Provision #536: Russian Diary II

Laser Provision

We’re on to the second installment of my wife’s travelogue from Russia. She went there to assist our friend, Jennifer, who was adopting and bringing three young children back to the USA in early August. The journey was both challenging and rewarding. Next week, I intend to reflect on a few of my wife’s journal entries, which speak directly to the dynamic of empathy. For now, however, it’s time to just read on and enjoy the ride!

LifeTrek Provision

Last week I shared with you the first installment of an email journal I received from my wife, Megan, while she was travelling with our friend Jennifer in Russia. Their mission: to successfully transport three children from their home in a Russian orphanage to their new home, with Jennifer, in the United States. Your replies confirmed that I am married to an amazing woman and that we both have an amazing friend. Their aptitude for empathy have made me a better person.

Your replies also confirmed that you enjoy my wife’s writing. Next week, I’ll take some time to reflect on her notes, but for now it’s time for the rest of the story!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Jennifer, the kids, and I tend to evoke disapproving scowls most places we go. We thought it was because of the children’s behavior. But then when I was leaving the apartment alone this afternoon, a woman on the stairs scowled at me. I wondered about that. But then I realized that if she was in the apartment above us, she must imagine all kinds of terrible things that we’re doing to these children each night to cause them to cry so loudly and for so long.

The reality is much worse than she can imagine • “The DVD is over. It’s time to turn out the light and get into bed.” Horrible. Horrible, what some people will do to children!

Today was a rainy day, so our plans for to visit the ZoePark (Zoo) were canned. Jennifer • “Mama” • negotiated for us to swim in the little pool they have here at the hotel. The pool had a sauna and barrel of cold water along with the warm pool. The kids had a blast swimming. It was a wonderful way to spend a rainy afternoon!

This morning, Ksusha considered running away from home. Jennifer had to complete her last little bit of paperwork at the Russian Embassy. The presence of the kids was not required, and it was a long drive, so the kids stayed home with me. After breakfast, Ksusha disappeared into her room, which is not unusual. I could hear her opening and closing drawers, so I figured she was all right. When I heard the front door latch, though, I came running. I found her with her backpack on her back, all her treasurers packed, ready to set out on an excursion to find MAAma!

Ksusha gave me a terrible scare later this evening.

A little background. Ksusha doesn’t have a lick of common sense. There’s a term used by developmental psychologists, called “previewing,” that concerns the ability to play out a scene in your mind’s eye to think about how it might turn out before you act.

Ksusha’s never heard of it.

Our first clue came on the first morning I was here when the kids were playing in the fountain. The water was cold and after about an hour, Ksusha came to me shivering. We were about ready to go anyway, so I dried her off with the one little towel we’d brought and changed her into her dry clothes. I no sooner had her shirt pulled down over her tummy than she snatched the wet suit out of my hand and went running back into the fountain to rinse it out.

You knew she would end up drenched, and I knew she would end up drenched. Ksusha seemed genuinely surprised and dismayed to find herself drenched!

She was back to being cold and had to sit in wet clothes while we ate lunch in the cafe.

Another example was at swimming this afternoon. When it got to be time to leave, Jennifer got Sergei up the ladder and out and was drying him off. I got Ksusha up the ladder and out and sent her in Jennifer’s direction and turned back to get Macha. Ksusha saw an unsupervised moment, reversed course and jumped back in for more play. Only I wasn’t looking and she landed right on my head!

Then again as we were all leaving, she pulled away and was about to throw herself back in AGAIN! Deep water. No adults. No problem.

At lunch we were walking over to have lunch at the restaurant in the fancy hotel next door and Jennifer noticed how there were open windows all the way up to the fifteenth floor. “That’s not something you’d see in the states” she commented. There is no air conditioning here, (and not that many flies and mosquitoes), so even in a fancy hotel, they have open windows with no screens even in high rooms.

In our fourth-floor apartment, there are two balconies, one of which is a pretty flimsy looking wrought-iron deal. There are no locks on the doors out to them. But they are the only means to having any air at all, so we’ve left the doors open and placed furniture in front of them as best we could. Mostly, it hasn’t been a problem but it has been a source of concern.

There was another window in Ksusha’s room with a wide window sill, but we didn’t even bother with that one, for obvious reasons.

