GROWING PAINS: Two Different Attitudes Toward Hanky-Panky

The coming of spring, albeit blizzard-ridden, makes a young man's fancy turn to love, which is why I shall devote this week's column to sex. Or, rather, infidelity.

The tendency to gulyat', or go for a walk, is nothing if not rampant in Russia, a fact that is brought home to me when I think back on all my children's nannies.

Last week we went to visit Anya, a former nanny who left me when she became pregnant by her married lover - married, of course, to someone else. So now Anya and her 1-year-old daughter are visited occasionally by the two-timing dad, when he can get away from his family duties. But this rather confuses my own children, who have been brought up with the Church of England middle-class understanding that, once you're married, the other sex doesn't exist.

Then there's our first nanny, Asya, a pretty, witty paramedic by training who dated a succession of eminently suitable single young men before falling in love with a doctor who was married with two daughters. She too left us when she became pregnant by him with twin boys.

As for our present "mother's helper," she recently decided that her common-law husband of two years was not satisfying her needs, and so she meets a backup lover once or twice a week, which is getting to be a nuisance for me when the work load gets on top of me, but there you are: Girls will be girls.

Oddly enough, my mother, who was visiting us last week, pointed out that one of the advantages of bringing up children in Russia was that they don't start dating and dumping each other from the ridiculously early age of nine or 10, as they do in England. This is true, but young people make up for the late start by pulling out the stops when they grow up.

A group of American men-friends were discussing with me how Russian women might appear to be cold, but are totally uninhibited in bed - as opposed to Western women with all their sexual hang-ups. They did also mention, however, that they wouldn't trust Russian dyevs, or girls, in a long-term relationship, and insisted that they themselves would be faithful to a loved one.

Not that I'm suggesting there isn't any hanky-panky going on in the West - but at least it's frowned upon there. Here, Russians take it for granted that spouses need a bit on the side. Many's the time a taxi driver, on hearing I've been married for 18 years, will ask if I have a lover in the same matter-of-fact tone as if he were asking about the weather.

Needless to say, my own Russian husband is a glaring exception to the rule. He stoically resists the charms of my roving young nannies; and though he goes off for months at a time on photographic assignments, I know he's always longing to rush back into the arms of his middle-aged wife with her curlers, three screaming kids and a car smelling of dirty diapers. Right?