Posts filed under ‘Russian’
“Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was excellent in every way. This all happened on the sixth day.” Genesis 1:31
The sixth morning of Polina’s life was bright and clear. The air outside was crisp. The sun was already high in the sky.
I stood looking at my daughter, my hand pushed through the plastic window, resting gently on her leg, my fingers gripping her heel. I was happy because she had her eyes open.
It was a busy morning in the nursery. People rushed around, going this way and that; some were washing equipment, others changing babies, giving them wash cloth baths and putting on clean fitted sheets in the cribs. I wasn’t used to so much action. It made me tired.
About this time every morning I would meet up with the doctor on call, the one looking after Polly. I was not surprised when I heard footsteps coming from behind. Turning I saw the rock star Pediatrician.
“Dobre Utra” I said, greeting her with a smile.
The Doctor looked down at her feet and when she looked up her gaze did not meet mine. She looked passed me and focused on the sunshine streaming in through the window.
The morning after my daughter’s traumatic birth a sharp needle broke through her placid skin, diving into a vein. A vile quickly filled with her blood. Then it was closed up, labeled and sent off to be tested for an extra chromosome in her cells.
We were told it would take two weeks to get the results.
Polina’s blood was to determine our future.
I have always been afraid of heights. This fear is shared with others in my family; my father, my oldest daughter. In middle school I was the kid who wouldn’t go on rides at amusement parks. I worked hard those days, pretending I preferred the carousal or that I really did think my recording of The Wind beneath my Wings had talent, but everyone in my class knew that I was scared.
I am even a little jumpy in elevators. Anywhere you can fall.
“I am here to tell you, with disappointment, Gillian, that your daughter has Down syndrome.”
No “good morning, how are you today?” No “will you husband be here soon because there is something I’d like to discuss with you.”
Sometimes I dream that I am free falling. They say if you actually hit bottom in your dream that you are dead in real life.
I stared at the woman in front of me. I blinked a few times. I hit bottom.
My earliest memory of a person with disabilities is enclosed in fear. I was a young girl, a toddler really, at an outdoors barbeque with my parents. The whole morning I had played and swam and ate watermelon. That is, until I saw a woman with Down syndrome. I noticed she was different right away and it scared me. I found a place to hide, a tent. All day long my parents tried to get me out of the tent. They lured me with ice cream and hamburgers. I wouldn’t budge.
I looked around my daughter’s nursery room. There were cribs and nurses and diapers and equipment. But there was no place to hide.
The doctor droned on. Her painted face was hard, like a brick wall.
“So what do we do now?” I cut in.
I wanted to fling myself on the floor, bang my fists and tare my clothes but instead I stood silently, blankly. As adults we want to look together. It is one of the most nagging sins.
The Doctor talked about other health concerns. Her words had no sound. I watched her painted face contort as she mouthed words. My ears felt like they were stuffed with cotton balls. It was like I was under water.
When there was a lull I blurted out a hurried “spaseeba”, my attempts at a thank you.
A better woman would have bent down and drawn close to her baby. She would have looked into the baby’s sleepy eyes and vowed to love her and to protect her and to treasure her.
I turned and ran out of the room. I did not even look at my child. If I stayed, I might have turned to salt, like the woman in Genesis who looked back to her city as she fled. I reached my room across the hall, already sobbing and yelling. And some how I was detached, it was like I was watching a scene unravel in front of me. I didn’t recognize who this person was crying and screaming. I fell onto my bed and howled like a person getting put into a straight jacket.
In the last five days while sitting for hours in my quiet tan hospital room I had considered every scenario in my head. I played them over and over and prayed to God for strength. I knew there was a great possibility that my daughter had Down syndrome. But I had never thought about how it was going to feel.
Instantly, several women surrounded me. One nurse patted my arm. Someone handed me a small plastic cup filled with thick purple liquid. Each woman carried on her own personal monologue directed at me. Dazed, I gulped down the syrup. The rock star stood closest to my head on the right.
