June 1995. Our Trip to Poland. Part 4

The last part of our travel to Poland I wanted to write about was a voyage to the Copernicus Museum. I didn’t feel that doing nothing except for going to the beach was the best idea of vocation. When we stayed in the University boarding house, I organized different excursions, museum visits, etc. We did some of that in Gdansk, but I wanted to do more. 

I learned that boats are departing from the pier a couple of times a day, which would take us to the Copernicus Museum and decided that we should go. Funny enough, now I barely remember anything about the museum itself. Partially, because the boat was late, so we arrived later than planned and then, we had to hurry back for our return journey. 

The reason for the late arrival was a storm. The waves were rocking the boat, and almost everybody got sea-sick. In our family, Anna was notorious for never getting sea-sick, and the rest of us was the opposite. I remember Anna cheerfully running around the boat while most of the passengers were miserable. 

The reason I want to tell you about this trip is different. We happened to book the tickets for the cruise, which took on board a large group of families where one of the children had Down syndrome. On the way onward, I could not take my eyes off these families.

We ere not living in the Soviet Union anymore, but the way people perceived things was still very much from the Soviet era. And in the Soviet Union, you were not supposed to have a special needs child. People with disabilities, especially with mental or emotional ones, were non-existent. Invisible. There could be nothing worse happen to a mother than having a child with a disability. If we came across such a child on the street or at the playground, we would try to walk away as fast as possible. 

Women, who gave birth to children with Down syndrome, were expected to leave them in the hospital, “in care of the state.” That was the norm. 

A year earlier, my friend gave birth to a child with Down syndrome, and she was fighting fiercely for her right to keep the girl. But even those who supported her would say that she needs to leave her daughter “in care of medical professionals” for at least six months (there were other complications in addition to Down syndrome) and keep visiting her, and “maybe later” take her home. Her daughter died several days after, because of other complications, and my friend was inconsolable. 

But I was to reiterate that the expected behavior was to leave a child with a known disability in the hospital. Nobody would criticize the mother; on the contrary, people would understand and not even mention that she ever had that child. 

We felt for all mothers, who had “to carry their cross” and pitied them a lot. If you had a child with a disability, whom you chose to keep, you would only take her to the playground when there are no other children. You would never go out with her. 

And here, on board of a boat, I saw two dozen families who adored their children with Down syndrome. You might ask – where is the inclusion, why a separate group of special-needs kids, but that was a huge step forward that these kids were even going out. 

I looked at the mothers. I watched a mother cooing over her three or four months old the same way as if that child would be an average healthy baby. I saw her smile and could not take my sight away from her face. That was one of the biggest revelations in my life – she loved him!

I saw bigger kids, smiling, talking to their siblings, and each other. They had nice stylish haircuts and fashionable clothes. I noticed for the first time that each of them had their unique facial expression. I should be ashamed of myself because it all was news for me at that time, but I wanted to write honestly about my feelings because that can explain how bad things ere in the Soviet Union and for many years after it’s collapse.

Twenty-five years later, I can still close my eyes and see their faces and hear their voices.

The biggest takeaway from that cruise was: things can be different!

Reflecting on The Rest of 1994, and Welcoming 1995

Once again, there is a gap of several months when I have no pictures of the kids. The daycare picture was taken at the end of September, and the one below – on January 1, 1995.

During fall 1994, I was still working at the Operations Research Lab of the University. That job still paid close to nothing, and I was still in constant search of gigs. Also, I resumed my postgraduate studies and was slowly but surely getting through all of the required exams.

That fall, Anna first developed her chronic bronchitis, which she had for many years after. Nobody could tell me what the reason for that condition was, but one of the hypotheses was that she had an underdeveloped lung because she was a premie. As a result, any slight cold would develop into the obstruction bronchitis within several hours from onset. Most of the time, a pediatrician won’t recognize that bronchitis is coming, and I had to learn how to diagnose it.

It was scary, and it was not something you could get used to. Roughly every six weeks, it looked like your child is dying. There were no children’s versions of the regular medicine for that condition (and no inhalers, if you are curious about it). I would buy the pills, which helped with the spasms and crushed them into powder. I always had these pills both in my purse and on the nightstand. And when Anna would start coughing non-stop and wheezing: “Mom, open my mouth!” I had to manage to get that power in her mouth, along with some water. I knew that it would help, but it was scary each and single time.

I learned how to listen to her breath and catch an onset of yet another bronchitis. I learned to perform a special massage, which would help to get mucus out of her airways.

