My Russian family
I was born in a small Siberian town called Divnogorsk. When I arrived, my mum was 24 and working as a food technologist, my dad was 21 and struggling to finish university. It’s normal to get married and have children early in Russia. Besides, it’s peculiar to have children late or not have them at all.
I learnt to read and recite Pushkin’s poems from an early age since my paternal grandmother was a teacher of Russian and Literature. Generally speaking, Russian grandparents tend to spend quite a lot of time with their grandchildren reading, drawing, playing and doing other activities. They always help their offspring with homework and make sure the kids are doing well at school.
I wasn’t an exception and spent all my childhood with my two grandmothers and granddad. My maternal grandmother was a businesswoman – very stylish and youthful looking. She often travelled abroad and always brought me back lots of presents. She took me to different restaurants and cafes and dressed me like a little princess. When I was 13 she gave me a very expensive diamond ring. My mum confiscated it as soon as she found out. She was worried it could potentially jeopardise my safety. My wealthy granny spoiled me rotten while my teacher grandmother instilled into me the importance of being an accomplished young lady. She took me to dancing and drawing lessons. We read a lot of Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Chekhov. She even bought me a couple of English textbooks and we studied English together. She never let me eat crisps or drink coke. She told me it was poisonous. My paternal grandparents were very strict and proper they didn’t smoke, drank only on special occasions and never swore. And as I was growing up they expected me to turn out exactly the same.
The whole thing might sound tough but I liked both sides of my childhood – the lavish lifestyle and the finishing school experience. It was great. It made me who I am right now.
My boisterous village life
Every summer Russian kids go to their grandparents’ village or dacha. I liked my time in the village. I was a real tomboy there – ran around, explored neglected houses, played with animals and sat on the roof. My friends and cousins came to the village too so it was always full of kids in the summer. My grandmother taught us to cook and sew and made us work in the garden or a potato field. We had a lot of sheep, one horse, two rabbits, one cat and two dogs. I loved playing with the animals. They were funny and sweet but especially I liked looking after their offspring.
My paternal grandparents only lived in the village for a couple of years. Many Russian villages fell apart in the post-Soviet era – there were no schools, hospitals or jobs. Local people were forced to move out to the city and so did my grandparents. They sold the house and moved back to their city flat.
The village life was one of the most memorable parts of my childhood. I enjoyed picking berries in the woods, making pastry with granny, popping over to the neighbours’, seeing my village mates, going for a swim in the lake, riding my bike downhill at a high speed and much more. I feel sorry that most western children never experience what a Russian child does. However, it’s getting less and less common as modern Russian parents tend to take their children abroad and not to a village in the middle of nowhere.
Rules you must obey as a Russian child
You can’t even imagine how many rules there were in my childhood. It was always about what I wasn’t allowed to do. So whenever my rich granny looked after me it was like going on holiday after a stressful week at work. There were no rules whatsoever. She never told me off for breaking her favourite vase or annoying her cleaner, for example. Yet there was one thing guaranteed to get me into trouble – loudly correcting anyone who mistakenly thought granny was my mum. This always made my grandmother cross and the friend who made the error very embarrassed.
One of my least favourite rules as a child was to always say ‘hello’ to all my mum’s and grandmother’s friends if we passed them on the street. And then I had to wait for hours and hours for them to finish their conversation. It was a real torture. The other rule was to always wash up my plate and mum’s plate if it happened to be in the sink. I didn’t really understand how that was fair.
Of course I wasn’t allowed to smoke or drink alcohol as a teenager. It’s considered very inappropriate and frivolous for a young lady to smoke or drink. Some of my schoolmates are still hiding from their mums that they smoke. I am glad I’ve never tried smoking. I don’t think it would suit me.
You can’t say the word ‘sex’ in a Russian family. The whole topic is banned. You can’t discuss it with your parents or ask questions about it. Even when you are a grown-up it’s still very awkward and weird. At the age of five I was, as any other child, very curious to know where kids came from. Since no one would tell me I decided to try asking my granny’s cleaner. She said that I’d find out when grew up. I was really worried that I wouldn’t.
There’s no sex education in Russian schools which I wish there was. It would help young girls to find answers to their questions and avoid early pregnancies.
Although some parts of my childhood might seem tough for an outsider, I was really happy. I love my grandmothers and my mum. We are very close. I talk to them on Skype and go home once a year.