Saturday, February 16, 2008

More About that Day of Recitals in December

(Below this post is another post with pictures from Katya's Christmas assembly at school and her first piano recital. Here's a story about what was happening behind the scenes that day. Warning: It's rather long).

As I've alluded to before, some stuff happened in December that seriously complicated our departure to the US before Christmas. I hadn't written about it before because, well, it was so hard to live through it that I hadn't felt like going through it again in writing.

But it's a real part of life here... and in many other parts of the world, too. Before I get into the story, here's some background information:

Alcoholism is a major disease in Russia and countries that used to be part of the Soviet Block. According to this recent study, 40% of Ukrainian and Russian men are alcoholics--and that figure actually seems low to me.

Life is rather depressing in these countries for a vast majority of the population; economic changes have benefited such a small percentage of the total population. You see beer and vodka everywhere; not surprising since it's cheaper to buy a beer than a soda or water. It used to shock me to see kids drinking on their way to middle school; I remember kids being expelled their senior year at the prep school I used to teach at for having a beer...

In any case, alcohol abuse casts a dark shadow over life here. I have so many friends whose husbands have been sucked into this black hole, too. Drinking is such a part of doing business here and it's very easy (and common) for expat men to end up in trouble.

Now on to the story of what happened...

You might remember our former Ukrainian nanny and her husband; I wrote about our trip to visit them in a tiny village in western Ukraine last July. We really cared about them; they felt like family and we planned to keep up our friendship long-term.

Styopa, the husband, was supposed to arrive three days before we left for Christmas in the US, thus being able to vist with us and help out so I could get us packed up smoothly (and grade my student's end-of-term exams w/o having to watch the girls). He was then going to stay here while we were gone, caring for our cats and doing some odd jobs around the apartment.

The day of Katya's school play and piano recital was the day he arrived on the 10 a.m. train from Kiev. By 11 a.m. he was at our apartment with our babysitter and Natalia--and within ten minutes he was BEYOND drunk. I was at Katya's school watching her play, so the babysitter tried to deal with the situation on her own--but he really scared her with his aggressive behavior. Yes, she is a Catholic nun--but she has seen a lot in her day and it takes a lot rattle her. She kept Natalia as far away from him as possible and as soon as she saw Talia off to school, she sent me an sms to call her immediately.

Before I saw her sms, I called home to see if Styopa could watch Katya for a few hours that afternoon. She didn't feel well at the end of her holiday play and she wanted to sleep before her piano recital that evening. As soon as Styopa answered his phone, however, I could tell something was wrong. Pretty quickly, I determined that he was plastered. A call from our babysitter confirmed it--and the situation was much worse than I had feared. His behavior had been way out of line on all fronts.

I was livid. Here's the history behind my outrage that day:

A year and a half ago, when Styopa and Liudmila were about to move back to Ukraine, they had stayed with us for a few weeks. One afternoon I had come home to find Natalia missing and Styopa passed out on our couch. I was TERRIFIED about where Natalia was until I learned that Liudmila had come home and taken Natalia out; Styopa had then had vodka after they left.

We had really had it out then... They KNEW how unacceptable that was. They KNEW we didn't allow any drinking near our kids or in our home (we'll have wine with dinners, but we don't want people who care for our kids to drink--and we knew that Russian/Ukrainian men easily overdo it). They knew how much alcohol abuse had harmed people close to us--and how much it hurt us. Styopa BEGGED us for forgiveness and really seemed to get how wrong what he had done was. He ended up giving up alcohol and had been sober for a year when we visted them last summer. When he then asked to come help us over the Christmas holiday, I was glad to have him--I was going to pay someone anyway, and I knew how much the money would help them.

