GROWING PAINS: Grateful Contributor Bids Adieu to Readers

Sadly, this is to be my last story for the Growing Pains column, so I would like to take this final opportunity of saying how very grateful I am to have been given, over the past few years, the weekly privilege of reflecting on the hurdles (and joys) of bringing up children in a different culture.

Sasha, Anna and Bobby will no doubt look back with some degree of horror in years to come when reading of the trials and tribulations they faced in what they thought was a normal, happy childhood. But despite the ups and downs, I have no regrets, and I hope they won't either.

Bear with me for a moment while I indulge in a few words about myself and why I'm here.

I first met my husband, Kolya, 18 years ago when I came out to Moscow to work as a nanny in the British Embassy. We fell madly in love at a time when foreigners were not permitted to socialize with Soviet citizens, and consequently our romance was fraught with difficulties.

He was kicked out of his apartment and fired from his job. I had my visa support withdrawn by the British Embassy and became persona non grata with no job and nowhere to live - not a jolly experience in an unfriendly Soviet Union. The Brits thought Kolya was a KGB agent; the Soviets thought I was an MI5 spy, which might sound far-fetched now but was deadly serious at the time.

But love, as it has a habit of doing, won through and we finally married in Moscow, a year later in 1983.

Looking back on it, my love affair was not only with Kolya but with Russia, the land of fairy tales, Iron Curtains and anarchy. And once Gorbachev and his perestroika opened the borders, I had no desire to leave this crazy, wild and unpredictable country. And, luckily, neither did Kolya.

Considering that his upbringing was so extraordinarily different from mine, we have had remarkably few conflicts with bringing up the children. But since Sasha is now of secondary school age, we decided last year that we really ought to think of them instead of ourselves and move them into a nice, law-abiding society like England. Sasha could join the Riding Club, Anna could join the Brownies, and Bobby would learn to read and write English.

I made tentative preparations and met with a revolution.

"But I'm Russian!" bellowed Sasha, "you don't have the right to take me away! If you go, I'll live with babushka. And that's THAT!" And she burst into tears.

Anna and Bobby were equally aghast at the thought of being uprooted from their homeland, and when I saw Kolya too was faltering at the Herculean task before us, I gave up with a sigh of relief.

So here we are, and here it seems we stay. And for those of you also bringing up children in Moscow, good luck. And good-bye.