“Stop crying”, she told me. “Yes, it is terrible that your daughter has Down syndrome. But there is nothing that can be done. Now stop crying!” The other women nodded in agreement, still patting me and saying “neecheevo, neecheevo, it’s nothing, Gillian, it’s nothing.”
I have given birth three times in completely different ways.
The first time was the easiest. I had an epidural. The birth was pain-free. Soft music played in the background, the doctor on call was a little miffed to be woke up in the early morning and took out her aggression on the chipped red polish on her nails. I breathed deeply and pushed with all my might three or four times and we had our girl.
The first six months of Elaina’s life she cried seven hours a day and I sat on the couch in our little Chicago apartment and waited for Sergei to come home from work, beside myself, convinced I was the only woman in the history of mankind who did not possess an innate mothering intuition.
Zoya’s birth was long and painful. I let a friend talk me into a natural water birth and the pain was like none I had experienced before or since. I lugged my huge body out of the tub, down the hallway and back to my hospital bed in the hopes for some last minute drugs, a towel draped over my shoulders.
Only Zoya could not wait. She shot out of me while I stood next to the hospital bed, one leg hiked up on the mattress. She was caught like a football by my mid-wife, her robust cry filled the whole hospital floor. I fell into bed, oblivious of new life, a black haired, swollen little girl. My second daughter.
They say that as soon as a woman bares her child, she forgets the pain and struggle of the labor. Because she gives birth. She actually delivers a life. I have given birth three times. But the last time, I feel like I didn’t actually give birth. I think it was taken from me. I do not remember the third birth experience.
I have to make up the first few moments of my third daughter’s life.
And I imagine silence.
I imagine the baby, blue and tiny, doctors scurrying around the room, hooking her up to monitors and beepers, sticking a breathing tube in her nose. No cries, no tears of joy and laughter from the proud parents, no welcome and congratulations from the doctors and nurses. No inquiries of her name.
I imagine a pause, doctors noticing that beside her struggle for life that she showed some outward markers of Down syndrome.
I imagine pity.
I imagine professionalism kicking in and the doctors jumping to the task of saving my child’s life.
I have no memory of remarkable joy when she came into the world. I don’t get to have those memories because they do not exist. In those first few moments of living, in her struggle, did she wonder where her parents were? Did the doctors treat her with any love or tenderness as they slowly pumped life back into her?
After a quick kiss from Sergei, I was whisked through double doors. The temperature dropped twenty degrees in seconds. My teeth began to chatter. I felt very small and alone. Nurses and doctors buzzed around the room while Russian words swirled above my head.
I remember being asked if I would like an interpreter for the birth when we signed our agreement to deliver in this hospital. Thinking Sergei would be there to help, I said no.
A thin blue paper robe stripped me of armor and eloquence. I was rubbed raw, unable to play the part of a person confident in her maker. My mind was cloudy without a clue of what came next, unable to understand basic Russian words memorized in the first six months of language classes. I could hardly think of how to extend pleasantries to the staff because of nerves. Prerecorded prayers I had memorized to date were no where to be found in the usual places in my mind.
“Help me Lord. Help us.”
The smiling doctor was in the operating room with several nurses and the pediatric team and an anesthesiologist. She greeted me and started to explain about the epidural going into my spine. Her breath reeked of cigarette smoke and her voice was scratchy.
The room was the kind of cold you feel in an old woman’s hand or when you sit outside on a cement bench on a winter’s day.
I felt a stinging prick in my lower back, smack dab in the middle. Immediately warmth spread passed my belly and out to my toes.
A nurse laid me back on the gurney and placed a mask over my face. I thought I would be awake for the birth like those television shows you see; the little curtain at the woman’s mid-section, the husband seated on a high stool up by the wife’s head. The baby’s cries fill the room as the doctor lifts up the child to proclaim “it’s a girl!”
The nurse told me to count backwards from ten and I was confused. I didn’t know if I should count in English or in Russian. The hum of the fluorescent lights screamed in my ears. “Deysyet, deyvyet, vohsehm”, my voice shook, “sehm…”
I floated upwards away from the smiling doctor, a scowl now on his face as he bent over me, away from the anesthesiologist waiting for her next smoke break, away from my friends keeping my husband company in the lobby by swapping birth stories, away from the little one struggling in my womb. I floated upwards towards a bright yellow light. Relief flooded my body. I was asleep.