As a side effect, it would often happen that I could not send her to the daycare, and then I would take her with me to my postgraduate classes. One of the classes was philosophy, and I had to take an exam at the end. Fortunately, that class taught by the same professor Alexeev, whom I had during my undergrad studies, and who secretly taught us about existentialism :). Anna was sitting there very quietly, and I was always allowed to take her to my class. Could that trigger her future interest in social studies?!

Back to the picture below.

Our family tradition continued: everybody celebrated the New Year’s Eve with their immediate families or elsewhere, but on January 1, everybody would gather at the Aunt’s Kima house to celebrate her birthday with the extended family.

I know that I had several pictures from that particular gathering, but now I can only find that one. I have no idea why Igor is not on that picture because he was most definitely present.

Vlad and Anna wear animal costumes because, as I’ve already mentioned, costumes for the New Year go back to the old tradition Sviatki – the time between Christmas and New Year. Anna is in a squirrel mask, and Vlad wears a hood with bunny ears, and both of their faces are painted with animal features.

In the back row from left to right: my cousin Dodik (David), Kima’s son, with his wife Alla, then Aunt Maya, Uncle Slava’s wife. In the middle row – I, Aunt Kima, and my mom.
My shoulders were not intended to be bare to that extent, it’s just my dress pulled down, and I was still very skinny back then. I made that dress myself. I got the garment as a fee for teaching English to the son of one of “a friend of a friend.” It required only minimal work to fit my small body, and it looked spectacular, or at least I thought so back then.

Here was the start of 1995, and many things were going to happen that year.

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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.

Working Remotely in 1993

Summer was approaching, and it was time again to apply for summer sessions at the University boarding house, but this time around I had my part-time job at Urbansoft. John was still OK with me working remotely, but I didn’t have a modem in a boarding house, in fact, there was no landline.

That’s how it worked. I would write my code without the option of debugging at the University, using our department computer and copy my work to a diskette. G. would come and pick up a diskette and copy my files to his computer. Then he would try to integrate his work with mine. At the designated time, I would call his house phone from the payphone in the lobby. He would read for me the errors he was getting, and I would tell him how to change my code, and then we would continue this remote debugging until done. It sounds impossible, but it worked!

On the topic of the time management, 7-30PM was the bed time for the kids, and then my workday would start. Till whatever I could last with 6-30 AM wake up time:)

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.

How I Learned About THAT…

In support of those who walk this path alone …

This blog post was originally written in Russian about ten years ago. In the information vacuum of nowaday’s Russia, it was reposted multiple times and hopefully helped a large number of young gay people and their parents to navigate life challenges. 

I thought that at the present moment, this post is valuable only from the historical perspective. But to my surprise, it turned out that many people are still not completely aware of what it means to be homosexual. And I decided to write this post again, this time – in English. Here it comes.

***

People often ask me when did I learn about Vlad’s sexual orientation. The short answer: shortly after he had figured it out about himself. Which was a little bit after Anna suspected that it was the case. At that time, he was a couple of months short of being fourteen, and I’ve noticed that he looked sad and concerned for several days. I was bugging him with the questions, what was wrong, but he brushed off my concerns. That could not deceive me; I was sure that something serious is going on. Finally, I got a chance to talk to him one night when everybody else was out.  

I asked him to share with me what was wrong. He started: you are going to be very disappointed with me. Perhaps, you won’t love me anymore, but I need to tell you something. I think that I am gay. 

Continue reading “How I Learned About THAT…”

Parenting During the Economic Collapse

Another follow-up for my visit with my daughter. I’ve realized that I ran pretty fast through the first months of Vlad’s and Anna’s life, focusing more on what was happening with the country. I didn’t write much about our everyday lives, and how it was – raising baby twins amid the economic collapse. 

There were many aspects of parenting, where I would make decisions in the survival mode, not because I liked a certain approach better, but because that was the only option. I do not have a lot of pictures from that time. I didn’t own a camera, and taking pictures was not an everyday activity. Boris would occasionally bring his camera with him, and then we would have a photo session. 

Continue reading “Parenting During the Economic Collapse”

Parenting

Anna was asking me how Nadia is different from her at the same age. I replied that she is different because all human beings are different. But I am finding it hard to pinpoint, what are the exact differences.

Our parenting styles are different. When Anna was two, her life was undoubtfully more structured than Nadia’s. There was no question about what clothes to put on, whether to have dinner or not, and what will be served. There was no throwing away food. There were no reading books on the potty. Part of it was survival, me being a single working mom of three in an unstable economy. But part of it was a starting point. 

I was an incredibly liberal parent by Russian standards those days. I didn’t spend all day disciplining a child. I would let them do tons of things other parents won’t. But by the nowadays civilized standards, it was still very rigorous parenting. 

Continue reading “Parenting”