Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year, everyone! Z Novym Rokom! S Novym Godom!!!

Still an hour to go here; Khreshchatyk and Maidan are so loud; we can hear VV (Vopli Vidoplyasova) playing at Maidan even if we keep our windows shut; suprisingly, Marta does not wake from the constant booming of fireworks and fire crackers, some distant and some very, very close. How I wish I could sneak outside for a while!..

May the New Year bring all of you tons of joy and happiness!

Much love,
Veronica, Mishah and Marta

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ouch. I couldn't pass this headline in the New York Times - 2-Year-Old Boy Is Found Drunk After Mother Goes Into Labor - but parts of the story almost made me cry...

When Orbalina Miranda went into labor with her third child at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday, she left her two children asleep in their beds, in a relative's care, and headed to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital with her husband, Jose Gomez.

But while Ms. Miranda was still in labor, a cousin passed out drunk, the police said. And her 2-year-old son consumed enough alcohol, supposedly from bottles strewn around the apartment, that he registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.094 percent, higher than the legal limit for adults to drive.

The cousin, Juan Reyes, 37, was arrested, charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a minor. Her 3-year-old daughter, Rosa Gomez, was in the custody of Suffolk County Child Protective Services. And her 2-year-old son, Wilfredo Gomez, was in the emergency room of the same hospital where his mother was in delivery.

Hearing the news, Ms. Miranda became too upset to concentrate on giving birth, said her brother-in-law, Gilberto Gomez. "The baby got stuck," he said. "It was bad, very bad. She was crying."


But through a window of the bright blue house, they spotted Mr. Reyes on a bed and the two toddlers in the apartment unsupervised, the sheriff's office said.

"The little girl was playing and acting normally," said Deputy Vincent Spadafora. "She spoke very little English, but she kept trying to hug us and she smiled a lot." The boy was in a different state. His eyes were bloodshot; he was stumbling around and appeared abnormally lethargic, he said.

You'd think it could only happen here, in our part of the world, but of course not...


Stories like this give me a sense of relief when I'm worried sick I'm not doing certain things right as a mother: it's good to know there are plenty of extremes I'm never gonna go to, no matter what, and even if I am screwing up - diaper rash is one of the biggest worries now, and also Marta's poop that's somewhat too liquid and probably caused by something I eat - the damage is tiny, comparatively and on its own, and, hopefully, won't last.

I happened to watch some silly pseudo-documentary on Russian TV sometime halfway through my pregnancy, about a very young woman who worked as a train conductor, provodnitsa, and gave birth to her baby girl right there on the train. That was an unplanned pregnancy and an unwanted child, and no one even suspected she was pregnant, so she threw the newborn out of the window (3 meters off the ground, with the train moving at 70 kilometers per hour), washed all the blood off herself - and was serving tea in the morning, as usual. Incredible, but her child survived: someone found the little girl on the tracks a few hours later, with just a few minor injuries to her head.

I had no idea why I was watching this crap - but after it was over, I had a new weapon to fight my panic attacks: babies are damn strong, and I'm never gonna do such terrible things to mine anyway.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

We need to get some paperwork done (related to Marta's birth), so Mishah went to his district's tax administration today (the weather's ugly, relatively warm but way too wet, and the place is somewhat too far from where we live now). There, he was told he'd have to write a formal request and they'd issue the needed document in two weeks.

The punchline: he hasn't been able to submit the request today and will have to go there again - because he didn't have a blank A4 sheet of paper to write on with him, and the tax administration isn't some paper mill.

Welcome to Ukraine.
I got this message when I was still at the hospital, on Dec. 6:

hi veronica,

i'm writing a story for Marie Claire magazine in New York. I'm trying to find a respected salon in Kiev that can explain the most-popular haircut right now. Is there any way you could help me? I'd need you to go to the salon of your choice, ask them the following questions, and email it to me in english. here's what i need:

-a description of the most popular haircut
-the most popular color or shades
-the most-requested celebrity cut


Maureen Dempsey
Features Writer
Marie Claire

The real world was limited to my aching boobs at that point, but Ms. Dempsey's message reminded me I needed a haircut badly. I had been planning to have one before I turned 32 in January - but then Marta arrived and I forgot about most of my plans and intentions.

