Thursday 28 February 2013

Begging for an answer

What do you tell your children about beggars?

I assume that most people have an attitude much like mine; that giving through registered charities is preferable to giving directly to the man or woman with the begging bowl on the street.  That way we can be fairly sure that the money is put to good use rather than spent on drugs, alcohol, or passed onto some Fagin-type character who controls gangs of unfortunates.  So unless the person with their hand out is offering you a Big Issue (which I guess doesn't really count as 'begging' per se, since you are given something in return), I tend to avoid them.  Walk straight past them.  Essentially, ignore them.

Sounds ugly when you put it like that, doesn't it?

Does to me, anyway.

I remember the first time I saw a beggar - as if it were yesterday.  I was 17, on a school trip to Rome, walking with my friends along a hot and dusty street, dipping in and out of the shade offered by the shop awnings and suddenly, there she was.  A dark-haired child, wearing what looked like vaguely ethnic clothes, messy and unkempt, head down, standing in front of a corner store.

Holding her hand out.

I was shocked.  I came from middle England, from a small town in the Cotwsolds.  Any holidays abroad (and there hadn't been that many in my life until that point) were always controlled by my parents and no doubt they had taken care to avoid such meetings before.  This really was outside my experience.  Surely this couldn't be happening?  Not in Italy?  Italy was part of Europe, surely there weren't beggars in Europe.  (Ah, sweet innocence of youth).  I gave her money - I can't remember how much but since I didn't have a lot myself, it will only have been a few coins - and walked on, wondering how a child ends up in a situation like that.  I wonder now what happened to her.

Let's fast-forward nearly 30 years.  I have a son of nearly the same age as the girl I saw in Rome.  Sadly, he didn't have to wait until he was 17 to see his first beggar; I suspect that he wouldn't be able to tell you when that happened since begging now happens everywhere, even in the middle-London/middle-England we inhabited before moving to Moscow.

And in Moscow, there are definitely beggars.  They wait by the cathedrals, by the church we go to on a Sunday, in supermarket carparks, in the metro.  Unless you remain cocooned in your big 4x4 never looking out of the darkened windows, you can't avoid them.  Most disturbingly, more than 50% of them have young children or babies with them.  How can you turn away from and ignore a young woman pulling a 2 year old by the hand in a wet & windy supermarket carpark, as you cram your week's worth of shopping into the boot of the car?  How can you step over the woman with the baby waiting by the gate outside Mass on a Sunday morning?  What about the elderly lady kneeling and praying by the cathedal, the guy with no legs in the wheelchair waiting by the traffic lights, or the pensioner steering her blind husband through the crush on the metro asking for your help because their state pension isn't enough?

Can you give to all of them?

Of course you can't.  So often, you end up giving to none of them.

As an adult I try to justify this in my head by counting up the hours spent proof-reading and editing documents and brochures for charities, by the money collected and donated to those same organisations, by the awareness I try to spread within the expat community here of the need for their time and money.

But my sons don't see that.  And since they don't come shopping with me, they don't see the apple or banana I hand to the 2 year old outside the supermarket as his mother (if she is his mother) pockets the dollar I just gave her and - more often than not - tells me that's not enough.

I know hand-outs are not the answer.  Give the man (or woman) a fishing rod, not a single fish; that's what we're supposed to do.  Deal with the root causes of poverty, not just the symptoms.  But I want to teach my children not to be hard-hearted and turn away from those in need.  Giving to those who require help now, today, to make it through to tomorrow, does not make them a soft touch, a mug, an easy prospect; it simply makes them human.

So.  I would really like to know.  What do you tell your children about beggars?

Wednesday 27 February 2013


The title of this post was prompted by @Britmum's question on twitter today: 'If you could sum up your morning in one word, what would it be?'

My answer was 'Thought-provoking'.  Which I know probably counts as 2 words - so sue me.

Foolishly, they asked for clarification.  (Those crazy mixed-up kids).

In brief, then:

Why are Russian politicians running so scared of the prospect of any external expression of non-hetero sexuality?

Why do some expats (and yes, I know, this is a failing not only limited to expats) find it so difficult to walk in another person's shoes?  You're living in a country not your own; at least make the the attempt to understand the different situations that those outside the comfortable bubble you inhabit come from.

Just because a woman wears a short skirt and high heels, does not make her a tart.  Neither does it mean she is on the prowl for your husband, or has no idea about Feminism and what it is.

Some food companies are shameless in their drive for sales.  Read this and you'll see what I mean. (Hat tip to Amanda Surbey on facebook for the link)

How can it be that repeated - polite - requests to Boy #2 to get dressed in the morning have no effect, but using one word,  'Clothes' (as suggested by The Mummy Whisperer, here), and pointing to the pile of them on the floor achieves the desired result in less than 2 minutes?  (I do not know the answer to this but will be using this tactic again...)

