Give me a child until the age of seven, and I will show you the man.
~Attributed to Francis Xaviar, co-founder of the Jesuit Movement
September 27th celebrates the teachers and employees of Russia’s nursery schools. This is a fairly recent addition to the profpraznik line up, but I think certainly deserves to be as important as The Day of Knowledge and Teachers’ Day, since it takes a special kind of talent and patience to work with very little children, especially from September to June, when Russian children have to be wrapped up in four to six layers of undershirts, sweaters, tights, trousers, snow pants, parkas, hats, neck warmers, boots, mittens and so on. Just try to take your kid to the bus stop on a mild April morning with one button undone, or hat askew -- you will be instantly attacked by a cadre of old ladies, all of them of total strangers, who will rake you over the coals in the vilest terms for exposing your unhappy offspring to imminent death.
Russia is a great place to bring up the under fives. If you are working in the formal economy, you can employ a Nanny, who could be anything from a trained nurse, to a nuclear scientist, without taking out a second mortgage on your home. She will consider it an inherent part of her job to potty train your child at 16 months, teach them the poetry of Alexander Pushkin at 2, and some interesting table manners which will later prove difficult to retrain. In most Russian families, the primary caregiver is a grandparent, who wheels the pram out for the two mandatory walks in the -30° degree temperatures, produces borscht 24/7, and has the advantage of being free. Grandparents, however, feel very free to tell the parents, nanny, and anyone else who listen, exactly what is wrong with their parenting or nannying styles. That’s why it may come as something of a relief for parents to wrench their 3-year old from the grandparental stranglehold, and deposit them with the nursery school crowd, for the next stage of early childhood development. This, according to some Russian officialspeak includes “learning the secrets of the world around them, and to love and protect their Motherland.”
This is how Russian children get brought up, and if I’m honest, they are, on the whole, very well brought up indeed. When it is “Parents’ Hour” Russian kids know how to, as my late Uncle Stephen used to say, “bust off.” You don't get those epic melt downs every five minutes, which force all of the adults to down martinis and enter into complex multi-lateral negotiations on “time outs.” There is not, according to my friend Tatianna (who admittedly may not be working with all the data available for the Russian Federation), “any of that American Asperger Syndrome thing,” which means there are no four year olds off their meds.
The contrast between Russian parenting and parenting in the US was brought home to me recently at a party I attended in Northampton. I was over the moon to be invited – it was by way of being the Pioneer Valley version of lunch at Windsor Castle with HM during Ascot Week. I thought it would be a great way to meet people, which it was.
The Pioneer Valley is, of course, a parenting Shangri-La. This is where you come if you want to be a hardcore breast-feeder until your child is old enough to go to the Middle School (which in Northampton is the weak link in the public school chain, so many parents just keep on nursing right through 8th grade). This is where you will feel comfortable if your family consists of two dads, two moms, a single mom, single dad, and all imaginable combinations of children who are biological, adopted, or products of maxing the genetic technology. No one looks at you askance if you are one nationality, and your spouse is another, and if you choose to speak different languages at one another. It is a great place, I thought wistfully, to bring up a bi-cultural toddler. There might not be instruction on loving and protecting the Motherland (although almost all the kids had faded Obama ’08 T-shirts), but you can bike to school, learn Chinese, take a baby yoga class, and march in the Annual “Pride” parade. I felt I’d sort of missed the boat as a Pioneer Mom.
And then I caught a whiff of Pioneer Parenting: a woman I knew vaguely was trying to have a conversation with a friend over the quinoa salad. She was dressed exactly as if she was on a Central Casting open audition for liberal Pioneer Valley 40-somethings: pre-Raphaelite hair with a touch of grey, no make-up, wire rimmed specs, dressed in clothes, which suggested she had either just come from, or was on her way to, a yoga class. A six year-old boy tugged fiercely at the end of her asymmetrical JJill tunic,
“Mom,” he whined, pawing her leg, “I want something to eat…”
“Hey buddy,” said his mother, immediately interrupting her conversation with her fellow grown up, "what can I get for you? How would you like…some of this kale salad?”
“A hot dog,” screamed the kid.
“Ethan,” (not his real name) said his mother, adroitly sidestepping what would have become a direct kick to her shins. She bravely maintained her mellow singsong lilt, “I’d prefer you not have another hot dog, you’ve had three already…how about this lentil casserole?”
“I WANNA HOT DOG!” screamed the unhappy Ethan, kicked his mother squre in the shins, then opened his mouth and sunk his teeth into the soft skin between her thumb and index finger. I looked around the party, thinking surely someone would intervene. No one batted an eyelid. I looked back to the mother, who was gently removing her hand from the kid’s mouth.
“Ethan,” she said calmly, still in that unbelievable calm, dulcet lilt, “now we’ve talked about this before. I'm asking you to listen. Please, stop biting me.”
On second thought, Moscow wasn’t the worst place to parent. Not bad at all…
Happy Day of the Nursery School Teachers and Employees!
This post is part of The Stunt.
Hey there readers:
What is your take on parenting these days where you are? Do you think kids should learn the word “no” before they go off to college, or is that just last century fascism parenting? Does your kid wear scarves in July? Hit the comment button and let me know!
Here are few more posts related to the “parenting” gig: