Half-pandemic May

Today, Chicago and the state of Illinois lifted most remaining COVID-19 mitigation-related masking and social distancing requirements and capacity limits. It isn’t quite the end of an era, but it is a step forward.

But when I wrote a decent chunk of this post (on June 7), many of those limits were still in place, and Chicagoland region was caught in an interesting half-way state that had as much to do with people’s attitudes as anything that was formally required.

I’ve been Chicagoland specifically because the United States, for better or for worse, continues to be a patchwork of restrictions, regulations and approaches. For the past 12 months, I’ve been able to sit down in coffee shops in Kenosha (Wisconsin) and Michigan City (Indiana), but not in Chicago and most suburbs. Masking has also varied – as I mentioned before, Kenoshans really didn’t mask much until the fall 2020 surge in cases.

In the past two months, we saw two major developments.

In late April, CDC issued a recommendation stating that people don’t have to wear masks outdoors – though it still recommended that unvaccinated people wear masks in crowded outdoor settings. Then, on May 13, it recommended allowing vaccinated people to go maskless indoors, except in public transit, government buildings, hospitals and some other congregate settings. Illinois and Chicago specifically adjusted their respective regulations accordingly – which meant, in practice, that businesses and public institutions such as libraries could continue requiring everybody to wear masks, if they so chose.

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Chicago’s Austin community and the complexities of COVID-19 vaccine equity

For the most part, Illinois is till currently in Phase 1B of the vaccination program. In order to get inoculated, you have to be 65 or older, or (with a few exceptions) an essential worker, or a teacher, or (in most parts of the state) be an adult with some kind of a long-term health issue. This means that most adults and none of the kids still can’t get it.

For the most part.

In the end of February, the City of Chicago quietly launched the Protect Chicago Plus initiative, where the city is offering vaccinations to everybody age 18 or older who live in certain community areas and set up temporary vaccination sites. The idea is that the majority-black and majority-Hispanic neighborhoods have seen higher-than-average number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, but also have fewer opportunities to get the vaccines. For example, the Lakeview neighborhood up on the North Side has a number of doctors’ offices, clinics and pharmacies. In North Lawndale, you can count those on two hands and still have fingers left over.

The city decided to set eligibility based on community areas, which makes sense. Neighborhoods come and go, their borders shift, and there isn’t always consensus on what they’re called and borders even are, while Chicago community areas have endured, with very few changes, for almost 100 years.

But it does create some interesting wrinkles.

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December 1996. Gray Sanborn School

In December 1996, Vlad and Anna went on their first winter break at Gray Sanborn School. For me, it meant them being in the Children’s World for the whole day, but I believe it was included in their tuition. At least, I do not remember paying more in December.

I didn’t know anything about what they were doing at school. The parent-teacher conferences happened before Thanksgiving, and they started school right after. I could not understand what school assignments meant. It’s difficult to explain: I understood the words, but I didn’t know how the Kindergarten curriculum is organized. It was very different from Russian schools, and Vlad and Anna used to say that they “played” at school, listened to the teacher reading a book. Sometimes they would bring some drawings home.

It was a real shock for me when they brought home a newsletter for the parents from their teacher, Mrs. Kramers, when on the last day of school. The letter said: if your child does not know the alphabet, it’s time to catch up. If your child can’t count to one-hundred, it’s time. What-when-how?! How come I didn’t know?! I did not know that when they connected the numbered dots to make a Santa’s face, they were learning numbers.

I wish I could go back in time and ask their teacher how they were adjusting, how they were learning, how they communicated with other kids. I have three pictures from that winter from school, and I am not sure who made them.

In the last picture, they are sitting together with their friend Chris. Chris was in the same class with them and in the Children’s World. Actually, his family lived in the same building, as wem but we didn’t know. Chris didn’t take a bus to school; I think his mom, Janet, dropped him off, and then his parents picked him up from the Children’s World at a different time.

We learned that they are our neighbors accidentally. It happened when Pam arrived at our apartment at 8 AM one Sunday, realized that we do not have TV service on, and started to call our neighbors to find out what cable company serves our building.

Chris was Vlad’s and Anna’s best friend for the longest time, and Janet was my best friend for the longest 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.

At the Children’s World

The picture below was taken in the Children’s World during the first Month Vlad and Anna were attending; somebody from the staff took it and gave me way later. Vlad and Anna liked it there.

Their teachers’ names were Miss Kelly and Mister Brian; they were very young, fun, and caring and loved the kids. First, I was surprised by the small size of the place and by the fact that they were just pulling out tiny camp beds for nap time and didn’t have a separate room for the “quiet hour” ( “tikhiy chas”). I was also surprised that there were so many unstructured activities. And I was grateful for the meals.

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 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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What Finland Has To Offer

My daughter sent me this link yesterday. She commented that one of her friends considered it as a backup plan if Trump would win. As for that statement, both she and I agree, that fleeing the country in difficult times is not right, and if Trump would win, we would stay here to fight.

But I also agree with her, that is is an example of excellent marketing, and moreover, both she and I know that it’s all true.

I am not saying I will never ever move to some other country; after all life proved I can’t ever make the “never” promises, but one thing I am sure about: I will never ever move somewhere for pure economic reasons. I like a lot of things in Finland, and I want many of them to happen in the United States, and I will work on making them happen here. At least now, there is ahope that some of thet will be possible:)

Scenes from Kenosha, two months after the shooting of Jacob Blake

As I’ve commented before, we journalists have a tendency to swoop in when there’s a crisis/controversy, and then forget about it once the heat dies down. And that is something I’ve personally been trying to avoid, even when I don’t get paid for it.

Kenosha has been on my radar long before the shooting of Jacob Blake. I visited it several times – the first time back in college, in one of my “how far can the [then $5] Metra weekend pass get me” day trips. I wanted to see the only midwestern town within communing distance that had some form of tramway (a heritage-style streetcar loop that, as I quickly realized, was little more than a tourist attraction for the HarborPark development in downtown Kenosha). I visited it a few times since, because it’s the only way to go to another state on a Metra weekend pass, and while I don’t have as much inexplicable fondness for it as I do for Michigan City, it has its charms. I even visited Kenosha twice during the pandemic – once in May (when, by a strange coincidence, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state’s stay-at-home order) and once in June.

So, when the shooting happened, I already had some context. I already knew that it was a manufacturing town those existence once revolved around several major auto plants (the aforementioned HarborPark development was built on the site of large American Motors Corporation lakefront plant). I knew that the city was home to more African-Americans than many people might assume, with some living there since the days of the Underground Railroad. When protesters marched on Kenosha County Courthouse, and when riots swept through downtown and Uptown areas, I had a pretty good idea where several of those streets were.

I originally planned to try to get to Kenosha on August 24, what ended up being the second day of riots (and the day before Kyle Rittenhouse killed two protesters and wounded another), but I missed the mid-day train. Because Union Pacific North Metra Line is running on a limited schedule in these pandemic times, it meant that there was no point catching the following train, since I would basically only have time to walk around for a few minutes before I had to catch the last train back to Chicago. Paying work kept me from making another attempt until Friday, August 28. By that point, the protests continued, but they were mostly peaceful, and National Guard was brought in

Continue reading “Scenes from Kenosha, two months after the shooting of Jacob Blake”

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.