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The Day I Lost my Pet Name

March 6, 2010 1 comment
From the cartoon: Mama Bear and Baby Umka

 

My husband’s pet name for me used to be “Umka.”  If you’re Russian, you know that Umka is a cartoon polar bear cub popular in the early 70s.

Let’s ask the Russian what the similarities are between his wife and a cartoon polar bear:

“You are white and you like the cold when you sleep.”

(ed. note: White as in blonde, not honkey. If you were wondering.)

Let’s ask him if there’s anything else about the cartoon bear that reminds him of his wife, say, being cute and cuddly:

 “Sure. You are cute and cuddly.”

OK.

But here’s the thing.  This stopped after our son was born because really, he was Baby Umka now. I was now Umka’s mother. And that’s fine. I think mother bears are awesome — they’re fiercely protective and loving and strong. And polar bear mothers are just amazing. I love their black eyes and lovely long noses and beautiful fur. One of the first pieces of art I bought when we were getting the nursery ready was an illustration of a mama and baby polar bear gazing at the moon together.

Can you believe after ten years of marriage and having this Umka be a part of our lives, I only just now watched one of the cartoons? It’s on YouTube (of course) and even comes in a subtitled version. Please take a few minutes to watch it — it’s beautifully drawn and utterly charming. And totally makes me want to talk like the mama bear, who for a bear has a very sexy voice. (Is that wrong?)  Also, check out the lullabye she sings to baby Umka. You will want to rush out and learn Russian immediately so you can sing it to your little ones.

How about you? Any pet names you care to reveal? And like me, did your pet name mysteriously disappear or change after your children came along?
 

Categories: Family, Parenting, Russians Tags: , , ,

A Tribe of One’s Own

March 2, 2010 18 comments

If the white dude with the mullet can find his tribe, why can't I?

Newbie bloggers are often given this advice: Find your tribe. There was even a terrific panel dedicated to this at BlogHer last year. The blogosphere is all about niches and community-building after all, so seek like-minded bloggers and band together. Maybe you do this for personal satisfaction, maybe in hopes of creating the critical mass attractive to advertisers. Maybe both. Maybe neither! Maybe you start looking for kindred bloggy spirits just for the fun of seeing whether there even IS a tribe out there that would have you as a member.    

I would like to announce publically that I am seeking a blogging tribe. I am as naked in my need to belong as Kevin Costner’s ass cheeks in Dances with Wolves. He found a tribe and he can’t even act, surely it’s not that hard.

Maybe I’m too schizophrenic. I kind of want to be all things to all people. This is a good skill to have in PR as you are constantly required to straddle the needs of clients, media influencers and parent company overlords. But maybe it’s not helping me in the blogosphere. I probably need to focus a little. And since I can’t expect my tribe – whoever and wherever they may be – to show up on my doorstep bearing flowers and vodka, I am going to be proactive.  I am going to grease the skids, as they say.

I submit to you my Top Ten List of Blogging Tribes I Feel Qualified to Join to help you, the reader, better assess whether or not we are destined to be tribal soul mates. All you need do is see if you fit into any of these categories:

  1. PR people who secretly want to be full-time bloggers earning Dooce-like coin
  2. PR people who do way more than just plan events and do publicity (pffft)
  3. PR people who swear on their children’s lives that PR is totally not likeKell on Earth
  4. Moms still losing the baby weight (even though the baby is in elementary school)
  5. Moms of boys who (literally) climb walls (Audrey McClelland, that one’s for you)
  6. Moms who can recite entire episodes of “iCarly” word-for-word and think Spencer’s hot
  7. Moms referred to by their offspring as “Dude” or “Devil Woman”
  8. American women married to Russian men who argue regularly about parenting tactics
  9. Droid owners married to iPhone owners who argue daily about those Luke Wilson AT&T ads
  10. People who are on Facebook because they feel they have to but secretly wish they could shut the account down and just hang out on Twitter

Leave me a smoke signal in the comments if you want to be in one or more of my tribes. Or if you’d like to publically declare your own tribal aspirations.

Image via.

And the Snow Glows Blue

February 28, 2010 7 comments

We drive up to the country house Friday afternoon in the midst of yet another late-winter snow storm. Mother Nature has dumped about 18 inches on New Jersey but when you’re married to a Russian, this is not an obstacle. Our road hasn’t even been plowed thanks to a downed power line, but no big deal. The Russian powers through in the SUV and charges ahead towards a nearly-deserted NY State Thruway, lecturing me loudly about sissy Americans and our fear of snow.

