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...