Thursday, 27 August 2009

But are they HAPPY?

Contemplating a 'big' move is always a tricky thing to do, not least because you fret and worry about how it's going to affect your children. Will they cope? Will they make friends? Will they be ignored in the playground? How will they cope with an entirely different curriculum / bedroom / language? What it really comes down to though, what you worry about most, is will they be happy?

I know that some of our friends think we're crazy, moving to Moscow with the children. And as some of them live there already, I suppose they should know what they're talking about. I have to admit that there are times when I whole-heartedly agree with them, especially when I contemplate Russia's freezing winter temperatures and the fact that if the thermometer dips below around 11 deg C my fingers can go white and numb because I have such poor circulation. This makes the prosect of -25 degC rather daunting, and I expect that you'll be able to spot me at school drop-off time in January because I'll be the one wearing the comedy gloves the size of a small country in an attempt to keep my fingers moving. (I'm not proud when it comes to staying warm...)

Despite things like this, however, I have to say that I'm starting to feel a sneaking sense of excitement at the prospect of our adventure. Last week's trip has added to that rather than diminished it in any way. Admittedly, there was the minor irritation that whilst the UK baked in up to 30 degC sunshine last week we were shivering in our inadequate summer togs in a grey-skied and chilly 13 degC, which doesn't fill me with confidence about the afore-mentioned finger situation, but overall it was great to be together as a family and see my Boys reacting so well to the numerous new situations we put them in.

I think though that what really made me feel more comfortable with this choice was the way that the locals reacted to our children. Russians are not, on the whole, the most accomodating of people. Oh, they're warm and open when you get to know them, certainly, but don't get in their way if they're in a hurry, and don't expect strangers to go out of their way to assist you. The 'service culture' - as we understand the term, any way - is not so... widespread in Moscow. I mean, obviously they'll club a fish to death for you to stop the bag rustling as you pay for your shopping in the supermarket, but opening doors, offering helpful information, or telling the full story about how to validate your visa in a way that will ensure you don't waste hours trekking about the city in a fruitless exercise that ends up with a heated debate with your significant other in a deserted carpark somewhere, are not their strong points.

So my jaw practically hit the floor as I witnessed unprompted acts of kindness towards our children every single day we were there. Never mind that I had palpitations every time an eldery lady pressed sweets into the Boys' hands (I don't yet know how to check an ingredients list for the words 'contains nuts' in Russian, you see), the fact remains that these ladies clearly didn't have too many of those sweets left for themselves.

And whilst in London, if a small child has a seat to themselves on the tube, they are expected to get up and offer it to an older person if necessary, in Moscow the reverse is true. I don't think my sons had to stand on a single tube journey in the week we were over there. There are clear practical reasons for this altruism, admittedly. The Moscow Metro, whilst a thing of great splendour, incredibly long escalators, wonderful art-deco and communist decoration, and a punctuality that would make Boris Johnson weep (there is never more than 1 minute 30 seconds between trains, except on a Sunday, when you might have to wait 2 minutes 30 if you're very unlucky), is also a bit of a speed demon. It's hard enough to hold on effectively if you're an adult, but if you're 3 years old then standing up can get quite... exciting. Best not to try it unless you want your child to turn into a human pinball, but still, the good citizens of Moscow didn't have to think about our Boys' welfare in the way that they so generously did.

Of course, I still have concerns about whether my children will be happy in Moscow. But, luckily for us, it appears that they are in fact very cheap dates. Their initial feedback to our (OK, my) unsubtle questions about what they thought about the city has been that anywhere they get given Macdonalds for dinner the first night they arrive (bad mother, PM), handed sweets out of blue (even if the treats do get vetted by their bodyguard mother before they're allowed to eat them), and where they get to sit down in pasha-like splendour whilst the grown-ups have to stand, is OK with them...


  1. I think you're amazingly brave. And please do keep blogging, because I'm sure you'll have very interesting stories once you move.

  2. Children are remarkably adaptable, especially when they're young. They'll be chattering away in Russian before you know it and will probably have a ball.

    We moved to Spain for a year when I was 10 and it was a fantastic experience for me. I was sad to say goodbye to my friends and my cat, but it was such an exciting thing to do, all that disappeared the minute we got on the coach (yes, we travelled 36 hours on a coach to get there!). I was fluent (at least in the things children talk about), within a few months, and loved exploring the city with my parents and making new friends.

    I would not have too many qualms about doing something similar, especially when the children are young enough to adapt - once they're teenagers, I think it probably gets a lot harder - and am actually a little jealous. (Though I think I would also be having qualms about the cold!)

  3. Martha Washington (wife of George) said:

    The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not our circumstances.

    So will they be happy? Maybe Moscow doesn't have a lot to do with it (though please don't think I'm dismissing your concerns...)

  4. I am sure they will be happy. When they are that young, I don't think they see it as a huge change, because everything that happens in life is pretty new to them. The Littleboys are aware that we have moved country, but don't seem to mind that we have left everything familiar behind.

