with any luck will in the near future be home to a state-of-the-art Medical Mart. Two major hospitals (Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals of Cleveland) call Cleveland home.
There's a lot going on here.
You may think, oh she's just a poor local who never made it out of Northeast Ohio and feels the need to be a cheerleader for the area. Au contraire mon frere.
I lived in Manhattan and just outside of New York City for ten years. Now there's a place that certainly isn't dying. 
But here's the problem: I was usually too poor to afford most of the activities that the city had to offer. I lived near the theaters my first few years in New York, but during those extremely lean times I never had enough money to actually take in a show. In summers, as asphalt practically oozed beneath my feet, I watched people high-tail it out of the city for the Hamptons while I ran to the local corner deli to cool off by sticking my head inside one of the frozen food cases. 
During my last couple of years in the city, I eschewed fancy dinners and out-of-town trips so that I could pay a ridiculous price for a tiny two-bedroom apartment with a bath tub in the kitchen and a family of mice that taunted me as I watched television. As much as I loved New York, I also regretted that I never made enough money to make it mine.
By the time I'd lived in Cleveland for a year, I'd seen a couple of Broadway plays, visited the Rock Hall a half-dozen times, gone to the beach and had some lovely meals. What's more, when I walked the streets, there weren't seven million people on top of me. There's space here, and it feels good.
The point is that quality of life in a city can't be measured against what other cities have to offer. Cleveland is no New York or Chicago, and no one here wants it to be. If Cleveland ever got too big for its britches (and the chances of that happening are slim to none), the locals would revolt. For as much as we want big industry, brand-new construction and high-end amenities, we also want walkable neighborhoods, courteous drivers and small-town values.
Cleveland needs work, and that work needs to start immediately. But first we need to fully appreciate what we already have. My gut feeling is that Cleveland isn't dying; it's just sleeping. Unlike New York, other cities take a nap once in awhile. Now it's time to wake up and build on what we've got. I'd like to see more activity on the lakefront and more shops and businesses downtown, among other things. Can we turn that dream into a reality?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Most Talented

Just when you think you're the ultimate Wonder Woman who does it all and then some, along comes someone else who does even more, and seems to do so with a smile. 
I feel pretty cool sometimes about being a mom who also writes, takes care of a house and pets, volunteers, acts as a Brownie leader, gets her kids to the bus stop on time (usually) and is there when they get off the bus (except when the bus drops them off early and I'm not yet at the stop, and I can hear them yelling down the block, "Mommy's late! Mommy's late!") I jog, read to my kids every night, try to make a tasty dinner most evenings and do it all without complaining. Okay, that last part is a lie, but I've learned to complain considerably less over the last year or so.
In the middle of one of my "I am woman" moments, a Breaking News alert flashes across my television screen. John McCain has picked his running mate. She is my age, 44, and was a journalism major in college. I started out in journalism, although I wound up as an English major. Still, I'm sure our college classes were similar.
That, however, is where the similarities between Sarah Palin and me ends. She is governor of Alaska, has five kids including a newborn with Down Syndrome, hunts, ice fishes and has run a marathon. 
I cannot balance the family checkbook, let alone try to run a state. I often throw up my hands and wonder how I can possibly handle my three children, who are perfectly healthy. She is governing Alaska while raising five children, one of whom has special needs.
The youngest person and first woman to be governor of Alaska, Palin expressed reservations about the V.P. slot a month before she was hand-picked by McCain. "I'm used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration," she's quoted in Wikipedia as saying. "We want to make sure that the VP slot would be a fruitful type of position...." See, if I was told that the role of vice president would require less work than I was used to doing, I'd be doing a happy dance.
Palin seems to be amazing, and that really irks me.
It's not that I don't cheer on other women who reach for their goals and beyond;  it just annoys me that I can't seem to reach as high. And it's hard to complain about the housework, the schlepping of children and the writing deadlines that come every week or so, when you know there's someone out there hunting moose, catching fish and taking care of 683,478 people, 683,471 of whom are not part of her immediate family.
I'm not the only woman who has experienced this blow to her ego. I've got plenty of friends who do more than most people can imagine, yet feel inadequate when they see someone else who seems to be even more productive.
So how do we overcome this inferiority complex? We search for the one flaw--however small--that will make the "perfect" mom/wife/working woman appear human. Maybe she's always late for school functions, or yells at her kids in front of other people or gets into lots of fender-benders.
I remember talking with a friend about another mom we know who, as far as I could tell, was perfect. Her children were always beautifully dressed and well-behaved and got good grades; she volunteered for absolutely every school event; and she never had a bad word to say about anyone. "I can't compete with her," I said sadly to my friend. "Don't worry," my friend replied. "I've been in her kitchen, and it didn't look very organized."
What joyous news!
It's not that I want other women to have flaws so that I can make fun of them or feel better about myself. It's that I need to know I'm not the only one who doesn't have it all pulled together all the time. If I get my work done on time, get the kids to the bus on time and volunteer, my house will be a mess. If I clean the house, help the kids with their homework and get my daughter to gymnastics practice on time, dinner will be late. It's like life is a ball of yarn that's rolling along at a good speed and in a positive direction, but there's always one strand that's out of place. When you fix that strand, up pops another one. 
And you know what? That's pretty normal from what I understand. Still, it's hard for busy moms to always feel like they're doing the best they can. And so we get a little giddy when we discover that someone else has a thing or two out of place.
So my hat's off to Sarah Palin: wife, mother, hunter, fisher woman, pro-life advocate, governor and the presumptive Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States. Secretly, though, I'm hoping for a little dirt, like maybe her kitchen's a mess.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Call It Coincidence...

A day after the anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the historic acceptance speech by Barack Obama, on the birthday of both John McCain and Michael Jackson (could we find two more disparate people born on the same day, by the way?) and on the day before my 44th birthday (at which point I will begrudgingly agree to call myself middle-aged), I happily post my first blog on this site.

First, I need to set the mood. I sit before my computer at my "lovely" home office, a pile of laundered clothes rumpled on the floor beside me. Pictures drawn by my three children hang lopsided on the cement wall behind the computer. Three Post It notes stuck to the screen taunt me with "to do" items that must be completed by the end of the day. C-Span's live call-in show, my favorite morning program, blares in the background. Every few seconds, I look at the clock and hold my breath as I wonder when the youngest member of the family will come traipsing into the basement and want to play a game that does not involve mommy writing her articles.

This picture gives you an idea of the complex life I lead. Part mom, part writer, part madwoman. I am not different from a lot of other people out there, although sometimes I feel as though I am. Everyday, I find myself learning a new lesson about parenting, housekeeping, working, being a wife and much more. Each day (or so I hope), I will share some of the more interesting lessons because I think it's important that my follies provide a chuckle or two. 

And just like that, the four-year-old pads across the basement floor, taps me on the shoulder and says, "Let's watch kids' shows." Let the games begin....