J and her husband and L arrived within the hour.
They were upbeat, commenting on the private hospital’s nice rooms, shyly cracking jokes, squinting at me through the room’s bright lights. All three tried to act like it was the most natural thing in the world to be hanging out in a Ukrainian hospital room at one in the morning.
I loved them for it.
The smiling doctor with the thick gold necklace was found and L told him we needed a Cesarean section right away. He was unsure of the soft spoken American woman. Once again he said we should wait and see if the IV helped. But L persisted, looking to my husband for linguistic assistance and nodding incessantly as words poured out of her mouth in a mixture of English and Russian. Her face was stern and her words were pleading. Eventually the smiling doctor agreed to take a closer look at the baby.
I found myself waddling towards the ultrasound room, a white bath robe tied loosely around my expansive middle, my black slippers swishing down the hall.
Everything happened quickly once the baby’s extreme distress was proved on the ultrasound machine. An anesthesiologist was shaken out of her sleep and on her way to the hospital. The smiling doctor hurried off to prepare for surgery. The pediatrician on call put on her scrubs, elastic snapping over her shoes.
Back in my room ready for surgery, I perched on the end of my high hospital bed and looked around at the warm tan walls. A wooden desk and a matching chair stood against the wall in front of me. I watched my feet dangle above the cold white tile floor. They seemed separate from my body. I wandered where they were taking me and if I even wanted to go.
I thought about Elaina and Zoya sleeping in their Estonian made bunk-beds at home. Sergei and I had searched all over Kiev before purchasing the pale colored wooden beds. Thick cotton blankets pulled up tightly to the girls’ chins, in an attempt to keep the frosty night air that lingered inside our old apartment at bay. Their Babushka slept in the room next to them ready if needed for a drink of water or a trip to the bathroom. My little girls, unaware that in about a half hour their baby sister would be here.
Heavy footsteps came down the hall and I saw my smiling doctor who wanted to learn English poke his head in the door of my room.
I nodded that I was ready and suddenly two other men were at my side helping me down from the high hospital bed and on to a cold gurney with a thin white sheet. I settled and my husband came close to me. He covered my hands with his and prayed for God’s protection, for our child’s health and for a peace in my heart that would surpass my understanding. When he finished his prayer he looked at me and smiled. “She’s coming tonight!”
The orderlies wheeled my gurney down the hall with my husband walking next to us. Our friends set up shop in the waiting room. They didn’t want Sergei to wait alone and J wanted to be there to take a picture of all three of us together when the surgery was over.
I realized my posts are REALLY LONG. So I am going to split them up more, hopefully make them more readable and ensure that I have enough material for 31 days.
She had not grown at all in between visits to the doctor.
I never went back home the morning we left the girls to build a fort with their nanny under the dinning room table.
I was admitted to the hospital because the doctor wanted to keep close watch on our daughter. It was decided she needed extra nutrients and vitamins which in turn would bulk her up and get her back on track. They also hooked my belly up with a monitor to follow heart beats. I lie in bed and watched the squiggly green lines on the black screen dip low during a contraction. So low that you couldn’t even see the line any more on the screen.
The jolly doctor was replaced by another doctor. He was a tall man with tan skin and a big smile. His fuzzy brown hair was gone in the back of his head. He wore glasses. A tooth in the corner of his mouth was gold. He looked the part of the new Ukrainian; an individual in Ukraine who was doing well financially during economic instability. The Ukrainian who figured out how to make money. The first two buttons of his crisp white shirt were open. A heavy gold chain sparkled on his neck. He wore two huge gold rings covering his knuckles and was excited to have an American patient because he was learning English.
Through out the afternoon my new doctor spewed and sputtered, paused and grunted, searching for the right words to say in English. I would answer him in Russian, just to let him know that I could and then wait for him to find the next word he was looking for. It did not seem to matter to him that I was in the middle of a crisis or that I really wasn’t in the mood to teach English as a second language.
