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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Moving Forward By Embracing Their Past

The two of us made our way to the mountains, heading up, up, up to the remote Russian camp where our children were staying the week.  They had made it through the youth conference last weekend, staying at homes that were straight out of their memories.  Only better.

“We had homemade halvah, fresh-baked bread, and compote for breakfast!” enthused our oldest.

The boys had stayed with a family taking in a number of teen boys from the conference.

“Speak only Russian in our home!” Dyah-dyah Tolik (Uncle Anatoly) warned the guys in Russian.

“He was serious,” our second son said, wide-eyed.  “They don’t speak any English at home.”

“Of course not,” I said, “how do you expect them to keep their kids’ Russian strong?”

The girls had a similar experience, only much, much more sugar-laden.

“Tyoh-tyah Tanya and Dyah-dyah Vova (Aunt Tatiana and Uncle Vladimir) told us to eat more.  They had a snack of cookies and cake at 11:00 at night, and then fed us breakfast the next morning,” they marveled.

“Sausage, hot dogs, Russian cakes–“ our bigger girl started.

“Coffee, tea, lots of sugar and pastries everywhere,” the younger thrilled.

“Coffee” I commented.  “I certainly hope you didn’t have any-!”

“Only slab’wee chai,” (weak tea) Mashenka nodded.

“With lots of sugar!” Sashenka added.

They made it through with flying colors, learning a song or two on the way which they presented with their group at the conference.  Little did they know, we were watching it all via live streaming video online.  And now they were off to camp, with a few frayed nerves and more new people to meet.

Petya had forgotten his tennis gear at the dacha, in addition to his corrective sunglasses.  With all of the help he was to me on a daily basis, I thought it was the least we could do to bail him out for his prized items, left behind a few days prior when departing at 4:00 am, and rising even earlier.

Naturally, the camp was in the middle of nowhere, renting retreat facilities on top of a mountain.  Somehow, we had missed a turn, and I urged Benedetto to ask for directions.  Reluctantly, he found a man out in the country, who was only too happy to help a stranger in need.

It was nearing noon, and I thought, by the length of their conversation, that we might even be invited to his home for evening supper.  The dogs whined quietly on my lap, wanting to:  a) either eat lunch; or b) get out and play.  First, we needed to find the camp.

Through the mountains, we wound our way past this valley, and that gap.  Dirt roads led up to higher elevations and each had rather alarming names, interspersed with “Watch for Falling Rocks” signs. I wondered if this was a frequent occurrence, and thanked the Lord that there was no snow in summer, which would definitely make travel even more dicey.  The temperature started dropping as we climbed higher.

At last we arrived, the camp road stating the speed limit to be “14-1/2 miles per hour”.

“They have a sense a humor, at least,” Benedetto observed, chuckling.

We passed several lodges until spotting children in the distance.  Sure enough, this was it.  Melodic Russian language drifted across the meadow.  Introducing ourselves to the camp director, he told us where our teens might be found doing crafts just before lunch.  The sweet and strong smell of borsch permeated the air as we entered the building.

“Mama!  Papa!”  our four kids ran to us across a room crowded with tables and chairs.  They hadn’t known we would be visiting, except for Petya.

All hugged us and talked a mile a minute in Russian.  I snapped a few photos.  They introduced us to new friends and counselors.  We took more pics. They dashed outside to kiss the dogs and the two of us took our leave, many leaders urging us to stay for lunch.

“Pazhal’istah,” (Please) they said with a sweep of the hand indicating that two seats were open for us.

“Spahsee’bah, noh eh’tah nee vahzmohzh’nah,” (Thanks, but it’s not possible) we smiled, wanting to stay, yet understanding that we should go.

This was their gig, and their time to shine.  We turned down country lanes and mountain roads spreading before us, happy that our kids were happy, and stretching to embrace their past… and their future.

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6 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Linda says:

    I want to say something, but don’t know what (makes a lot of sense, right). I think I’m a bit jealous that your children can still speak Russian, I wish we could have upkeep Monkeys Russian, but not being anywhere close to fluent (miles away for even being able to have an easy conversation in Russian), and two (or actually 3) new languages to learn… And he was so young and it was impossible to upkeep Russian with a “once a week lesson”.
    He still understands some Russian after two years, but doesn’t speak it.

