Hooters, children and me being the greatest parent that ever lived…

Yesterday was the last day of my children’s freedom, and incidentally the last day of my imprisonment.  As I counted down the dwindling hours of winter break, I was also counting down the hours till my head was going to stop throbbing and my voice would sound human again (oppose to a hissing, barking, and squealing-female version of a prison guard type of a voice).

So, I decided to reward my boys with a lunch at Red Robin (mainly because I had a coupon) to celebrate their last day of vacation!  Even though they didn’t seem to appreciate my goodwill and sarcasm about the whole thing, they still agreed to go.  What a tough life!  Poor little children being taken out to lunch after having endured two weeks of fancy shmancy activities, trips, restaurants and who could forget not one but eight nights of Hanukkah.  Next year, I already told them that they will be taking a little trip to Skid Row for the holidays; and later I will re-wrap their already played and forgotten toys for Hanukkah.

After being seated along with the many other Moms who had the same exact idea, I tried making conversation in between Atari’s Breakout and NimbleBit’s Tiny Tower; yes they are over Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies or whatever the hell their names are.  Let me tell you, it requires some serious mad skills to be able to carry on a conversation with your Mother while building a whole condominium at the same time, and don’t get me started on those pesty little people walking around needing something every ten minutes, the alarm on Tiny Tower is the most annoying thing I’ve ever heard in my life, right next to a child crying and whining at the table next to me while I’m trying to enjoy an ‘Adults Only’ dinner.  Why is it that its perfectly alright for the child to throw a fit in a public place, but it is NOT alright for me to come over to it and smack it on the head?  My theory is if the child’s parent isn’t going to do anything about it, that clearly means they want other adults to do something about their annoying child’s behavior.  You with me on this?  Good, moving on.  Oh wait, one more thing before moving on…  As my Father likes to say quite often, “When I was a little boy in Lithuania (FYI, we lived in Latvia, but that’s not the point) if a child ever talked or cried in public, any adult was allowed to come up and shut that bastard up!  End of story.”  Alright, so I added the last part from myself but you get the point here.

Somehow I managed to get my kids’ little eyes away from their iPods long enough to have a five-minute dialogue about our adventures in Florida back in the day.  Specifically, my oldest wanted to know why I took him to a ‘HOOTERS’ restaurant in Orlando one day.  His words: “Mom, I just don’t understand.  I was only like 7 or 8 at the time!  Why would you think it was appropriate for me to see girls in very short shorts and boobs everywhere serving me food?  If I wanted to see that, I’d stay at home and look at you.”  First of all let’s get something straight, I’ve never in my whole life worn short shorts or shorts of any kind.  My idea of shorts are pants that come up to my calf, I believe they are called ‘Mom shorts’ a.k.a. Capris.  Second of all, I have never until that day been to a Hooters restaurant, nor have I heard much about it.  Sure I’ve heard the name, but didn’t know what it was about.  Believe me, as soon as we walked in I realized it was not your typical place to eat.  Maybe we stayed because I was curious, and maybe it was because we were both starving and the other closest restaurant was not close by.  After explaining such to my twelve-year-old, he seemed pretty satisfied with the answer and immediately after went back to destroying aliens, or building a house for them, not quite sure which one.  After a minute, he looked up and added this interesting fact: “It’s OK Mom, I am not mad at you.  Turns out most of my friends have been to Hooters with their Dads anyway, so it wasn’t just me that was put through that torture.  And to tell the truth, I like girls now so its OK.  Let me know if you’d like to go there again.”  Oh thanks son, make me feel like the worst parent ever, then reward me with that little announcement…

My six-year-old caught wind of ‘boob talk’ and decided to chime in, specifically wanting to know where there’s such a place with girls in short shorts and boobs everywhere, and more importantly why I’ve never taken HIM there?  Oye, how can one brother be so different from the other?  One is all about the rules and structure, and the other only wants to have a good time.  Boy I sure hope the older one doesn’t find out about my new tattoos, there is a lecture I’d like to avoid.  Last time it only lasted a week, who knows how long this one will take…  I plan on keeping a shirt on whenever taking him to the pool, beach and anywhere else that requires a swimsuit.  Stay tuned for that conversation, I am planning on recording it…