At bedtime this evening, we were midstream in all of the usual antics. Ksusha had refused to have anyone lay down with her, which has worked like a charm some nights.

Things got quiet in Ksusha’s room and we thought she might be settling down. After a bit, I decided to creep in just to check. I found Ksusha sitting on her knees on the window sill, with the window open, not just looking out the window, but leaning far out watching the people on the street below!

Oh. My. God!

It took a WHILE for my heart to stop pounding.

She might have been throwing things down, or spitting for all I know. Sergei thinks that spitting from high places is a really fun game.

My hands were shaking so much that I was having trouble getting the window latch locked again. Ksusha helpfully reached up and easily slipped the recalcitrant latch right into place. Like an old pro.

I’ll be really glad to get back to the litigious US of A where they don’t have open windows in high places!

Bedtimes in general have gotten much easier with the girls. They are still a wrestling match (literally) with Sergei (would YOU leave a crying child who refuses to stay in bed alone in a room with an open balcony?). He tends to get really mad if we sing or try to pat or rub his back at bedtime, because he suspects what we’re up to • trying to put him to SLEEP!

Tonight, Jennifer had Sergei and was singing to him over his howls. She sings a version of “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” where she includes everyone’s name in it. Well, apparently, she’d said all the names except mine and was moving on to a new song when he interrupted his howling, sat up, and added indignantly, “Tetya!” (Auntie!)

The kids all tend to look out for each other. Jennifer has been taking the kids out one by one on little excursions to the grocery store. This afternoon, when the excursions began, Macha figured that, according to her calculations, she ought to be first. Unfortunately, her means of expressing that desire dropped her into second place. When Ksusha returned and Macha discovered that getting ice cream was part of the deal, she was all the more incensed that she•d missed out on her opportunity to be first. Even more unfortunately, her means of expressing her dismay dropped her out of the running for a trip to the store all together. Sergei trotted off happily in her stead. When he got to the ice cream freezer, however, he dug in his heels and absolutely refused to leave the store without an ice cream bar for Macha. 

Friday, August 3, 2007

Today, we took a boat ride on the Moscow River to see the sights of Moscow. The boat ride was really fun. It was a pleasant, relaxing way to see the sights without having to struggle to keep three exuberant children still. We rode on the main deck for a while, went upstairs to the top deck, checked out the back of the boat, then the side of the boat, and back again to the main deck. We mostly had the boat to ourselves, so we were not bothering anyone, except the snack bar man and the ticket man. The ticket man actually seemed to enjoy the children and engaged them in long conversations. At one point, there was a little wedding party going on at the front of the boat, replete with live music that provided some fun entertainment.

We understood when we bought the tickets that the ride was to be 1 hour and 40 minutes. After about an hour and a half, Jennifer started looking around at the buildings to see if anything was starting to look familiar. I told her that I couldn’t be sure but that I thought we had been traveling in the same direction for the whole time. My attempts to converse with the ticket man did not warrant much useful information. Then Jennifer mentioned that one of the brochures the kids had been playing with had a map of the river, so I took that to the snack bar man. I was able to learn that we were almost to the end of the route and would soon be turning around. We had to pay another fare, and then ride another hour and forty minutes back to where we started!

Given that it had begun raining, we figured we were as happy there as anywhere. So we settled in for the long ride back.

I learned how to hail a cab in Russia. Igor, our adoption rep, taught me when he dropped us off at Red Square. You hold your arm out flat with the palm down. I put it into action after the boat ride. We walked a while in the light rain to burn off some energy. But when it started to rain harder, we waited under a bridge and I hailed a cab. When that wasn’t working, we moved out into the pouring rain and tried again. We apparently looked pitiful enough standing there to get a ride. A driver did a U-turn across six lanes of traffic to come back and pick us up.

The thing is, the taxies in Moscow may or may not be marked, and you are not really sure if you are getting into a car with a real cab driver, a helpful stranger, or an abductor. Given that this driver took a different route to the hotel than we were used to, seemed momentarily perplexed when we asked him for the price when we got there, and quoted a price much less than the other cabs, we suspected that we’d accepted a ride from a helpful stranger. Given that two of the three of the kids tend to get car sick, we’d have had ways to make ourselves unattractive to an abductor!

