Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Befriending Russians

The last couple of days have been very social here at the apartments. It started off with baby Daria's 1st birthday party. During the afternoon (the party started at 3:30pm, and we were the first to leave at 7:00pm) nearly all of the families with young children turned up to celebrate. There were presents, many different kinds of cakes, Russian party games, music and dancing.

A word here about Russian names. Russians tend to stick to a small number of first names, which is why, in the Totem show, we have two Dmitris, two Alexeis, two Alexanders, two Ruslans, & two Pavels. Among the wives there are two Olgas and two Anastasias. But what really throws me off are the diminutives. Most names have a diminutive, or nickname, and I can't figure out when to call people (especially the children) by their nicknames. Adults are somewhat clear... Micha has always been introduced to me as Micha, not Mikael, which is his real first name. Most adults seem to present themselves with the name they'd like to be called. But with children, I am often told the full name and the diminutive, and I'm never sure which one to use. Do I call the little boy Ilya or Ilyosha? Do I call the baby Daria or Dasha?

SO, this beautiful little Daria/Dasha is now a year old, and there was much rejoicing. One of the attendees was an older girl, age 4, also named Daria/Dasha. It would simplify my life if I could call one of them Daria and one Dasha, but I doubt this is going to work.

Today, most of the group re-convened at my apartment, for our first playgroup. Little did I know that the Russian wives were all agreeing that we should have these playgroups much more frequently, and it turned into a big strategy meeting, almost entirely in Russian. (two other wives and I couldn't keep up, so we did keep interrupting for translations.) Without any organized effort on my part, a schedule was put together for playgroups 3-4 times per week. And these are drop-off playgroups - we leave as many kids as we want, for two hours, and go off by ourselves.

This is a foreign concept to me, and I'm excited but unnerved by it. Do you mean, I suddenly have, several times a week, free childcare? And in exchange, once every two weeks or so, I open my doors and let all the kids come here? This seems outrageously awesome. The only downside so far is that everyone else has decided 5:00pm-7:00pm is the best time. It isn't the best time for me - I am often at the tent, getting the older kids, or waiting for them to come home at that time. But for this free-babysitting-swap deal, I think I need to try to re-organize my schedule.

I was proud of myself today, sitting and meeting with all of these women. It can be really intimidating, when they are all jabbering away and I can only catch a word here and there. But I remind myself that many people feel this way - anyone does, who has tried to integrate themselves into another culture. I have to not shut down, keep my ears open to improve my comprehension, and not be afraid to ask questions, or admit when I don't understand.

Nastya has become my closest ally in this. She and I see each other every day - her boys are ages 8 and 3, parallel with Baz and Isa. Her English is only a little better than my Russian, and so every conversation is a task of charades, of re-wording, of trying out words and getting them wrong, and trying something else - and when all else fails, pulling out the dictionary. We have gotten comfortable enough together to be able to laugh at our mistakes, and to look each other in the eye and share understanding. We are, in many ways, very different people. But our approach to parenting is quite similar, we want the same things for our kids, and this creates a natural common bond.

спокойной ночи (Good Night!)


  1. This sounds great - it is wonderful that you have someone else to go through this journey with - and keep me updated on the 'free child care' stuff - sounds awesome

  2. Could you also publish your newsletters here? Love to see those too!

  3. Great initiative Shana! I didn't get to meet you but I had lunch with Greg (and Nakotah and Rosalie and Dima and Louis-David and...) quite a few times during Totem-production in Montreal... nice memories. Greg is a great, deep and funny person! Enjoy the rest of your journey! Cheers to all the extended Totem family. -Thomas