Friday, April 25, 2008

Four Years of Babyccinos

(Katya & Natalia ordering their own babyccinos in March '05)

After writing about my favorite gadget, the wand that steams milk at home so you can make your own "coffee house" drinks, I decided to do a post about the babyccino (pronounced "baby-chino"). Like my coffee grinder (see yesterday's post), sometimes a little kids' drink also symbolizes so much more than a what it appears to be.

When we first moved here, there was only one place within walking distance of our apartment that sold coffee--and it was terribly expensive, not very good, not very child-friendly (TONS of smoke inside), and at the top of many stairs (hard to navigate with a stroller). Those first months were excruciatingly hard for me.

When our local McDonald's opened a McCafé after our fourth month here, it was a life-changing event for me. It meant that I could take my kids with me to get a much-needed break from time to time. It meant that I could actually afford to get coffees there. It meant that I could get a latte "to go" and sip it at the park--pretending I was still in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It meant that I could escape to the cafe on my own from time to time, just sitting still and reading for a while. Can you really imagine not having a single place you could you go to for a quick coffee and the paper? Make that, ANY PLACE you could go and sit down? Or use a public bathroom? It really didn't exist here yet, making this city seem light years away from the culture to which I was accustomed.

Now, of course, all that has changed... There are cafes all over the city, with four now in my neighborhood (no Starbucks, though). Of them all, McCafé is the only one where there's no smoking allowed--and their prices are still the best by far. Here's a menu of their offerings; I figured that those of you trying to read Russian would enjoy some practice deciphering it! (You can click on the picture to enlarge it).

Here's the "babyccino" up close.

In any case, the McCafé was a huge comfort to me. I discovered the children's drink after a few trips there and didn't mind spending 20 rubles (about 67 cents) to treat the girls. The drink now costs 35 rubles ($1.49) and is still a favorite. We don't go there very often, so the novelty has never worn off. Even so, everyone at our local café knows us... Those who have been there since we moved here remember quite well the girls' glee as they slowly learned Russian and began to place their own orders. Two baristas in particular used to fight over who got to take Katya's order... and they always made her feel like a million bucks (make that rubles).

On January 16, 2005 (I know the date because of my ofoto link), we reached a big milestone in living here. Katya ordered her own babyccino, doing all the speaking in Russian without any help from me. She was EXTREMELY proud of herself. From that point on, Katya always insisted on ordering her own drinks--and drinks for us, her sister and anyone who happened to be with us:

"Можно, пожалуйста, два бейбичина? И гранд латте для Мамы?" ("Mozhna, pozhaluista, dva babychina? Ee grand latte dlya Mamii?")

She was so gosh-darn pleased with herself that sometimes she ordered seconds... and thirds... and we let her, so glad that she was gaining confidence speaking Russian. She proudly clung to her own "frequent coffee" card, collecting punches and redeeming her free drinks. I did the sweetest page in our scrapbook, including her card with all the cup-shaped punches...

A few weekends ago, the day I posted about spending our first real spring day at the park, we went to a McCafé and had our "usual." This time we reached another milestone... NATALIA did the ordering. She could have done it a long time ago, but always felt too shy. She was also quite proud to handle the money.

That particular day felt so odd--yet good. While we each sat sipping our drinks, it was silent. We were all absorbed in reading the magazines we just picked up at a nearby kiosk. The girls seemed so grown up! Just look at Natalia! She was brushing up on her Barbie stories. She can't really read in Russian, but she had fun trying. She'll easily pick it up next year in school.

Katya had chosen a chess magazine featuring moves from "Harry Potter;" remember the "real-live" wizard chess game at the end of the first book? Well, they're selling chess pieces from that scene in the magazine and Katya was elated. She loves chess and is part of the chess club at school. Heaven forbid I try to pick her up early on a Friday, cutting into her chess time!

Before I go, here are some pictures of babyccinos we have shared with others... Recognize yourselves? We miss you!


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

but now they are 35 rubles?!? wow, that is crazy......

miss you!

Anonymous said...

Em looks so little! We also have very fond memories of babychino's with you guys, it is a highlight of living in Moscow for Em (us too!), that and playing dress up at your apartment ;)

miss you!

Tina in CT said...

Thanks - Mom

Nataliya said...

I can imagine how proud your girls were when they ordered in Russian for the first time. I remember how proud and happy I was when I ordered for the first time in English. It's a huge milestone! What a great opportunity for Katya and Natalia to be bilingual! Do they correct your Russian pronunciation? My daughter corrects me all the time when I speak English :)

The prices in this McCafe sound reasonable. I've never tried babycchinos, but I bet they are very yummy!

Rachael said...

Ah, happy memories of sharing babyccinos with you!

Texasholly said...

I love this story. I would have to say that I would learn another language to get a good cup of coffee. My boys love getting a treat in the form of their own mini-drink when mommy indulges. It is a treat for all of us. So cute!!! I am a little jealous of your McDonalds. I wish we had something as cool as that. We keep hearing that they are going to add coffee shops to the nicer stores, but we still are yet to see it. by the way, the girls are adorable.

Garnet said...

I'm really envious of your opportunity to get out and go to a place like this. Not that I'm a big any kind of drink drinker -- one of my disappointments in life is that no matter how I try, I just *cannot* like coffee -- the taste, or the smell. (And with my mother-in-law here I'm having to endure it every morning. My husband had also just bought himself a French press so he could make it but after a few cups he concluded he didn't really like coffee as much as he'd hoped he did.)

But still, to go somewhere like this and sit and relax . . . how wonderful. We are always rushed, rushed, rushed in town.

Annie said...

Oh, my goodness! Ilya and I had such a nice time at the Arbat McDonalds! I hesitated so long going in there because the last thing I wanted was to do something American in Moscow, but...I did want to see what it was like. And it was SO MUCH better than what I know from US experience! The coffee shop was lovely and we spent nearly every morning for a week there, just Ilya and me, because Craig was back in the apartment sick. It was nice, though. Peaceful and relaxing. And the people watching was the best I've ever experienced.