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Friday, December 12, 2014

Learning about grief

The end of 2014 has not been very kind to our little family. My grandmother, the unstoppable force she was, passed away December 8. Husband's uncle, his mom's baby brother, suddenly died from a heart attack December 9.
My babushka's heart just stopped. She died peacefully in her sleep at the ICU unit. She did not suffer, good merciful Lord took a pity on her. She had struggled with dementia and was not herself for the past seven years. Her passing was not a surprise, and she is finally at peace. And though I understand all that, I am grieving. It comes in waves and without notice. I am grieving the finality of death, its irreversible nature. I'm mourning that I am no longer the grandchild. I am mourning the loss of someone who was a force of nature and a formidable presence in my life. I was not able to go to her funeral and I can't be there to organize and sort her belongings. This feels final yet somehow incomplete. Being with the loved one is important for closure. My husband gets a chance to mourn his uncle with his family and I envy him. All I have at this point are the memories, and they are shitty company...

Friday, August 1, 2014

[Corporate] Culture Shock

There have been some changes in our little lives: I got a new job. This was a long time coming, but my natural cautiousness prevented me from taking a leap from hated, yet familiar surroundings of Dread Incorporated into the big unknown. I’ve gone on tons of interviews, some good, some bad, but nothing felt right. There were many factors to consider and no offer was worth it. It had gotten pretty bad at Dread Incorporated, though. Scheming, pantyhose-wearing, hair flipping, shrill-voiced management. Supervisors who smile in your face while collecting your mistakes to be used against you during your review a year later, but who don’t give an ass about anyone else’s work success but their own. No regular, flowing work – sporadic projects that ended up mostly in the garbage bin. Ugh.

So when I got a phone call with a job offer 20 min after I left the interview, it was a huge confidence
boost. I took the position and haven’t looked back. Adjusting to a functioning, normal work environment took some time: working with people mostly my age who are funny and interesting. Casual Fridays, relaxed yet productive work environment. Steady work flow that makes the days fly by. Ability to say “You know, I need to work from home tomorrow” and not get it tallied against you. Management that actually communicates with you regarding your performance on a regular basis. All these things have come as a huge culture shock. It’s been a steep learning curve.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

the Bunnygate

Husband and I decided to take the zaiki to see the Easter Bunny this year. The one at the local mall did not look particularly mangy - so the date was set. Much talk happened on Maya's part regarding the bunny's superpowers: how can he bring gifts to all the kids at once? Dreamy-eyed, she pondered questions like where does he keep the eggs? Where does he leave the presents?

Then, in response to my question about what presents will they ask for, Sonya blurted out: "I don't want to go - what's the point? It's not real - it's just a guy in a suit". This was more than Maya could handle. Her face became all eyes, lips quivered in the unmistakable pre-sob sadness every parent of a little child knows oh so well:

We quickly changed the topic, but the innocence was gone. Bunnygate had happened. Life will never be the same again.

On the day of the photoshoot, dresses were ironed, braids were made, special "grown up" tights were worn. Sonya received a stern warning not to ruin her sister's fairytale. Here's the final product, one for the picture wall:

 Full disclosure - I pictured the Bunny plumper and less mangy...Bad hungry winter perhaps?

Turning off my brain

I am being a complete sloth tonight. I have huge amount of work to do, but I owe myself a little bit of rest. Just a night of watching bad TV, drinking tea and not thinking. The last part is particularly hard for me, and, partly due to my sad family history, I always think of a worst case scenario: Husband is doing our taxes - oh no, we will owe thousands of dollars! Or car windshield has a crack in it - it will probably shatter while I'm miles away from home in a downpour with a dead cellphone. That's how I roll.

But tonight, I refuse to think serious thoughts. I'll watch a Family Guy episode and go to bed. Tomorrow I've taken a day off from my day job - a glorious, infrequent luxury. I have taken time off this year, but all was either illness or snow day related. This is different, and I will enjoy it to the fullest. I'll go to Crossfit in the morning and will have a lazy breakfast. I will go shopping for myself, by myself. :) Then I'll get ready for Easter - make Easter Cheese and zucchini pancakes. I will not think how a very real health issue last month showed me what is and what is not important in my life, and that the change is really, really needed.