You know, I say why pay money for a horror show or a roller coaster if you want to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Just hail a cab in Moscow! People here drive like maniacs! They do U-turns in the middle of six lanes of traffic, make up extra lanes where the city planners did not have the forethought to put them, and basically just make up the rules as they go along.

For a real thrill, try a cab with broken seat belts!

There are few sights in life as precious as that of a child’s face transfixed in wonder. We got our money’s worth on that score tonight at the Moscow Circus! It was a great show and the kids loved it. Macha howled with laughter at the antics of the clowns, Ksusha watched with her mouth agape at the high-wire act, and when the tigers came out, Sergei was not only on the edge of his seat, he slipped right off the edge to squat in the aisle with his chin on the seat in front of him (which fortunately had a very small occupant)!

Of course, all three sets of eyes were nearly as wide at intermission watching all those parents shell out all of that money to buy all of those toys!

The biggest grins of the evening were saved, however, for the chance to sit on a real camel and have our pictures taken!

Well, our Moscow adventure is coming to an end. In the morning, we•ll get busy packing and head to the airport. You can keep us in your prayers as we head into FOUR flights, and a night in a hotel in New York. From what I’ve told you so far, would YOU be looking forward to the next 36 hours in transit?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The secret of success to making a long exhausting journey with three rambunctious children is to set your expectations VERY low, and then the reality is not nearly as bad as what you expected. That’s what I did. I expected 36 hours of sheer horror, and it wasn’t nearly that bad. It had its moments. But most of it wasn’t terrible.

The kids were very excited on the long drive across Moscow to the airport. At one point, I asked Igor if this was the wildest group of kids he•d seen. He smiled and wisely declined to answer. He simply replied, •Most people don’t adopt three!•

We made our way to the ticket counter and got started on what turned out to be a VERY long process. If we had known it was going to take more than a hour to get the tickets processed, we would have gotten out some toys and games from the backpacks a lot sooner. After about 45 minutes an official looking woman came over to us and asked, in English, •Are you the adoption case?• She went on to reassure us that there was nothing wrong, but that adoptions just take a long time to process. At that point, we sat down and broke into the backpacks. Cards were always a hit with Macha. Sergei got out his stickers and decorated the ticket counter with them. Fortunately, the ticket lady seemed to think that was cute.

From the ticket counter, we went to Passport Control. Jennifer and the kids went through first, and I waited behind the painted line. When they were buzzed through the gate at the end of the window, Sergei, who was being carried in Jennifer’s arms, turned back and cried out, ‘tetya!• He was afraid I was going to be left behind.

Macha got airsick on the flight from Moscow to Amsterdam and lost her lunch. She was happy to get off that plane and was skipping happily through the airport, playing with her brother and sister. One of the stores we passed by had blue lights embedded in the floor in a half circle around their entrance. The kids thought that was pretty cool and squatted down to investigate. We tried to hurry them along, saying that we needed to move quickly in order not to miss our next Som•a-lote (airplane). At this news, Macha looked stricken. She suddenly remembered what we•d communicated to her, that we would be going on FOUR somalotes! She began to cry and she cried all the way through the airport, increasing her volume as we entered the next airplane.

When we got on the plane, I asked the flight attendant if he had anything to give her for airsickness, as we had not had the opportunity to stop and buy anything. He did, and I bit it in half to approximate a child-size dose. She would have none of it, even with offers of water and candy. Sergei had also shown some signs of motion sickness, so we gave him about a quarter of tablet, hidden in some Skittles. As he chewed, he screwed up his face and shook his head. He thought that was the worst tasting candy he had ever had! When we offered him some more un-doctored candy to serve as a chaser, he adamantly refused. It may be years before he is willing to give Skittles another try!

The kids had all loved using the headphones with the DVDs all week, so they were quite pleased to each be handed a headset on the plane. Sergei, in particular, was quite taken with his. He broke the first set trying to discern by what magic they could extract music from the arm of a chair! After the requisite waiting period, Jennifer gave him hers and he decided to just accept that this was Way Cool.

He got even more excited when the movies started. They showed Spiderman, Twice! About five hours into the flight, I was coming back from the bathroom and noticed that every single person in our cabin was sound asleep, EXCEPT for the two sets of wide eyes staring up from our row • Macha and Sergei. They watched all the way to the credits.