I've made it to 14 days without Diet Coke.  I deserve to celebrate.  But with what? How about a diet co... oh.

Monday 25 February 2013

Advantage of Moving Your Family to Russia Nb...?

(Note: I started to write the title of this post and realised that for many people, there would appear to be no advantages to moving your family to Russia.  Believe me, there are plenty, but in the interests of not appearing too smug or jinxing my own life, I'm going to keep most of them to myself until I write my hugely anticipated memoirs.  Plus, I just got back from holiday and frankly I've forgotten what most of them are...)


Advantage of Moving Your Family to Russia Nb. Whatever.

When you stop over for a night in Berlin on your way back to Moscow from a week away, and your Husband suggests taking a walk to go and see the Brandenburg Gate and generally get a bit of a feel for the city, you don't think twice about saying yes.  Even though it's below 0degC, snowing heavily, and dark.  And funnily enough, once they're outside (we'll gloss over the bribery and corruption it took to get them there), your children don't mind either.

You know why?

Well, as Boy #1 said during our walk "This is just like Moscow, Mum - but with more expensive cars."

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Things you never know about blogging...

... until you've been doing it for longer than is perhaps wise.

#1 Your Significant Others will read your posts - and perhaps, just to wind you up, quote them back to you at inopportune moments. I give you Exhibit A, Your Honour.

The Potski Family are on holiday this week, skiing.  Halfway through what was quite a stressful morning of flat light, steep icy slopes, horizontal snow, and zero ski ability on my part due to not being able to see where the hell I was going, and wondering why on earth I had ever thought strapping two boards to my feet and pointing them downhill was a good idea, Husband said "You have snow on your moustache."  Longer term readers of this blog might recognise this as a direct quote from a blog post I wrote a couple of years back, about a similar incident.  

So there I was, stranded on a mountain-side, wondering how on earth I was going to get down it, and now - on top of all those insignifcant 'will I ever make it back to my children alive' worries I was dealing with - also wondering if a) the moustache/snow issue was in the fact the case, b) he was simply referring to my 2 year old blog post in an attempt to lighten the mood take my mind off the situation (in which case, why couldn't he just tell me a joke, for chrissake?) or c) both things were in fact true.

I suspect c). 

Thursday 14 February 2013

Not a review. Just a statement of intent...

The entirely fabulous @KnackeredMutha's book, 'The Knackered Mother's Wine Club', is out today.  I was lucky enough to receive a review copy and am currently working my way through it, but will be featuring how the book stands up to the challenge of Moscow wine shopping before too long.

I would have done this sooner but - entirely uncharacteristically - I haven't needed to buy much wine recently.  Sacrilege to say, I know, but since I have a husband who travels through Duty Free every week and the foresight to throw a recent lunch party for 11 lovely ladies, a good number of whom were kind enough to bring bottles with them (some of which didn't get consumed, due to it's being a school day and the subsequent brakes that put on alcohol consumption), wine hasn't been on my shopping list since I received my copy.  (And believe me, given the prices here, you don't tend to buy wine 'just because...')

However.  The cupboard is now practically bare, so after we get back from half term, I will be putting the book through it's paces with the offerings available in a couple of Moscow supermarkets.  In the meantime, I can tell you the book is engagingly written, entertaining, and informative, and that the beauty of having been sent an electronic copy means it's coming on holiday with me.  I will be eagerly looking for entries on Austrian wine in the very near future.

If you can't wait though, and want to buy online now, click here for the link...

As Helen says on her blog: 'Peace out, winos'.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

In which I wonder if Rome & I have reached the end of the line...

So, yesterday I wrote about Lent and - briefly - about being Roman Catholic.  Then this morning I saw this post by one of my favourite bloggers of all time, Wife in the North.

Judith O'Reilly is one of the reasons I blog.  When I started writing online, she had just secured a contract for the book of her blog 'Wife in the North' and she's a far braver, more open, lay it out there blogger than I am or could ever be.  We met around 3 years ago and it's because she suggested it that I set up my twitter account (so now I come to think of it Judith, you're the one to blame for my inability to get things done...).

In the post I've linked to, she expresses perfectly the ambivalence I'm currently feeling towards the church of my childhood.

I teach my sons that girls are just as good as they are (and of course, that they are just as good as girls are), and that they should never assume something is off-limits to someone simply because of their gender.  And yet, here I am, using as a framework for their spiritual education a structure which is outdated and which preaches and practices a viewpoint of women's importance and relevance that frankly has few touchpoints or crossovers with my existence and experiences as a woman in 21st century western civilisation.

I want to be Catholic.  It's a deep and important part of who I am.  I am educating my sons as such.  But the fact that I care so little about who is the next man to wear the Pope's ruby slippers tells me something has to change, and I'm guessing it won't be the viewpoints of the dinosaurs in Rome.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

That's it. I'm giving up...

