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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…!

The Facts of Life… in Russian

When my girls arrived home at the ages of 8.5 and 11 years old, we had to make up for lost time.  There was a lot for them to understand about life, from needing to brush their teeth (little one had some rotten, black teeth, plus 21 cavities), to throwing the used toilet paper IN the toilet, to bathing every day (“I don’t want to!” “That’s fine, dear, but you’re going to, because we have to smell you.”), to using deodorant, etc.  Top of the list were the facts of life.

Thus, I tried to engage in my cause our exit physician in Russia, the one who examines children and their medical records to ensure that they are healthy enough for an American visa.

“Dr. ______, could you please ask Mashenka if she knows the basic facts about menstruation?  I mean, I’m not looking forward to explaining this on the airplane in Russian, should the need arise….”

He swallowed hard and turned to her,  “Have you started menstruating, yet?”

Having understood his Russian, I realized that maybe he misunderstood my question.  I had already spoken with the orphanage doctor and she had assured me that the girl had not yet had a period.  It was how to broach the subject in an educational manner….

“But does she understand what will happen to her body, and what is normal?” I pressed.

“You understand that you will get a period?” he asks her.


Great.  Still not to my specs.  So I press further and he cuts me off to reassure me, unused to parents asking questions or taking up his time.

“The girls in the internat all talk….”

Lovely.  And I’m sure it’s all very accurate information.  Thanks, doctor, I’m on my own.  So, once home, I discussed with the girls the facts of life, as many of the basics as they could understand.  We basically touched on babies and how they were distressed that one of their classmates in Russia was going to have a baby.

“She’s only 14, she’s not married-!” they protested.

“Well, to make a baby, you need a man and woman, or an older boy and girl.  Maybe the girl had a boyfriend?”

“Nyet…” they insisted.  I felt we should leave some of that for future discussions and get back to the basics.

As with many of the girls coming from starvation settings, the girls got their periods at the lower end of the age range once proper nutrition started speeding things up.  I was sad for our little one, just ten, and appearing about eight, but it was what it was.  She could barely remember to brush her teeth without my constant prodding.  Now we had bigger messes to deal with.

And so it was that she made her way to my bedroom before the crack of dawn, asking to speak to me.  I had taught the girls how to mark a calendar and keep track of their anticipated times of the month, even though young girls were not always on schedule.  I knew that this week didn’t look good, a time when their periods (which somehow they coordinated) should fall, along with swimming, biking, and running triathlon camp.

“Mama, I have my period.”

I climbed out of bed, the dog near my feet not even stirring.  Prepared with tampons just in case, I now had to sell the young girl on the idea that she would be able to use one for swimming.  Our Moslem female doctor had advised against such an idea (“She is virgin?  No, not a good idea until she is married…”), but I knew the realities of American sports.

“Okay, look, Sashenka,” I demonstrated.  “This is a tampon.  You take off the wrapper.  This is the applicator.  The tampon is inside and it’s like a cotton sausage, meant to absorb.  Inbetween where you tinkle and where you poo-poo (don’t you love the medical lingo?), there is a tiny hole, a ma’lenkaya dir’ka.  This is where, one day, if you decide to have a baby, the hole will stretch, and the baby will come out….”

Oh God, don’t let this be scary for her.

“This tiny hole is where you insert the tampon, pohn’yala?”


I went over the fine points, showing her the diagram enclosed in the box.  Twice she came back to me in tears.  She was already traumatized.

“Mama, I can’t.  It falls out.”

“I know, it’s different, Sashenka, but there are girls younger than you who need to swim, and they use tampons, too.  You must put the applicator inside and then press to push it in the rest of the way.  It can’t fall out, if you do it properly.  The key is to relax, and to not tense up.”

I was one to talk, being pretty tense, myself.  I hated the idea of being under such pressure with a hurried and harried morning schedule, but the fact was, she had to learn, and she had to learn now.

“Maybe I won’t swim, Mama….”

“Well, there really is no Plan B,” I explained.  “If you want to be in the triathlon, you’ll need to swim, and you’ll need to practice today before the big race on Friday.  Try it again and go slowly.”

A few minutes later, she appeared at my bathroom, while I was doing my makeup.

“Success?” I asked.

Her big smile told the whole story, and I gave her a high-five.  Why was it that I had aged ten years this morning, when she was the one who really needed a few more years on her side?

She whispered to me later as she got ready to leave for camp, “It feels great, Mama, no big diaper or anything!” and gave a little skip out the door.

Ah, she had tasted life on the other side.




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8 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar hoonew says:

    Wow- I’m not sure I could have pulled this off! My hat’s off to you, Alexandra, as well as your quick student.

  2. avatar Gwendolyn says:

    Ah, and I tried and failed with the nearly 14 yo a week or two ago — but at least she let me show the infernal / useful gadget to her and explain it! LOL.

  3. avatar Phyllis says:

    Oh my goodness, that brings such comfort to me! Our oldest boy hit puberty just 3 months after coming home. At 5 months home, his voice was changing. It took me about 2 weeks to figure that one out! I had had a bio son and went through all of that, but I hardly knew my new son well enoughl to tell that it was his voice changing and not some prank he was playing on his brothers. : o) I remember thinking “Every piece of information states that the kids are so far behind developmentally in every area, how come this was accelerated!!” Welll, my daughter started her cycle exactly one month after my hysteroctomy, so I guess this just proved that God has a sense of humor with both my children. lol

    • avatar admin says:

      That’s a good point, Phyllis, I never thought of that angle: why speeded up in one area and slowed down in others-?! I think it’s all a conspiracy designed to age ME, lol, but I’m fighting it.

  4. avatar Sybil says:

    After reading this post I think you and the readers would enjoy reading another post that I came across some time ago. I find it funny just thinking of it. It is a story they have on the same site that has Awkward Family Photos. I love that site. It provides needed laughter. The story itself is hilarious but the comments that go along with it (press comments under the story) are hysterically funny. Here is the link if you want it: http://awkwardfamilyphotos.com/2010/06/28/awkward-family-story-dessert-anyone/

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