This essay was originally published by Brit+Co on April 3, 2017, titled “My First Real Apartment Gave Me an Identity Crisis”
My New York obsession began in childhood, before I could even speak English. All it took was a giant monkey ascending a glowing skyscraper, in a movie theater in Leningrad. I bolted outside and had nightmares for weeks afterwards. But I returned later, to see the movie, King Kong, all the way through: not for the plot, but to be whisked away into the land of glass and steel, so different than the Soviet Union on the verge of collapse.
This essay was originally published by Kveller.com on Dec. 29, 2016, titled “Embracing the Russian Food of My Youth for the Sake of My Kids”
I never thought I’d miss Russian food, the unassuming cuisine of my birthplace. I was self-conscious about Russian salads, for instance, referring to boiled and chopped root vegetables loaded with mayonnaise, not microgreens. Traditional Russian recipes use just one kind of cheese, called cheese. Growing up as an immigrant kid in the United States, it’s awkward having to always explain that sour cream really does make everything better, that Herring under a Fur Coat isn’t furry, that the jiggly meat jelly is no weirder than the processed American chicken tender.
(Written in 2011. Image by Zoya Cherkassky)
There’s a Russian woman living in my building.
Technically, she’s moving out, as evidenced by a “Furniture for Sale” sign taped downstairs by the elevator, a sign with her name, Tatyana. And though I’ve never met her, having recently moved here myself, I’m becoming acquainted with her stuff, which she’s been depositing on the “free for all” bench in the lobby.
Not that I need anything. Still, every day on my way out, I now anticipate the thrill of noticing something new on the bench, rummaging through the books, exploring the textures of the domestic accessories left behind – and piecing together the personality of their former owner.
Turns out my kid’s preschool has rules. Not just your usual “Refrain from biting others, bringing allergens in your lunchbox and showing up with infectious diseases.”
It’s dress code rules.
Disney and fantasy characters are prohibited, since the preschool is based on the principles of Maria Montessori, a physician and educator, who believed children until the age of six have an absorbent mind, unable to discern between concrete and abstract (not to be confused with creativity or imagination). Jewelry and flashing lights on shoes are not permitted, to avoid distractions.
Learning this sounded familiar and Soviet. As in, “Eww, Soviet,” not “Yay, Yuri Gagarin, first man in space!” Soviet.
A version of this essay was originally published by Kveller on August 4, 2016.
I’d known what I’d call my future daughter since I was a teenager.
But things got tricky with my son. I hoped to parcel out his Russian-American-Jewish heritage into one word, ensuring it’s pronounceable by Russian relatives without making him a laughingstock of his American peers.
My daughter’s daycare is closing. To a nonparent, this isn’t a big deal, but it’s reducing me to a puddle of tears because not only is breaking up with a daycare hard to do, but because finding a good one is even harder.
It shouldn’t be. I don’t need my kid to play with sustainably-produced wooden toys in primary colors. I don’t ban food that’s fried, breaded or out of a can or say things like “Now, honey, remember we eat alfalfa sprouts before enjoying this chia seed crisp for dinner.” Nothing like this note to the babysitter.
What does one say to a half-Russian baby?
I didn’t know, so I didn’t speak to my daughter for the first week of her life.
As an immigrant, I figured English would be a straight-forward way of relating to my future child. Plus, her father’s only Russian connection prior to meeting me was Red Dawn the movie and a gig at a college radio station, where he paraded around campus every May Day, chanting “Ain’t no party like the communist party, cause the communist party don’t stop.”