Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day Russian Style

            A year ago Vlad and Brittany were given a weekend in the Treehouse as a wedding gift. Shortly after the wedding, Brittany was growing heavy with their first child, and her protruding belly prevented her from climbing a tricky ladder to sleep in a tree loft. So they waited a year, during which time little Galena came into their lives—and, on this Mother’s Day weekend, into ours.
            When he was nineteen, Vlad moved from Russia to Los Angeles with his parents. He met Brittany while he was studying for his PhD at M.I.T. Brittany, a pretty, seraphic blonde, was at Harvard Medical School at the time. Obviously things clicked. They dated for a year, and a week after Vlad moved into Brittany’s Cambridge condo, they were married.
            Russians are very close with their families, and Vlad’s mom Tatiana came from California to help with baby Galena. This past weekend, all four of them came to Fern Forest to honor the wedding gift. Tatiana and Galena stayed in the guest room in the main house, giving Brittany and Vlad some honeymoon time in the Treehouse.
            Vlad is a photo tech for Facebook, and Brittany is a hematologist-oncologist in Boston. She talked a little about her work while she swayed Galena in a salsa dance through the dining room or Galena knocked over wooden block towers we built on the floor. When the baby napped, the newlyweds retreated to the Treehouse, and we got to know Tatiana.
A young-looking and very fit grandma, Tatiana told us about raising two sons on the outskirts of Moscow more than thirty years ago. There were no disposable diapers and no washing machine, so Tatiana had to wash cloth diapers by hand and hang them on lines she had strung through the living room. Once the diapers were dry, she ironed them to kill any bacteria in the Russian water. She ironed the bed sheets, too. When her husband came home from work, he often helped with the never-ending ironing.
            Money was tight for the Russian family. Tatiana got bones from the butcher and ground them up to make bone-meal patties. Chickens were skinny and blue-skinned and came with feet still attached. Tatiana scrunched up her little body to illustrate how thin the birds were. Her sons must have sucked nutrients from the bones because Vlad is now a strapping six-feet-four.
            Childcare in Boston runs about $3,000 a month, so Tatiana takes care of Galena while the couple are at work. She speaks only Russian to her, hoping Galena will pick up the language. During their weekend with us, she prepared the baby’s formula and food. Brittany believes Galena needs iron in her diet and made mash of liver and squash, at which Galena turned her head away. She preferred Tatiana’s homemade cottage cheese and squished banana and opened her baby-bird mouth for the little spoon until the container was empty.
            “She likes sweets,” Tatiana said and fed her fruit from the breakfast table.
            On Saturday Brittany nestled Galena into a carrier, and Vlad strapped the carrier onto his back for a hike up Mount Philo. Tatiana came along with a satchel of food for the baby. She plans to stay another year in Boston, leaving her husband Leonid in Los Angeles, but they talk via Facetime every night. Leonid understands the importance of getting children off on the right foot.
            I hope some day Galena will realize what a lucky gal she is with a beautiful mom and a loving grandma to care for her. She’s named after Tatiana’s mother, who died several years ago at age 79. There’s no Mother’s Day in Russia, so on this Sunday we celebrated all three mothers.
After they loaded their Jeep with a bag of toys, bottles of formula, berries, bananas, and homemade cottage cheese, it was time to say good-bye.
“Do svidaniya,” I said, a Russian term I picked up somewhere that means “until we next meet.”
Tatiana shook her head. “We say ‘poka.’ It’s the family way of saying goodbye.” She took Galena’s arm and waved the baby’s little hand at us.
“Poka, poka, poka,” Tatiana said. Galena just smiled, showing us all three of her teeth.

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