A Picture of Our First Christmas

I finally found one picture from our first Christmas Eve in the US, which I described here. I’ve already added the picture to the original post, but for since in was published a week ago I thought it’s worth to show this picture separately.

I do not know where are the rest of the pictures, I only have this one – Val posing with Anna and Vlad.

You can see our tree with paper ornaments, and a star, and a string of lights, and a garland. The holiday outfits were given to us by my co-workers with older children, and the hat was made of plastic (came from some game set), but Vlad loved it:)

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.

About My First Christmas

Knowing that I was born in January 1963, you might think that my first Christmas was on December 25, 1953. But in fact, my first Christmas happened only in 1996, keep reading to find out why – this is going to be the longest post you ever read in my journal.

Before the October revolution of 1917, Orthodox Christianity was an official religion of the Russian Empire. The Julian Calendar which is two weeks behind the Julian Calendar, was used both in Church and in civic life. 

After the revolution, the Church was separated from the state. Several months later, by a decree of the Revolutionary government, the country was switched to the Julian calendar. Christmas was denounced, along with all religious holidays, and Christmas trees were forbidden. That situation lasted until early 1930 were when the government decided to allow some of the fun to come back. Granted, there should not be any mention of Jesus. All the festivities were reassigned to the New Year celebrations. There was no more Christmas tree; it became a New Year Tree. The Bethlehem star on top became the Red Star. The Grandfather Frost remained more or less the same:). 

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Greetings from the Knox College

I always thought that Anna has chosen a great school to attend, and the greetings I’ve received today is another proof.

The email from the college president said:

At Homecoming this year, we asked members of the Knox family to share a moment of cheer with you this holiday season. Watch the video (and turn up your sound)!

Very best wishes to you for a joyous 2020

Here is the video –

The reason I received this email (which means that I am on alumni list) is that I am a monthly donor. And the college has a beautiful way to say thank you – sending personalized video messages from the students who benefit from the college fund.

Politics – in Anna’s Words

Last week, there was a 23rd anniversary of my coming to the US. Since I already told the story of my coming here, I am not going to repeat it. However, it reminded me that I almost stopped writing my historical posts, which I consider the most important part of this blog. So I promised myself to post three of them in the next couple of days, all related to three different periods of my life.
Meanwhile, I was going over my youtube videos in search of one very old interview of my kids were talking about their Mother:). I didn’t find it, but I found three recordings of Anna talking about politics. That was the time when she was working in the GQR consulting during the second Obama campaign. Most of my friends didn’t have any idea what her work entailed but was ready to stamp all politics as ‘a dirty business.” In this interview, Anna talks about what political consultants do, and I think it is very relevant nowadays!

BTW – I think that the bast thing I did for this country is that I brought Anna here 🙂

What Does Volunteering Mean?

Last week, I had several conversations, which made me first upset, then angry, and then angry at myself that I got angry:). And now, I am trying my best to abstract from particular conversations and to say what exactly was so upsetting. 

What does volunteering mean? It means that you want to do something with no pay. And this includes – possibly no thanks. You want to do something because you believe that this something is important. That somebody’s lives: people’s, animals’, plants’ – will become better if you will be doing this – whatever “this” is. 

You say: I want to volunteer. Great. By the way, nobody “has” to volunteer. I will never criticize anybody for not wanting to volunteer. A person can only decide by themselves, whether this is indeed what they want. 

But want I do not understand, and what makes me mad – when somebody expects to be rewarded for their volunteer work. When they get upset that they do not receive enough thanks. When they wonder why others do not want to listen to them or utilize their expertise. 

I’ve lost count of how many times I had heard this: I want to volunteer, I offered my services, why “they” are so picky and do not want me? Why am I not receiving thanks for helping out?

For me, it means that this person does not want to volunteer. They simply want a payment of a different kind. Because when you volunteer, you just give. You give and never ask for something in return. Sure, it feels good when you hear “thank you for all your do!” but that is not a reason why you volunteer.

Also, when you do volunteer, you do the whole thing. There is no “dirty work.” If you want to support this cause, you will do whatever is required in the current situation. In many cases volunteering activities are scary. Or at least uncomfortable. That is a part of the package. 

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…”

Staying in Ann Arbor – Life is Wonderful!

This weekend I am in Ann Arbor visiting my dear friend Lena. Lena used to live in Palatine; five minutes drive from me. She is a great person and a true friend, and we have a lot in common, no matter 20 years age difference, me being a crazy workaholic, and her being a homemaker for a long time. I was very sad when they moved to Ann Arbor because of her husband’s work. She visits me from time to time, but it’s not the same. Now, two years after she moved I finally came to visit her.

On Friday after work, I took a Wolverine train from the Union station.

This train moves with speed over 110 mph, but due to the issues with its computer, we were one hour and fifteen minutes late. Lena had to stay up late to meet me at the train station, and we didn’t go to bed till 1 AM, but at 6-30 AM today we were up and ready for adventure.

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Labor Day in Pullman

I have four hours on the Wolverine train to Ann Arbor, MI. I have a comfy seat, an electric plug, and the internet available, so it’s a good time to catch up with everything :). I returned from Wisconsin on Saturday of the Labor Day weekend, so I still had two full days and a little bit for myself. Usually, on Labor Day, I try to do something meaningful, something related to the holiday. And most of the time it means visiting Pullman.

Igor talked me into visiting it for the first time in 2014. I didn’t know anything about its amazing history back then and readily absorbed all the information. At that time, everybody was talking about getting Pullman the status of National Park, and in 2015 this happened.

This year I thought there is no way I can spend almost the whole day on this trip. But then I made some calculations, and due to the new Metra weekend schedule, it all appeared to look doable. So the decision was made, and I told Igor that I am coming.

