Friday 30 November 2012

Need to raise your spirits today?

I came across this video on Facebook courtesy of Expat Mum.  I don't know what to say about it, other than that it will at the very least make you smile, and - be warned - may even bring a tear to your eye.  Technology sure can be a wonderful thing.

Happy Friday!

Thursday 29 November 2012

It's snow joke...

It's snowing.  As in, properly snowing.  This is unusual so early in the season; normally we don't see a fall this heavy until around Christmas and possibly not until January, but this year it appears Dyed Moroz (Father Frost) has come early and gone more than a little overboard with his white special effects.

At this moment in time we've gone past this morning's annoying little crystals which swirled around stinging cheeks, and moved onto the pretty, fluffy type of flake that falls picturesquely from the sky before joining zillions of others on the ground.

It looks very picture-postcard like, a good preparation for the festive season.  I should find my camera and get busy.  But you know what?

I am not impressed.

On the one hand I want to wrap up warm and never go out again, and on the other - I want to wrap up warm and never go out again.  Oh, OK.  I'll get over my temporary mood (which may, I'll concede, be more than slightly hormonal), and no doubt by next week I will have unearthed my cross country skis, re-mastered the Moscow Shuffle*, and rediscovered my usual state of very British awe at how Russia's climate refuses to be ignored, but in the meantime I am somewhat melancholy over the fact that I may not see grass again until next  Spring.

Which is - in case you're interested and before you mock my dramatics - due sometime around mid-April.

To cap it all, I will need to pick the boys up from school on foot this evening because the snow ploughs are not keeping up with the weather and the roads are not really safe to drive on, so will no doubt end up pulling the pair of them up the hill on the sledge behind me. (This was quite good fun when we arrived here 3 years ago and they were 4 & 6, but a little more challenging now they're 6 and 9).  On the plus side, however, I'm sure that by that time my inner Mummy Pollyanna will have resurfaced and I'll be making the best of it for their sakes,

It will probably sound something like this:  "What do you mean, it's cold and it's wet?  Come on!  It's snowing!  It's beautiful!"

Yes.  That should do it.

PM squares her shoulders and sets off into the blizzard** on the school run.

*the art of walking on icy uncleared pavements / sidewalks without going head over heels.
** 'Blizzard' may be a slight exaggeration, for effect...

Monday 26 November 2012

'The chicken & the egg', or 'The Day I Realised Creating Driving Law is Like Parenting'

Hallelujah! Rejoice, brothers and sisters, for this morning what is nominally 5 marked lanes where we join the highway on the journey to drop Husband at the nearest Metro station became not 6, not 7, not 8, but - count 'em - 9 lanes of tailgate to bumper traffic.  I think - I think - that is a record.  I'm used to counting Sixes and Sevens and, on occasion, Eights, but today was the first time in 3 years that I've seen a Nine.

The only silver lining was that for once Husband was driving, thank the lord.  This in itself is unusual on a weekday and has been so for most of our sojourn here.  It's not that he can't drive, or doesn't like to; more that invariably I am dropping him somewhere so it makes sense for him to be able to hop out of the passenger seat quickly.  Given, you know, the traffic (did I mention that already?) and everything...

Being driven by Husband through the morning rush hour was an interesting experience.  I wouldn't say I manage to achieve a zen-like state of calm when behind the wheel these days, but petty annoyances like a big 4x4 edging in in front of me, the truck and mini-van collided in the centre lane forcing the traffic to execute complicated balletic manouevres around it, or the predatory militsia lying in wait at the edge of the road for the unwary driver moving into the bus lane too early, all of these things are now simple facts of life for me.  You just have to suck it up if you want to sit behind the wheel in Moscow and let it all wash over you.  Put some easy-listening fm on the radio and simply get on with it.

Husband, however, has not had quite such a long apprenticeship as a rush-hour driver in this city. (Why would he, when muggins here will do it for the price of having the car all day?)  So as you can imagine, his running commentary on the state of the road was a little less relaxed that mine normally is.  It was after his rantings (and no, I don't think that is too strong a word) on the matter of yet another lane being created out of nowhere by chancing-it drivers that I suggested perhaps he didn't drive enough here.  It was also when I commented that the road system in Russia is very much a chicken and egg situation.