He really betrayed our trust by arriving at our home drunk--and by getting even drunker. The shattering of our trust was hard enough--but then came all the logistical complications:
  • I had to scramble to find a place for Katya to spend the afternoon while I was at work (couldn't exactly cancel at exam time).
  • I also needed to find someone to watch Natalia--at their house-- that night while we would be at Katya's piano recital; Chris and I wanted to be able to focus on Katya.
  • Then I had to rush home to get Katya's gown for the performance. I was afraid to go in on my own and Chris rushed to try to meet me in time; unfortunately traffic was very, very bad and I had to go by myself. I ended up waiting 45 minutes to get into our apartment because Styopa was too drunk to even open our door! Being locked out of our apartment was beyond the pale! He had bolted it from inside and there was nothing I could do. I had to pound on the door so loudly that our whole building heard--and drawing such attention to oneself is NOT good. He eventually crawled to the door, I ran in to grab the dress, and ran out again--just barely making it to the school in time.
  • Chris, Katya and I had to then go pick up Natalia from our friend's home after the recital, spending over an hour in traffic... an hour we didn't have.
  • We decided to go out to dinner, keeping the kids up as late as possible so they would fall asleep immediately upon our return home. We didn't want them to interact with Styopa at all. Our plan worked, but it was a long night. Styopa was passed-out on our living room couch and oblivious to anything.
  • Chris and I slept with the kids to make sure they were safe during the night. In the morning, we hurriedly got them ready for school as silently as possible. We didn't want Styopa to wake up while they were home.
  • As soon as kids were gone, we got ourselves ready for the day. Chris then went in to wake up Styopa, telling him it was time to get up and that we all needed to leave together. Styopa was still so drunk that he came into the bathroom and started to use the toilet while I was at the sink and mirror putting on my makeup!
  • We tried to make sure that we had all of his belongings and packed up food and beverages for him. We all went to the car, Styopa still staggering, and we drove to the train station where he had arrived the morning before. Chris then handed him the money for his train fare, plus another $150, and told him that he needed to "go home." Styopa did not understand; he kept repeating that his home was our home. That he wasn't leaving; that he was going back to our place. He was really desperate. Chris explained that that just wasn't possible and that he should take the train leaving in four hours back to Kiev. After twenty minutes, Styopa finally picked up his bag and started to walk away. We had purposely parked next to a cop (first time we were glad to see one) and he remarked that Styopa wouldn't likely make it home... We didn't know, but we couldn't keep him in our home. We couldn't endanger our kids to help him!
  • We also couldn't have him in our home after the damage he had just done to it. He peed all over our nicest piece of furniture--our Natuzzi leather couch that had been Chris's gift to me when I was pregnant with Katya. That couch has moved all over with us and we love it. Now we can't stand to sit on it. You just can't remove some damage... A couch will cost us at least $1,600--and a similiar Natuzzi one would be at least $3,000! Styopa had also made huge messes in our bathroom and kitchen. We couldn't trust our belongings or cats to him, either.
  • Chris then rushed back to our apartment to make sure that Styopa hadn't returned there; we had no way of knowing if he had a copy of the key from when they used to work for us. We knew that losing us would be a harsh blow to him; we have been his only financial back-up as he struggles with poverty in Ukraine. His marriage was dissolving and he would be horrified to lose the relationship with our girls, too. We didn't know he would react when that desperate. We just couldn't have him back in the apartment without us there.
  • When Chris got back, the apartment was locked from within--and Chris panicked. He rang the bell over and over and over, banged on the door, tried calling our number and Styopa's--but to no avail. He ended up entering the building from another entrance to gain access to hall that has a window a floor above us that looks out diagonally onto our balcony. He actually jumped to our balcony from the seventh floor. Afraid of being caught on the balcony by Styopa, he had to get into the kitchen fast--and the only way to do so was to break through two layers of glass on the doors. There was glass EVERYWHERE in our kitchen and Chris got quite cut up.
  • Once inside, however, there was no sign of Styopa--our lock chamber had actually sunk inside the front door (perhaps because of my 45 minutes of pounding on it the day before) and was jammed. I rushed home to care for Chris and help. The rest of the day was a mad scramble to get all of the locks and glass replaced before our departure the next day. We had to get medical attention for Chris's hand (luckily there was no major damage other than the cuts). We had to arrange more emergency babysitting for both girls elsewhere. We had to get all that glass cleaned up. I had to find someone else to care for our cats starting the next day. Oh, and I had to pack. (I had planned on having the time to thoroughly clean out our stuff before leaving--so there would be space for the things we would bring back from the USA--but that sure didn't happen. That's partly why I had no time to blog once we got back here in January--I had to do all that sorting that had never been done before I could unpack).
  • Chris ended up missing that entire day of work--and the last day before leaving the country on vacation is always a very, very important day to be in the office! There's sooo much that needs to be done!
  • Through all of this, we had to figure out how to talk to the girls. They're old enough that they knew something was seriously wrong. They had also been eagerly anticipating Styopa's visit--and when Talia had seen him, he was too drunk to even talk to her coherently. He really hurt them emotionally, let them down.