That left only about two hours of sleep before, at the moment of touch down in New York, the kids officially became US citizens.

After a long process of customs, immigration, and getting our baggage, we discovered that people had been waiting over an hour for the hotel shuttle, and the line for cabs was blocks long. We•d gotten used to living dangerously in Moscow, so we accepted a ride from an unauthorized cabbie. He charged us $20 to go two miles, but we were exhausted and it was well worth it.

We hit the hotel room and within minutes, the kids had tried out every light switch, every faucet, every button on the TV, remote, and clock radio. They were particularly taken with the funny little lever used to flush the toilet (instead of a button on the back of the tank). At the apartment in Moscow, the shampoo had come in little packets. The kids were very excited to see similar packets (only much bigger) next to the coffee maker and patted them happily, shouting ‘shampoo!!• They•d have happily washed their hair in coffee grounds if we•d let them!

In the morning, there was a •Kids Eat Free• buffet, so the kids got to try all kinds of American food and see what they liked and didn’t like. That will save Jennifer some wasted experiments at home!

In the lobby, Macha looked around, shook her head, and said •Pah-roo-ski?• She•d noticed that there wasn’t anyone around speaking Russian anymore!

In Detroit, we learned that our last flight was a little delayed, so we decided that we had time for a sit down meal. At the caf• in the hotel in Moscow, we were always offered two menus, one in English for Jennifer and me, and one in Russian for Macha to read to the other children. At the restaurant in the Detroit airport, Macha took one look at the menu and realized it was in English. She tried to hand it back to the server, requesting politely the •Pah-roo-skI’ instead. She was a little surprised to learn they didn’t have such a thing!

The kids were pretty happy on that last flight. I emptied my backpack of the last of the little toys and games I’d brought along to keep them occupied. The younger two played a while and then slept. Macha completed the sticker book I’d given her, and then wanted to play cards. She lost her lunch, but just went back to playing Go Fish. Near the end of the flight, though, she began to get sleepy and put her head down in my lap to dose. She was awakened by the rumbling as we hit the runway. Her eyes popped open and she looked up at me with a happy grin. •Amereeca?• she asked. •Cheecago in Amereeca?• When I nodded yes, she clapped her hands in delight!

When we got to Jennifer’s house, we were greeted by Grandma Doris, Ally the nanny, and good friends Vicky and her daughter Jamie. Oh, and Lilly the dog. Macha immediately fell in love with Lilly. She petted her and called her Lilliosha! (Putting ‘sha• at the end of a name is a term of endearment.) Right away, Macha got Lilly to sit. Who knew Lilly spoke Russian?

The kids excitedly looked around the house, and checked out the front yard and the backyard. That all seemed wonderful enough. But when they got to their rooms, Oh, that was magical! Their eyes were wide with the shelves of toys, the canopy loft beds for the girls, the jungle theme bedroom for Sergei, the closets and drawers full of new clothes! They happily explored their new world for the rest of the afternoon.

My hero for the last day was Ally, who helped Mama get the kids to clean up all of their toys, gave them their baths, read them a story, and got them settled into bed without a single tear.

When I went upstairs to kiss them Good Night and Good Bye, on each of their faces there was a calm, happy glow of contentment. They were finally home.

Blessings to all who extend care to little children.

Coaching Inquiries: When has empathy moved you to action? How have you been able to communicate without words? What things do you pay attention to? What things do you notice? How could empathy make your life, or the life of someone you love, more wonderful right now? What’s stopping you from putting empathy to work?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

Your wife’s emails from Russia represent a wonderful expression of empathy. My colleague had a similar experience • she adopted two small children from Russia. And this was after her youngest of three was a teenager. Her stories about the conditions in Russian orphanages helped me understand that folks who do this are a rare breed. We all have our ways of expressing empathy. Mine is through helping others speak better, and I blog about that.

I so enjoyed Megan’s accounting of her trip to Russia with her friend and hearing how she was so steadfast in her discipline of the children. I’m afraid my doubts would have surfaced in some way, sabotaging my intents to give the kids what they really needed.

I am from Russia, living in the USA, with a 6 year-old-son named Sergey. Imagine that! If she would like, perhaps I could meet or talk with Megan’s friend. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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