Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gymnastika


The highlight of the past week in Colorado were the lessons the girls took at Gymnastika, a wonderful gym in Arvada. I can't say enough about how welcoming the coaches and families were, happily including my daughters and nieces for a week of classes. Sasha Artemev, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, trained there with Alexei Kudria, the Russian-born coach. We also met Valerii, the new coach from Belorussia.


It's such a pity that the girls can't continue with gymnastics like this back in Moscow... You can't just "take a class" to experiment with a new sport there, "trying it out" for the sheer pleasure of it. You either pursue a sport with the intent of becoming a world-class expert, or you don't do it all. You have to begin at around age four, and you're "counseled out" by age seven when it's clear whether or not you have what it takes. Katya was politely removed from figure skating classes after only four sessions when she was just five...

As a result, there's not much I can do for either of the girls when it comes to sports now, other than to encourage they participate in their after-school clubs and in the kids' classes or private lessons at our family gym (where there aren't that many kids, so it's not as much fun as a classes would be in the USA).

There is a very active soccer and basketball league for expat kids that meets on Saturdays up at the Anglo American School, but it's not something we have done for a variety of reasons... With working full-time, I'm too worn out to force the girls to get up early on a Saturday--and to then spend a chunk of the day in the cold. I have to grocery shop on Saturday mornings since I can't do it at any other time... If Katya really, really wanted to do it, I would find a way to make it happen—but her enthusiasm has been lukewarm because she herself is so tired after a long week of school...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thank You!

Tomorrow morning I'll reply to many of your comments from today. Thank you so very much! So many of you offered me such kind ideas and were so supportive right when I needed it. I'm so glad I decided to blog at a time I normally would never have gone online...

Right now, though, I need to go to sleep.

It has been a really long day...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Dark Side of Being an Expat

I often feel really torn. I know that most of my readers are "Rah! Rah! Russia!" people, back in the USA, or they're people considering moving to Russia—or still getting used to living there.

And I know that my parents and in-laws are reading, just waiting for bait they can use in their on-going campaign to get us to *finally* move back to the USA.

So I inevitably censure myself, trying to focus on the positive.

Then again, I also have readers who are expats well into their time living abroad... And if I limit myself to the upside of living overseas, they may very well sometimes feel that they're the only people having a hard time of it.

They're not.

I cried myself to sleep last night. I feel so utterly alone and tired.

My kids are old enough that they realize that they're getting a Russian childhood INSTEAD of an American one. There have been repeated instances this summer where they have "Ah hah!" moments and then take it out on me.

I actually have black and blue bruises on my right side from when Natalia hit and kicked me this week, completely losing control in her frustration (and sleep depravation).

And I'm alone in it. Because my husband is working, BACK IN RUSSIA. He doesn't have enough vacation time to be with us while we visit all grandparents... While I try to think of everything we'll need for the year—and then purchase and pack it, taking into consideration how the airlines have halved our baggage allowances.

And when we get back to Russia? Well, everyone at work will think, "Wow! You had a vacation all summer long in America! So now you can DIG IN!"

In actuality, I get back to Moscow utterly drained. It's not a vacation staying all summer in other people's houses, invading their space, trying to follow their rules, planning for your year's needs, and tending to your kids. NOT A PICNIC. NOT AT ALL. And I'm trying to actually work during all this, since I need to do ALL planning for the literature and history seminars I'm teaching for our seniors, procuring all necessary materials.

And I'M STILL SICK. STILL HAVE STREP THROAT, SINCE THE BEGINNING OF JUNE. I went to a clinic today, desperate for help. And they didn't know what to do, didn't want to give me antibiotics since I've had three unsuccessful courses in the past six weeks... My lab results come back in two days; we'll figure out what to do then...

I'm SPENT.

In reality, the only break I've had in over three years were the few days we had in Greece in June. That's it.

And last week I learned that we've lost our beloved babysitter/housecleaner in Moscow who makes it possible for me to work full time. Her mother is ill and she had to move home to care for her.

Then when I got to my in-laws' last night, I learned that my sister-in-law's three kids are here for more than half of our time here. And she'll be on an emergency business trip, leaving me and my exhausted and stressed-out in-laws with her children—including a ten-month-old who has never slept in a crib. I can't really fault her; her husband was laid off when she was a month pregnant with the baby and he still hasn't been able to find anything! He's a great guy, and this has been so hard on them all...

