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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... :)