    Obviously it's harder for us mothers, because we don't, unlike the husbands, have work out there to get us into the culture straight away. But I am sure you will be fine - once you have invested in some thermal underwear and ski gloves.....

  5. Potty, are you actually off then? I think I've missed something in my dazed state. Wow! How exciting and WHAT an adventure.

    It will be fabulous and the boys will remember it with relish when they are older, I'm sure. As long as they are with you both, they will be fine.

    Invest in A LOT of cashmere.

    BM x

  6. SOrry Potty, been out of circulation in the UK for the summer, but exciting news. Do it do it do it. I'v eexperienced every emotion doin g this but at the end of the day it IS an adventure & much as I hate to admit it,my husband was right, that it is a great experience (in hind sight ha!) & certainly exciting & interesting. As for you rboys. At their age home is wherever you are & that will be their security. And living in another culture makes children amazingly adaptable, tolerant & flexible. All th every best anyway!

  7. I think they are going to be fine, as are you.

    You are going to keep blogging aren't you? Do they have service in Moscow? We can't go without you, you know. We have to know how you, the Hubby and the boys are doing!

  8. Mwa, don't worry, I'll certainly keep blogging - have to stay sane somehow!

    Thanks Tasha, and I'm sure you're right, before long the Boys will be able to chat to each other in yet another language I can't understand!

    Iota, don't worry, wasn't thinking that at all, and Martha Washington was clearly a very wise woman.

    NVG, absolutely on the thermal underwear. Damart here I come. Or can you suggest anywhere else? (Since, as I understand it, NYC is not exactly tropical in winter?)

    BM, there you are. Fabulous advice, which I shall print off and wave at my husband when I come home with ridiculous purchases from Brora and Marilyn Moore.

    Thanks Paradise, and it looks like we are doing it. (Gulp) Although I think our culture shock will be less than yours; you've made a much bigger leap than we're contemplating.

  9. Lisa, yes don't worry, we'll have internet so I'll still be wittering away and complaining about the supermarket / the gym / the traffic / etc. (Are you sure that's what you wanted to hear?)

  10. A move to eastern Europe with 2 small boys. Hmmm. For once this is something I feel qualified to write about, rather than the normal codswallop that I dish out.

    There'll be good times, there'll be bad times, there'll be great times, there'll be desolate times. There'll be times when you wish the whole of the Russian nation could just go and drown itself in Vodka and times when you can't imagine how England got it so wrong and why isn't it more like Russia in every way.

    For all the ups and downs, one year into our Eastern European adventure we wouldn't have not done it for anything. The boys have certainly found it difficult at times (the first few months in a non-English speaking nursery being one) but ultimately they don't really notice that much. When we went back to the UK in May nothing had changed, they slotted straight back in with their old friends, didn't even seem to notice the difference in country. This is the age to take them, after all if your play involves running around at high speed pretending to be Ben 10 and shouting at the top of your voice, it doesn't really matter what
    language you are doing it in.

    Like Nappy Valley Girl says, it is probably going to be you who notices the difference the most. However, it does sound as if you already know quite a few people there, so that is a huge start.

    What an adventure! Do it with style in cashmere. x

    PS. People always say kids will pick up the language in no time. Our experience is that this isn't necessarily true, our two being a long way from being able to speak Bosnian despite being the only English speaking children in nursery, but that doesn't seem to matter all that much to them really.

  11. You'll be fine. And I'm looking forward to your contribution to expatmumsblog!

  12. How exciting...what an experience you will all have. I'm sure the children will be fine.

  13. I admire your courage and energy. I'm sure you will make it work.

  14. Good luck with th move. I'm sure it will be fine. Kids are so adaptable.

    And hey, you can be totally non PC and get f u r s !!!

    PS Have you checked out the available chocolate supplies?

  15. Thanks Brit, great advice an information. And are you trying to tell me that Ben 10 is in Eastern Europe too? Blast it.

    Thames, well, obviously!

    Thanks CM!

    HMHB, thankyou. Although not sure that my energy levels will hold out for long without plentiful supplies of G&B...

    Sharon, plenty of chocolate, yes. But plenty of good chocolate? Not so sure and I haven't had the nerve to find out as it might weaken my resolve if I don't get the answer I want!

  16. They sound like my boys, as long as they have an assurance that the new place they are going has a McDonalds they can cope with just about anything.

  17. Moscow is clearly the place to be.... Our friends (with a 2 and a half year old boy and 9ish month girl) have literally just moved out there. What's going on?!

  18. Mummy McT, scary, isn't it, the hold these places have on our kids? Or is that actually comforting - that they will almost always be able to find a constant, even if it is based on a love of rubbish toys and fries?

    BwB, good question. I think a realisation that they do need western input to supplement Russian business, after refusing it for a few years. Oh, and people (like my husband) seeing opportunity...


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