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.

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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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 🙂

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Summer 1996, Peterhoff

I have more pictures from that summer than I had for the whole previous year. It was a strange summer. Events that I described in the post How I decided to go to America happened at the very beginning of it, and then it was a long wait. I briefly mentioned in my other post, Getting ready to go to America, but there were months of uncertainty in reality. Only Boris and my mom knew that I was waiting for the papers, but I was trying to make most out of this summer with all uncertainty. 

We stayed in the University boarding house yet again, and I worked on Stylus documentation at night (My last job in Russia). In the daytime, I took kids to places almost every day. Vlad and Anna were already big enough to appreciate art. We took full advantage of that fact. It was a strange mixture of “I might not even get a visa,” “I am not going to leave forever, we will come back in two years, and I will be happy to come back,” and “I will never be back again.” In reality, none of these happened, but back then, I was frantically trying to squeeze into our days as much of the art and architecture. 

The Boarding house was relatively close to the palaces and parks of Peterhoff, Peter the Great summer residence. We often took a bus to spend a half-day there, enjoying the fountains and visiting palaces. My friend Olga, whose family lived in the same apartment building with us in Saint Petersburg, came to join us on this adventure. I think it was more than once, but I only have pictures from one of these occurrences. Here they are.

Vlad, Anna and Ania in the Upper Park of Peterhoff
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Life In Chicago

Today, I asked Vlad to meet me for lunch because I needed to discuss several things with him. We didn’t plan very well, and I had a work emergency, so first, I ended up being late, and then he was late, although he texted me that he is already parking.

When he finally came in, he told me that he had trouble finding a parking spot and that he had to park at a very expensive place. But then he said that he feels good about it because it means that the city is getting back to normal.

I can second these feelings because yesterday, I felt similarly annoyed when I could not turn left from my subdivision to the main road. Annoyed, but also glad :).
Among the things I wanted to talk about was the future of the restaurant business. In Chicago, with our notoriously brutal winters, everybody is talking about this! Vlad thinks that people will still be heading for indoor seating when the weather will become colder regardless of the higher risk. I am not sure how he thinks our legislators will do, but even in Finland, they had to back up under the business demands. We shall see. I also hope that rapid testing will be more available. Last week, Vlad was hosting a private even with Abbott Labs, and since they developed this rapid test, they tested each and single participant and each and single server at this event. It would be cool if we could have this rapid testing everywhere!

Oh, and funny story. Today was the first time since early March that I was not alone in the elevator going down in our office building:)

January 1, 1996

One more year, one more set of pictures taken on January 1, at the family gathering on Aunt Kima’s birthday. Once again, I do not remember who took the pictures. I am sure there were tons of pictures of everybody, but I only have pictures where my children are present.

They are dressed in the same costumes as on the photo with a children’s musical cast. Igor is a Vampire, Vlad is a Dwarf, and Anna is a Little Red Riding Hood. I am recycling my High School Graduation dress with all accessories.

Igor, Slava, Petya, Vlad
Aunt Kima with Anna, Iya and Vlad, with Igor on the left
Me with Ann on my lap and my second cousin Ania with her daughter Iya
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Saying Goodbye to 1995

The year 1996 was fast approaching, my last year in Russia, although I didn’t know about it back then. To be precise, the first call from Vin.NET International happened in December 1995, but they didn’t offer a job for me then, and I didn’t think there will be any followups. So I didn’t know what the New Year had for me and celebrated it’s coming.

New Year was always a big deal. As I already explained, the New Year festivities were reinstated in the early 1930s to compensate for banned Christmas and Sviatki – the week between Christmas and New Year. Since Orthodox Christmas was celebrated two weeks later than the Catholic one, on January 7, all the festivities would start right before the New Year Eve and would continue for a week or more. The “Old New Year” was celebrated on January 13, and the school winter break started on December 30 and lasted until January 10.

The New Year concerts and parties at schools were usually held on one of the last days before the winter break, and between January 2 and January 10, there were lots of events. Most of the Children’s theaters were running their New Year specials, and also, there were tons of “yolkas.” Yolka means a fir tree or a Christmas tree, but according to an old Russian tradition, Yolka also meant a party, mostly for children, with some New year-themed performance, games around a New Year Tree, and at the end, everybody gets presents. Presents were usually bags of assorted candies and chocolates and maybe a pack of waffles and a mandarin orange.

