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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

GROWING PAINS: Russian Idea of Safe Is Test of Mom's Nerves




There are many dichotomies about living in Moscow and one of them is that while Russians are fanatically careful about protecting the health of their children - you must wear layers of warm clothes or you'll get pneumonia; you mustn't climb trees or you'll break your leg; you mustn't go out without a hat or you'll get meningitis - when it comes to letting your young daughter ride the bus home alone from an evening class, or leaving your baby at home while you pop out to the shops for a couple of hours, the attitude often is: so what?


I have expat friends who've found that their otherwise perfect nannies have happily left babies sleeping in their cots while they go out with an elder sibling for a walk. This, for me, would be anathema. Yet a Russian friend of mine who left her 2-year-old son with her 5-year-old daughter while she went to the gym for a couple of hours was surprised to find on her return that the boy had fallen off the top bunk bed, and her daughter was so upset at his constant screaming that they were both in hysterics by the time she got back. "It took me an hour to calm them down!" she said. "It was hardly worthwhile."


Talk about Home Alone. In England if you leave your child in the car while you pop into the bakers for a loaf of bread you could get arrested...


When my daughter Sasha was 5 years old and in the first grade of her Church of England school in Britain she avoided a mandatory Easter church service by hiding under the slide in the playground. The caretaker eventually found her banging on the windows of the closed, empty school and led her, kicking and struggling off to church, but a tremendous scandal ensued in which Sasha's teacher was nearly fired and there was much angry talk from other parents about suing the school.


Need I say that in Russia things are different.


Yesterday the school kids were taken off for an excursion to the zoo during which three out of 13 children were mislaid. Two of them were eventually recovered by teachers and one by the militia. The school principal, to give him his due, was hopping-mad about the incident, but for both teachers and parents this was par for the course and since the kids finally turned up, what was the big deal? "It was fun!" exclaimed my middle daughter Anna.


No court cases, no scandal.


Now I'm generally pretty laid-back as a parent but if there's one thing that bothers me it's the ice-slide that runs across the driveway into the kindergarten. As I roll up to collect my 4-year-old Bobby every evening I find him and his fellow tots rocketing down the slope in front of my car headlights like little black snowballs. I slam on the brakes and take a deep breath. Don't worry, be happy, this is Russia.