Tuesday, January 30, 2007

It's the Haves vs. the Have-Nots at Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal






The Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal is an amazing educational and family resource. Home to the Cincinnati History Museum, Cincinnati Children's Museum, an Imax Theater, and the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Science, along with periodic special exhibits (right now it's TITANIC ARTIFACTS), this place is certainly the public educational resource gem of the city! It used to be the city's train terminal. It was created in the 1930's art deco architectural style and is wonderful just to observe. There are lovely mosaics like the one pictured above throughout the lobby.

Now I happen to be lucky enough to have a family pass to this place (compliments of our employer). To someone out on the economy that would cost $99! Impossible for a lot of Cincinnati's families. Anyhoo, so since I am PRIVILEGED enough to have this pass I go there frequently, about 3x/month. I usually go to the Children's Museum, then we head to the Natural History Museum for the second half of our trip.

The Children's Museum is chock full of activities for small children; an amazing water play area (above); a ball room (above) where the children must use a series of ropes and pulleys and chutes to send the balls to this giant hopper in the ceiling. When it gets full, then an alarm rings and it dumps them all onto the kids! There is a toddler-only area (4 and under) that's fenced off and the preschoolers and babies can play in a sand box, or climb and run and jump on an indoor playground, there are fine-motor games, a dress up tree house with clothes to put on, a couple of different felt boards, and a "parents resource room" where a parent can go in with his/her child to unwind. There is a TON of reading materials in there along with a copy machine! There is a couch, the windows are curtained off, and a sign that says to feel free to close the door and turn off the lights and nap if you want to! How awesome! I'm not nursing a small baby anymore, but it's the perfect place for a tired nursing mom and baby to curl up for a half hour break from the hustle and bustle. Something like this totally can make a hell day out with the baby turn into a great day! "The Farm" also has a musical section, a Lego section, and a ball-rolling track. There are also several other sections in the children's museum but they are too numerous to write about them all. The Woods is the other highlight I guess. This is an indoor playground, which looks like a series of tree houses and tunnels!

The Natural History Museum's big attraction for my family is it's Ice Age exhibit, in particular, the "Ice Cave"/glacier exhibit with all of the statues of the Ice Age animals. My 7-year-old is obsessed with the last Ice Age so this is perfect for him. You can actually walk through this ice cave, and it really looks like you're walking through ice. There is running water and everything! Like every section of this museum, it's really interactive. There are tons of little cards for children to flip and discover facts about the ice age animals. This area really is perfect for 1st graders like my son.

Every time we go on our trip (which like I said is at least 3x/month) I see school buses full of kids coming on school-sponsored field trips. There's a big problem I see with this. I only see white kids at the museum center. NEVER have I seen a bus load full of little black school children!

Isn't Cincinnati a mostly black city? Why aren't there bus loads of black school children coming to the museum center every time I go? Why are there only bus loads full of white school children?

This museum is so incredibly fabulous and the kids who need it the most aren't even given proper access.

Walla, the only time I have seen more than a handful of black citizens in this place was on MLK Day when they had various artisans selling their works in the lobby!

I lived in the Tampa bay area of Florida for 7 years. Now Tampa is a city that is 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 Hispanic. We frequented the zoo and the aquarium. There were always bus loads of Hispanic kids, bus loads of black kids, bus loads of white kids, bus loads of everybody coming to these great public educational resources!

Why isn't this happening here in Cincinnati?

Are black children (Cincinnati's "have-nots") so "scary" that their mere presence en masse could cause all of the white patrons (the "have's") not to renew their $99 passes?

There is something severely wrong with what I am seeing.

It is outrageous.

And tragic.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Shockwaves

I am really struggling to adapt lately.

I keep thinking I can just snap back into the person I was before I went to Qatar; I still can't find her; she's gone. There's only shadows and a faint memory of her existence that remain.

Can you believe that I don't even know my own name?

There are people to whom I have told one name (my muslim name), then the other(old American name). They must think I'm completley whacked. Maybe I am!

Not American, not Arabic, something else entirely.

My good friend called today from Qatar and we talked for a good half hour. It was great.