What did I mean by that?  Well, there are various draconian rules and regulations here such as those about not turning left, not crossing an unbroken white line unless you want a fine, not crossing an unbroken double white line on pain of death, or not overtaking on a bridge or in a tunnel (no matter that they may be 6 lanes wide).   After much study time spent in jams pondering this situation it recently occurred to me that this authoritarian approach is counter productive.  The Russian driver is, you see, famously resourceful and will find any way they can to speed their journey up.  Like, for example, the creation of additional lanes on the highway.  Or the not infrequent sight of a car reversing down the hard shoulder of a motorway because it has missed the turn-off.  Or even better, reversing back onto the motorway because it's taken too early a turn-off.  None of these things are actually illegal - unless they cause an accident, of course - so they are 'respectable' driving tactics in some people's minds.

But it seems to me that the road chaos is the result of an impasse.  It's a bit like being a parent, really; if you assume your child is untrustworthy and will behave badly unless you rule them with a rod of iron, chances are that the moment they are let off the leash, that's exactly what they'll do.  So it is with the roads in Moscow: the authorities have imposed a set of rules that assume the average driver is an idiot and unable to think for themselves.  But because the law assumes the average driver is an idiot, and that an individual is unable to make a rational decision about whether it is safe to overtake or turn left etc,  guess what some people behave like the first opportunity they get?*

* Of course this theory does not in any way take into account what is often a lower value placed on human life (widely recognised as an issue for some here) or what is currently still a high number of incidents of DUI, but it's my blog and I'll deal with those issues another time...

Friday 23 November 2012

Thursday 22 November 2012

When someone else says it all for you...

Parenting posts.  What's the point, really, when there are videos like this one that already say it all?

(Full disclosure - I happened across this on Facebook today after it was shared by @LauraAWNTYM and @CafeBebe  Thankyou ladies, for brightening a grey November day).

Tuesday 20 November 2012

A sobering realisation that living in Russia can be a bit like visiting a wedding fair...

How do you know you when you have been living in Russia too long?

Well.  If you had a white wedding, you may have visited a wedding fair during the planning process.  Remember that? Go on, you can do it; reach back into the farthest vestiges of your memory and try to recall those halcyon days pre-children when finding the perfect name cards for the table, or the exact shade of cream for your invitations was important to you.  (OK, it didn't happen to me either but I'm sure there were plenty of things that would seem insignificant to me now which at the time I got married assumed a wholly disproportionate level of importance.  But those are subjects for another post...)

Anyway, imagine yourself entering this long-ago wedding fair.  Everywhere you look there is an explosion of white tulle, glitter, fluff, dresses, flowers.  As you walk into the hall your eye is caught by a wedding dress stand, and you walk nonchalantly over, hopeful that you will find the dress of your dreams just waiting for you to discover it.  Doesn't happen, of course. In fact it SO doesn't happen that as you thank the proprietor of the stand and walk away, you have to work hard to stop your lip curling in horror at how over the top the dresses are.  "Who wears these things?" you wonder as you set off to tour the rest of the exhibition, confident that somewhere you will find something that is more 'you'.

2 or 3 hours later, exhausted, clutching a bag full of pamphlets, samples, business cards and ideas - but still with no idea of what on earth you are going to wear for your Big Day - you return to the entrance of the hall. The first stand that you visited catches your eye.  You wander over and take another look at the dresses that you so readily dismissed earlier in the day.  As the stand owner - who has seen it all before and knows that excessive exposure to wedding madness is enough to break even the most understated bride -  watches indulgently, it turns out your parameters of tasteful have moved somewhat over the last couple of hours. Actually, you think, this dress isn't so bad.  And neither is that one.  And that one - if you lost the lace train, could actually work...

So - how does this equate to living in Russia?

Today I was at a Christmas Fair.  I remember first visiting this same event a couple of years back; everything seemed so blingtastic, so unnecessarily shiny, so excessively gold, just so damned... over the top.

But on this visit, nearly 3 years into our stay here?  I actually heard myself saying to one of the vendors "Do you have something like this - but with a few more sparkles?"

To quote Jean Luc Picard*, I have assimilated.

*Star Trek, The Borg.  Tut.

