Notes From Hairenik
March 23, 2015

The last three days with my son Areg have been very special. I feel we have really bonded, and the relationship we have built, based on love, mutual respect and enjoyment of life, has become tighter.

A few months ago I went back to Boston for four weeks. It was Christmastime. Not only was I visiting my family, I was also starting my studies for my MFA in Creative Writing at Lesley University, taking part in their Low Residency program. That means I have to be on campus for a week each semester and attend workshops and seminars.  For reasons out of my control, I could not take Areg with me, although he wanted to go and was clearly conscious of my intent to travel. Areg is a lot smarter and cognizant of his environment as well as life situations than many in my opinion, including family members and friends, imagine. Although we communicate on Skype as often as possible when I’m away, it’s still not the same as having physical, interpersonal contact. Two weeks into my stay I noticed that he was uncommunicative, meaning he would not converse, although he wanted to show me things and sat attentively in a chair or in the camera’s view for several minutes at a time while I constantly engaged him through discussion, interaction with family members, showing him the Christmas tree up close and so forth. But he wouldn’t answer my questions or comment about anything. We speak almost exclusively in English, but sometimes in Western Armenian so he gets used to it.

When I returned to Yerevan in mid January he kept refusing to talk. And I learned that he wasn’t talking to other members of the family or his peers and instructors at his kindergarten, either. He apparently only spoke with his mother, in Armenian. In fact he was hesitant to return to kindergarten after the holidays, acting as he did when he first started going last August—complaining and hesitant to stay, although everyone there as well as the environment were now familiar to him. 

The lack of verbal communication persisted for another two months. Areg would communicate by pointing and grunting, or with body language—if he needed to sit on the toilet he would hold his rear end, or his crotch when he had to pee. When I asked if he was hungry or thirsty he would either say nothing in response or say “uh huh” when he was. That was it. Areg will turn four on April 1 so his silence was disconcerting. Sometimes he would start to cry for a few moments when I didn’t understand what he wanted. He did sing, but only songs that he had recently invented (a songwriter in the making) and none of the ones we used to sing together. Although I was naturally patient with him and just as loving, it was frustrating not to hear him give his perspective on things in the world, what he experienced or heard. He always had something to say about any given thing, and being his dad, I always probed him to tell me more. Now it was if I were talking to the walls. Oddly, I began to forget what it was like for him to argue with me about the names of colors, letters or shapes—I intentionally give him the wrong name of something so he will correct me, thus getting him to think and focus. Discourse had ended. A psychologist we visited recommended art therapy, which I intend for him to undergo.

Then just over a week ago there was a breakthrough. It was Saturday night. I began suggesting the wrong names for objects or letters and he suddenly began correcting me. Then he wouldn’t shut up. His perspective on things—letters, colors, objects, toys, concepts, whatever—became revealed once again. We linked up with my mother via Skype so she could share in the surprise. It was an ecstatic moment for all of us I think.

The following morning he was silent again, grunting and pointing. I couldn’t figure out why there was a relapse but we continued our routine of dressing, washing up, eating breakfast, watching Mister Rogers (he started getting into it that weekend, which may have had an influence I suspect) and walking Chi Chi. It was a warm day, in the 60s, so I decided to take him to Lovers’ Park, which was a five-minute metro ride away. We strolled down the paths and eventually ended up in the sand pit, where he sifted, piled, poked and stirred. After about 40 minutes he wanted to move on, so we walked around some more in the park. I was desperate to get him speaking again. On a cement wall in the far right along a path where the landscaping ends there was some graffiti art, with “Im Yerevan” spelled out, (“Im” meaning “my”). So the quiz commenced—“what letter is this, is it an X? What about this one, is that a Q?” After a couple of minutes the arguing began. “That’s not an X, it’s a Y. Why did you say it’s an X? It’s not X, it’s Y.” Then he was expounding on the shape and style of the letter. He insisted that the lowercase V in “Yerevan” was actually a lowercase Y because the diagonal stroke continued past the baseline and curled up to the left at the end. I could not refute him, the damn thing was indeed a Y. The artist’s intent was to make it appear as a footpath leading to the front door of a home, but the footpath metamorphosed into a piano keyboard for whatever reason, further complicating matters.  Then we began to study the design of every letter, wondering why windows were drawn within them, and why were they made to resemble apartment buildings, and he gave his feedback willingly. On the way home down the escalator to the train he suddenly announced, “I have chishig” so we went back up to use the restroom in the park (which is remarkably clean). I treated him to hot chocolate at a nearby café in our neighborhood and I ordered a club sandwich for myself, which I ended up splitting with him. Although I intended to keep him overnight and encourage him further, his mom came by and carried him off. We made quite a bit of headway, though. And this past weekend was even better.  

Anyway, here’s some advice to new dads (not like I have everything figured out yet obviously):

1. Engage your children constantly. Throw as much stimulus at him or her as possible through conversation, play, music, reading, visual stimulus like Sesame Street or Baby Einstein—whatever it is. All of it is beneficial, especially talking, playing, and reading.

