As I’ve mentioned earlier, winter 1991-92 was especially bad economically. And as a consequence, people were the most unkind. Several months later, when a situation has become a little bit better, people were much more inclined to let me skip the line and started to express more kindness towards the babies.
One thing I still can’t understand was the fact that for some reason, my twins were drawing lots of male attraction in my direction. Once I was taking the bedding to the laundry service. I’ve left the baby carriage outside for just a couple of minutes to bring my bundles in (it was a norm in Russia at that time, nobody thought that something terrible could happen to the babies in the course of a couple of minutes, and who in the right mind would want extra babies in their lives?!). When I’ve emerged out of the laundry service, I saw a guy standing by the baby carriage marveling at my babies. They were tiny at that time, bundled tight in the blankets, one with pink polka dots, another – with dark green. This was an indication of the gender of a tiny person inside each of the bundles.
The guy moved his gaze away from the babies and looked at me. “Twins!” – He exclaimed – “a boy and a girl! How you are doing this?! Any chance you are taking orders?” “No,” – I’ve replied – “It’s a matter of inspiration!”
There were multiple other occasions, especially by late spring-early summer, when Vlad and Anna very not just tiny bundles anymore. Men would stop by me when I was sitting on the bench at the playground and say: “Such beautiful babies! Any chance they need a father?” This was especially surprising since by late spring when I was almost done with breastfeeding, I was far from being a pretty sight. I weighed 49 kilograms (about 109 lb) while being 164 centimeters tall (5 feet 3.5 inches). My clothes were hanging on me like on the coat hanger, my face was covered with sores due to the lack of vitamins, and my teeth became so fragile, that I was missing several pieces, so I can’t even say that my smile was pretty.
But I was going to tell you about different kinds of good people (although these guys meant no harm either). That winter, the City association of parents of children with vision disabilities was founded, and I was invited to participate (by paper mail, emails were few). What was extremely unusual – this association was indeed organized by parents, without any party orders or government regulations. And during our meetings, we were learning about unthinkable – that our children do not have to be confined to the specialized boarding school, that there is such a thing, as inclusive education. We’ve also learned that many parents refused to participate in the experiments with inclusive education, citing the fact, that this way their children would lose their free meals and clothing they were receiving for free as government charges.
We’ve learned that our children do not have to be excused from PE, that actually they will benefit a lot from physical activities. We learned about difficulties which children with poor vision can experience while being taught music, and why it is more difficult for them than for legally blind children.
Somebody from the participating parents had some contacts with a Jewish charity in New York; communications with people abroad were not considered a crime anymore, so this charity has put together a massive shipment of New Year gifts (do not ask me, what Jewish charity has to do with the birth of Christ :)).
Although I was a member of this association because of Igor, everybody there knew I had baby twins, so they were saving the tiniest pieces of clothes from this shipment for me. In Russia, we didn’t even have these clothing sizes, and I was thrilled to get the cutest tiny sweaters and hats.
I also remember that they’ve sent us some bananas, which were a luxury in Russia at that time. And then somebody from an association called me and said: we told these people in America, that one of our mothers has baby twins, and they’ve sent some formula just for you. At that time I was still breastfeeding, but it was so touching that I didn’t say anything and gratefully accepted the gift. The formula came handy later in spring when I’ve ended up in the hospital.
Then there was the Danish Red Cross. I am not aware of any details of the arrangement, but they’ve started to distribute baby food at the “polyclinic” – a large medical office with many pediatricians and some specialists, where each child was assigned to their family doctor. Each month for the whole year of 1992 each baby would receive a box of dry milk, a package of finely processed buckwheat, some baby meat preserves, and some fruit preserves. No matter family income, employment, social stand. That was a tremendous support, mainly because it was something we could rely on in the world of uncertainty.
Speaking about the staff of the doctor’s office, they were just great, especially the nurses. My twins were prescribed daily injections of vitamins of group B. It’s hard for me to tell, whether it would be considered the right thing to do from the modern medicine perspective, but at the time it was.
Our apartment was located on the twelfth floor. The actual floor number was ten, but the first two levels were occupied by a department store; hence, it was effectively the twelfth. The reason I am so particular about this is the fact that the elevators were often out of service. Probably, half of the time. That meant that you had to be ready to climb the stairs both ways, with twins, dressed for the weather. Actually, sometimes you might be reluctant to take the baby carriage out even when the elevator was working because you could never be sure whether it will be working on your way back!
This being said, whether you are on the tenth or on the twelfth floor, made precisely two floors difference when you had to climb it on your two feet. The nurses who were doing home visits faced similar challenges. And although I was repeatedly telling them, that there is nothing vital in the vitamin shots.
They would climb these twelve floors with almost no light on the way, “because I’ve told you, I will come tomorrow, how could I not?” And honestly, this attitude was probably more important than the shots themselves.
Other parents would take turns to stand the endless lines for me. They would help me on the playground watching two crawling babies and walking them around. The passerby just stopped and smiled at us. Overall I think that Vlad and Anna got way more kindness from the world than most babies around them. Which I still very thankful for.