Styopa called the next day to say he was back in Ukraine and "sorry about how things had worked out." That didn't even BEGIN to cover what had happened! I told him I couldn't talk about it, that I was glad he was home, but that he had really destroyed our trust and then I hung up.

He tried to reach me at my mom's over the holidays, but we were in Colorado at the time.

And then he called me on my mobile on Valentines's Day.

I tend to give people chance after chance after chance... I'm trusting to a fault. But the mother bear in me fiercely looks out for her cubs. And I have to respect Chris. Chris faced injury, missed work and financial hardship (the money we paid for Styopa's train tickets and some extra money, the new locks, the new glass, the medical bills, plus the cost to replace our couch) as a result of Styopa's behavior. That missed day of work also meant he had to work while in Colorado, cutting into our vacation.

As much as we still love Liudmila--and do feel for Styopa--we just don't think we can continue the relationship. She didn't warn us about his drinking before came here in December and we haven't heard from her since. The stakes are too high to try again, I think. If we lived in the same city, you could visit without having to make a larger commitment--but we can't have them come here to our home again, and we're certainly not going there.

Styopa just doesn't get it... He thinks it's all behind us, that all he needs to do is give me his explanation--but that explanation didn't include a real apology. It was all excuses that deflected responsibility, and I wouldn't get into it. He still thinks we will come visit them this summer.

This is so hard. The girls still ask for them, but I just can't keep up the relationship with them, other than to pray for the best for them... Any thoughts? (Argh, as I write this I'm upset all over again about my girls' being forced to grow up just a little faster as they see harshness in the world).


Anonymous said...

Write them off. Change your phone numbers if you need to, but cut off all contact. Why would you ever want to see these people again? They haven't offered financial restitution, or more importantly, a decent and heartfelt apology.

As for your daughters, they are old enough to know the truth, that alcohol is dangerous and destructive.

Think about this: Katya will be in middle school in just four more years. You said middle school students in Russia often drink. Kids don't learn lessons overnight. If you want them to learn the dangers of alcoholism, then the time to teach is now.

Tami said...

I'm so sorry this happened. It's hard to lose someone you care about. As a responsible parents, you're right, prayer is all you can offer. What a stark reminder about the evils of alcoholism.

Muddy said...

Im sorry you had to go through that. I am sure that it was very hard for you and your family. The main thing that comes to mind is that you have done right. Your first responsibility there is to your family and to keeping your children as safe as you are able to. (even if this means severing ties with a couple of people that have meant a great deal to you over there in the past) Your children may not totally understand, but they need you and your protection and you've seen fit to do this. You may find ways to explain just enough to them for them to understand just enough to not question more right now. You dont have to give them the whole explaination....but you might find a way to talk to them about why you cannot see this couple again. Add to that all the love that you have for them and lots of prayers (to which I'll add mine) and God will work this out for your family. Thank you for sharing.God bless, and take good care.

MoscowMom said...

Thanks for the comments. As for talking to the kids about alcoholism, we definitely did--have been--and will continue to. The girls were understanding beyond their years...

Katya said...

Oh, T. That sounds so tough!

Annie said...

Well; I think "anonymous" is a little harsh. But clearly you cannot ever have the same relationship and that probably hurts more than anything. Reading this whole story (and visiting your story of your trip to see them in their village) gave me remarkable insights to the life that my children have come from - particularly Nastya and Ilya, whose mother was an alcoholic. It is heartbreaking. Inside Styopa is a good person, the person you knew, the person the girls loved...just like my little Nastya both loves her bio mom, and is disgusted by her. Talk about "demon rum". There's something to it.

Nataliya said...

How sad. I agree with your decision - even though it's hard to severe all the ties with him, it needs to be done...