I miss that damn place!..but am simultaneously glad we came back....

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Paranoid Control Freaks

I have to say that one of the most challenging, and strangely self-transformative aspects of living in Qatar was the extreme polar opposite in parenting style there. We lived in a compound with approximately 30 families, almost all of whom had at least 2 children or more. There were only 3-4 households that weren’t Arabic families, with the majority of the families being Egyptian.

Since it was inhumanely hot outside, (I’m presuming this was the reason), the children didn’t come outside to play until after sunset. On a weekend night, they came out en masse by 8 or 9pm, and usually were playing out there until 11+pm; a totally taboo thing for Americans. At first, this was insane to me. I was putting my kids to bed while the rest of the neighborhood kids were raising holy $#!$ outside our window! It was common to see 2 and 3 year olds accompanied only by a slightly older sibling, usually a sister, and never (ok maybe 1x or twice in 2 years I saw a parent) was there a parent or “responsible adult” outside with these kids.

So many thoughts came to mind; How irresponsible, how negligent these parents are! This is savagery! How uncivilized and what an utter abomination! These kids are so deprived, they aren’t learning that their actions have consequences because a responsible adult isn’t here coaching them and proctoring them when they’re wrong! How sad!

After quite a few visits with ladies that lived outside my compound, and observing my son in his non-Western school, I soon realized that this was not specific to my compound’s environment, but in general a cultural thing for that part of the world.

I really struggled with this issue the whole time I was in Doha. I never really got used to it. After all, the behavior of the kids in our compound seemed like Lord of the Flies to me; a lot of property was destroyed in the compound by those kids and nobody enforced any consequences on them for any of it. Graffitti was all over the outside wall of the compound; a bench on the playground was melted by our neighborhood’s teenage pyromaniac; as well as the destruction of some of my childrens’ toys. The final straw for me was when they murdered our cat out of jealousy.

I’ve been back in America for 6 months now. For a while, even up until a couple of months ago, I basked in the glory of what seemed like the apparent supremecy of our fabulous American parenting style. It was great this summer to be in Disney in Orlando and actually see kids taking turns and not pushing and shoving each other. While playing on the playground in one area, they actually lined up to use the rope-swing, totally un-prompted to do so by any adults who were standing by! How fabulous, I thought! We Americans are really civilized and the third world are all still such heathens. My Ego basked in it’s all-too-Nationalistic glory at the wonder of it all.

Well, I’m emerging from my nationalistic delusion and I think I am seeing the hard cold reality of this place.

We are paranoid control freaks. We are so fearful of each other, our community, and what comes naturally to us and to our children that we have as a society become so distrustful and fearful that we are in fact evil.

I’m sure most folks have heard that American children spend too much time in front of the TV, computer, and video games. This is making them more obese, etc. I totally believe that this is partly because these electronic wonders are so compelling, but mostly because American parents are such goddamn control freaks, who are unrealistically afraid of letting them just run around outside and play! Play with EACH OTHER! For goodness’ sakes, go knock on the neighbor kid’s door and ask ‘em to come OUT and play!

Our nation is collectively brainwashed by too many crime shows on television and the corporate media’s mass delusion of fear that screams it’s absolutely unsafe for kids to play outside- that pedophiles, murderers and psychos are everywhere – and the kids will surely meet their untimely demise unless mom and/or dad or a “responsible adult” (well I say poppycock!) is hovering nastily over them. For instance, my neighbor won’t let her son come over to our house unless SHE comes too! He’s NINE for the love of God!!!! And I’m here, as well as my husband!

Omigawd, maybe I look like an axe-murderer!

Anyways…

American children are also over-programmed, overscheduled, and on their way to burnout at an astoundingly young age. Many children are so programmed (ie used to the activity coming from the outside; watching the TV, protocols on the computer, going to lessons where the teacher or coach tells them what to do next etc.) that they are losing the ability to be self-directed in their play; they actually NEED someone or something to “tell them what to do now”???

Apparently this idea is becoming institutionalized. Check out
this link on the new playground systems just installed in NYC, which is also apparently “all the rage” in Japan and in Europe.
Take back our lifestyles!