I still have a class to teach tomorrow night, but it does not feel like a chore. My chest does not tighten as I walk through the door, I don't doubt my abilities for a second while I'm up at the podium. I'm happy, engaged, respected and appreciated. I'm lucky I have this outlet.

But that'll be tomorrow. Tonight, it's the Griffins and I. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Girls rule!

Just one more reason why girls rule:
The zaiki are playing Husband's old matchbox cars. Rolling them back and forth, racing, etc. All of a sudden I hear:
- Are you the awesomenest car on the planet? Will you marry me?
- Sure, let's go park next to each other.
*Kissing noises*

They can play with anything and still turn it into a glamorous wedding fairytale. Love it!

Friday, February 21, 2014

A trip down a memory lane

I do not handle stress well and I blame it on my heritage. On my mother’s side, we have mid-grade Russian nobility and Jewish “intelligencia” with a persecution complex, thyroid disorders and a penchant for drama.  My father comes from a family of robust Russian and Ukrainian peasants whose only genetic defect is an occasional bout of gayness. In other words, depression, suicidal thoughts and alcoholism run ramped in my family.

My parents have very different ways of handling stress or danger: my mother sulks then goes on an attack while my father flees and hides. Their diverse approaches to conflict resolution were especially fun to watch during a very contentious divorce battle. For about a year, even after the divorce was finalized, my parents were forced to share a residence due to draconian property and residence regulations in Russia. I added fuel to the fire by posting derogatory cartoons demanding my father’s eviction. Tensions ran high and arguments were punctuated by the use of umbrellas and heavy wooden chess boards as weapons.

My poor younger brother got the brunt of the post-divorce drama. I was 16 and, at least, understood what was happening and why, but he loved both parents and saw his world crumble at a ripe age of 8. There were no counselors or psychologists available at that time and all the grownups in his life were too preoccupied with their own crap to care about his feelings. Now that I am a parent myself, I feel horrible about that and wish that I was a better, more mature older sister.

In the end, my father left and was replaced by my mother’s mother, and the benefits of this trade were, as we found out, dubious at best. When grandma moved in, I was forced to give up my bedroom to her since she was sacrificing so much for us and it was the coziest room in the apartment. She demanded respect and bent us, the weaklings, to do things her way. It was easier to submit than argue. Now, 15 years later, she still lives with my mother and is in full throws of Alzheimer’s sprinkled with dementia, making her a rather difficult roommate. Her pastime consists of napping, spying on my brother’s sex life, buying shit through mail-in catalogs and waging a war on my poor mother. In her glory days my grandmother was the one who handled stress and conflict the best out of all of us.

She was born in the 1920s, spent her youth during the worse war of the XX century and successfully navigated the murky waters of Soviet medical politics, rising to the rank of the Chief Medical Examiner in our district. She loved her job and ruled the department with an iron fist. She was finally forced to retire at 75 and I’m sure her co-workers threw a party and ceremoniously burned her chair. I think if grandma had a choice, she would rather die on the job, keeled over her pile of cases and her microscope from an apparent heart attack.

As much as she was a tyrant at work, grandma was a dictator at home. Granted, the stories passed down to me by my mother may be influenced by the childhood trauma and benign neglect she had experienced, but I suspect that they may not be exaggerated. To me, however, she was a doting grandmother and a friend. I think she delighted in the fact that I looked up to her, shared my experiences with her and mostly that she was not responsible for my upbringing. Now her mind is mostly gone and she is reduced to a crumbling, hateful being. Every infrequent phone conversation I have with her revolves around her ungrateful progenies and her fear of death.   I am lucky that I can choose to avoid any contact with her, but my mom and my brother can’t, and I feel very badly about that.

As for me, when presented with a stressful situation, I cry. Then I freeze. Then, time permitting, I get drunk. Then I get mad and try to think my way out. Processing takes time though. I like routine and predictability. So when I am faced with a leaky tire, an unexpected bill or a bad ultrasound, I crumble.   When my car got towed for improper parking this past weekend, I freaked out.

