goodbye, 2021! hello, 2022!
happy holidays from the bodebroz gang (now 5!)
Welcome to year 2 of the pandemic! Our world slowly opened up - just a bit. We got vaccinated. We got boosted. We went into the office - a bit. We flew to Calistoga for a long-overdue family reunion. It's a "new normal" that is still evolving. It seems we're going to be living through the "Covid era".
~ in memoriam: alex ambroz (1954 - 2021) ~
My dad, Alex Ambroz, died on November 29, 2021, from complications from Covid-19. He was 67 years old. He had spent almost all of 2021 in very poor health and, despite being fully vaccinated, Covid was too much. I wanted to use this holiday card as an opportunity to memorialize him.
My dad was born in 1954 in Trieste, Italy, to two stateless refugees from then-Yugoslavia, Oton and Emma Ambroz. They had no other children. They lived in Trieste for a few years, under increasing pressure - as my dad put it - from the local carabinieri that they would soon be deported. Some time later, the family moved to New York City. This is one of my dad's favorite stories: the image of a five-year-old him, on a boat to America, like something out of The Godfather 2. "Actually, we flew," he would chuckle.
They lived on the Upper West Side. Oton was a journalist, Emma was a seamstress. And my dad grew up in 1960s/1970s New York, joining a Slavic dance troupe in the East Village at the Church of St Cyril. After college at CUNY, he completed medical school in Yugoslavia and met my mom in the University of Trieste library.
My dad had an "elephant's memory", and would often loop through a short list of favorite stories, jokes, or memories. Even though I'm now almost 40, he was still - in his final weeks - reminding me how cute I was as a toddler, how I liked to watch cartoons with "juice e la copertina" (juice and a blankie). I had heard this a thousand times. He was a very animated storyteller, and his stories were always self-deprecating, absurdly silly, full of exaggeration. (A trait I acquired which annoys Max; "did it actually happen that way?" - "well, no, not exactly...") This year, my dad amused himself by telling me how he was ringing up funeral homes and priests. In an email regarding what to do about finances after his death, he sent me an Excel sheet with lines about insurance policies and IRAs, and a final note: "plus mommy's secret accounts. check under mattress."
His parenting style was no-holds-barred indulgence. In 1993, he took a 9-year-old me to see Jurassic Park ten times (!) in the movie theater. Now that I'm a parent, this boggles the mind! That's $70+ inflation-adjusted dollars!
I inherited a few other, defining traits from him: a love of science fiction, a love of movies, a baseline silly disposition (everything is funny), endless enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity and curiosity about people, and a show offy attitude about being "smart" (and good at languages!). When my dad visited a new oncologist this year, a man with a Russian name, he greeted him in Russian - then told me excitedly about it. When I spoke with my dad's ICU doctor, days before he died, a part of me wanted to pause everything and tell this doctor with a South Asian accent, "Hey! Are you from India? Which part? Do you speak Hindi? I do! Your name sounds South Indian?!" It was painful to realize that Dad would have been just as curious as I was about this lady. He was curious about everyone.
It's painful to think that he won't see my children, Mimi and Giacomo (yes, there are two now - more on that below), grow up. Recently, Mimi and I watched Cinderella. As she laid on the couch next to me, I felt nostalgic. I could have texted Dad a picture of her and I bet his reply would have been: "Give her juice e la copertina!"
Being a sci-fi enthusiast, my dad believed in a lot of crazy stuff: ghosts, aliens, past lives, alternate dimensions. "It's true, you know," he'd tell me gravely, his eyes magnified by his glasses. He was prone to fantastical thinking. We once found a charge for a 1-800 psychic on his credit card bills. This year, he lorded over me that he knew "all about the Poisson distribution" (the likelihood of rare events), and, thus, he had spent $1,200 on freeze-dried "prepper" meals from a company called My Patriot Supply. He was exasperating and amusing. He was insane! Maybe there's another dimension out there with another Angela being annoyed by the jokes of another Alex right now. But in this one, I've had to say goodbye.
Thank you, Dad, for what you gave me and for making me who I am.
This was a year of grief - but also a year of joy. Let us introduce our newest Bodebroz: Giacomo! Born on October 4, Giacomo had the most impressive 2021 of the family: he started the year in a state of non-being and ended it in a state of being. Great job, Giacomo!
Giacomo is still in his "little stranger" newborn phase, but we're all excited to get to know him more and more. Some observations from these earliest days:
Mimi's explosive growth continued - it's really amazing and delightful watching her grow up! She turned 2 in February, and her vocabulary (and personality!) blossomed so much this year. It's been so much fun chatting with her, learning about how she ticks and what she enjoys.
Some of Mimi's highlights:
A lot happened this year for me - the stress and sadness of my dad's illness, paralleled by the stress and excitement of the pregnancy.
I'm still at Optoro, still really enjoying it. This year, I took on a big project in a new area: building out the machine learning infrastructure for our data science team. This sort of work sits at the intersection of data science and DevOps, and I was really pleased to learn so much about so many new tools.
Some other highlights from this year:
Uff! What a year! While 2021 was exhausting, I am also grateful for the year.
"Exhausting" is the operative word for anybody with a newborn and a toddler. While we now know the newborn drill, it is hard work to manage an insatiably hungry newborn while wrangling an active two-year-old. As of late, Giacomo has started rewarding us with his smile – which he produces readily – especially when Mimi entertains him with her antics.
Despite having a personally very challenging year, Angela persevered and displayed remarkable resilience and grace – for which I am grateful.
Mimi has been the joy of my life. And yes, while she can also be exhausting – please stop whining! – she is wonderfully joyous and kind. Mimi’s love for babies has eased Giacomo’s transition into our family. She hasn’t displayed an ounce of jealousy and indeed has made Giacomo the most drawn baby ever. She loves to scooter and delights her dad with breathtakingly fast dashes down the hill or one-footed glides along the Sligo Creek parkway. Lately, she even started cuddling her parents – something she had previously deprived us of. The trick is for Angela to tell her in a stern voice that cuddling papa is not allowed and… swoop… I get a bear hug! I am genuinely grateful for reverse psychology. It’s a savior.
Over the last two years, I’ve been focusing more on my family and myself instead of work. Previously, I was exhausted trying to have it all – traveling incessantly on long-haul flights, putting out one fire after the other at work, all while trying to do my fair share of childrearing. Since then, I’ve been learning how to derive happiness from many places other than the professional. Taking a step back at work has allowed me to enjoy and partake in Mimi growing up. In my day-to-day, I derive a lot of pleasure from living in Takoma Park – forest bathing at Sligo Creek and walking to the local coffee shop. Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been at the World Bank, and despite it almost being two years, I haven’t been to the office. The professional highlight of the year was that I started teaching my own course as an Associate Professor at Georgetown’s graduate school of government. It was wonderful to teach on campus.
Despite COVID, I hope we get to see each other in 2022. We always have a guest room waiting for you in Takoma Park. And if you cannot make it out here, don’t be a stranger and give us a call, and I’ll take you for a virtual walk of Sligo Creek.