The first picture, however, was taken at Vlad’s and Anna’s detskiy sad. They had. New Year party and I took Igor to watch it with me. After the party was over, a photographer suggested that he take additional pictures of the children, whose parents would be interested in purchasing more. That’s where this picture came from.

The next one was taken in the Children’s Theater, which we frequently patronized. It was called “Skazka” – a fairy tale. They put on some New Year show, and we went there with two other families. Families meant mothers and children because it was very uncommon for fathers to participate in such activities. A mother was considered to be enough 🙂

I already mentioned, kids (and sometimes adults) dressed up for New Year parties, and Igor, Vlad, and Anna are in their costumes (I have better pictures of costumes, which I will include in the next post). After the show, everybody could take pictures with the cast.

There is a Prince (Tsarevich) and a Princess (Tsarevna) on the back. Next row: a girl who’s name I can’t remember, to my shame, then Igor dressed as a Vampire, and then our friend Ania, who participated in so many activities with us. Finally in the first row: Snow girl (Snegurochka), a granddaughter of Grandfather Frost, Anna dressed as a Little Red Riding Hood, Vlad dressed as a Dwarf and Grandfather Frost himself, is his blue and white coat.

We had more pictures with the cast, but for some reason only this one survived, and I am glad I have 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.

The Rest of 1995

When I think about my life before we relocated to America, I mostly think about the last year before we left, precisely the period I am describing now. I want to describe our “life in general” during this period, rather than specific events.

Vlad and Anna attended detskiy sad – the preschool-daycare ran by the Department of Educations for only a nominal cost, which was a huge relief to my budget. They were lucky to have great teachers, and I invested my time and effort to be in good relationships with all of them, always showing them how much I appreciated their hard work. They were paid little, and their salaries were often late, as with almost everybody at that time.

In Igor’s boarding school, the building remodeling was finally over. He stayed there from Monday morning till Friday afternoon, which was also a relief for monetary and time budgets. I was a research associate at the University, which still paid close to nothing. Besides, after many thoughts and hesitations, I applied for government child disability payments for Igor. That was a small but reliable additional income, in addition to Igor having room and board for five days a week in his boarding schools. Still, more than half of my income had to come from some side gigs, which I was always searching for. I never requested child support from Igor’s father for several reasons. When we divorced, my earnings were higher than his, and I didn’t feel it fair to ask for more. I have to mention that the way the child support amount was calculated in Russia, it didn’t take into account mother’s income, it was plain 25 or 30 percent of the father’s income (I forgot the exact number, I think it was 25% for one child, 30% for two and 50% for three or more). Second, I felt that because it was my initiative to divorce him, I could not make it worse. And lastly, I told him that the only thing I want from him was to visit Igor often and never ask for money if he will keep in touch with his son. He ended up visiting way less than I would hope for, but that was my intention.

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Happy Birthday, Vlad and Anna!

Today is Vlad’s and Anna’s 29th birthday, and for the first time ever we won’t be able to celebrate together even on a different date. Below is a picture from our last year celebration, I am posting it here to remind myself that time will come and we will celebrate in person again:)

I just scrolled my timeline and realized that I do not have any post about the day Vlad and Anna were born. And this brings me to the conversations Anna and I had when she visited. Now, we talk a lot about parenting, and we are finding out tons of details I never mentioned. Each time Anna says that I should write a blog post about it, I hope that I will eventually. 

Some topics are easy to write about. In other cases, it isn’t easy to separate the historical details and personal emotions, and I know that I am trying to put off writing about some topics. We talked about me writing “about everything,” and I am leaning towards writing some protected posts, for which my children will have a passcode. 

Just this morning, I finished listening to the book The Things We Can’t Say. I loved the book, but it also prompted me to think about keeping secrets regarding someone’s past. There may be many reasons which seem perfectly rational, but you never know what will happen if you take these secrets to the grave, and your children and grandchildren will desperately try to solve these mysteries. 

So here is my children’s birthday resolution – I will do my best to write about everything  It will take time, but I hope I will be done before I will start to forget things 🙂

***

Each time I read any of my children’s posts on any social media, I feel … not proud, because “proud” means that it’s somehow related to you, inspired by you… and I do not think I did something in this regard.

I am simply happy that my children are so active in promoting their ideas, time permits or not :). I am happy that they are such good citizen, that they never go numb, that they care, and that they would never hesitate to speak openly about their position.

I think they are so much better than me in all these things, and I did not do anything!!! I do not know how they turned up to be who they are!