The girls and I are plugging along in our Russian lessons. Our long-suffering Russian teacher (Why didn’t you study the words I assigned you last time? You’re not going to learn these words if you don’t study them! [Well, we will eventually learn them, but probably not as quickly]) continues to show up three times a week and we continue to dutifully learn what Russian she has to offer.
But still, there’s not been that much progress. Because really, as I’ve said before, Russian is not very high on our priority list. Which I’m okay with, because I generally need Russian to: 1. Communicate with my housekeeper. Since she does such a good job, usually we don’t say much beyond “Good morning,” and “Goodbye.” Those are the best kinds of housekeepers. 2. Communicate with my gardener. This one is a little trickier. I was very proud at being able to tell her to go buy more tulips. There was a lot of gesturing, but I did use Russian for ‘buy’ and ‘money.’ So it counts. 3. Tell people at my door to go away and I don’t speak Russian. Not that they listen, but at least I can know that it’s in a language they might understand.
So, Russian. It’s not that necessary if you’re a house-bound homeschooling stay-at-home-mom who has a bevy of people who do set tasks for you and a husband who speaks Russian and works for an organization that does all household maintenance for you. See, it’s really easy to live overseas!
I’ve lived this way at our other posts and it’s worked out just fine for me. I live with the children in a little American bubble that follows us around everywhere we go. People occasionally intrude to ask us if we’re British or German or to ask if those are really all my children (I love being congratulated for having a large family), but they are only brief visitors to our bubble. Then they leave and we’re back in little tiny America-land all by ourselves. For some people this is ‘missing out on cultural experiences’ but for me it’s what works.
So a few days ago we went to the ‘park.’ Whenever I say park, the children always correct me with ‘jog track.’ Park is a generous word for an old crumbling track surrounding a weedy soccer field with a handful of Soviet-era workout structures off to the side. But, it’s a place outside the children can play at, so we go.
Usually the park is either empty or host to young men playing soccer. I don’t see many ladies here taking their children to the park. I don’t know if it’s because they’re working and the children are in day care, or they’re busy at home doing what I pay my housekeeper to do, or it’s just not what women do, but I’ve maybe once seen another mom with her children at our park.
But that day there was a mom with her little girl. Our children are usually the center of gravity wherever they go because there are five of them. And when you’re one child, five children look like a pretty interesting place to be. So this little girl started playing with the children because you don’t need to speak the same language to play together.
And in the awkward way that happens at parks, the mom and I stood and looked at each other and smiled. “How cute they are,” we smiled to each other, “playing so nicely together.” Finally, after fifteen minutes of smiling, I took the first step. “Сколка лиет?” She smiled back and replied, “Пяты.”
And then I had my very first actual conversation in Russian. We discussed the ages of our children – she had another daughter, eight – who was at piano lessons. I mentioned that we lived near the music school and she said that she did too. We talked about families, how big my family was, but how much bigger my husband’s family was. I told her that yes, I chose to have all of the children and how much I loved my children. She asked when we moved her, and it turned out that she had moved to her neighborhood, in a house she was renting, about the same time we had. I told her that we had lived in Cairo and Baku and we would be staying until 2018. She said that they were moving to Russia at about the same time.
Then, after seeing Joseph and hearing him talk, she told me that her house looked on our back windows. She said that Joseph, who likes to stand in our back window and shout at all the children who play on the street, is known by everyone who lives behind us. Her sister has three sons and the middle loves to tell stories of what Joseph has been up to and what he’s been yelling out the window lately. We both laughed at the insanity of little boys.
Eventually she had to pick up her daughter from piano lessons and I had to go home to cook dinner and we parted and went back to our own lives. But for half an hour we were just two moms, watching their children play at the park and chatting about the things all women chat about.
Except, of course, it was all in Russian. Because I’m awesome.