Sunday 18 November 2012

#DearPR; why I don't run guest posts

These are some lines that feature in 8 out of 10 emails I write to pr agencies who have approached me regarding promotional activity on The Potty Diaries:

'... I don't run guest posts on the blog as I write all the content myself.  However I have attached a copy of my rate card so you can take a look at the other promotional opportunities that are available.'

This is what I respond when asked if a 3rd party (agency or potential client) can put their content - with no input from me - on my blog.  Why?  Well, until today, other than the fact that I have plenty of my own ideas and don't need someone else to supply them for me thankyou very much, I didn't really know.  I did wonder if I was being over protective about the blog and perhaps a little bit bloody-minded, but whatever my subconscious reasoning, it just felt like the right answer to give.  Now, however, I think I've got to the bottom of my intransigence on this matter.

Mooching about the internet this evening I came across a guest post on a blog I read often enough to have it listed on my sidebar.  I love this blog; the writer is funny and engaging and perhaps because she is at a totally different life stage to me, I really enjoy reading her take on things.  This evening, when I clicked on the link to her latest post and saw it was a 3rd party piece for a company I have used myself in the past I was interested.

But it left me cold.  It took me a couple of minutes to work out why, before I realised that when reading a blog - unlike when I'm reading a magazine - I want to hear the point of view of the owner of the blog, not to read some anodyne piece that I would be more likely to find in an ed/advertorial in a glossy or a Sunday supplement.  I mean, if I want magazine-style writing, I can reach for a magazine, right? So it was helpful to have this realisation, and in the wake of it I'll now feel more self-assured when I continue to use the lines above in the future.  And at least now, I'll understand why I write them.

But that's just my point of view.  If you have a blog, and / or enjoy reading other people's, what is yours?

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Giving your child the words

I am not qualified to write this post.

And yet, as the mother of two sons that I want to keep confident, safe, and above all happy, who is better qualified?

I visited the UK with Boy #1 last weekend.  We had a helter-skelter trip, rushing here there and everywhere, with very few moments of calm apart from some time in a hire car whilst I drove the two of us to visit friends a couple of hours out of London.

We listened to the radio, and unless you are living in splendid isolation with no connection to media of any kind, you will not be surprised to learn that in amongst the music, the news updates on every single station were mainly concerned with the recent unearthing of Jimmy Saville's activities.

This is current news - this is dreadful, awful, stomach churning, disgraceful and current news - so why shouldn't it be reported, even on Radio One?

I can't write here, or indeed anywhere, of the horror I feel on behalf of the children who suffered at the hands of those who exploited them, other than to say that I hope their stories - and their bravery in coming forward to face their persecutors - are not lost in the maelstrom of accusation and counter-accusation on how the stories have been reported.

Instead, this post is about is how I dealt with a question from the back seat of the car as we drove around the M25 on Saturday morning.

"What's 'child abuse', Mum?"

Surely a question that you hope never to hear from your child.  And yet, almost above all other questions, the one that deserves to be answered.  And answered in such a way that your child is left with a clear understanding of the boundaries, what constitutes crossing them, how it is never - NEVER - OK for that to happen, and what to do if it does.

So rather than ducking the question, changing the subject, switching the channel, we spoke about it.

I told Boy #1 that child abuse is when a grown-up treats a child in a way in which they should never be treated.  Once we had got past his obvious rejoinder of  "What, you mean when a grown-up bosses a child about and tells them what to do?" I explained how it meant an invasion of personal space (I was slightly more explicit than that but I'm not going to go into detail here since - as I've mentioned before - there are some unpleasant people out there who's google searches I do not want The Potty Diaries to appear on), that being told to invade other people's personal space could be just as bad, and that should either of those things happen - or even be hinted at - he must tell his father or I immediately.

We spoke about it in a no-nonsense, matter of fact, non-gratuitous and calm way.  There were no hysterics, no embarrassed silences.  Boy #1 took the information on board, filed it away, and we moved on to talking about something else.

Since that time, I have also spoken to Boy #2 in the same way, and watched him similarly file the information away and move seamlessly on to which piece was missing from the lego kit in front of him on the kitchen table.

