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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

GROWING PAINS: Potty Training Can Be A Matter of Economics




I took Anna round to a friend's house to play the other day but her friend was in tears because her 10-month-old brother had just peed on her freshly made bed.


The apartment did have a certain whiff of potty-training-in-progress because the mother, Zhenya, couldn't afford disposable diapers. Having a baby in Russia is fast becoming an extravagant luxury for your average Muscovite and since Zhenya's husband is a poorly paid teacher, she can't afford much else either.


I remember 10 years ago when my eldest daughter was a baby. There were no disposable diapers in Moscow and I used to have to fly in with suitcase loads of them. Nowadays, the main headache for expat mothers is finding a good nanny and a good doctor, but for Russian moms the problems are more basic. Just buying a new cot, a buggy and baby clothes can easily set you back $1,000 or so. If you're not able to breast-feed, baby formula costs 100 rubles ($4.32) for a 10-day tin, which is enough to make any mother dry up.


"When I had my first baby, I lived in a village and that was easier," said Zhenya. "We had cows and a vegetable garden and my husband hunted so we didn't have to worry about food. In winter we had meat - elk, wild boar and even bear sometimes - and in summer we had milk and carrots. And then neighbors always gave us things like cots and sleds. In Moscow it's harder because you need a job with money to survive - not a gun! And jobs are hard to come by."


Oddly enough Moscow doesn't have the network of thrift shops and tag sales so common in the West. The state-run kommissioni shops are far and few between and fairly expensive, while private sekond khand shops are usually located in back-street basements.


Perhaps the lack of such a service is because it's considered a bit tacky to buy used goods from people you don't know. But luckily there's a tradition, even in Moscow, of giving friends used baby equipment and clothes. The drawback of this is that there's a widely held superstitious belief that you shouldn't buy baby things before you have the baby.


"You walk around for nine months with your fingers crossed and then, after you've had the baby, you run out like crazy and get all the vital things you need," says one mom.


Given the price of disposable diapers it's perhaps not too astonishing that some mothers start potty training from the age of two months (I kid you not).


"You start trying to catch what you can at that age and by the time they're four months old you can usually predict when it's coming," says Zhenya. "Then when they're a year old they do everything in the potty like clockwork." Well, considering all my children were still in diapers at the grand old age of three, this is pretty impressive stuff.