Natalia turned 8 a week ago (on December 13th). She had been counting down the days since last January. Seriously. We all got up early so she could open presents before school. This year a huge theme in our house is PRIVACY. They kind of live under their loft beds behind their curtains... I've written about this before, but just to put it into "expat" context, neither girl can get enough of it (privacy), and it's rough sharing a room in a small apartment with one bathroom... They also can never go outside on their own, and we have no relatives on this side of the ocean where they could go for an individual visit.
Appropriately, Natalia's favorite gifts were therefore pretty locking boxes. One looks like a locker, from Katya, and Katya even had decorated it inside... She really made a gesture to be kind... They have been at each other's throats for months, so the reprieve was nice. The other box is like a pretty mini footlocker, and it was even filled with goodies from her best friend.
The big surprise? Heelies. Yeah, I know. Probably super dangerous. But given Moscow weather, where will she ever even wear them than in our apartment?? I get credit for being a cool mom without incurring much risk... She has to use a helmet. She was so, so thankful for everything and loved every bit of her day.
I already posted pics of the cake on Facebook, but here it is again. All the little figures are her favorite things, which I made out of marzipan: batons, soccer, a dog, her cat, a paint palette, ice skates, a dolphin, a plate of homemade cookies (she loves to bake with me), ice skates, a laptop, a banana, a musical note, high heels that sparkle, a top hat and rabbit (she loves to do magic tricks), and a mug of steamed vanilla milk.
For her party at school, I gave each kid a small pack of cloves and a mandarin orange so they could make pomanders. (Ever the teacher, I thought, "Hmmm... Fine motor skills...!") It made the classroom smell delicious! The kids had never heard of them before, so it was something new and fun. I love the designs they came up with—not your typical Victorian fare!
We then played Bingo, with Natalia calling the numbers. Natalia is so funny... She tells things exactly as they are, in a very deadpan way... The kids were ecstatic to play Bingo again; we did it last year, but then I made all the cards myself by drawing things. This year we used my official big metal Bingo wheel with the numbered balls inside. She actually said, "Well, I really don't like this game at all... But you all like it so much, that we're playing it again..." The other kids were like, "Uh, OK, now just CALL THE NUMBERS!"
She ended up LOVING being a leader in the game, and kept stopping to hug me and thank me for the cake and whole birthday. It was sooo worth all the draining effort! Most parents don't bake, so it really means a lot to her to have a homemade original each year. It's nice how the kids look forward to it, too... So often the girls have to play second fiddle to my grading papers, etc... It's nice to have a day when they know it's all about them and having a nice time with our family and their friends...
For favors we gave out bags with some of her favorite things: little magnet ball pairs you can do tricks with; a pack of cotton candy that turns into gum; a small Japanese eraser; and some silly bandz rubber bracelets that feature Americana items (outline of USA, eagle, Statue of Liberty, etc.).
I'll write more tomorrow about a different kind of birthday party we went to last night... We had a great time, but it was sooo different than our little home-grown shindig! Birthdays are such a big deal in Russia (HUGE! HUGE!) and they sure offer fodder for cultural comparisons!
In the meantime, the wicked stomach bug in our home continues... Yesterday was false reprieve... Charlotte, a young American teacher who has been living with us for a month while she apartment hunted, even ended up being admitted to the American hospital and put on an IV drip... Chris was equally sick, but he roughed it out here all day, I'm exhibiting symptoms, too... But I have to have our apartment ready for guests arriving Thursday, do all necessary "end of term" things for school, and get everything ready for Christmas—in addition to the non-stop laundry from everyone's illnesses... (Oh, yeah, and clean, cook, grocery shop and be "Mom," too!)
GOD BLESS a good friend who took the girls along with his own to go skating this afternoon! Natalia now feels kind of sick all over again, though... But no actual yucky activity yet, though—so knock on wood!