Our First Month in Palatine

This whole concept that 1) kids go to school when they are just five years old and 2) they still need daycare because school is in session for only three and a half hours for the five-year-olds was new for me as well as the fact that school has more days off than the rest of people.
The great thing was that for several years, their school started pretty early. The bus would come to our stop at 7-15. Val would drive from Barrington and wait in the car for me till the bus would come, and then we drove to work. The kids and I had breakfast before we left the house, and then they had lunch at the Children’s World and a snack after their nap.

I could not go anywhere during the workday. I would always have the same lunch with me: one sandwich with the Polish ham and Romania salad, and one with provolone cheese and a piece of tomato, and an apple and a banana for a snack.

Our workday was officially over at five, and somebody would drive me to the Children’s World to pick up Vlad and Anna and would drop us at home. I would start making some dinner at home, and Vlad and Anna would start talking: they just started to learn English and had nobody to talk to during the whole day!

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First Move In the US

When I wrote this post, I thought I would write a couple of follow-ups right away, but then there was an Election Day and waiting and the new COVID surge. Three weeks later, I am finally back to that part of our family history.

I was always vague about why we had to move from Des Planes to Palatine and all the surrounding events. I didn’t want to bring this story to a public view and only told it to some people privately. Now that I am writing our family’s full and complete history let’s layout all the details.

If you recall, a person who introduced me, or rather a notion about me to VIN.net CEO was G, the same guy who lived in the building across from mine in Saint Petersburg, the guy who was fired from Urbansoft, and because of whom I was fired a month later. He emigrated, he worked in the consulting company, and he told Pam about me. As a result, we emailed each other pretty intensely during these months before my departure. He had a seven-year-old daughter, and his wife was not working, so it was “assumed” that I will live in the same apartment building as they lived and that his wife will help me with the daycare. 

At some moment, Chris, the HR/office manager/secretary in VIN.net, emailed me saying that G’s wife “agreed” to watch my kids on the school days off (I didn’t know that schools holidays in the US were different from everybody’s holidays); that she will cover if they are sick, and I do not even remember the whole list. When I forwarded this email to G, he replied that this is not true and that his wife needs time off as well. I could not figure out what was going on, but again, knowing nothing about American realities, I could not understand the magnitude of the problem.

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My First Job In The USA

In the posts that described my everyday life in 1995/96, I tried to convey that it was pretty much unstructured.

I could repeat a million times that I supported my family all by myself, and that I conducted some scientific researches, and that I took kids to many cultural activities, and that I was such a superwoman. I could, but the truth is that I still had a lot of leisure time. 

In some sense, it was a good thing. Vlad and Anna didn’t spend eleven hours a day in the daycare; I could always stay home when somebody was sick. I could do chores on weekdays, and weekends were for all sorts of cultural activities. We would go to see a play every Sunday and to some museum every Saturday. Somehow, my personal life would also fit in the schedule. We did quite a bit of stuff with Boris without the kids. 

It was all good, but that meant that I never worked more than four hours a day.

I took pride in being able to complete the eight-hour workload in four hours or less. But that only meant that the expectations were pretty low. 

Now imagine how I felt when I started my first US job at VIN.net International. I had to be at work every day, and I had to spend nine hours there, no matter what, for the simple reason that I could not leave work on my own. 

Our workday was technically speaking from eight to five with a one-hour lunch break, but most people arrived earlier than eight. For the first several weeks, we lived in Des Planes, and I took a commuter train from Deer Road to Barrington, so I was abiding by the train schedule both ways. Most people didn’t go out for lunch but had lunch at their desks, and I did the same. The last time I had to be at work by a specific time was in 1988 when I worked at the Construction Bureau for the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Even then, there were shifts. 

Now, imagine me coming to work by 7-30 AM, having lunch at my desk, leaving at 5 PM, coming home – and that’s it! On weekends, somebody would take me to the grocery store – and that was it!  

Remember, that was the time before the internet, so you could not surf the web at home, let alone work. And you could not sit at your desk reading a book, as it was in the time of the Soviet Union. No random trips to the city center. No theaters or museums. No window shopping or “looking what is out there.” Home-work-home. 

One of my school friends who by that time was lived in the US for a while wrote to me in her letter: it’s tough to get adjusted, but soon you will feel much better than at home – you have so much freedom here! Freedom?! Are you kidding me?! That felt more like a prison! 

Later, Boris told me that if back in Russia, I would ever spend nine hours each day, five days a week for several months, I could also increase my skills level dramatically. Maybe he is right:). However, I feel that the most critical factor at that time was the fact that I had to work a lot, that there was a lot to do, and that I had nobody to follow. For years, I knew that if I do not know something, if I do not know how complete a certain task, and simply if I do not have my own opinion on some technical topic, I could ask Boris. And he always knew everything.

On the one hand, I liked it. On the other hand, it made me wonder whether I could do anything on my own. Sometimes I felt that people would offer me a job or suggest a gig for the only reason that I was bringing Boris’s expertise with me.