I am not sure if he was aloof towards our situation or if he was just confident.
“Wait and see,” he liked to say. He claimed we needed time to see if the baby would respond to the liquid pumping vitamins and glucose into my veins. Whatever questions I had, “will we deliver the baby today?”, “is she sick?”, “why is her heart rate dropping at every contraction?” his answer was, “wait and see.” I assumed he knew what he was doing. I wanted to trust him but I had an uneasy feeling that the baby was in danger. Really, what did I know? I gulped my uneasiness down every time it rose up in my throat.
“It’s OK, don’t worry” the doctor told me over and over, speaking English with a thick Ukrainian accent, patting my leg.
And a few hours later I received a phone call that probably saved our baby’s life.
I felt the baby move early in my pregnancy.
One night in the bath I looked down at my cushiony middle and felt her flutter. She probably wasn’t any bigger than my finger. The warm water swirled around me in my pink Ukrainian bathtub while bubbles of Dove bath soap popped and fizzled around me. The tub was deep and wide. Sounds and smells that were unfamiliar to me muted by the running water. All I felt was warmth regardless of loneliness or homesickness or frustration over the difficulty of the Russian language. I took a lot of baths and the baby was quite active and hearty for well into my second trimester.
Then in my seventh month of pregnancy I noticed less movement. She became sluggish. I drank lots of orange juice and spent afternoons lying on my left side, counting kicks. I almost always felt a soft kick to reassure me of her existence.
Around that time my doctor told us the baby measured small. She was three weeks behind my due date in her size and development. I worried. At times my anxiety was overwhelming. I wasn’t able to do anything but lie on my bed and cry.
I went to the doctor and she assured me that I had nothing to worry about. It was something trivial; either we miscalculated the due date or I just had a very petite girl in there. She wasn’t worried the baby was small because there was consistent growth.
My Ukrainian doctor was a jolly woman. Jolliness is not a typical personality type in Ukraine. She’d smile and laugh and ask us about our two other girls at home while stretching measuring tape around my abdomen. Were they excited about the baby? Do they like living in Ukraine?
“Sergei, please tell her that we are concerned,” I’d cut in, giving my husband a list of questions and concerns at each visit. I wanted to be sure there was nothing lost in the translation. To calm me the doctor would order an ultrasound or a non-stress test and the tests would show that the baby hardly moved. The doctor simply said “ona speet.” “She’s sleeping,” and my heart beats slowed.
I talked to my mom on the phone one day. Her voice was distant. It felt like the telephone line really did stretch all the way over the ocean. I told her that something was wrong with the baby. All I really wanted to do was get on a plane and fly back to the States but instead Sergei prayed and I worried and time passed. Somehow I was able to convince myself I was overreacting.
And I ate a lot of Big Macs. Every Monday, our family day, we piled in to our white ford focus we bought finally after dragging our children around on sleds to the bus stop and metro trains for three years in Ukraine. We drove to an indoor mall in Kiev that housed a huge, modern grocery store and a skating rink, outlined by a dozen or so fast food places and lots of flower shops. Every Big Mac tasted like home. My pregnancy weight packed on.
We sat right up to the skating rink glass and laughed as beginner skaters flailed around on the slippery frozen surface. Our kids were appeased with vanilla soft serve ice cream cones that dripped down their chins on to their shirts as they watched the ice.
Sometimes Sergei took Elaina and Zoya skating. And then I’d sit alone with my Big Mac and my third little daughter quiet and still inside me and giggle as they crept along the ice, the three of them joined together by locked hands, digging their blades sideways in the ice to move forward. I’d laugh until tears streamed down my face.
A metal table housed a tiny television in the corner of the recover room. The walls were bare and a very pale shade of blue, almost gray. A nurse was quietly putting away supplies on the other side of the room. She was blurry. I blinked a few times before realizing a clouded partition stood between us.
She noticed my arousal and came close to me. “Kak vwee cebya choostvooyeteh?” she asked. She was a petite woman, young, her plain brown hair was tightly pulled back in a pony tail. Her demeanor was not friendly but more business-like. I thought about the nurses I had the two other times I gave birth. They were much more friendly and talkative, they smiled a lot and lingered.
