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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Finding Someone Who'll Save Caviar for Baby

MTMadelaine Eberli, left, says her nanny, Volya, allows her to live life somewhat like she did before Ivan and Mikaela were born.
Summer has arrived and they're back: The city's parks and pavements have become territory of the baby carriage -- pushed back and forth and back again by their devoted carers oblivious to passers-by.

But who are the women (because I've yet to spot a man) behind the perambulators? The figures sitting on benches, eyes sweeping to and fro as their joyful charges rock back and forth and spin with kiddy abandon on the city's many swings and roundabouts.

With a belly like a beachball myself, and having long been the happy recipient of metro seats offered by big women with gold teeth (who as often as not proffer the seat of the poor commuter next to them), the time has come to look a little closer at Moscow childcare options.

And in a nation where, as a rule, the last spoonful of caviar is saved for baby, stories of good childcare are not hard to find.

Unlike in the West, having a nanny, or babushka -- a title often more dependent on age than family ties -- is still the norm rather than the exception.

"I can't even imagine how people in the United States do it with more than one child because nannies there are so expensive," says American Madelaine Eberli, mother of Ivan, 20 months, and Mikaela, 25 days. "But here they are so inexpensive, good, and it allows you to keep your sanity.

"Having the help means you can get out, you can go shopping, you can see friends. You can live your life somewhat like you did before and know that you have someone you can trust taking care of your kids."

Eberli's story is not unusual. She found Volya within her own home. The young woman was already doing housework for the family.

"She kind of just happened upon us," Eberli says. "She was our maid and when I came home with Ivan, she was just like a natural. At first, I did have a formal nanny. A friend left town and she recommended her nanny to me and I had her come in a couple of times. But I preferred Volya, so now she's both."

Eberli pays Volya $3 an hour. While English-speaking carers are less common and a little pricier -- $4 to $5 an hour -- they are not difficult to locate.

Word-of-mouth and recommendations by friends are by far the most common and seemingly hassle-free method of finding somebody skilled and trustworthy.

"I trust a recommendation from a friend far more than a reference from an agency or group," says Julie Wagner, who also sidestepped the agency route, finding a nanny for her 7-month-old son through a friend's recommendation.

Both Wagner and Eberli belong to the International Women's Club in Moscow, which runs a "Mum and Me" group for mothers of children aged 0 to 2 years. The group meets regularly to provide support, information and a social outlet for new mothers, and it's a good place to learn about available nannies. Advertisements for available help are often placed in the IWC's newsletter.

Other media are also a rich source of childcare options. The classified sections of the English-language press often have listings for nannies and childcarers.

And on the Internet, the childcare message board at www.expat.ru is a treasure trove of options -- many of them glowing recommendations from families leaving the city and wanting to find further employment for a much-loved nanny before their departure.

Finally, there are agencies -- the first port of call when embarking on such a quest in the West.

"It's not that the agencies are not good," says Masha Federmesser, who tried three women from the Intetika agency before settling on a nanny recommended by a friend of her mother's. "It's a personal thing when it comes to finding the right person to look after your child."

Agencies charge a fee in the region of $50 for the initial recommendation, however, most allow for a trial period and will not charge any extra fee if a replacement is requested within a certain period -- usually one to two months.

Rates are fixed at $2 to $2.50 an hour for the basic service, up to $4 to $5 an hour for carers also able to teach their charges.

But in a land where sometimes a spoonful of vodka is given with a baby's medicine, there are some obvious cultural gaps when it comes to the little ones.

"You have to be careful," says Inga, a British nurse working in Moscow, vouching for the truth of the vodka anecdote. "Often a Russian nanny will swaddle the baby in far too much clothing, which is not good for the child."

So, taking note of the cautions, while at the same time remembering the glazed looks of maternal contentment from the vast majority who have had happy experiences, later this week I'm off for an initial introductory tea with a babushka for the little World Cup-class kicker inside.

The International Women's Club: Tel. 147-2240, 10 a.m. to noon Wednesdays.

Moscow Expat Site: www.expat.ru.

Intetika: Tel. 925-5565.