I did not work with Sybase before, and I had to figure out everything by myself. And not just to figure out, but to support a production database. Again, no internet and almost no documentation. It was extremely rewarding after I figured out how things worked. I still remember the chills of seeing a SQL statement being executed, being needed, being meaningful. And at the same time, I remember the gloom of seeing the same twelve people for weeks and wondering whether it will be the same for two years. I knew that I was not seeing America and was not living in America yet. 

We didn’t know anything about Halloween, and although other explained the idea to me, I decided that we will do it next year. Elections passed, and people barely mentioned it. 

However, some events were about to happen and change my life dramatically. I didn’t know back then that the changes will be positive in the end. 

To be continued:)

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.

Our First Day In The USA

Yesterday, there was a 24th anniversary of the day when Vlad, Anna, and I came to the US. In the past several months, I wrote so many posts about our last weeks in Russia and the first weeks and months in the US that I have almost nothing to add. But today, I was thinking about these first days again, and suddenly I recalled some of my feelings. 

After Val picked us up at O’Hare, he drove us to Des Plaines, where I would sign the lease for my first ever apartment. I was tired; I barely understood what was going on. In addition to Val, one more VIN.net employee was waiting for me in the leasing office. His name was Art; he was a sales rep, and he was supposed to help me understand what I was signing; apparently, Pam didn’t trust Val to explain it to me :). 

Reading the lease agreement was too much for me, even with Art’s help. I signed, and then, there were lots of motions. I had no money on me, and Pam wanted Val to pay my security deposit and one week of October rent, which was left; I was expected to pay it back later. But the leasing office could not accept cash, and there was an argument, and at the end, Art paid with his credit card, and Vlad gave him cash. 

Things were finally resolved, and we were moved to this empty apartment with two old coaches, which my other future co-workers gave away. And I remember that weird feeling, which I had going to bed that night: it was that easy?! 

I never, ever-never, had my place. I am not talking about an apartment; I never had a room, which would be mine and only mine, never in my life. The fact that I couldn’t have a place of my own in Russia was a major deciding factor in my move to the US. I was planning to work hard for two years and earn enough money to buy an apartment in Saint Petersburg. Cash buying was the only option: neither mortgages nor rental market existed in Russia at that time. 

And here I was, going to bed in a two-bedroom apartment in Des Planes, and that magic happened immediately upon arrival. It happened just because nobody here could imagine that less than a two-bedroom apartment would suffice. The problem which seemed utterly unresolvable in Russia resolved itself instantly… 

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.

A Division Of Labor:)

Last week, before I left to Helsinki, I stopped at my neighbor to let her know I am leaving and just to chat. At that moment, I thought that I had to be on strict quarantine all the time, so that’s what I told her when she asked me what we are going to do in Helsinki.

She said: well, you can just relax at home, and go for a walk. And then she added: and you will be cooking for him, right?

I replied: no. In Helsinki, I am not even allowed in the kitchen. When Boris is here, I cook and clean and everything, and when I am over there, he does everything.

I can’t even describe an expression on my neighbor’s face. I think she never thought that could be even possible. She was trying to imagine how it can be and then saidL yea… I guess…

I think that it was the first time in all these years she knows us she thought that it may be something in this whole remote idea 🙂

The Last Photos In Russia

Yes, we visited later, but still – the last ones while we still lived there. It should have been still September, but in October, there was no time for pictures.

We were taking a walk at the Peter and Paul Fortress that day. The outdoor pictures were taken by Boris, and the ones inside – by my mom.

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ADBIS 1996

This picture was taken at the ADBIS conference in Moscow in September 1996. I do not remember who took this picture and why, and when I got the print, getting the prints were not instantaneous at that time. It was the same strange time. I didn’t have a vise yet and was waiting for the second set of documents. I was mentally half gone but still didn’t tell anybody. I remember a couple of social activities, but the overall picture of that conference is pretty hazy in my memories.

It was the first time ADBIS became an international conference, not just some Russian professors and researchers hanging out with some Western colleagues. As I already said many times, one part of me was sure I would come back in two years, because despite whatever John Roseman was saying, I could not imagine myself living anywhere except Saint Petersburg.

The other part of me was similarly sure I am leaving for good. All the things I could not forgive my mom for were still raw and hurting, and this other part of me was hoping never to see her again. I didn’t see any way for Boris and me to achieve any stability in our relationships, and this other part of me was thinking that I will start my life fresh, meet some other man, and live happily ever after. I think that this was also an intention of Pam: she didn’t know about Boris; on paper, I was a single mother of three, and Val was divorced, and supposedly we didn’t have anybody else to lean on.
I always have the same thoughts when yet another anniversary of my coming to America is approaching. I think about how little I knew about what the future beholds.

Today, I was talking to Boris on Facetime, and at one moment, we stopped talking, and were just looking at each other. And I felt so strongly how lucky we are to have each other. And how much our lives changed because we have each other. Not only the family/personal life, but also the professional life, and overall what kind of humans we have become.