Do I wish we had never had to have those conversations?  Of course.  Am I sorry that we did?  Absolutely not.  I don't feel that the information I have given them has compromised my sons' innocence or their future memories of childhood simply by the fact of their possessing it.  On the contrary; I feel I have helped both boys to protect those very things.  I strongly believe that those who prey on children rely on those same children's parents never having had this conversation with them, and indeed that they rely on both parents and children not having the ability - the words - to do so.  I also believe that a happy, confident child who is fully aware of what is Not OK - and that they can talk to their parents about it should they encounter such a thing - is less likely to fall prey to predators.

There is no fail-safe system, I know that.  I can't wrap my children up in bubble-wrap and protect them, much as I may want to.  But I can give them the tools to manage in today's world.  I can give them the words.

BritMums - Leading the Conversation

Tuesday 13 November 2012

The Christmas Jumper's revenge...

Men. I just don't understand them.

Well, that's a given, I suppose, but specifically in this instance, I don't understand what has happened to men.  In the UK.

Reading The Sunday Times Style section this weekend, I came across a piece which focused on what the staff in the editorial team were wearing, and one of them (a man, just in case you hadn't worked it out already) was wearing what my mother calls a 'jumper' and what I, living in Expat World, call a 'sweater'* which featured a rather loud white on red pattern. Now, I know that a man who writes for the fashion section of a newspaper is not necessarily a barometer of what's hot in the UK now but he could be seen as perhaps a forecast for future trends.  And having read this piece it has become apparent that I am so far out of touch with the way things are going in the UK, fashion-wise, that I might as well be living on Mars.

Don't get me wrong; I like a bit of knitwear (living in Moscow, I'd better).  And I see no reason why men shouldn't spend as much or as little on whatever they think looks good, clothes-wise.  But this looked like what students refer to as 'a Christmas jumper' - that is, something you are given by your mother or grandmother or Auntie Flo during the festive season, and which you wear due to a sense of loyalty /out of love for them, rather than because it's particularly tasteful.  Because they're not, you see.  Tasteful.  Christmas jumpers are - by law - in-your-face-over-the-top-completely-too-much-activity-for-one-person-to-sport-on-a-piece-of-knitwear items of clothing.  Think Colin Firth as Mark Darcy the first time you see him in 'Bridget Jones' and you'll get what I'm talking about.


Sweet, I thought.  This fashionist type person (do you call a male fashion editor 'fashionista' or 'fashionist'?  Answers in the comment box, please...) was clearly wearing last year's pressie from Auntie Flo.  But no.  The jumper / sweater featured was not your average C&A acrylic number, or even a lovingly created custom made one using Pattern #375 from 'Best Knits'.  It was brand new.  It was designer (Philip Lim 3.1, if you must know).  And it cost £349.

Three hundred and forty-nine pounds?




*When I eventually move back to the UK I will revert to calling them 'jumpers' again, but following an interesting misunderstanding a couple of years back shortly after arriving in Moscow when I was bemoaning to a friend from the US that my jumpers hadn't arrived - and she thought I was talking about all-in-one baby gro type things rather than the warm and cosy knitwear I was waiting for - I decided to temporarily switch to American English on this one.  Well, wouldn't you?

Friday 9 November 2012

Famous last words

The things I do for my blog.

Edited highlights to-date include jumping into a frozen lake, skiing on a frozen lake, admitting that my husband has pointed out the fact that I require depilatory products for my face (whilst surrounded by snow at the time), allowing myself to be pummelled by a bare lady wearing only a pair of flip-flops and some exfoliating gloves (her, not me) and, oh yes, moving to Russia.

Well, that last one wasn't really for my blog but I did do it in the full expectation that mucho blog-fodder would result - which I think you will agree, given the posts I've just listed, is a gamble that has more than paid off.

Something I did not do for my blog however, and a post I hoped never to write, is the one where I detail running the gauntlet of a certain nation's border guards with a visa for my son which we had been wrongly advised would be adequate when, according to them, it was anything but.

And yet here it is, anyway.