Lent starts tomorrow.

I know this because the Boys insisted on pancakes this evening - and because I am, in a slightly woolly, pick and choose sort of a way, a Roman Catholic.  This time of year brings back memories of interminable weeks of Denial as a child: denial of  whatever treat it was that I had decided to give up, denial that I had in fact given up on Denial and sneaked whatever treat it was I was supposed to have given up (for some reason dark chocolate Bounty bars spring to mind here), and denial that the distinctive red and white wrappers in the kitchen bin had anything to do with me once they were discovered languishing at the bottom of it.  (Quite why I didn't dispose of them elsewhere I have no idea.  Must try harder on the subterfuge...)

So the thought occurred to me; should I give up anything this year? And if so, what? My life is quite sick-makingly boring in many ways at the moment;  I don't drink alcohol (most) Monday's to Fridays (and although all bets are off at the weekend, the drink-driving laws here make having even half a glass of wine, if you're planning on getting behind the wheel within 24 hours, a bad idea), I don't smoke, I scratch cook, I try and eat/drink my 5 a day.  Yes, I have a chocolate habit but even that's been curbed significantly in recent years, due mainly to the fact that nowadays I have decided life is too short to eat bad chocolate.  If we were living back in London then of course that would probably not impact significantly on my consumption levels, but here in Moscow the subsequent supply problems - not a Green & Black's 70% bar to be purchased for love nor money, for example - do rather put the stops on my galloping addiction...

Of course, there is always the polar opposite approach, that of doing something extra like, say, walking for an hour every day, or offering my services to carry a babushka's shopping across the road, but I think in the latter case I would probably end up being arrested, and in the former wasting so much petrol driving through the traffic to somewhere different each day to take the walk, that both seem counter productive.

So.  That leaves me with one thing.  One glaringly obvious thing I can try and do without for the next 40 days.

I am going to try and live without Diet Coke until Easter Sunday.

What - you didn't think I was going to give up the blog, did you? You should be so lucky...

May I just say; this is no small undertaking. I have been known to speak directly to my cans of Diet Coke in the past (usually to tell them that I don't need them and they shouldn't get big-headed about their regular 11am appearance in my day).  In fact, I actually don't expect to manage it.  The problem with leading such a boring lifestyle is that the 'little' indulgences like dark chocolate - which, by the way, was never under discussion as a potential 'giving up' target, since I have it on good authority that in (cough) small amounts, it's actually good for you - and Diet Coke assume a wholly disproportionate level of importance in your routine.

Quite how I'm going to manage without my daily fix of it remains to be seen, but I suspect that my parameters on what constitutes 'bad' chocolate may be about to change somewhat.  Dark chocolate Bounty bar, anyone?

Thursday 7 February 2013

When you know you're doing something right...

After school today, Boy #2 and I were waiting for his brother to arrive before heading home.  One of Boy #2's classmates was also there, waiting to be collected.  They were shooting the breeze about how Classmate had just been given the i-phone 5 by his mum (note: this is not impossible, even for a 6 year old, in Russia) when Boy #1 arrived.

Boy #2 to his brother: "HIIIIII."

Classmate:  "Who's that?"

Boy #2:  "That's my brother, Boy #1."

Classmate:  "Oh.  I thought he was your friend."

Boy #2:  "He is my friend."

Classmate:  "But I thought he was your brother?"

Boy #2:  "He is my brother."

Classmate:  "But you said he was your friend?"

Boy #2:  "He's my brother, and my friend."

Obviously, they were still niggling each other and wailing loving remarks like 'don't look at me!' all the way home.  But it was glimpse, and that's enough for now...

Reason why I love blogging #83

From time to time I post videos on 'The Potty Diaries'.  Not because it's lazy blogging (although, over 1100 posts in, I think I might be allowed a little leeway on that), but because I think they are funny, of interest, or just, well, why the hell not?

This one definitely fits into that last category.

And thankyou, @taracain of the Sticky Fingers blog, for pointing this out on twitter yesterday evening.  Because every woman deserves a bit of LA sunshine and - ahem - eye candy on a Wednesday night / Thursday morning / whenever you get the chance to take a look...

(Oh, and by the way; that 'click here to view the collection' at the end - are they CRAZY?)

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Am I Cruel Mummy? Boy #1 thinks so.

I don't want to come across as Cruel Mummy but...

I don't let my children sleep in the marital bed.