In Russia we have snow every fricking day, okeh? And no food in the stores. My pop and me, we was walking thirty minutes each way to market and when we get there? Is nothing. No meat, maybe just potato, maybe sunflower seeds. Sometimes not meat there. We take the bucket, we fill with potato, we pull back home on children’s — what is this, sleigh? No? Sled. We pull home on sled. But here! Ooooooo, it’s snowing. Oooooo, better run to grocery store. In Russia, what is snow? You have to just go! You just go to survive! I got the huge, made-of-wool veil, you put on your head and wrap around your body because it is so cold. JUST TO GET THE POTATO.

It’s like this pretty much all the way to Kingston.

We finally arrive at the house and even the Russian has to admit — this is serious snow. About four feet, judging from the tips of fence I see poking up through the sea of white that is our backyard.

You know what else? It glows blue.

We jab holes in the snow to see how deep it is and an unearthly blue light glows back. It’s eerie and lovely, a light created by some weird alchemy as light particles bounce from ice crystal to ice crystal — smarter people than me explain it here, it only happens in icebergs or when snow is very clean and very deep. It’s as beautiful and mysterious as I imagine the aurora borealis to be. We ski the next day and see blue everywhere, emanating from the tracks made by skiiers who’ve left ghostly trails in the ungroomed snow beneath the lifts.

Upon our arrival...

...I had to climb through the snow to find the shovel. Which btw a certain Russian had left under the porch (and four feet of snow.)

...I had to climb thru snow to find the shovel. Good times.

Not your ordinary shoveling job.

Even the Russian was impressed.

Categories: Family, Russians Tags: ,

Outgrowing Star Wars

January 14, 2010 9 comments
This image is known in Star Wars movie poster geek circles (not that I’d know anything about that) as “US One Sheet Original Movie Poster Style C.” It’s awesome and old school and at the height of my 7-year old’s Star Wars frenzy, I found a decent reproduction and had it lovingly framed for his bedroom.

 

Did I mention it’s awesome?

 

Tonight getting ready for bed the 7-year old gives the poster a sidelong glance and says casually, “You know I’m not into Star Wars anymore, right?”

 

And a little piece of my heart dies a quiet death, kind of the way Yoda finally became one with the Force in Episode VI except that had hung around for 900 years and the damned poster only survived my son’s fickle taste for one.

 

Only consolation is he got Beatles Rock Band at Christmas so now he wants a Beatles poster. Could be worse.

 

Image via.

Hope in the Mist

December 10, 2009 11 comments

I get home from the business trip after dark. It’s been two solid days of planes, trains and automobiles – doing the security line striptease, breaking nails on suitcase latches, schlepping from one client meeting to the next with bloodshot eyes from fitful hotel sleep and not enough Visine. I’m thrilled to be home but as usual, my return disrupts the fragile balance my stay-at-home husband has established with our son in my absence.

Enter Mommy, exit discipline. I realize as I lurch into the kitchen lugging suitcase and laptop bag that I’ve interrupted dinner. I’ve distracted my son during the all-important first course, by which I mean the plateful of vegetables he must finish before getting mac-and-cheese. He’ll eat veggies but like pulling off a bandaid, it’s best when it happens all at once, without interruption. I’ve shot his concentration and he’s now wrapped himself around me with the freakish strength 6 year olds can muster when it comes to bear hugs and marathon tickle sessions. I breathe him in. I haven’t seen him in two days.

My husband indulges the reunion for a while, then tries to coax our boy back to finish dinner. It’s swim team practice night which means dinner is served later and everyone’s exhausted. Bed time is minutes away and we’re not even through the carrots yet. My son ignores his father’s pleas to finish the meal, having run off to the TV room to find a drawing he needs to show me RIGHT NOW. He’s got two days of catching up to do with me and in his mind, carrots – and bedtime – can wait. On cue, my husband explodes.

The battle of wills between the 42 year old and the first grader is fierce. Testosterone flies fast and furious, both sides hell-bent on making sure the other knows “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME.”

Normally I’d intervene. Mediate and bargain. Make the peace. Tonight, something switches on in my brain. I realize, “I can’t fix this.” It occurs to me the men in my family will never figure out how to deal with one another productively as long as I’m in the ring refereeing.

So I leave. I pull my coat back on knowing full well this will trigger a fresh outburst of wailing from my son.

“PLEASE….DON’T…..LEAVE……ME!”

I tell him as calmly as I can that I’m going to take a walk so that he and his dad can make friends again. That they need to work it out themselves, that I love them both and I’ll be back in a little bit.

I walk out into the cool night air, willing myself not to look back at the house. I know I’ll see my son plastered against the living room window, yelling for me to come back. I am tired from my trip, tired of the drama, tired of undermining my husband in his parenting efforts.