We were hoping that the new status would escalate the restoration efforts, but the Florence Hotel is still closed to the public, and the factory restoration is still in process.

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How My Life in America Started , and About My First CEO

My move to America won’t be possible without Pam – the CEO of the company, which hired me for my first job in the US. She was an outstanding personality and quite a controversial character, but one thing for sure: it’s only because of her that my move to America has happened.


Granted she was considering the interests of her business first, and for sure I was initially paid on the lower margin of the acceptable pay rate for a position, but she took on herself a responsibility of bringing me over.


In was not only about the money (although if you think about it, with myself and my three children, there were four visas and four airplane tickets to pay for, and as I’ve mentioned earlier, I had no money at all, so all these costs were upfront).


But what is more important, she’d taken on herself a responsibility of being in charge of me and my kids – remember, how my other two potential employers didn’t want to take any responsibility of bringing over a single mother with three children?
Pam did. Not without some risk, but being a divorced mother of two small children herself, she understood a thing or two about me.


If you recall my conversation with John R. before my departure, you remember that he was reassuring me, that I do not need to take any extra money along, because “I am going to America to make money.” It didn’t occur to him, that a person is being paid at the END of a pay period, while you need to pay your rent at the BEGINNING of the month, not mentioning a deposit, and once again, three hundred dollars was all I had.
Moreover, in my first company employees were paid monthly, and with me starting on October 23 I had to pay a deposit and nine days of rent, then receive only 1/4 of my monthly check, and pay November rent… And I also had to pay my other expenses till my November check would come.


My company, personified by Pam lent all this money to me. But that was just the beginning of my financial troubles.


One of the decisive factors which prompted my fearless departure to America was the assumption that G. and his family will help me in many ways, including childcare. I will leave for the future a more detailed explanation of what exactly happened, but as a result of it only a month after my arrival I had to move out, pay a fine for lease breaking, find a new apartment, pay one more deposit, find a daycare for my children, and transfer them to a new school. At that time, I was not practicing yoga and has been quite hysterical.

Continue reading “How My Life in America Started , and About My First CEO”

Flying to America for the First Time

Before I start, let me tell you a couple of words about how my children have reacted to the news that we are going to go to America. First of all, they were very excited to tell everybody around, and the funny thing is that nobody believed them! They would be at the playground, and would tell other parents: we are going to America for two years!!! And other parents would be yea, sure… And then I come and say that it’s true!

When Anna and I were talking recently about these weeks before our departure, she told me that she remembers there was one thing she was sad about, but she can’t remember what exactly it was. But I remembered! The Fall play in their daycare was in rehearsal at that time; it was a modern version of the Russian folk tale “Репка” (“The Turnip”). Both of them were playing leading parts: Anna was playing a role of Granddaughter, and Vlad was playing a Dog. And they had to miss their artistic triumph!

We were flying the KLM airlines. It was a strange flight; I do not think they even offer this kind of flight anymore: we would arrive at Copenhagen in the afternoon, spend a night in a hotel, and leave to Chicago in the morning. The hotel room and airport transfer were both paid by KLM. We did have some time to walk around the city, and I even remember that we went to see the Mermaid, but my mind was not there, and I could not fully enjoy the sights.

We had to eat somewhere, and I’ve asked at the hotel reception, where is the nearest place we can eat, and how much would it cost. I had to exchange some dollars to Denmark kronas, and I knew I wouldn’t need them after that evening. Money was scarce, I only had three hundred dollars, so I could not afford to waste any.


They directed us to the nearest McDonalds, which was a safe choice for kids, but also it was a luxury for us these days, and I could not stop thinking that I didn’t plan to spend that much money before we even come to America.

Fortunately, the hotel stay included breakfast, and we went down pretty early in the morning to be sure we eat before our bus comes. And we could hardly find any food my kids were familiar with. Neither they nor I were used to being served ice-cold milk, and they refused to drink it this way. I remember pleading them to eat some corn flakes with this cold milk, and I forgot what we ended up with, but I believe all of us had finally eaten something.

One thing which warmed my heart was that when we stepped on board of the airplane flying to Chicago, a flight attendant had given Anna and Vlad small Lego sets to build lego airplanes, and coloring books and some crayons. And that was so unusual for us! Real legos were extremely expensive in Russia, I would buy some Polish substitutes, which were also expensive, so they would only get medium-size sets for New Year or their birthdays. Having children be treated as special guests was a completely new concept to me, and I felt right away, that this new world is going to be a place of kindness.

During the long flight, the kids behaved well, didn’t make much noise, asked a flight attendant for some orange juice in English, and tried to connect with other children on the plane. So all was good. I stepped out of the airplane, holding my passport with my working vise (the kids didn’t have their separate passports then), and a note with the name of the company secretary, and their phone and address.

A border control officer took my papers and asked: do you know where you are going to go? I said: no, but somebody is picking me up. The officer said: what if nobody will meet you, what you are going to do? He’d sent me to the room with the wooden barriers, where other people were sitting and waiting, and he told me to sit and wait with them.

Imagine being after nine hours-long flight, with two five-year-olds, not even being able to tell them how much longer we need to wait, and why, and what we are waiting for in the first place. We ended up sitting there for about an hour: I and my five-year-old twins, with no food, no water, no toys, no books. They were doing great, being quite patient. And then an officer appeared at the doors and called on me. He handed me my passport and said: you can go! What? Can I go? No questions, no interrogation, no nothing? Yes, you can go.

We exited back to the baggage claim area. It was empty. No people, no luggage. And then we saw our boxes mounted on one cart, and a tall thin man standing by it – it was Val, and that was the first time we met him. I remember the kids walked towards him and clenched to his hands, and he was so surprised with that, that he just started walking, leaving me behind with the luggage:).

Those were our first steps on American soil.