Even though Ms. Dempsey sounded as if we knew each other, we didn't. In fact, I was the wrongest choice possible for this kind of an assignment. It usually takes me months if not years to have a haircut; I rarely go to "respected" salons because folks there like to experiment too much, and when I tell them I need the simplest and the quickest thing - "Just try to make it look neat, the edges and all" - they tell me it's old-fashioned and proceed reluctantly, as if they're doing me a huge favor, and very slowly, and then they charge someone's monthly salary for it. To imagine asking those people some stupid questions, with Marta waiting for my boobs at home, was ridiculous. So I wrote to Ms. Dempsey that I couldn't help her, but that she should definitely mention Yulia Tymoshenko's braids - even though her style isn't popular here at all, as far as I can see.


They seem to have a fixation on Ukrainian hair at Marie Claire: I've just fished out one of my old grad school papers, in which I, among other things, quoted from a feature on the concept of beauty in different world cultures (October 1996 issue of Marie Claire, p. 44):

Elsewhere, however, hirsute is haute. Among the virtually body-hairless Chruki [sic] of northern Siberia, pubic hair is a sign of great beauty in a woman, as is a female mustache in parts of the Ukraine.

This has made receiving Ms. Dempsey's message double fun.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

If not on a desert island, then I'd like to be in Istanbul now - like we were last year...

I often wish now I were on a desert island with Marta, not back home in Kyiv: there're just too many intrusions and interruptions here. And I dread to think what it's gonna be like when I begin to follow the gas scandal and other such pre-election bullshit...

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Here's my first entry that's not related to Marta:

Mishah was at the antiques market today (yesterday, that is, Saturday) - and he saw Yushchenko there.

Mishah was no more than three meters away from Yushchenko at some point - while his brother, Max, happened to be right next to the president: he was squatting next to a low wooden table, inspecting it, when he heard a vaguely familiar voice coming from above, asking the same vendor about the price of something; Max looked up and saw a familiar Cossack ring on the hand stretched out above him; he then got up and found himself almost face to face with Yushchenko.

Yushchenko looks exactly the way he does on TV, and his face's not pretty; the only difference is he's dressed very simply, very inconspicuously. He is said to be coming to this market at least once a month, and he's been doing this forever, long before he got elected. Like everyone else, he walks around a lot, inquiring about the prices and bargaining, but he's not buying much. Vendors discuss in detail every interaction they've had with him; there are plenty of rings for him to choose from - including the Cossack rings that resemble the one he has and is very proud of. There's no police in sight, only a couple plainclothes guards accompanying Yushchenko - but, hopefully, there're more scattered in the crowd. People follow him around, and he stops often and lets them have their pictures taken next to him; Mishah thinks this must be really exhausting - Yushchenko is like a bear or a monkey on Khreshchatyk that you can have your picture taken with, he says.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

On Nov. 30, the last day of my pregnancy, Mishah took me out for a walk to the park a few blocks away from the hospital. We had been there the day before and came back again not because the place was anything special, but because I really wanted to get sick and tired of all this walking, so that I didn't miss it when the baby arrived and I was stuck at home, nursing and waiting for appropriate weather to venture outside. I savored these walks, despite having to pull up my pants after every other step I took.

It was roughly 18 hours before my c-section when we saw this sculpture of a young guy and a girl, sort of pretty, but looking overly enthusiastic in a very Soviet way:

All kinds of things were written all over their darkened bronze bodies, and we decided to have a closer look. In addition to curses and other such stuff, both figures had names painted in white on their foreheads: the boy was Zhenia, and the girl - Marta!

I, of course, took it as a sign, a good one.


People keep asking why we chose to name our daughter Marta. My dear friend has told me today his mother asked him, too, and he replied that Veronica had seen this name written on the forehead of a park sculpture, that's why.

It's not, of course. Nor is it because I got pregnant in March (mart in Russian), as someone else concluded.

A shortcut explanation for the name choice is this: 'Marta' sounds beautifully on its own as well as with Mishah's last name, Smetana (translated as 'sour cream').

The real reason, though, is Martha Gellhorn, an incredible war correspondent, an incredible woman, whose work I was reading in St. Pete in spring 2004: I remember very well how I walked to the other room at some point and asked Mishah if he liked the name Marta. He said he did.