It’s crazy even to think about this: I would never decide to go to America if I wouldn’t be sure that we can’t resolve our issues. I am thinking: if my mom and grandpa won’t be both so difficult, and if my mom could secure my grandpa’s apartment after his death, Boris and I would have a place to live. And I would never-ever decide to go anywhere. And that apartment was so small and miserable that it would be a miserable life. But I wouldn’t know about it.
And even more horrifying, if we would never enter these relationships… We both would live our lives and think that everything is great, and we would be different people (I can see it clearly, what kind of people we would be!).

OK, seasonal thoughts:) and one more night, I am up way later than I planned! I am leaving myself here, on September 15, 1996, and I can’t even imagine how somebody could be as ignorant as I was!

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.

Summer 1996. Lichtenberg Park

Our University Campus was built close to the old Lichtenberg Park. I know that I should check my facts and tell you exactly who from the Lichtenberg House was related to the Russian Royal family, but I will not do it now. It is not essential for my story. What is important that there was this beautiful park on the other side of the train tracks. The park was in the half-deteriorated state, and the palaces and pavilions and the church were even more so, but it was a great park for walking.

I do not remember which days the pictures were taken, but it was one of the days when Boris and I already knew that those might be the last week of my staying in Russia. If not that, I am sure I won’t convince him to take pictures with kids. Igor was most likely with my mom in the city, or possibly with his other grandma – she was taking him sometimes to another vacationing place, which Igor himself can describe better.

That’s all I can say about these pictures. Now that I look at them, I can sense a bittersweet feeling, joy, and sadness simultaneously.

Vlad is wining about something, as usual 🙂

The next several pictures are almost identical, but I am going to post them anyway, because we do not have that many pictures, and I know that Vlad and Anna would like to have them all 🙂

Continue reading “Summer 1996. Lichtenberg Park”

1996: My Last Job In Russia

My life in 1996, as it started, was pretty much the same as in 1995. Being a research associate at the University paid very little, and I always searched for additional gigs. One interesting thing in 1996 was that Urbansoft moved to one of Boris’s research lab rooms. John ran out of money (I am not even sure whether he had any investors by that time), and I forgot whether Boris was the first to come up with this idea of it was John, but the idea was the following. Boris and John signed the contract to the effect that Boris’ lab will perform some research for Urbansoft, and Urbansoft will pay for this research, but in reality, it was rent. It’s just that the University was not allowed to lease its space to anybody. It was all the sequence of really awkward situations: John didn’t know that Boris and I were in relationships and that Vlad and Anna were his children. And then he realized that Boris knew all this story about the key and me being fired. So there was a lot of awkwardness!

For several years, however, it was a good collaboration. 

As for me, I still needed some other work on the side. The Smolny thing was over. The bank gig was over. 

I do not remember what I was doing in winter, but it was Stylus, Prompt Corporation by spring. The first Russian Automated Multi-language Translator. Looking back, I have a lot of respect for their leadership. They were trying hard to build a healthy business model. At times, when working for any private company was considered a risky business, they would not hire part-timers. They insisted that if somebody wanted to work for them, they should focus on Prompt one hundred percent. 

It sounds trivial, except that in post-Soviet Russia, it was almost revolutionary. They were paying five bucks to anybody who would find a bug in their product, no matter QA or not. They catered lunch for the whole office every day, and that was unthinkable. 

In terms of full-time employment, they made an exception for me. I had to write documentation for Stylus, yes, documentation again! Once again, I do not remember who invited me there, but apparently, they knew “that I could write.” I brought with me some excerpts from the HighDoc documentation, and it was found to be acceptable. We negotiated the price and delivery schedule, and I started.

The documentation had to be in the RTF format. Once again, when summer arrived, and I had to go to the University boarding house, I was left with my primitive laptop with MS-DOS and Norton text editor and 8K RAM. 

I had some pieces of documentation which I already completed in WordPad. I used them as examples and pieced together the next parts, putting all the markups in manually. Once a week, when I went back to the city, I copied these files to my desktop and tried to correct them if they ended up being non-readable. 

On the second time, something went wrong with my desktop. I can’t remember what exactly, but it was the whole sequence of unfortunate events, and I ended up not bringing the next portion of documentation. I can’t even remember whether only some of the new parts suffered or could not put together anything. In any case, I came to the Prompt office and told my supervisor what had happened. He told me that he was sorry and understood that there were circumstances beyond my control, but since I didn’t deliver what I was supposed to deliver, there would be no pay. I do not remember how I lived for the next two weeks, and where I managed to find money, but I remember my feelings walking down Liteynyi Prospect: what I am going to do?! I can’t say anything in my defense; I didn’t turn in my work, but how will we survive

I worked for Prompt almost until the very last day in Russia. I told them that I am leaving when my work visa was granted. They were mad because their previous technical writer left for America several months before that (and that’s why they hired me). But there was nothing they could do. That was my last contract job in Russia.

As for my position with the University, I didn’t have the courage to quit. After all, I was still in the “I may come back” mode. But since Igor was a special needs child, I had a right by law to go on unpaid leave “to take care of the child” until his 16th birthday. Then theoretically, I could return on any day and get my position back. 

Now, I need to san a hundred pictures from our last summer, because somehow that last summer is very well documented 🙂

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.