    • avatar admin says:

      I know what you mean, Linda. We have a few languages going on here, too, and it’s hard to prioritize. If you want a little “Russian lite” that could be fun and not pressure-filled, some Russian teachers via Skype might split up a 30-min. lesson to be two 15-min. sessions twice a week. Simple conversations and learning to read easy words and then stories might keep the Russian language door “open”, as they say. I’m not sure how old he was when he came home, but our kids were mostly pre-teens, so that’s a big advantage in terms of the old language, and not so great concerning the new language-! We all just do what we can….

      • avatar Linda says:

        He was just over 4 years. just a little one.
        He has dvds and cds in Russian, and soft toys that sing… And we go about once a Month to a club that’s meant for kids adopted from Russia, the main problem there is that even if they do speak Russian, they don’t speak the languages we speak at home. So he’s a bit stuck sometimes.
        And more then that it was just in May this year when he actually said that he still understands something, until then when ever we asked/tried to talk to him about Russian language, he would always say he doesn’t understand, he doesn’t speak it, he doesn’t remember anything.
        Now we’re sort of talking about maybe going once a Month to an other thing that’s meant for kids from Russia, but it’s all happening on a weekday, 1,5h away from our house in the evening so I haven’t figured out how we’re going to make it work, as the kid’s only 6 years, he needs his sleep as well…
        I don’t know, I guess I knew from the beginning that with a so young child, so many new languages, non of our family or friends speak any Russian, it was a bit of a lost cause to upkeep the language strong. But we’re planning that once he knows how to read and write, we’re going to go on a Russian language course together. And I’ll learn it, and he’ll re-learn it. So we’re sound. =D

        • avatar admin says:

          Linda, that’s a great idea! I know that a lot of parents leave the Russian language “for later”, if the young person desires it at a later date. I think even once a month keeps “hello and goodbye, please and thank you” feeling normal, along with a proper pronunciation, and no fear of the language nor the people. If the get-together is quite a distance on a weekday, take a sandwich in the car for dinner, and let him sleep with a blanket on the way back. It could be a special adventure. I don’t think fluency has to be the goal, maybe just more of a familiarity and comfort level.

          It’s sad when they get to college and the Asian students with no language or native culture are called “bananas” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), and the black students are called “oreos” (chocolate on the outside, white on the inside). The EE kids would probably blend in more, unless they still have an ethnic name.

          All we can do is all we can do. You’re so sweet to think of his needs and his future!

  2. I wish there was some kind of Russian culture organization/camp/school what have you for our kids who came home as very young children and probably don’t have the language or strong memories that your older ones do. I actually got an email a few weeks ago from my homestudy agency looking for contacts for another family whose child is also searching for that birth culture identity. Jupiter continues to use one Russian word (Tyoh’tya…since we were in country and Jupiter’s first word she directed to us was to my sister that traveled with me. After which my sister devoted much time to trying to convince her to say Mama, but claimed the Russian word for aunt as Jupiter’s name for her) but I’m not fluent enough by any means to teach it to her. And obviously she couldn’t go to full time Russian language camp. Trying to save up the money for Rosetta Stone Homeschool as she is showing some interest in the language and culture now. She knows she’s Russian born; but what that means exactly is a whole other thing.
    sorry the comment is so rambly…up past my bedtime I guess!

    • avatar admin says:

      Wendy, the ones who came home at younger ages might benefit from some of the heritage camps they have for almost a week in certain parts of the US during the summer. We went to one either the first or second year that our first son was home. It wasn’t really for our demographic. The Russian “teachers” didn’t know more than a word or two, etc. But they tried. And a few Russian musicians were brought in, which was nice.

      Many urban areas have Saturday Russian schools which you could Google to find. It takes a real commitment, they are often half- or full-day programs….

      Another possibility is learning by DVD as you mentioned. Though it’s slightly dated (2002), the Families of the World (Russia) DVD shows one urban and one rural family and what their kids and parents do each day, which gives a good idea of family life there. Here’s a trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIrXw8-dyco. I also found a great website that has all sorts of cultural materials, it appears: http://www.culturekids.com.

      That’s so neat that Jupiter can remember “tyoh’tyah”-! 🙂

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