I said I was fine and asked about my daughter. The nurse told me my husband had gone home for a few hours of sleep but will be back soon. The baby was in the nursery on a different floor. “You’re husband will explain everything to you when he gets here. For now, you should sleep,” she said, already walking away from me mid-sentence.
But I couldn’t sleep. I was left alone in my own body for the first time in nine months.
For the next two hours I waited for my husband. Periodically I tried to wiggle my toes. I looked down at my stomach a lot shocked that the baby was no longer there. I dozed a bit and prayed popcorn prayers in and out of sleep, “let the baby be OK, let the baby be OK.”
My husband showed up around eight o’clock. His chin was stubbly and he wore the same clothes from yesterday.
I remember the first time I felt an attraction to him. He was interpreting for one of my teammates leading a Bible study on the book of John. Somehow by my junior year in college God had gotten my attention enough to tell me to go to Ukraine as a missionary for a year. My apartment building was next door to where he lived at the time. Our group was the second set of Americans he had worked with. He interpreted, helped people buy groceries, paid their bills, walked them through the metro system. Sometimes he’d stop by my apartment and ask to borrow some music from America. He was kind and serious, quiet yet outspoken when it counted. He was the only Ukrainian working with our American organization who really did not care for America. We became friends. And that morning at the Bible study on the book of John I was convinced his clear blue eyes were focused on me.
In the hospital room he bent down and kissed me like he kisses his mother. Absolutely no pucker or pressure, just a slight brush of the lips. “How are you feeling?”
Again, I asked about the baby.
“She’s on another floor in this hospital in an incubator,” he said. “She was in a bad shape when they took her from you”. Though raised speaking Russian, my husband speaks excellent English. He only makes mistakes in English when he is tired or nervous.
It was like my husband was telling me a story about someone else. I didn’t remember anything about my daughter’s birth.
He continued, “She wasn’t breathing and was very little and all shriveled up. They resuscitated her. She has some kind of blood infection too.”
I looked out the window. It was raining outside. I thought about people getting out of the shower, having coffee, leaving their apartments to go to work. “The doctors said she wouldn’t have made it till morning. She’s cute, but I have to tell you something….they suspect she has Down syndrome and at this point the doctors aren’t even sure if she will make it. The head of pediatrics is coming to talk to us this morning at nine o’clock.”
Sergei’s hand trembled as he handed my a few pages. “When I got home this morning I went on-line and tried to find something about Down syndrome. I didn’t have much time, but I did find a few things.” One page read “Myths and Truths about Down syndrome.” The other page was an article written by a woman whose granddaughter had Down syndrome. With the arrival of our daughter, my parents now had eight grandchildren. I thought about them half way around the world, seven hours behind us in time. Both sleeping soundly in bed. My father’s snoring filling the house.
The fact that my husband looked on-line for information about Down syndrome made my stomach flop.
“Does she look like she has Down syndrome?” I asked.
“She has a full head of hair, just like our other babies.”
I found myself trying to move my heavy, lifeless body over to the left side. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was sleep. I called out to the nurse and asked for another pillow. It was painful to move. My legs were numb and heavy. I managed to get over to my left side with the pillow between my legs. There, I had finally gotten in the correct position to sleep for a pregnant lady. Only then I remembered again that I wasn’t pregnant anymore. My baby was somewhere in the hospital, alone and sick. And she may have Down syndrome.
After a little while my husband left me to go check on our daughter. And I burst into tears. I cried loudly for a few minutes and then tried to gather myself. The nurse watched me through the cloudy partition.
The decision to have a third child was made hastily. Somehow I felt ready. We were settling in to life in Ukraine. It had taken me two years of full-time language study to put myself out there and stumble around conversations with child-like Russian. Learning Russian was like looking at a really blurry photo, straining to see, finding all the colors and lines but still not being able to make out what I was looking at. And then one day the picture came into focus. I wasn’t just listening to a bunch of sounds that didn’t make sense. I was hearing words, then sentences, then full, albeit basic conversations that I understood. I became an avid eaves-dropper.
