GROWING PAINS: 11-Year-Old Daughter Hits Pre-Teen Angst

My 11-year-old daughter Sasha is going through changes.

I guess Russia is as good a place as any to see through puberty, but having all those hormones leaping about in a small three-room flat started getting a bit tiring. Especially when combined with the tantrums of a 5-year-old and trying to make time for my uncomplaining middle daughter.

One of the many bones of contention between us is that Sasha refuses to sleep with "the children." She wants her own room like all her Russian friends (who don't have siblings) and her cousins in England. She hankers after the simple privacy of closing a door on everyone.

Up until this week, this privacy consisted only of a little locker with a key where she kept all her secret bits and pieces. But now we've finally managed to move into a bigger apartment, and her dream has come true - she has a room all to herself.

I gleefully put up her posters of dinosaurs, dolphins and Spice Girls, I set up her microscope on her desk, laid all her nail-varnishes on the bedside table and gloatingly led her in.

"I hate it" she said flatly. "I'm not living here."

For the next three hours, she sat on her bed twisting the key to her little locker in her hand and fighting off tears. I felt the waves of anguish emanating from her room but knew I was helpless. She didn't want to listen to reason. She just wanted to go back to her corner at home.

Sometimes you just can't win. With me, she tends to be sullen and withdrawn, but at school she apparently lights up the classroom with her bright, cheery personality. In fact, yesterday, her headmaster told me that she was unusually polite and tactful for a girl her age.

"Sasha?" said my husband Kolya incredulously when I relayed the glad tidings. "Polite and tactful? She's homicidal!"

A slight exaggeration perhaps, but she's certainly willful. We were sitting in the kitchen the other evening quietly discussing the possibility of leaving Russia to give her a secondary school education in Britain when she strolled in, an hour past her bedtime.

"You two can go if you want," she said helping herself to a pickle, "but I'm staying in Russia with babushka. We've already talked it all over."

I suppose we should be grateful that our problems have not yet been complicated by boys. One of the good things about Russia is that you don't start dating when you're 10. Sasha's girlfriends in England have all been dated and dumped a dozen times, but here, boys bide their time.

Thank heaven for small mercies. And looking on the bright side, Sasha woke up the morning after we'd moved in and suddenly loved her room. "Hey mom!" she called out, jumping up and down on her bed. "This is cool. There's just one thing."

"Yes darling?"

"I want the walls painted black."