I think the first thing we need to do is turn off the g$#@!d$$#@ TV. I affectionately call it the “eye of Mordor” around my household!

Secondly, we need to get our kids outside. Check out
this article. So eloquently written!

Children don’t need fancy - schmancy Leap pad learning systems to stimulate their brains; they need nature! I remember when I was a kid, I could play for hours, even by myself (I was an only child) in our woods. I would make mud pies, leaf stews, play in our creek and mold a million different things from the natural blue clay, and I had secret hide-outs in certain areas of the forest. It was a kids’ utopia!

I am hoping and praying that we can buy a spot of land along with our house this spring, in a rural location. I really struggle with how to raise my kids in the suburbs. We could have goats, they could take care of them. I think that taking care of farm animals is a really meaningful life experience for kids. They can play in the woods, and do the things they were born to do instead of try to cope with living in this un-natural environment of the suburbs.

What has happened to America?
My husband says that when he as a kid, there were packs of kids that roamed and ruled his neighborhood. Where is that here?
I saw it still alive and happening in Qatar. Although it was a bit over-done (I certainly am not condoning letting kids kill each other’s pets and destroy property), it seems like the Arabic culture is a lot closer to the natural state of the human being than we are.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Cincinnati Public Schools; More Evidence of a City With No Vision

I have been trying to define the perimeters of the Covedale Elementary School district in Cincinnati. We love the German-style half-timbered architecture, the neighborhood of Covedale seems quaint, there are children playing outside (gasp! Am I still in America?). The fact that most house prices are what we want to pay, in the low 100's, also makes this area seem appealing.

It seems like a war zone so to speak though, with Price Hill and Carson school district, which The State of Ohio has declared an ACADEMIC EMERGENCY, being just one neighborhood over! I also think the commercial district all along Glenway Avenue is a bit of an eyesore, and there were a few "unmentionables" along the street, not too family-friendly.

We are also apprehensive about moving to this area because it's hard to assess if Covedale is on it's way down, in maintenance, or on it's way up towards urban gentrification.

Covedale's school ratings are however very good, whereas the CPS district overall is rated very badly, with what we consider to be the kiss of death of for a school district, the "Continuous Improvement" (click here to look up any school district in the state of OHIO) rating.

I emailed the Cincinnati Public Schools customer help desk, and told them my story; that we are potential homebuyers in the city of Cincinnati, and if in fact we do decide this spring to buy in the city of Cincinnati proper, it would be in the Covedale Elementary school district. I asked them to please tell me the precise boundaries of the school district, so that we can buy inside of it if we decide this is the neighborhood for us.



This was their response;

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately we are unable to comply with your request in the manner specified. In the CPS district, not only are streets taken into consideration, but house number as well. For instance, two people living right next to each other could be assigned to different schools. If you have a list of streets and address you would like for us to confirm for you, we would be happy to help. If you would like to speak to someone please call: 513-363-0123, or simply put the street and addresses in an email and we will be happy to respond.
Thank you
Cincinnati Public Schools
Customer Help Center
(513) 363-0123
What insanity! This is utter nonsense! Hogwash and poppycock!
How is anyone ever going to move back into this city?
This is certainly not attracting me, or anyone else for that matter, to want to live in the city limits of Cincinnati.
With something like 11 households per day moving out of the city, and the lowest citizen-to-homeowner ratio of any city in the United States (I can't remember where I read this! I'll look for the citation), I would think everyone working for the city, CPS employees included, would be doing everything possible to attract folks back!
You know, the school reports are listed as public information for a reason; because potential citizens, like us, who are considering moving into a particular area, want to move to the areas with good schools, and not to areas with poorly performing schools.
Isn't this some sort of withholding of what should be public information? Aren't they breaking some sort of law by not giving me this information?
Spoiled rotten girl stomps feet and screams for her candy that she deserves.
The Whistleblower seems to confirm my recent sad conclusions. He had a lovely limerick regarding the mass exodus from Cincinnati;
Here's why everyone's leaving the city, And here's the whole nitty gritty: It's the streets full of grime, And just loaded with crime, From a clown-cil that evokes only pity. Here's why everyone's leaving the city, You don't need a fact-finding committee; Misunderstood urban yoof, Keep raising the roof, Thugs and drugs made the 'Natti un-pretty. Here's why everyone's leaving the city, All the bureaucrats have their hands in the kitty. When a drive-by re-appraisal, Leaves only scraps on your table, What you have left is just itty-bitty.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Muslim Headscarf ("Hijab") and Awakening Presence