The problem is very few people know anything about Martha Gellhorn, and it usually takes awfully long to explain why she's so cool I've decided to name my daughter after her: how she started her career in 1937, covering the Spanish Civil War, and finished it in Panama at the age of 81, in 1990, covering the U.S. invasion; how a few years later she admitted she was too old to go to Bosnia; how she was Ernest Hemingway's third wife and he was her second husband, and how she was his only wife to dump him before he did (the nurses back at the hospital used to roll their eyes a little at this point)...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

No pictures to post for now, so here's my first text-only entry in three weeks:

Yesterday morning, as I was feeding Marta and Mishah was sitting nearby, I looked away from her for a moment and suddenly realized that Mishah's head and his face were HUGE, grotesquely huge.

I told Mishah, and he said he'd noticed the same about me and my head a few days earlier, but he kept silent about it because he was afraid I'd misunderstand him and get mad for telling me I'm fat.

Every time I look at Mishah's face up close now, it sort of scares me; Marta's tiny face is perfect, however.
It now takes Marta forever to fall asleep after she's eaten: she can whine for what seems like hours unless she's lying on my chest, cozy and warm. I really love being her pillow during the day, but at night I'm terribly scared to fall asleep and accidentally crush her or drop her... Yesterday night, I put her in her bed and gave her a pacifier, and for the next hour or so I'd fall asleep immediately and two minutes later she'd drop the pacifier and start screaming, and boy, was it a torture!.. She was sleepless again tonight, so I decided to stay up and wait till she tires herself out; as I waited, I've managed to get rid of my photo backlog - baby pictures from the past two weeks are now posted on my photo page, here!

Monday, December 19, 2005

A very quick note:

We are fine, and Marta is a total joy.

I'd be writing a lot more here, if only I had both of my hands available to me most of the time. Unfortunately, when I'm feeding Marta (every three hours or so), one of my hands is always busy holding her. If it's my right hand that's free, I am jotting down stuff in my notebook; if it's my left hand, all I can do is read (Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, my second attempt in eight years to get through it); either way, I can't type.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I'm sorry for not writing - I've been meaning to every single day, but something keeps getting in the way.

We're doing great, back home since Thursday, Dec. 8.

Marta is so sweet; I call her koshechka, a kitty, because of her eyes and because of how she loves to nap on my chest after having eaten!..

Speaking of cats, here's Nur's first encounter with Marta:

There are nights when she lets us sleep for four hours in a row, but then there are nights like tonight, when I had to change and nurse her every two hours. I feel it's not as bad as I was expecting, maybe because I'm such a night owl, but I do tend to forget things now even more than I did during pregnancy. Also, I feel too tired/lazy/busy to write things down...

Hope you're all well; thanks so much once again for your wonderful wishes!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Thank you all for your wonderful greetings!!! I feel like printing them out and pasting into some special Marta's album - only I'm so disorganized I doubt I'll ever do this... But - thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I love you all!

Dyakuyu, spasibo, sagol, shnorakalyutyun... I can go on in a dozen more languages...


I've got less than an hour before Marta wakes up and starts screaming for food. My daughter, she likes to eat a lot.

Now that she's used to the formula bottle, she gets really angry when I try to give her what little I have of my own milk - and she gets so angry, I'm sometimes positive I hear real human words in her screams... That's frustrating and exhausting.

Otherwise, I'm the happiest person in the world. Or maybe I'm the second happiest, after Mishah:


More pictures from Dec. 3 and Dec. 4 are here.

(There's only one picture of me again - this time because, at some point, I suddenly noticed how fat I am, that double chin and all...)


I'm taking notes as often as I can, but I don't hope to be able to post anything longer than this entry anytime soon...

And please don't expect me to bitch about politics, Ukrainian or Russian, now.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Mishah and I are incredibly happy to announce the birth of our wonderful daughter, Marta:

Born: Thursday, December 1, 2005, at 10:08 am, in Kyiv, Ukraine
Weight: 3 kg 140 g
Height: 50 cm


Dec. 1 - Marta is roughly 4 hours and 20 minutes old

Dec. 2 - 27 hours old

Dec. 2 - almost 31 hours old


Dec. 1 - Marta is nearly 4 hours and 30 minutes old

Dec. 2 - 30 hours and 40 minutes old


Dec. 2 - Marta is 32 hours old (and I feel a million times better than this picture would make you believe: I feel wonderful enough to keep taking the camera away from Mishah and then ending up with just one photo of myself with my daughter worth showing to anyone!..)