It’s humid for December and a light fog has settled on and around the houses on my block. I pause at the end of the street and look at all the houses along our town’s main drag, decked out in friendly competition with a bright array of Christmas lights. I breathe slowly and deliberately, in and out, in and out. This grounds me in the here and now, because I refuse to project myself into a future where my husband and son can’t settle their differences,  come to blows, stop loving each other.

I’m touched by the sight of these houses lined up side by side in the night, lit up as far as the eye can see, all the way down to where our town’s main street intersects with the highway. The houses get smaller and a little more ragtag down there, but they have been decorated with care and tonight they are luminous.

Why do we hang lights at Christmas? To evoke the star of Bethlehem and the nativity? Keep up with the Joneses? Celebrate the Solstice and the return of the sun’s light? Me, I love Christmas lights for reasons so complex and emotionally intertwined it’s tough to peel apart. They are beacons that fill my heart with optimism that this Christmas will be different – no holiday dysfunction, no missed connections, no New Year’s resolutions made and abandoned. Hope that this year, things will be better.

I turn and make my way back down the block to our little blue house. I’ve only been gone ten minutes but I’m guessing things have diffused inside. I notice the lights have gone out on the evergreen garland I’ve twisted around the lamp pole in our front yard and though it’s dark, am able to correct the setting on the automatic timer. The strands of fairy lights nestled in the pine blaze brilliantly back to life. I look up to see my husband and son silhouetted in the front window, waiting for me together. I climb the porch stairs and go back inside, out of the mist and into the light.

 

Image via.

Note: I was inspired to write this post by the brilliant women of Blog Nosh Magazine who are hosting a blogging carnival to celebrate hope during the holiday season. They’re doing this to help raise awareness of a charity program called Loads of Hope which I am obliged to tell you was created by my agency’s client Tide. I assure you, I would support both Blog Nosh and Tide Loads of Hope regardless of the client relationship because good people and programs deserve to be promoted. My clients don’t know I wrote this but if they read it, I hope they like it. (You, too.)

Please visit Blog Nosh to learn about the carnival and the campaign.

In Which JumpStart Allows Me to Review their Product

December 1, 2009 8 comments

I was contacted recently by the team at Knowledge Adventure, creators of the well-known JumpStart educational game software. They had released a virtual online world earlier this year; would I let my six-year old son test drive it and provide feedback? And would I share my perspective on using technology to help kids learn?

No one ever asks me to review anything, which is tragic considering how willing a consumer I am, also considering how eager I am as a PR person to be on the receiving end of a product pitch for once. So of course I said yes, also because everyone I interacted with at Knowledge Adventure was professional and friendly to a tee.

Back to my take on kids learning with technology: it’s awesome.  I’m a member of the first generation to grow up with “Sesame Street,” “School House Rock” and “Zoom,” all of which used technology to educate, early-70s style.  By which I mean TV.  And you better believe that TV-learnin’ stuck. It’s been nearly four decades and I can still recite the Preamble to the Constitution, tell a conjunction from a preposition, and sing the Boston zip code. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you were probably born after 1975. 

But don’t think we’re lax about computer use and gaming in the Smirnov household. DS, Wii and watching “Charlie the Unicorn” on YouTube for the 9000th time are strictly curtailed to weekends or an hour after school. That said, I always knew I’d be willing to bend the rules if there were an educational reason for my son to be on the computer.

Enter JumpStart.com. I had my doubts at first, just looking at the sweet, cartoony imagery on the home page. My kid is used to the 360-degree immersion of Wii Sports gaming and the non-stop kinetic blitz of Sonic and Mario, so I wondered how well JumpStart would hold his attention.  Well, that was before we installed the required 3-D plug-in, registered and started exploring the AdventureLand portion of the JumpStart online world.  The kid’s first comment?  

“This. Is. Awesome.”

In a nutshell, JumpStart combines traditional video game elements with learning challenges and age-appropriate, secure social interaction in a series of shimmering, immersive worlds geared to kids ages 3-10. The company says the educational curriculum is “based on state standards from the top, most influential states: CA, FL, TX, IL and NY” and that they “combined all the standards from these states to create our proprietary scope and sequence which spirals through skills based on grade level.” That’s fancy teacher talk for they take their curriculum development very seriously, which is good enough for me.