Some sweary phone calls to my husband (sorry about that, darling), one missed flight, a night in the world's most expensive cheap airport hotel, a very early start, a flight in which my exhausted son refused to sleep but instead preferred to watch nonsense (which, to cap it all, consisted of a rubbish movie that he had in fact already seen) on the inflight entertainment system, an overly chatty London taxi driver who proved impervious to hints about the fact that both my son and I had been up since 1.00 am local time and preferred instead to regale us with details of parking restrictions at Heathrow airport, an exhausted trek into town, some incorrect paperwork, some more incorrect paperwork, various technical glitches, and a couple more sweary phone calls later I can, however, tell you that I sent the following text to Husband this afternoon:

'Hallelujah!  I have Boy's visa.  Am heading back to your mum's to lie in a darkened room to de-stress in peace & quiet.  With wine.'

I am NEVER doing this again.

Until the next time, I suppose.

Monday 5 November 2012

The one where it turns out I'm not so brave, after all...

I try to be a relaxed parent when it comes to matters of health for my sons, really I do.  Nobody wants to be that mother who flinches every time her child sniffs, or wraps them up in cotton wool every time they set foot outside the front door in case they encounter a normal childhood illness.  I believe whole-heartedly in letting your child's body develop without undue interference from antibiotics unless they're absolutely necessary*.

But once the Fear has had you in it's grasp, it never really lets go.

I still remember it all; the gut-wrenching dread that stalks your every waking moment when you have a seriously ill baby.  The feeling of helplessness as your 6 day-old child is prodded and poked, pricked and injected.  The constant watch to make sure that his Moro Reflex** doesn't knock the canula out, resulting in yet more harrowing attempts to insert a new one into his tiny arm.  The crushing, awful powerlessness of not being able to pick up my crying baby because doing so might interfere with the effect the lights are having on his bilirubin levels.

I remember the guilt; did I cause this?  Was it because I wasn't very good at breastfeeding?  Would he not have developed jaundice if I had had more milk?  Was the way the Scalded Skin Syndrome took such a fearsome hold a result of his lowered immune system because of the jaundice?  Did he catch the SSS when that none-too-clean looking orderly gave him a bath in the hospital when he was less than a day old and I could barely move from the bed due to the emergency c-section?  Should I have followed my instincts and grabbed him from her arms, ordered her away from the bed and refused to let go of him until, exhausted from lack of sleep on the too-noisy ward, we left 24 hours later?

Nearly seven years on those questions and many others from that time still haunt me.  Most of them I can discount in daylight hours when I am feeling relatively sensible. But one that won't go away and which I repeatedly ask myself (just like, I am sure, many expat parents living far from their comfort zone), is this:

How would I cope if an accident or a serious illness happened to my children here, now, in Moscow?

The answer is, I truly don't know.  Certainly there would be support structures I could call on; a Husband who speaks excellent Russian and who knows the right people to go to, or if he were travelling, friends who speak far better Russian than I do and who I know would go through hell and high water on my children's behalf.  Recent experiences within our social circle of excellent levels of care in both Russian and expat hospitals comfort me to some extent.  But say what you will about the UK NHS; it is still light years ahead of what the average Russian can expect to encounter in their nearest hospital.  And who knows, in an emergency,where you will end up?  It might well be the all mod-cons expat hospital in the centre of town.  But on the other hand, it might not.

So on evenings like tonight, when one son has a nasty cough and the other is complaining of stomach pain, I am rather more attentive than perhaps I might be if we were still living in London.  Logically I know that Boy #1's stomach pain is not possible appendicitis, but instead the result of too many sit-ups at his Taekwondo class this evening (stomach muscles are not our family's strong point; if I manage 10 I'm a mess and according to him, they did 200...), and that Boy #2 is not developing pneumonia but has just picked up one of the many colds doing the rounds at school at the moment.  Logically, I know both those things.

But logic doesn't stop me wanting to move my duvet to the floor of their bedroom tonight.

Turns out that the Fear - it never leaves you.

*although long term readers will know that I am fierce in my support of treating eczema proactively to prevent it developing into a long term issue or something more serious.

**also called the Startle Reflex

Saturday 3 November 2012


Tonight, at bed time...

Boy #1, sitting on my lap: "Come over here, Boy #2.  I want a Family hug."

Boy #2 from his position lying studying the latest Lego catalogue on the floor of their bedroom (some things never change): "It can't be a Family hug."

Me: "No, you're right."

Boy #2:  "Because Papa is not here.  But I will come over for a Group hug..."