I want to leave, though. I can't get more worn down. No one will take care of me, and I have to get my family back to Moscow, and commence another grueling year at work. I wish I could escape to a resort with childcare (not like I've ever really been to one elsewhere, but I know people who have!). But those don't exist in the USA. I can't go visit friends, since I'm contagious. And I'm too tired to fly back to Russia yet, and I haven't finished our necessary packing. And my husband? Considering that I'm staying with my in-laws? His passport and visa were stolen, so he can't come. Maybe he'll get a replacement in time. Maybe not. And why was it stolen? Because he most likely left them in his briefcase in our car, unlocked--an understandable oversight, given that it's around 11o degrees Fahrenheit in our apartment (with no modern windows that open, and no air-conditioning... gotta love Moscow... it's super hot "chez nous" ALL year round... ) and he had driven to the fourth store praying to find an air conditioner or more fans...

So I'm stuck. Five kids means more stress. More mess. More planning at meals, more laundry. More responsibility.

I'm feeling really, really nasty because I'm not joyfully jumping to pitch in and care for my nieces and nephew, and because I'm SICK, and also sick of the whole "expat summer."

I'm Scrooge. Sick Scrooge.

I just feel like crying. In America, but not where I am right now...

p.s. I TRIED and TRIED to figure out day camp options today, but everything my kids would be interested in is filled. It's not fair for me to punish them with "day care" options... THEY never chose to be expat kids with this lifestyle... They can be bitter enough as it is!

We have two girls from church coming to babysit during the day for the next few days--but they can't just stay in the house, since my mother-in-law teaches lessons here. Only three kids can fit in a car, so I can't take them all somewhere; and the sitters don't drive. So some kids will stay here, others can come with me. But that still means I have to be active, not just sleeping on the couch while my kids quietly read/play/ watch TV. My kids would actually do that if it were just them, but not when you add three more kids into the mix...

I can't just leave Colorado since Katya can't see her doctor for the next year's supply of Ritalin for her ADD until *next* Friday (he's on vacation this week). UGH, UGH, UGH!

And this Friday the girls have their dental/ortho intake appointments rescheduled since we missed them on Tuesday—when we missed our original appointments because we missed our connecting flight Monday night (but got to visit my best friend from college for the night while stranded in Atlanta! Yay! There has to be *some* upside to this tale of woe!).

READ THE COMMENTS TO SEE MY RESPONSE TO A COMMENT CRITICIZING ME FOR MY LACK OF PARENTING SKILLS. IN MY RESPONSE, I ADDRESS HOW EXPAT CHILDREN CAN FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS WHEN THEY HAVE MEDICAL/BEHAVIORAL NEEDS, AND HOW I'VE DONE THE BEST I CAN FOR MY GIRLS.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Spy-burbia


Was everyone as surprised as I was to learn this week about the ring of deep undercover Russian spies in America?

I'm not surprised, per se, that our countries are still spying on each other. Of course we are. But to have that fake married couple imbedded in NJ? Yes, the mother's job as a financial analyst in NYC did put her in a position to interact with important people—but... I just can't grasp the EFFORT of concocting those false backgrounds and building a family life in Montclair!

I keep trying to imagine what life was like for them, pretending to be people they weren't, hiding the fact that they were Russian... How on Earth do you DO that? Where did they get their English training? It's one thing to "pass" here or there—it's quite another to make close suburban friends and not end up giving yourself away by tiny syntactical or pop cultural errors!

More than anything, though, I keep thinking about their two daughters! A friend of mine from when we lived in Brooklyn is now living in Montclair, and their older daughters go to the same school and are in the same grade... She, and I'm sure parents all over, are worrying about what has happened in the past few days—and what will happen—to those poor children?

In order to maintain the parents' cover (are they actually the parents, and are they married—it's being alleged that they might not be), these girls have probably been told lies their whole lives about their family's background. Do they have any idea who their grandparents are? Do they have any idea what/where Russia even is? It would probably have been too dangerous for them to know anything about Russia, given that the mother was trying to pass off her accent as Belgian...

Where will these girls live now? With whom?

What a sad, sad mess.

I also keep thinking of all the other kids in their classes, of all the parents who are pretty much flabbergasted in the town...

Almost any information they could have garnered about American life in Montclair, they could also have found on the internet... Yes, the internet didn't exist as it does now back in the early '90s when this spy operation was begun—but it's hard to believe that no one had second thoughts about continuing the operation in light of how the internet has evolved!

It reminds me of the summer of 2007, when we lost Natalia's American speech therapist in Moscow (she and her diplomat husband were kicked out for life) in the aftermath of the murder of the ex-KGB spy by Polonium in London... Stories like this are for thriller novels, for movies...

Perfectly Panera


Natalia wanted me to post her favorite thing to do once we get to America... Have lunch at Panera! She LOVES it there, so much so that she even told the manager—who then gave the girls a bag of YUMMY chocolate chip cookies as a "welcome back" present!