The Russian way of educating children

A distant memory came to mind the other day. Back in Russia, well technically it was in Riga, Latvia my parents decided to get my brother and I English lessons in the anticipation of our future move to the United States. This was about a year before we actually immigrated, so we thought it would give us plenty of time to learn the language… On top of private tutoring, we also had English lessons in school, however as we found out later it was a total waste of time. Not only was I NOT learning how to speak English, but it was confusing the hell out of me to have to go between Latvian language and English. Since Latvian was the main language of this former Soviet Republic, those children whose first language was Russian had to learn it in school. On top of learning Latvian, which by the way has a Latin alphabet where Russian is Cyrillic (more confusion there), going back and forth between English and Latvian made all the pronunciations that much harder.
Take this Latvian word as an example: Piens. In Latvian it means milk, and you would pronounce it just like its spelled: Pii-E-N-S, however in English you would pronounce the same word either: Pie-N-SA, or P-NSA. See the confusion? Also according to my English teacher at school, I was never going to speak English because I was absolutely awful at it. Hmm, well… not much I can say here except for wishing I’d remembered her name so I could send her a very sweet letter, all in English. Unfortunately, I do not.

I vaguely remember forcing myself into her classroom every day, only to hear her monotonously berate the students about their lack of brain cells when it came to English. It was definitely a very effective way to encourage students to apply themselves harder. Now that I look back at all my teachers in Russia, it was almost THE protocol of how they were SUPPOSE to teach: berate, abuse, humiliate.  And it never failed; every chance they got to make fun of you, they took it! Somehow it was supposed to make us better students, which at the time I didn’t understand or care for and it only made all of us more apprehensive and stressed.

The strange thing about all of that is somehow it worked! Not only did I learn how to speak English, but obviously to write and read as well… Maybe this whole verbal abuse is not such a bad thing for children. What I mean is, take a look at most Russians, they are for the most part accomplished, well-read, ambitious, and educated individuals. Sure they are not the most balanced, calm, mild-tempered, soft-spoken, shy, aggressive-less people in the world, but who needs that? That’s why they are one of the most feared people in the world.  And when you got that going for you, who needs to be chemically balanced?

A Russian Passover…

How do you prepare for Passover when the rest of the world doesn’t stop to observe it?  When the rest of the world takes a break for Christian holidays, and people have time to cook and prepare for a religious celebration, do they realize how much it sucks to be a Jew, a Muslim or anything other than a Christian?  We don’t get a day off for Passover or any other religious holiday for that matter!  Today is just like any other Monday to the rest of the world, and it doesn’t pause just for the Jews to celebrate Pesach.  We don’t get the luxury of having the day off school or work to enjoy the day preparing for out sacred event.  Instead, the Jews have to run around like chickens with their heads cut off for weeks prior to our holidays, making meals days in advance just so we can sit down for a couple hours after work, and squeeze in some Judaism into our children’s lives!

How is that fair?  Unless you are an Atheist or are of Christian faith, you pray that each year your religious holiday happens to fall on the same day as the Christian one, just so you don’t have to take the kids out of school and miss work.

For those of us that happen to be former Soviet Jews, this whole religious observance is even harder.  Not only do I not know what to do for Jewish holidays, but when I try to educate my children I am usually faced with questions that I have no answers to.  My husband doesn’t help either, since he slept through most of Hebrew school only to shrug his shoulders when I ask what in the world is a ‘Charoset’ and what I am supposed to do with it…  When you are raised in an environment like the former U.S.S.R., you don’t have many choices as a Jew.  You don’t tell anyone you are a Jew, you don’t go to the Synagogue, you have no Jewish education at all.  I remember wearing a tiny star of David pendant to school one day, under my uniform.  It must have come out of my shirt, because one of the kids noticed it and ran to tell the teacher.  Next thing I know, my Mother is called to come to the school, and given a long lecture on how “pendants like those” are not allowed on school grounds.  Later she told me that I was very lucky they didn’t take it away, and contact the Police.