No longer did I crave obscene amounts of Coca-Cola because it reminded me of home or gulp down Tylenol every day because my head ached so badly from language classes. My girls were dressed in thick tights and turtlenecks any day that was under seventy-five degrees like all the other children playing outside our apartment on the chipped, old playground. They happily played at my feet in the evenings chirping away in Russian. Words in their father’s tongue came as easily to them as breathing. I was getting used to the idea that fish could be served at any meal; breakfast, lunch or dinner in one hundred and one different ways. I hardly ever made eye contact with people in public anymore.
The first year in Kiev was extremely lonely. I was a young mom stuck at home with little kids (Elaina was two-and-a-half and Zoya was nine months old). I couldn’t watch television or listen to the radio because I didn’t understand Russian. We did not have internet access. One cold winter night I remember sitting in our quiet apartment, kids tucked in and asleep, listening to the elevator go up and down or nine story apartment building. “Maybe next time it will be Sergei”, I said out loud to myself.
Finally, after two years, I had friends. Not acquaintances but friends who actually liked me in spite of really knowing me. Who knew it was possible to be friends with women on a deep level in a different language than my own? Even though it was exhausting, life in Kiev was starting to seem a little magical. Our family was settled. I was happy.
Looking back it feels like I mentioned the idea of another baby to Sergei and did a quick nod to God regarding the topic and the next day there was a little white stick sitting on the bathroom sink with two pink lines. I got pregnant the first month we tried for a baby.
Shortly after I took a pregnancy test, my husband brought home another stack of books for me to read. Once in a while he stumbled across a book vendor on the street that actually had books in English. Usually they could be found at the outdoor markets along with any type of vegetable you can imagine and others you’ve never heard of.
One book in the pile caught my eye. It was a book by Bret Lott called Jewel. Jewel’s story took place in the backwoods of Mississippi in the 1940s. Taken from true events, it is about a woman whose sixth child, Brenda Kay, was born with Down syndrome. I read the book in one sitting, completely ignoring my husband and kids, my usual practice when I actually had a new book to read in English.
While reading Jewel I thought about my baby, the size of a lima bean, growing inside me. The day I finished the book, I was sitting on the bed in our room. The sun setting, it was the kind of evening when life around you feels hazy. It was summer so the kids were already in bed even though it wasn’t dark yet. The air was tinted green. “I just couldn’t do it”, I told Sergei. “I could never be the mother of a child with special needs.” And instantly I wished I could take those words back. I felt threatened. There was a little life in me, paddling around, growing fingers and toes. God was knitting her together in my womb. All I could think of was “what if there is something wrong with this baby?”
My mother knits. I still can see her sitting in a chair in my childhood home. Already in pajamas, her hair wet from a bath although usually it was just after seven, a Coke sweating on the side table next to her on top of a napkin. I see her hands moving, click, click, click, click. Sometimes she’d unravel a sweater or a scarf that was nearly done. I didn’t see the point after coming so far to start over because of a few little mistakes. “Who wants to wear a sweater with mistakes?” she’d say. Later on in her life, she’d ignore them more often. I guess by then she wasn’t afraid of a couple mistakes.
A lot people think something that isn’t what they consider perfect is a mistake.
October is Down syndrome Awareness month.
I have decided to tell my story about having Polly in Ukraine. Posts will be pulled from my journals from that time and from about 45 pages of bad writing that have piled up in my hard drive. Some names will be changed as I see fit.
If you are new to this series, I recommend starting with Day One and reading to the present installment.
My kids love the “Olivia” books, about a cute little pig named, of course, Olivia. In one story she gets up for show and tell at school and talks about going to the circus with her mother. She claims that all of the performers and animals were sick and that she had to take over the entertainment. At the end of her monologue her teacher asks,
“Olivia, is all of that true?”
And she answers “pretty all true”.
The teacher then asks her if she is sure.
Olivia’s answer is, “to the best of my recollection.”
