Pictures From September 1995

I promised several people, including my children, that I would post more pictures. I am always trying to combine pictures with stories, but I can’t say much about these, except that it was a family gathering in our house. Judging by the guest list and the fact that this picture was taken in fall 1995, it must be Igor’s tenth birthday.

We lived in extremely crowded conditions. This one room of fewer than 200 sq ft was the place for everything. All four of us slept there. All our belongings were stored there, all the desks, including mine for working from home, all the toys, the piano – everything was packed in this one room. Our beds and the desks were folding, the jungle gym, which you can see on that picture could be lifted up.

From left to right: Aunt Kima, her son Dodik, my Mom, me, Igor Sr (Igor’s father), Sasha – my cousin’s husband.

The next two pictures look almost identical, but I could not choose one, so I decided to post both. On the first one, you can see me in the far left corner. The older kids from left to right: my late nephew Petia (my cousin Ania’s older son), my half-brother Slava (my father’s son) and Igor. The smaller kids from left to right: my niece Iya, Anna and Vlad. (Vlad has a cold sore on his lip).

Everybody is dressed warmly because all the houses had (and still have) a centralized heating system, which was usually turned on only in October, so September would end up being one of the coldest months.

How It All Started

On July 10, the new EU regulations regarding border control were announced. It was already expected that the US would be banned from entering Europe. When we talked with Boris about it the next day, about the fact that for many countries, the doors are now open, I asked him whether he checked for details at the Finnish Border Control site and whether I should check, and he said – no, it will be just one more reason for me to be sad.

So I didn’t, but on Tuesday, July 14, I decided to check it, and to my surprise and amazement, I found out that some restrictions were relaxed. The website said that now not only families of EU citizens can visit, but also families of Finnish permanent residents can visit. I emailed Boris immediately, and Wednesday morning, we talked, and he asked whether I am coming next week.

Continue reading “How It All Started”

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!

The Clock Is Ticking

On Monday, the clock started ticking – we are official “in” for our book. I feel very nervous. We drafted quite a bit before the official start, but now it seems like we won’t have that extra time for the subsequent chapters. Also, since we started to draft something more than a month earlier, I expect that we would have more written. 

The huge part is a training database which is still not finished. First, I assumed that Boris would do it since we are using a public database that he helped create several years ago as our starting point. It turned out that he is not as familiar with the generation scripts as I thought he would. I started to dig into the generation myself. Then at some point, when I found several chunks of raw data missing, Boris told me that I could hand it out to him; he will finish. And now it is stalled. 

Now I have this weird feeling that I  can’t do, I am not allowed to do anything entertaining, while I do not have at least one chapter drafted, preferably two. And I might end up living with that feeling about each next chapter until we will be done at the end of the year.

Nope, I do not need anybody feeling sorry for me; after all, I wanted it, and I got it all started. Just bear in mind that I might be in that anxious mood more often than usual. 

How Is It Being In the Office

So far, went I come to the office, I am either alone, or there is one more person there. People are asking me “how is the office,” and I am saying I like being back. It’s not like I less productive at home, but when I am coming to the office, it helps me to separate work and non-work, so that it won’t be one endless workday.

Also, when I am in the city, I can meet Igor for lunch, and I can walk the streets of Chicago, which I missed a lot during these months!

There is no food in the kitchen
And the nespresso machine stopped working, so I bought another percolator for work
Continue reading “How Is It Being In the Office”

What Worries Me Now

I never planned to write anything about this here. Still, I can hardly think about anything else for the past several days. Since this blog is partially for future generations, and partially for a small circle of people who are close to me, let it be.

When you see somebody every day, you usually do not notice the changes. But all the changes which happened to my mom during these past several months, can’t be ignored. For those who haven’t seen her for some time, the changes are even more striking. Ten days ago, when I still couldn’t see well after the last surgery, I asked my neighbor to take mom and me to the grocery store. And she commented that mom became very fragile. There are more things that she forgets, and I understand that it’s difficult for her to be happy when she often feels disoriented.

I always feel upset when I can sense her unhappiness because the whole idea of bringing her here was that she could live whatever years she still has happier than before. I tend to reprimand her that she always finds reasons to be unhappy, but to be honest – how can you feel happy when things are slipping away?

During our July 4th gathering, there was one incident when she got very upset about a minor thing, and Vlad had to drive her to her home so that she could pick up the missing item there. Afterward, Vlad commented that she became like a child. The trend was there for a while, but now it is more pronounced.

Today was my first day back to the office, and I didn’t plan to stop by her. Tomorrow I am taking her to the dentist, so I thought that I could skip today. It turned out that her air conditioner is not working properly. To be precise, it does not cool her apartment enough in the energy-saving mode. I figured it out last week and turned it to the cooling mode, but then you need to turn it off periodically, and it gets back to the energy-saving mode. I was keeping asking here over the phone whether her air conditioner is working, and she was saying that yes, and that she turns it off when she gets out. But today, she said that it was very difficult to get by, and she had to lie down often. It turned out, that it was back to the energy-saving mode, and the temperature in her apartment was 84F. The outside temperature today was 92F, and it will be worse tomorrow.

I got into the car, drove to her and yelled at her that she could die that way. She got very upset that I yelled at her, but I didn’t care. She was keeping saying that she didn’t change anything in the air conditioner, and I told her just to remember which lights should be green.

Then I tried to fix her color printing thing, without much luck, so I will still need to google her printer situation.

Not all days are like this, sometimes there are better days. When I took mom to the forest preserve on Sunday, she was in a good mood, and alert, and conversational. But when something goes off, even some rather innocent things, I am scared because I do not know what will go off next.

I understand that things are being accelerated by the isolation and the lack of external stimulation. That’s why I started taking her shopping instead of bringing her groceries and was trying to come up with other activities outside her home.

Tomorrow, I am taking her to the dentist. There will be teeth extractions and new dentures. I need to make sure she will take the antibiotic and the pain killer; she often tries to ignore both after the dental appointments.

And I need to be more patient, which does not happen all the time.

Distancing on the Fourth

We had a small family gathering on the Fourth, primarily for my mom’s benefit as she was keeping asking when she will see everybody together again. That way, she could see all the boys, and I could treat them with some homemade food.

I had two major challenges: to cook everything myself, without any help from the kids (and I only had about two and a half hours), and how to serve the food in a safe way. Our traditional buffet-style won’t work these days. After all, everything turned out great, and Vlad approved all my preparations. I even had gloves to serve food, which had to be taken by hand.

The time I picked (5-30 PM) was perfect since the heat started to subside, and my deck is a summer-time haven that seldom gets any direct sun. Also, I have a huge umbrella, and I took outside my gym fan to add to the natural breeze.

Illinois is Moving to Phase 3

The other day, on one of the NPR programs, they were explaining how the authorities decide on the order of the places being reopened. We often wonder how that order is determined, why WAL- Mart is open while a hair salon is not. They said that there is a way of calculating the impact of opening places, which takes into account several factors. They include the need (to which extent the services are essential), the possibility of infection spread, and the desire of people to have these services. Believe it or not, the big box stores stay the highest on that list, and gyms, liquor, and tobacco stores stay at the bottom! Go figure:)

As our governor said, if nothing drastically bad would happen during the next six days, we are entering stage three. The city will lag behind, possibly two-three weeks behind. And it will be still masks/gloves/distancing.

I hope we won’t need to go back!

The first thing my mom asked when I told her about that was when she can see her grandchildren. I have to say that she was very patient about that, and didn’t complain. We discussed it and decided to plan some outdoor meetings in the beginning of June.