You should note there is a $7.99 monthly subscription fee (per family, not child), though you can try the game out for free for a 10-day trial period. (Not bad when you compare it to the one-time game rental fees Blockbuster’s charging these days.) Here are some highlights from my little gamer’s test drive:

  • One of the first things your kid will do is customize his or her avatar or “Jumpee.” I don’t know about yours, but my child spends hours hanging out in the Wii Plaza, messing with his own Mii and creating different ones for his friends. The JumpStart creators tap into that childish need to customize and control their game image out of the gate.
  • I ask my kid what he thinks of the look of the game. “I love it. Write that down.”
  • After swimming his Jumpee through the gorgeous underwater environment MarineLand, my son chooses his first game. He is initially non-plussed: “Dude. This is math.” But waiting at the end of the math challenge is part of a sand dollar. Earn enough sand dollars (or coins, depending on what Land you’re in) and you unlock awesome stuff like a shark tail for your Jumpee, or a cuddly friend at the Petz Shop. My son gets over himself and plunges in happily.
  • Later. “This is like Club Penguin, except with stuff for big kids.”
  • And still later. “They should call this 3-D World instead of JumpStart.”
  • The ultimate accolade: “I think the guy who made Star Wars made this.”

Game developer Chris Williams says the worlds are designed so kids can explore on, around, underneath and behind cool objects -- like waterfalls, for instance.

My kid’s been hanging at JumpStart.com consistently for over a month with no sign of waning interest. He’s even put the new JumpStart Adventure Island Wii game on his Christmas wish list. Can learning and computer fun co-exist? Apparently yes, even to the most jaded of 6 year-old gaming sensibilities.

Final verdict: thumbs-up.

Check out the JumpStart blog here, and visit the home page for a guided tour.

Love note to the FTC: I received no payment for reviewing this website, including neither sand dollars nor cuddly Petz. We were given access to the site for a limited time to try it out but ongoingly I would happily pay the monthly  fee. It’s good stuff and worth the sand dollars.

Images via Knowledge Adventure.

My Call with Uma Thurman

October 14, 2009 6 comments

Motherhood2I’ve mentioned before that I’m part of a group of NYC-area mom bloggers working with the team promoting Motherhood, a movie coming out in a week or so made by a mom, starring a mom, about a mom. No money exchanging hands (that’s for you, FTC), just access to the cast and director for interviews and some nice link love on the movie Facebook page.

So I’m waiting for the call to start this morning, making chit chat with the dozen or so bloggers on the line and enjoying the not-yet muted sounds of their home lives in the background. I hear cooing babies, barking dogs, toddlers clamoring for “Sesame Street.” My background noises, meanwhile, are those of the work-at-office mom: tooth-rattling jackhammers and sirens shrieking their way down Lexington Avenue.

Uma joins the call. Mute button on. Suddenly I’m having a moment. I AM ON THE PHONE WITH BEATRIX THE BRIDE. Holy Tarantino. The warrior mother, the assassin goddess, the woman who dispatches legions and murmurs, “Those of you lucky enough to still have your lives — take them with you. But leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.”

*Swoon*

Ooops, I’m first up! I get to read my question myself. In my mind I’m saying, “Beatrix the Bride I love you and want to braid your hair and can I try on your yellow jumpsuit” but here’s what I actually say: “Uma! Hi!” She answers my question and the dozen that follow but Blessed Virgin Mary, this call is a hot mess. It’s all dropped connections, background noise, overlapping conversation…in other words, the absolute personification of motherhood itself. I don’t think a single one of us is sweating this fact because we’re used to chaos. It is our currency, whether we work for a paycheck or not. Moms all do a variation of the same juggling act, after all. Which sometimes sucks and sometimes is beautiful and joyful.

So here are some of my favorite bits from the interview:

Uma was asked where she feels the movie’s authenticity comes from. She said she loves that Eliza’s character is not there to cast the viewer’s attention on someone else – a man or a child. She is the heart of the movie, depicted honestly – with flaws and anger issues, but very much in love with her family.

She’s surprised when other mothers dismiss the topic of motherhood in film (as in “Why watch a movie about my own boring life?”) Uma wonders why we discredit ourselves so much that we’d think raising another human being isn’t worthy of pop culture attention.

My question was about a scene described by director Katherine Dieckmann as her favorite in the film. Eliza and her husband are sitting in a car. Emotional words are exchanged. I asked Uma to describe it and here’s what she said: 

Eliza is digging into the source of her unhappiness, the fact that she’s lost herself in the minutiae of domestic life. She’s worn down by the tiny, grinding repetitive acts that make up her day. She no longer recognizes herself.

I want to see this movie for that scene alone. I predict I’ll hear myself in Eliza’s words, see myself in her frustration. I wonder what will happen for her and if she’ll find peace with the choices she’s made. I wonder too about the women in my life who don’t have creative or professional outlets, who lose a bit of themselves every day. The moms who – like Eliza – pour all their talent and energy into their families at the expense of their own aspirations. They’re the ones who deserve happy endings.

Motherhood is in theaters October 23rd.

Image via.

Check out Eliza’s blog here.

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