When I think about my life before we relocated to America, I mostly think about the last year before we left, precisely the period I am describing now. I want to describe our “life in general” during this period, rather than specific events.
Vlad and Anna attended detskiy sad – the preschool-daycare ran by the Department of Educations for only a nominal cost, which was a huge relief to my budget. They were lucky to have great teachers, and I invested my time and effort to be in good relationships with all of them, always showing them how much I appreciated their hard work. They were paid little, and their salaries were often late, as with almost everybody at that time.
In Igor’s boarding school, the building remodeling was finally over. He stayed there from Monday morning till Friday afternoon, which was also a relief for monetary and time budgets. I was a research associate at the University, which still paid close to nothing. Besides, after many thoughts and hesitations, I applied for government child disability payments for Igor. That was a small but reliable additional income, in addition to Igor having room and board for five days a week in his boarding schools. Still, more than half of my income had to come from some side gigs, which I was always searching for. I never requested child support from Igor’s father for several reasons. When we divorced, my earnings were higher than his, and I didn’t feel it fair to ask for more. I have to mention that the way the child support amount was calculated in Russia, it didn’t take into account mother’s income, it was plain 25 or 30 percent of the father’s income (I forgot the exact number, I think it was 25% for one child, 30% for two and 50% for three or more). Second, I felt that because it was my initiative to divorce him, I could not make it worse. And lastly, I told him that the only thing I want from him was to visit Igor often and never ask for money if he will keep in touch with his son. He ended up visiting way less than I would hope for, but that was my intention.
Back to my financials. Keeping track of the money was more important than ever, and instead of recording all the expenses on paper, I switched for the first time to the electronic records.
The operating system was MS-DOS, not even Windows, and there was a primitive program, which was MS Excel’s predecessor. Boris helped me set up all the counts, and after recording all my daily expenses, I was always able to verify that the amount of money in my wallet matches my electronic records. We still didn’t have a concept of a bank account in Russia, except for the savings account, which people still didn’t trust much, so money always meant cash in a wallet.
My income at that time usually totaled 500 dollars a month. We thought about our income in dollars back then because inflation was still high, although not to hyperinflation. The compensation for any side jobs was always negotiated (and usually paid) in dollars, not rubles. It was a decent amount of money to earn for a single mother of three. Since I paid no rent and no utilities and transportation was either extremely cheap or free when I was traveling with kids, I could use all this money for food, clothing, books, toys, and cultural stuff.
I had a lot of flexibility in both how I could spend my time and money. At the University, attendance was still optional, and I could plan my other work whenever I wanted. After I dropped Vlad and Anna at detskiy sad, the day was mine. On average, I would go to the University twice a week. On these days, I would take a train, most time coordinating it with Boris, and it was mostly social interactions than work. The actual work (all kinds of writing) was done at home. If I were not going to University, I would often go to the city center, doing random shopping or just gazing at what’s out there. I would make dates with Boris, and we were either seizing the moments of privacy at home (with all my kids and me in one room and my mom in another room there were no other options) or go to the Library to check out new Computer Science publications or go to the art exhibit, keeping fighting half of that time.
With the money I had, there was no chance I could rent a separate apartment, but I was able to buy pretty much any available produce to put food on the table. I still bought half of our clothes in second-hand places, and still, sometimes, I could not find what I needed, but at large, the time of “deficit” was over.
All the cultural activities: museum admission, theater tickets were as cheap as they used to be in the times of the Soviet Union, so there was never a question whether I could afford to take all three of my children to the live performance. There were plenty of children theaters in Saint-Petersburg. Some of them had a long history, like the Big Puppet Theater, some were relatively new. I started to take Vlad and Anna to live performances when they were three and a half years old. Most of the time, children under five didn’t need separate tickets as long as they would sit on adults’ laps. So I would get two tickets, for Igor and myself, and Vlad and Anna were sitting on our laps. We would go to a museum on Saturday and a live performance on Sunday most of the weekends.
Here are more pictures from the second half of 1995. The first two were taken at Aunt Kima’s apartment, so it had to be some family event, but I can’t figure out what it could be.
The last one – I am not sure where it was taken, I can’t recognize this wall carpet. If it is indeed the fall of 1995, it could be Petya’s birthday. In any case, that how we looked like twenty five years ago.
My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.