Does that make me nasty?  Boy #1 thinks - sometimes - that it does.  Mainly he thinks this when his younger brother waves the fact in his face that twice in the last 4 months, he (Boy #2) has snuck in - unnoticed by me, I might add - in the small hours and managed to stay put until morning.  Smaller than his brother by 2 years, Boy #2 took advantage of my natural defense against the freight-train style snoring from the other side of the bed; namely that of shifting as far away as possible from the source of the noise and clinging there, albeit still asleep.  This of course leaves a Boy #2 sized-space down the middle of duvet, which he exploited on these two occasions before bounding back into his own bed at dawn and trumpeting his victory to his furious older brother.

Siblings.  Don't you just love them?

We've been had reasonable luck with the Boys' sleeping patterns so far.  Certainly whilst they were still tiny we suffered the 1 / 3/ 5am wake-ups for breast and bottle feeding, the pacing backwards and forwards rocking a seemingly inconsolable baby in our arms wondering if we were ever again going to get a full night's rest, and the rushing in at 2am to calm a child shouting in their sleep.  In fact, now I come to think of it, that last was almost a nightly fixture for 4 long years; Boy #1 did it from ages 2 - 4, and then just when he stopped, Boy #2 clocked in with his own version until he hit 4 himself.  But nowadays they are good; they go to bed when we ask them to, and they don't wake up much before 7am, which personally - needing my own sleep - I call a result.

Even from the first, when they were only tiny scraps, I was never any good at co-sleeping with them.  At the beginning it was quite simply that I was worried I - or Husband - would roll over and squash them.  And yes, I know instances of this are extremely rare, but try telling your exhausted hormone-buzzing just-given-birth psyche that at 3am.  It just didn't work for me; I would lie there, rigid with panic, unable to sleep myself, next to a gently snoring husband and baby.  So we put each of the boys in a cot next to our own bed - and then after a couple of months, moved them into their own room.  Then, when they were toddling around, they were just too restless when asleep, both of them capable of moving from one end of their cot and back again  between checks, to convince me it was a good idea to have them with us.

And so we settled into a routine where they slept in their beds, we slept in ours, and everyone had a good night's sleep.  I saw no reason to change that as they got older.  Sure, we have Sunday mornings when they bounce all over us and put toes cold from half an hour of playing with toys before we wake up onto our warm hands and legs, but as for spending the night in the same bed - well, I just don't encourage it.

Don't get me wrong, if they're ill I will get as close to them as I can, and if I'm not actually sleeping on their floor I might as well be for the amount of time I pop in and out of their room to check on them.  But aside from the fact that I operate much better when I've had a proper night's sleep myself, it's always seemed to me that Husband's and my bed is just that; for Husband and I.  There is one room in the house that belongs exclusively to us, and I want to keep it that way.

I don't think that makes me a bad mother.  Despite what my son might say...

Friday 1 February 2013

Trip trapping across that rickety bridge; the perils of sharing online

It's a funny old lark, this blogging game.  I've been very fortunate here on 'The Potty Diaries'; in the nearly 6 years I've been writing it, I have had only a handful of visits from those poor individuals who live under bridges and who make it their raison d'etre to spread pain across the internet with cruel and personal remarks in the comment box.  Oh, there may be people who comment elsewhere what a waste of time it is to visit here, but I don't seek such threads out (if they even exist).  Why bother, frankly?

Thing is though, 'The Potty Diaries' is not the only place I write.  A post I put up elsewhere recently attracted a damning remark about how mundane and boring my life is, with the inference being that I really should sort myself out and make my life a little more 'out there', entertaining, and frankly interesting to read about.

I won't lie to you; all my principles about not engaging in conversation with such people were put to the test.  This remark stung.  Well, no-one likes to be told that they're boring, do they? But I sat on my hands, and haven't responded, and don't plan on it; the more time passes, the less I'm bothered by it, and the further I can rise above it.

What I would have liked to say, of course, was "If you find my writing dull, please; feel free not to read."  But I managed not to do it ('Never engage, never engage, never engage'), and am instead quietly smiling to myself on the irony of the situation. This person clearly has no idea of how hard Husband and I work to fill our family's life with the peace and calm that she chooses to interpret as mundane and boring.  Life here could be frantic, fraught, filled with insurmountable stressful problems, twice-hourly injections of cortisol into my over-active brain. I could be writing black humoured desperate 'I'm so unhappy' 'This place saps the soul from you' 'I can't take another tangle with bureaucracy / the militia / that sour-faced bxtch at the checkout / other drivers' type posts, but guess what?

It would drive me as crazy to see the world through those glasses as it would you to read about it.

And as for the stuff that really does happen here but which I would be sticking my head far too high above the parapet (in a not-totally friendly environment) if I wrote about it, I put my family's well-being way above any need to entertain online.  So I think I'll stick with the 'mundane & boring' for the moment, thank you very much - and save the anecdotes about meetings with gun runners, the run-ins with oligarchs wives, and the discovery of listening posts in neighbours' houses and such-like for my memoirs once we've left...