This is a recent diary entry I made on Street Prophets;

My husband and I are both converts to Islam. We lived abroad in Doha, Qatar for 2 years, and recently returned to the USA. After wearing the hijab (muslim headscarf, and modest clothing) for over 2 years (2004-2006) while living in Qatar, I decided to not wear it in America. I wore it on-again-off-again since my shahada (when I formally accepted Islam) in 2000, but I stopped wearing it publicly after September 11th ’01, because of the increase in hatred towards muslims, but more importantly because I had realized at the time that one of my Ego’s favorite things is to stand out in the crowd, to be different, to rock the boat etc. I decided that it was best for me to try and fit in to the dominant culture, which I did in America by not wearing a headscarf, and I did in Qatar by wearing the headscarf (and in both places by wearing clothing over my body that is modest).

We moved back to the states last July, and we are living in proximal vicinity to my parents for the first time since I left home for college in 1992. I was raised here in Ohio, the bible belt, in the United Methodist Church. My mother is a devout Presbyterian these days, an elder to the church and heavily involved.

I realized in 2003 that another part of me desperately wants to please my mother; I have a deep-seated, subconscious fear of rejection that at times can drive me to act totally unlike the person I really am. I have been known to do things like what my husband refers to as “the teacher dress incident”, the time I wore what I truly believe to be a ridiculously juvenile dress, which was covered with nursery-school ABC’s in applique, as an adult woman, just because it would make my mother “happy”.

Nowadays, I know that my mother definitely loathes the idea of me wearing anything that would make me look like a scary muslim (“foreigner”), and I am sure that my subconscious is terrified that her reaction will be the ultimate and final severance of our relationship.

Well, recently I tried an experiment; I wore hijab out in public, in West Chester,Ohio, for the first time since returning to the USA. My parents had left the day before for their winter lodging in Florida(6 months), so I figured it was safe to “come out of my shell”. I went to congregational Friday prayer at the mosque, then took my kids to Chick-Fil-A to eat and let them run around in the play area. I was pretty freaked out/cautious about how people would respond to me (after all Cincinnati is an extremely racist area! I know because of first-hand experience with family members). I was worried that something hateful would happen towards me (or especially towards my kids) wearing the hijab, but it also made me notice a few things.

The main thing I noticed that I did not expect is that I was really hyper-vigilant about my behavior, much more so than I am in “plainclothes” so to speak. It’s like I felt like the reputation of the entire muslim community worldwide was resting on my shoulders wearing hijab in America! …As if I made one mistake, and it would reflect negatively on the whole community…. So I was careful not to scream at my children (yes hate to admit that I do this, but I am a screamer..); didn’t let myself use any cuss words ( I also cuss badly at times); I was sure to be smiling and friendly to everyone around me, even though I was feeling fearful more than anything; and I stopped myself from angrily honking and flipping off another driver who was driving dangerously in front of me on the way home!

I guess to sum it up, as terribly afraid I am to wear the hijab in America, I have to say that wearing it makes me over 100% more “present”. I am awakened in a way that nothing else can elicit; I become deeply aware of every action I am making while I wear the hijab, whether I like it or not!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Hermit Crabs




Introducing ..."Princess" (held by my 2-year old....hmm let's see how ling this thing stays alive!) and "Crusher," the hermit crabs!
They are the new residents of our house!

My children, especially my 7-year-old son, have been begging me to get a pet. Well, we settled for arthropods!

They're neat little creatures, and make cute chirping noises at night when they are most active.

Crusher jumped right off my hand when this photo was finished, and started running away under our furniture! Fast little thing, but I caught him.