2. Speak with your child like you would with an adult. Oftentimes you hear people talk to their toddlers with cartoonish tones of voice and condescending, simplistic language, as if to assume the kid can’t comprehend the idea conveyed or the correction. I find this to be the case especially in Armenia. It’s nonsense to talk to kids as if they’re kids. And talk about anything—nature related, the stars and planets, how the coffee machine functions, whatever. They understand things quite well and they’ll pick up whatever you’re trying to illustrate, fast. Not only that, the tone of their voice will sound more mature. That’s what I’m finding in Areg’s case at least.

3. Never tell your kid he or she can’t do something. “Can’t” implies discouragement, and it leads to diminished self-esteem, something no child should ever endure. If you don’t want your son climbing on the future, tell him “no,” or “don’t do it.” I always add “buddy” or “please” when I want to correct him, then I either praise or thank him. Speaking of which…

4. Praise as much as possible, too much isn’t enough. My son thrives on praise; he aims to please. He’ll do whatever it takes for me to tell him how proud I am of him or how smart he is. He expresses his excitement by shaking both hands in the air rapidly like he wants to whip them off his arms and running across the room, squeaking (admittedly I do the same thing to this day on occasion, it must be genetic). He’s hilarious.

5. Laugh and have fun. One of our favorite activities is baking cookies. He mixes the salt and flour in a separate bowl while I measure out the sugar and butter. He also gets the mixer going—it’s stationary—and we have a blast. His favorite part of the process is licking the mixer beaters. We also work with play dough, play a marble run that we construct together, and we draw as well as paint. Areg loves to play with his dad, not to mention my friends that come over, and I bet the same can be said of any kid. He loves to show and describe something that he created, and he loves the attention. Who wouldn’t? 

I think I’m on to something here and I’m eagerly anticipating what’s next. There’s still Shant to contend with. Now if the three of us were only allowed to spend some quality time alone, who knows what would happen? 

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February 2, 2015

Today's my birthday, which coincidentally falls on Groundhog Day. Yes, that indeed is a hilarious coincidence. Good thing no one in Armenia knows what Groundhog Day is, never mind a groundhog.

I have only two wishes for my birthday:

1. Peace and happiness. We're living in turbulent times. Tensions are high on Armenia's borders. The economy is starting to tank. Regional stability is fragile. Let's pray for peace. That will come from inner peace, inner stability, confidence and self reliance. Most of all peace comes from tolerance and empathy.

2. Evenings when both my sons sleep over in their own home together, in their own beds. I never imagined how difficult going through divorce is, probably because I never fathomed having to endure it several months ago. But although my marriage is finished, my relationship with my boys isn't. Our father-son relationship remains eternal, and nothing will ever come between us. Nothing. On my birthday and every day I send my undying love to my boys. I'll see you soon.

I hope that's not very much to ask for.


This month Notes From Hairenik celebrates its decennial, online for 10 years straight. I can’t believe a decade has passed already, seems like I just moved here a few years ago. It’s unbelievable how quickly time passes.

Over the years I have documented all facets of my personal life and observations about Armenian culture, society and politics on this blog, and I’ve told the stories of countless citizens, usually ordinary people no one has really ever heard of. I’ve written about all sorts of subjects related to life in Armenia, what to do to keep busy, how to get around, must-see places to visit, where to have a fine meal. I’ve also documented both my delights and frustrations with living in this often under-appreciated country, one that offers a lot more than what people mistakenly, even sarcastically believe.

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My goal was to portray Armenia and its capital Yerevan the way it actually was, or at least the way I began to see it, having crushed the rose-tinted glasses under foot long ago. The mindsets and even psychology of Armenians have been explored in my posts, some of which were controversial while others fondly appreciated. I thank both my critics and admirers over the years, all of you have pushed me to keep me writing about my passion for this craggy, stunningly beautiful country. I grew significantly both professionally and personally during my stay. I have also seen my share of hardships, which I am not unthankful for in retrospect. I had a health problem five years back resulting in the removal of my gallbladder, thankfully a relatively trouble free ordeal. Frustrations with chauvinism, complacency and fatalistic, jaded personalities have worn down my enthusiasm on more than one occasion. Two marriages have crumbled in the span of a decade.

But I have had real triumphs. The two eternal sunshines in mylife, Areg and Shant, remind me every luminous morning what it means to be alive, to love life and be thankful for every passing moment.  They never cease to inspire and fill me with pure joy, blazing white energy. In September 2013 one of the most important events of my life took place when I spoke at TEDxYerevan. And I have made true, everlasting friendships with people that have endured. I’m truly grateful and lucky for all that I have had in my life.

Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement over the years. I couldn’t have kept this blog going without you.

With much respect and gratitude,

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November 3, 2014
As I lay in bed trying to finally kick the lingering, sinus-stuffing virus that has swept Yerevan, my children included (they affectionately gave it to me in the first place), I thought I'd post some golden moments from the last six months. Shantig my little one has grown up a lot and after only one year (his birthday is tomorrow!) is ready to start walking already—seems like it's just a matter of minutes. And big brother Areg has a great appetite for fine foods as you'll see. I love these kids more than anything, they're my two sunshines and they fill me with energy and hope every day, even when we're apart.

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