Living Outside My Native Tongue

I have this fantasy one day I will be in the elevator (or anywhere) and Russian-speaking people will talk about me without knowing I understand them and I will turn around and surprise them with my exquisite command of Russian curses. This has yet to happen. At our last Gogol Bordello concert, I found myself surrounded by fellow Russians in midlife crisis partying with this crazy rock band. ...more

Old Photos Play Tricks with My Memory

People haunt me from the past; the mysteries of what’s become of them. When my family came to America in 1979, we didn’t document our everyday life the way we do in today’s selfie generation. We broke out the cameras for special events, birthday parties, weddings, occasional trips to the zoo, and vacations. Studying through old images, I recognize a familiar group of people reappearing in backgrounds for an entire decade of history. Upon further reflection, I realize this was a false rendition of history. We only saw those people about 5 times a year and they dominated all of our photos....more

I Don't Like My Birthday Parties

  In my 41 years, I’ve only had four birthday parties. My birthday falls in the middle of August when my classmates and friends were either notoriously at camp or on family vacations, so my mother always had an excuse for skipping a kids’ birthday party. What did I know of American birthday parties anyway? We celebrated most of my birthdays with my family and my parents’ friends. Cousins or else children of my parents’ friends comprised the kids at the party....more

I'm Afraid of the Evil Eye

“Sglazeet” is what the Russians call “giving the evil eye.” I totally believe in this, but it’s technically hocus pocus witchery; like ghosts. My husband tells me that it’s up to me whether I give anyone the power to jinx or cast this evil spell. Apparently, I do. If I could, I would spray a magic shield of protection around myself before I ever left the house....more

Growing Up I Never Had Play Dates, and I Turned Out Fine

The only play dates I’ve ever been on are the ones with my own children. In 2016 America (and the Internet), parental and educator rhetoric profess the vast academic and developmental benefits of play dates for our children. They all agree good social skills are essential to helping your child lead a happier, healthier life. But these skills need lots of practice and coaching. ...more
Love your post, thank you!  I totally relate.  I didn't have "playdates" either, but for ...more

I Lived in the Projects and Didn’t Know It

“Oh I didn’t realize you grew up in the projects!” my husband says the first time I bring him to visit my grandmother, who has lived in the same housing complex for the 40 years she's lived in this country. Apparently “cooperative housing” is a fancy term for "the projects", but I have always thought it was a perfectly normal place to live out my rudimentary years in this country....more

Why Is Hollywood So Awful with Russian Translation and Accents?

One of my favorite parts from the 1985 classic, Rocky IV, is when Drago, in the finest Russian accent a quintessential Swede can muster, says, “If he dies, he dies.” Essential to this scene is the lip raise; like an invisible fish hook caught on his upper lip and pulled it up toward the corner. My sister and I have spent thirty years imitating this bit and we don’t plan on slowing down. ...more

I Called Russia in 1985

I was 11 years old and I was the one in my family responsible for calling Russia. In 1985 we had just moved to Staten Island; we were in our ivory-wallpapered living room, on the taupe leather couches. The house was immaculate with its modern window treatments and cream-colored carpet. It hadn’t yet been soiled by the mastiff’s muddy footprints or by the stench of glazed donuts and spilled cognac. Those memories hadn’t soaked into the floors yet; this was early still in our family’s tenure at the Staten Island house.  ...more

My Sister Was a Gift to Me

My sister was always presented as a gift that was created just for me - and not because I needed a bone marrow transplant or anything. I was just a typical six-year-old, newly immigrated to Queens from Russia, and I was lonely. I was also supposedly incredibly cerebral and persuasive (go figure), because while other girls convinced their parents to buy them a Barbie’s Dream house, I was able to persuade mine to conceive AND birth me a real, live, human sister.  ...more