We had a shitty week: one zaika had a fractured wrist, I received aforementioned medical news, our SUV needed two new tires and an alignment, plus two more school closures. AAAAAAA!!!!!! Let’s just say my recycling bin was full of empty wine and beer bottles. I hope our misfortunes and tribulations will end for now. Life is stripy: black/white, happy/sad and tends to lean towards equilibrium. Last night, Husband made awesome shrimp/pork dumplings; his cooking mojo is bouncing back so I choose to take it as a sign of hope and promise.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

zaiki and co.: 5:30 am is a lonely place in the middle of Februar...

zaiki and co.: 5:30 am is a lonely place in the middle of Februar...: As I emerged from my house at 5:30 am this morning to start the car before going to crossfit, I once again was forced to reflect on how much...

5:30 am is a lonely place in the middle of February

As I emerged from my house at 5:30 am this morning to start the car before going to crossfit, I once again was forced to reflect on how much I hate the winter. The car shared my sentiment by wheezing and telling me that -2F is clearly too cold to drive anywhere. I patted it, left it to warm up while I went inside and, since silly American temperature scale still has no meaning for me, I googled the conversion: it was roughly -21C in the normal, globally accepted scale.

I'm from Russia and that is a normal, abet a little bit cold, winter temperature. But here, in New Jersey, it just seems wrong. I got spoiled by warm-ish, snow-less winters I've mostly enjoyed, and the occasional snowfall used to bring nostalgia and joy. Not anymore. Nowadays, the winter means cold, cabin fever and school closures.

Our school system loves to close: oh, look, there is half an inch of snow on the ground: delayed opening! Oh, it's too cold, temperature dropped below 32F - let's close it down, because our precious little (and no so little) kids cannot possibly go 200 feet from the school bus to the heated school building. And to cancel the bus service and ask the parents to drop their kids off is sooooo much worse than to lose a whole day of school (insert a very, very dramatic eye roll).

I'm sure that the school district has their stupid valid reasons and any municipal official will mindlessly quote the approved policy if asked, but come on! Our kids missed at least 4 days of school in the past two weeks along, and that's not counting the holidays and the upcoming Spring break.

Along with snow and cold, this winter brought us the spectacle of Sochi winter Olympics. Oh, what a treat that is! I generally don't care about organized sports or sporting events and the athletic aspect of the games has no real pull for me. What I love, love to see is how the Westerners react to the post-Soviet reality. What seems normal and maybe slightly inconvenient for a Russian is, apparently, an unforgettable experience for a Westerner.

I myself have been excessively spoiled by my life in the States. On one of the return trips to Mother Russia I was traumatized by our hotel: the bathroom was missing the shower enclosure. It had a shower head, a toilet directly below it, a sink with an open drain and a hole in the floor, where all the water eventually drained to. I wish I photographed this pinnacle of space-saving ingenuity!

But aaanyway, back to the Olympics. Most things circulating in the Western media are easy to explain:
- orange peels in the closet: protection against clothes-eating moths and for pleasant scent
- outlets near the pillow: convenience
- mismatched windows: most buildings in Russia are built by untrained migrants under a loose supervision of an engineer, who works under tight deadlines and perpetual hangover. The governing building principle is "tyap-lyap", translated as "slapped together".
- yellow water from tap: annoying, I would not use it. That's why you can buy bottled water and use it to wash yourself. A no brainer, really!I once spent a summer at a camp that had a communal bathroom, no hot water and no showers for the children, so nothing really surprises me. You either used the cold water to splash yourself with or washed in the river. True story. At least everyone was equally sweaty.

Back to Sochi: What really made me giggle and I still have no explanation for is the photo of the two toilets next to each other with one (!) paper roll in the middle. WTF?

What does make me sad is that Russia seems to be regressing: in terms of human rights, corruption and economy it is falling farther and farther behind. We had a brief glimpse of hope in late 1990s-early 2000s that was swiftly snuffed out by the heavy boot of the former intelligence officer.

Someone recently asked me if I see myself living there in the future, and the answer was formed before the question was finished: no way! Why would I want my daughters to grow up in a place where laws are perfunctory at best, where being different is viewed with disgust and fear, and where three rebellious girls can be given very harsh sentences for performing, essentially, a prank? No way. Not worth it.