That’s how I feel about these accounts. I am telling them to the best of my recollection. The words are pretty all true.
This post is part of this weeks Hump Day Hmms. Click over to read more about what others are saying about comfort zones.
Last Thursday night I went to a Moms Night Out for my kids’ school. It took me an hour to figure out what to wear before I left. It was not going well. In a moment of pure insanity, I even tried on a pair of maternity jeans I had set out for a friend who is expecting. While admiring the boot cut fit, I schemed about a shirt that would actually cover the elastic band around my waist. Then I imagined bending over at the party and showing off my secret to neatly dressed, put together women and I peeled off the jeans and chucked them across the room.
Going to the party was definitely out of my comfort zone.
Which begs the question: where is my comfort zone?
And the answer: I have no idea. I have not been comfortable for years.
There have been many changes in my life in the last six years. Sometimes I liken myself to having gone through menopause several times.
First we moved to Kiev, Ukraine. Elaina was 2 1/2 and Zoya was 9 months old. For two years my husband helped out with a church plant in another part of town while buying groceries, paying bills and looking after his little foreign family. I studied the Russian language full time and learned to walk to the Metro station looking down at my feet. Things that came easy to me, American mannerisms like smiling at strangers, wearing your shoes in the house and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese were boxed up and left in my mom’s attic over the garage in Michigan.
Time went on. I tucked comfort around my children in our little seventies style apartment like a warm fleece blanket the only way I could think of. I mixed our new culture with the old, pouring the American Happy Birthday song in with the custom of not wrapping birthday gifts in Ukraine. We dressed the girls up in costumes for New Year’s Day and pretended it was Christmas. I found the only store in Kiev that sold Lasagna noodles.
Everything I did in Ukraine was uncomfortable, until one day it wasn’t, and I was able to conjugate the verb ‘to buy’ in Russian’s past, present and future tenses. After three years there I noticed friendly faces around me, offering to show me how to make a warm compress for my daughter’s cold instead of reaching for Tylenol. We were part of a church that was growing closer to one another and to God, and my oldest daughter was learning addition and subtraction in her Ukrainian preschool.
I almost felt comfortable. So we decided to try for our third child.
God blessed our efforts and along came Polly. She was born there in Ukraine, three weeks early, in a private hospital that looked a lot like our western hotels. After her birth I had to learn a new language. I had to find out how to speak special needs; words like Down syndrome, IEP, therapy, hypotonia.
We landed (twenty days overseas in the NICU, packing our lives up once again, saying goodbye to our church) in Michigan and attempted to find comfort in our new surroundings once again.
I thought that moving back to the States would be easy. I already spoke the language here. Only, my time overseas changed me. A large part of me identified with Ukraine. I was out of place in church. The music was loud. There were too many faces. Every thing was so big and people had a lot of stuff. I came home from Zoya’s preschool round-up drenched in sweat. I remember standing in the school supplies aisle at Walmart, overwhelmed by the variety of paper and pens and lunch boxes.
And then last summer, we moved again, from Michigan to Chicago, from rural to urban, from middle class to upper class, from being average church goers to my husband pastoring a church.
And once again I am out of my comfort zone.
So, you see, there really is no such thing as small talk in my life. Which is why I dreaded the Mom’s Night Out last week. My small talk either gets big quickly or it gets quiet. Simple questions like, “where did you live before you moved here?” or “what does your husband do for a living?” or the ever present, “tell me a little bit about your kids?” do not have simple small talk answers.
After I found an outfit that fit, the party last week wasn’t that bad. I made small talk. The questions came up and I answered shortly, “we lived in Ukraine,” “my husband is a minister,” “I have three girls; seven, six, and two.”
My life has changed so much and so quickly, at times it’s like watching a three ringed circus. I have the poles and the plates, I am just having a hard time getting them all to spin at once.
In the midst of all these changes, I am finding that comfort is not really the point.
I speak different languages; special needs, English, Russian, Christian, urban, rural. And every language molds me a bit more into who I am to become.
I guess I am learning to speak small talk here in Chicago as well and to be OK with it.
That, in and of itself, brings me a bit of comfort.