The only thing I remember from those days is my Father carrying home a huge box of Matzah wrapped in newspaper, which he got from the only Synagogue in Riga.  You couldn’t even call it a Synagogue, it was a tiny hut hidden behind the old buildings.  Now that I think about it, hiding Matzah in newspaper wasn’t the smartest way to transport it since all the other Jews were doing the same, exact thing…

I don’t know a single Russian Jew that knows everything about the observance of religious holidays.  Sure we know some things, but they are bits and pieces here and there.  American Jews don’t know how lucky they are to be able to pray freely, and observe holidays without the Police following them home after the service.  But yet they still complain about everything.  No wonder that the Israelis don’t find Russian Jews to be so-called ‘real’ Jews.  They have such animosity towards the Russians, whether its here in the U.S. or in Israel.

Does lack of knowledge about your religion and customs make you less of a Jew?  That’s a question that has been asked for generations!  In my opinion, just because I don’t know the proper way of celebrating Pesach or other religious holidays does not mean I am not Jewish.  I am still a good person, who insists on teaching my kids the values of being Jewish, the right way to behave, and right from wrong.  I keep wanting to join a religious congregation, but we don’t fit in with any of them.  We don’t belong with the Conservatives, definitely out of our league, not to mention I would never be able to get  my husband in there.  We don’t quite fit in with the Reformed ones either.  To quote my son during one of our visits to the Temple, “Mom, why aren’t there any kids like me in here?”  I tried asking him what he meant by that, but he couldn’t seem to explain.  Only that he felt out of place…

Its true that Soviet Jewry are very different from all the others, and there is nothing we can do about it, but to give our kids a better opportunity to learn about their culture than the one we had.  However, our lack of knowledge doesn’t make us any different from the Israeli Jews or any less Jewish.  Maybe my Passover won’t have all the ingredients, I’m sure we will leave something out, and it will have more Vodka than Manischewitz, but it will still be an experience my kids won’t forget.  In the end that’s all that really matters.

Joys of growing up in Communist Soviet Union, and other tales of my Family.

-While my husband, growing up in Ohio got to go on potato chip factory field trips, my brother and I got to go on Concentration Camp field trips.  Look up Salaspils in Latvia.

-When most kids got to play with Barbies, toy trucks and teddy bears, I got to play with syringes, which my brother and I used to prick my doll with, in the behind.  My Mother worked in a hospital laboratory, and occasionally brought home Medical paraphernalia. See picture.

-We were so proud of not only having a push button TV, instead of a dial, but also a whole of three channels.  One was a 24-hour Communist brainwashing news channel, the other an all-Latvian language channel (which only my father spoke fluently), and third which only had cartoons on Saturday mornings for an hour, the rest of the time it showed Red Square parades, and other Communist propaganda.

-When we first came to the States, we moved in with relatives who were kind enough to house a family of four in their home.  My Uncle invited us to go to Denny’s one day.  Having never heard of Denny’s or knowing what it was, we all ran to our rooms and came out with the finest apparel we owned.  As my Uncle stood in his t-shirt and shorts waiting for us, we paraded out of the house looking as if we were going to a Royal Ball.  People in Russia dressed up for every occasion.  It didn’t matter if they were taking a quick trip to the supermarket, a Doctor’s appointment or a meeting with friends.

-To live in Soviet Union one had to master the art of bribery.  Not only master it, but study it, learn it, and live it.  My grandmother was best at it.  At all times she carried a couple bars of chocolate with her, and large bills just in case you needed to bribe someone with it.  It isn’t that chocolate was hard to find in Russia, but it was more of a symbol of gratitude.  She would start bribing with chocolate, but if that didn’t work she would pull out the big bucks.  Doctors, supermarket employees, teachers, summer camp counselors, you name it she bribed them!  Her motto was: “Why take a chance that the Doctor will screw up when I can pay him to drink Vodka AFTER the surgery is done!”  We always got special treatment everywhere we went, but at a young age you don’t know why you are getting it…  We just assumed that my grandparents were famous people, what a shock to your system only to find out that it isn’t the case.  Later, I started to notice why we’d be seated at most popular restaurants way ahead of people that have been there before us, as I watched my grandmother slip something into the Manager’s pocket.  My grandfather was always ashamed of it, and stayed as far away as he could during those moments.  It was always my 4-foot-nothing-90-pound grandmother hard at work.