Let me just say, I adore my friend Nastia. She is quite different from me in some ways - she is Russian Orthodox, and never went to college; she speaks little English. But in most of the ways that really matter in day-to-day life, we see eye-to-eye and get along great. The majority of our time is spent taking care of our children... feeding and dressing and worrying over them, intervening in fights and providing them with safe and interesting places to play, organizing activities for them. We want our kids to be well-behaved, physically active, to eat balanced meals, show respect for others, do well in school. Our oldest boys (Baz & Yahor) are close friends. Our youngest ones (Isa and Ilya) are the same age. So Nastia and I basically do everything together.
Nastia spent about three days just preparing the food for this event - three types of Russian salads, then some kind of potato dish and meat to be grilled on the barbeque outside, an elaborate cake, fruit and veggies and juices and wine and snack foods for the kids.
Then she prepared about a dozen party games - guessing games and run-around games and scavenger hunts, all of which included both adults and kids. Here is my favorite result of the games today - one event required Baz, Ayla, and Isa to each draw a portrait of their Mom.
Throughout the day - coordinating people from the pool to the park, and corralling everyone into activities and directing the action, Nastia was unflagging, and totally in her element. She brought out her own cake and candles and cued everyone to sing, and had the children blow out the candles. When not every child got a turn to blow out the candles, she re-lit the candles three more times, with singing each time. She served tea, cleaned up spills, and refereed squabbling children. She was exhausting to watch.
But I realized a couple of things, observing her. First, she was truly happy. While everyone else would have been content to have a few snacks and a bottle of wine and lie on the grass while the kids entertained themselves, for her, it was immensely satisfying to play the role of hostess extraordinaire. And it was her birthday, so of course everyone went along with it - and we had a lot of laughs. It did make me wonder if she is really the trendsetter in this group - if it weren't for Nastia, what would wives' parties on tour look like? Would there always be so much attention to birthdays? Who knows.
Second, I realized that this is why I have always been drawn to Nastia - she is a do-er, like me. She does not sit back and let others make plans and decisions - she plows ahead, knowing that whether her choices are perfect or not, everyone will be happy to go along with something. And in the end we all have a lot to show for it - healthy, happy kids, and a closer-knit social group of families on tour. I love that she is a leader, and that she constantly surprises me with her ideas.
The more Russian I speak, the more I can really get to know these women. (despite my efforts, teaching English classes regularly now for over a year, most of them still can't hold a lengthy or detailed conversation in English). Today conversation was 90% in Russian, and I followed a lot of it, but not all. At one point, one of the women exclaimed (in Russian), "poor Shana, she probably didn't understand that!" and I replied in Russian, "you're right, I didn't understand it, but I'm listening." At which point another woman chimed in, "well, there you go, you get to feel what it's like for us in English class!" Everyone laughed and started sharing stories of various times they've been completely lost in class over the last few months, and I laughed along with them. My Russian vocabulary and grammar still has a long way to go, but I can be part of these conversations now, which is really something exciting.