Wednesday, November 14, 2012


I have mentioned a lot about Russian babushki (grandmothers). I have told stories of how they can be both sweet and helpful, but also intimidating. I guess I haven’t mentioned, though, (and I’m slightly ashamed to admit it) that I let babushki intimidate me so much that I was afraid to ever breastfeed William in public. I had heard horror stories of mothers getting yelled at for doing that, and even if I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I still just did not want to be yelled at for simply trying to nourish my baby. I always made sure to nurse him at home before we went anywhere, but it was a really good thing that William was an amazingly patient baby!

Although my experiences with babushki are more common and colorful and generally more post-worthy, I realize that I have failed to share some of our experiences with Russian dedushki (grandfathers). I suppose I haven’t blogged about a couple of the stories because I already shared them with family.

We have discovered that dedushki are also a unique group of their very own. They are not as intimidating or into your business, but many of them still seem to openly love children and will be helpful with them if needed. However, many dedushki live up to their stereotype that they are often drunk and/or smoking.

On our way home from the park one summer morning, an older man walked up to us and, in Russian, asked where we were from. When he found out we are from America, he got incredibly excited. He spoke to us for a very long time. He did not know any English, and with Jon’s limited Russian, we maybe caught 5% of what he was saying to us.

He was a comical old man, with only one crooked, yellow tooth still in his mouth. He was extremely impressed we were from the United States, that we were so young and had four children, and that we were living in Russia. As he visited with us, he would call to anyone who’d passed by on the sidewalk and tell them enthusiastically that we were Americans.

The children were getting very restless towards the end of our long visit, and I really couldn't blame them. But, the dedushka was sweet and offered to buy the children some ice cream. He left for about 10 minutes and when he returned he gave each of the them a specialty ice cream cone. The children noshed on them while he tried to visit with us a more. He also pulled out a box of wine from his bag (we didn’t realize that wine even came in a box). He sliced the box open with an old pocketknife from his pants pocket. He offered some to us, but we politely declined.

He made such a fuss over our family, kissing the children on the head and hands and continually embracing Jon. Thankfully, he never embraced me.

After an outing a couple weeks later, Jon went to do an errand by the metro station. I sat on a short wall outside with the children while they played close by and we waited. Suddenly, I felt someone’s thigh rub against mine as they sat down right next to me. I felt uncomfortable having my personal space invaded, but when I looked over, I saw an older gentleman and he started talking in Russian to William, who was sitting in his stroller.

This dedushka cooed over William and occasionally turned to talk to me. He was obviously drunk and his breath smelling strongly of alcohol. He clutched his hands to as heart and told me in Russian how much he loved babies. I just smiled and nodded, but I never quite had the chance to tell him I didn’t understand Russian, since he was so focused on William.

Jon finally returned and watched along with me this dedushka fussing over William. He indicated towards William’s stroller buckles and Jon told me he wanted William out. I hesitantly undid the buckles and lifted him out. That dedushka took William by the hands and began to walk around on the sidewalk with him. Thankfully, he stayed close to us. It was really sweet to watch. Soon, he brought William back to me and I picked my baby up and set him on my hip. The dedushka expressed again how much he loved babies and he told me a few more things. I couldn’t fully understand, but I think he was telling me how all of his own children were now old and grown. He probably missed them. William interacted really sweetly back to the man and it seemed to mean a lot to him. The one thing I did not appreciate about our exchange, however, was when he kissed William near the mouth.

Just about a week ago, I sat down on a bench at the bus stop, and an old dedushka hobbled over. I scooted over to make room. Surprisingly, he refused to sit, indicating something about his knees. However, that simple gesture seemed to invite him to open up to me and he began to chat and chat, despite the fact that I told him I did not understand Russian. He indicated to William, who was bundled in his stroller, and talked about babies and made large hand gestures. It seemed he was trying to give me parenting advice, and I almost wonder if he was annoyed that we had William in an umbrella stroller instead of a luxurious pram, like we mostly see around here. What could I do but nod and smile? If he wanted to buy me a pram, I would be ever so grateful! I was kind of relieved when the bus finally pulled up.

We have an elderly man who works about twice a week as our building’s concierge. He’s very friendly with our family. He seems to watch out for us and will press the button to unlock the main door before we even reach it. Whenever I walk past, we always smile and wave to each other. He has a real genuine, happy grin, and I love it! It always brightens my day. A couple months ago, he handed Kate a Russian book about Jesus. I wonder if it was because he saw us leaving for church early every Sunday morning.  Unfortunately, he is not our most responsible concierge. He sleeps a lot, goes outside to smoke and leaves the door open, and lately, with the weather turning cold, he just lights up a cigarette and smokes it right there in the main entryway. I remember last year he worked on New Year’s Day and he arrived looking woozy and with severely bloodshot eyes. It was obvious he had partied hard on New Year’s Eve.

Even though it can be uncomfortable at times around Russian babushki and dedushki, I really enjoy getting to know some of them. They seem to be such a fascinating, strong, and proud generation.


  1. It is hard not to like people who obviously adore your children! ;-)

    Thanks for sharing all of your experiences!

  2. This is so sweet. I love hearing about the Russians that you get to meet and interact with. It's so interesting to see the differences and similarities across cultures.