GROWING PAINS: Painful Mishaps Take Parents From Children

When we lived in England, my daughter Sasha attended a school where there were no single parents in her class of 20 kids. O.K., so it was a Church of England school, but this statistic is still pretty unusual by any standards. Moreover, the dads were very active in school events and since my husband Kolya was often away on work assignments, she was an oddity in having only mom at home most of the time.

Being five years old, she started feeling annoyed by the dumb questions the other little kids asked about where her dad was, and finally I was called in by her class teacher, who said Sasha was telling everyone her father had died. It was an easy way for her to stop the questions. And then we came to Russia.

Here she became unusual for the opposite reason - she has two birth parents, and a brother and sister from the same father. Many is the time Kolya has turned up at school events and been asked by surprised parents, "and are they all from one marriage?" Since half of urban marriages end in divorce here, their surprise is understandable. But what is shocking is the disturbing way some children are actually deprived of one or both of their parents.

Vova, a boy in Sasha's class, lost his mother when she married again and decided to start off her new life with liposuction. She died under anaesthetic. Needless to say, the clinic that performed the operation - a reproductive clinic, of all things - refused to accept responsibility for her death or to pay any recompense. The stepfather started drinking heavily, so Vova was taken out of our private school and taken in by his birth father, who had since remarried.

Then there's Sasha's long-time friend, Lonita, who is Chechen. When her mother married again and began having babies, Lonita was sent away from her mother to live with her paternal grandmother - a relative stranger. This was hideously painful for bothmother and daughter, who are very close but, as the mother explained with a philosophical sigh, "It's the Chechen way."

One of the boys in my son Bobby's kindergarten has a friend whose parents were killed in last month's apartment building bomb on Ulitsa Guryanova. And the businessman-father of a girl in his class was assassinated last weekend. Her brother is in my daughter Anna's class and neither of them has been told of their father's brutal murder. I'm sure their mother has good reasons for keeping silent but it breaks my heart to watch the two of them happily tumbling about the school in blissful ignorance of the events unfolding at home.

So now Sasha, Anna and Bobby all have friends touched by tragedy and it's very hard to know how this will affect them. Perhaps, this being Russia, they take the bombs, assassinations and fatal hospital errors for granted. But then again, perhaps not.