Plus, I don't have to anymore since the celebrated Russian winter seemed to follow me to New Jersey. Now we can all share the pleasure experienced by millions of my former comrades in the comfort of our own home.

5:30 in the morning is a a really lonely place to be in the middle of February. Especially if you long for summer days, warmth, ocean and running in your newly purchased Vibram Fivefinger KSO shoes... :)

Monday, January 27, 2014

zaiki and co.: Why 5 is so much better than 4

zaiki and co.: Why 5 is so much better than 4: It's really been a while since I even thought about writing anything here. The long break had to do with the feeling that I cannot hones...

Why 5 is so much better than 4

It's really been a while since I even thought about writing anything here. The long break had to do with the feeling that I cannot honestly write here without some kind of backlash. Then I decided: fuck it, it's my space, my thoughts: if don't like it - go away. And immediately after that thought I got so busy I could barely contemplate creative writing for fun, let along to sit down and put together a post.

Lots is happening: zaiki are four and a half and enrolled at a private pre-k half a mile from our house (happy-happy-happy dance, no more traffic or driving, yo!), I am teaching public speaking at a state university in addition to my regular day job and life has gotten a little bit easier. The biggest change comes from a different approach to things: nothing is permanent, and thinking about the present greatly reduced the feeling of weight on my shoulders. I took a clue from the girls: they change so quickly, nothing can be taken as an always-and-forever thing. One day Sonya loves her smoked salmon, the next she can't stand it. Go figure! No planning! Pass the wine!

I think sometimes that if I had another baby, I would totally rock the baby stage knowing what I know now about child development. Oh, the little precious one is not sleeping through the night? Just wait a week or two, she'll be snoozing like a champ. LOL.

But alas, no babies here. I've said before I am not a fan of babies. That is still true: if I meet one and is offered to hold it, I usually politely decline. That's how out-babied I am. Raising twins would do that.

I much prefer my children now than I did even two years ago. They are turning out to be really cool almost human people. For instance,they just began to dress themselves in the morning.

 <Insert here a moment of silence so I can savor this delicious developmental milestone>

Those of you who say: "Humph, what's a big deal about getting your little ones dressed?" know nothing. Every morning, around 7 am, was the time for my own small personal rodeo: by the time I was done it felt like I unsuccessfully tried to saddle up two robust and very unwilling ponies.

Husband is the one who implemented the dress-yourselves routine using the slightly gentler version of the drill-sergeant techniques picked up in the military, for which I am eternally grateful.

Now all I have to do is lay out everything the night before and they do all the work. The infuriating fact is that it only takes them a few minutes to get fully dressed, which means the stinkers long had the ability, but prefered the fun game of "let's see who can kick mama the strongest".

This new milestone brings me to the topic of today's post. Here is why 4.5 (let's just round it up to 5 for easy typing) kicks 4's ass. These are all the things zaiki learned to do in the past few months:

1. Dressing themselves - as described above, huge for a parent of twins. Cuts down the morning to-do list by at least half. Shedding happy tears.

2. Wiping their butts. Another biggie. See numero uno for the reasoning. Plus, less exposure to kid poop, which ruled my life for 4 long years. Do ya all like how I strategically placed this improvement under number two? Tee-hee.

3. Self-play. I believe that self-play is the first step towards independence, self-regulating and creative problem solving, even if it sometimes means kick-stomping your sister skinhead style to get the coveted doll. All of these are crucial to surviving their school years, and if they can dodge a dropkick, then I feel secure for their place in the school foodchain.

4. Improved fine motor skills: now I can actually ask them to bring me something or to turn up the volume on the TV and not only do they understand me, they are actually able to perform the required task. This makes my job as a mother easier while fostering independence and self-actualization, so everyone wins.

5. They are funnier and get humor. They make me laugh on a regular basis. The jokes are just too much. For instance, Maya was talking about God and the communion: "Mama, does it mean that we all have a piece of God inside us?"
           Me (melting at the spiritual awareness): "Yes, Maya, that's what it means"
           Maya: "Ok, then I got the God's head..."
Hysterical laughter ensued and the discussion degenerated from there...

So I'm remaining optimistic for the upcoming year ahead: I hope for more independence and less whining, free-ish time for the Husband and I, but who knows...:)