Disciplining Of Preschoolers In The USSR

During one of the recent online conversations, I’ve realized that many disciplining techniques applied to me when I was a small child are considered completely inappropriate nowadays. And I am not talking about spanking.

In fact, the only case of spanking I remember was when my father spanked me when I wet my pants when we were walking on the street. I remember it vividly precisely because it was something out of the ordinary. 

Mom never spanked me, but she was very creative with other disciplining techniques. For example, when I was between two and three, I was afraid of her umbrella. I do not remember the origin of this fear, but I remember that I was so afraid that I would cry when it started raining outside, and she wanted to open an umbrella while holding me. 

So when I didn’t want to take a midday nap, she would put that umbrella in the corner of the room and say that she would return and open this umbrella if I didn’t sleep. 

At about the same age, I was afraid of behemoths. And in this case, I remember why. The reason was one of the Korney Chukovskiy poems about “poor girl Lialechka”. Since my home name was Lialechka, I was sure that it was about me. Then there was a scene when the wild animals wandered around the city streets, and it mentioned the entrance to the courtyard (“podvorotnia”) where she saw a frightening behemoth!. And since our house had “podvorotnia”, it was in my eyes something that could happen to me! 

My mom knew about these fears, so she told me that if I didn’t do something she wanted me to do, she would call for a behemoth in red pants! (I have no idea about where the red pants were coming from, but that’s what she used to say).

Then in detskiy sad, I remember that I was always in trouble! I honestly felt like I was punished for something every day, and I thought that life would be much happier when I finally went to school. The most frequent punishment was putting us “in the corner,” but the worst one was sending to bed in the middle of the day. I remember how my best friend Nika and I got into trouble(I don’t remember what the crime was), and we were told to start undressing. And I thought it was OK, I could do it, but Nika started to cry, and we were forgiven. I remember how we played with the dolls, and we were disciplining them the same way the teaches were disciplining us, using the same words. Many teaches yelled at us regularly, and we called them “cruel teachers.” The teachers call some of us “bad children”, and some of us “good children,” and I still remember the names! And I am pretty sure that the parents were aware of what was going on, but it was considered nothing out of the ordinary. Moreover, they could additionally punish us at home if they thought that the “crime” was worth the punchment.

Detskiy Sad: Activities

There were lots of different activities in detskiy sad. Usually, there was one educational activity in the morning. It could be painting, when we all learned to paint something very specific and in a very specific way; for example, we would be given pieces of dark blue paper, and we would learn to paint white branches of the trees covered with snow. We were never given paint to do art projects on our own; all painting was teacher-supervised to avoid ruining our clothes. Or we could make something out of clay (again, no creativity, repeat what the teacher showed). Twice a week, we had music lessons. There was a grand piano in the “big room” (I think it was the former drawing room). The music teacher played the piano, rehearsed the song’s verses, and we would sing along. That’s when I found out that I can’t sing in tune. She also taught us some dances. Tape recorders already existed but were rarities, so everything was accompanied by live music. I do not recall us having any PE classes. In the morning before breakfast, we had zariadka: morning exercises which we performed standing in a circle with the teacher showing us what to do. Many years later, I was shocked to recognize some of these exercises in my yoga class! For the older kids, there were more classes, and they would do reading, writing, and math.

After the morning activity, we would go to play outside unless the weather was really bad. There were no (or almost no) playgrounds at that time. Often, our teachers would take us to the nearby park. There were some sandboxes and some slides to go down. In winter, we would take our tiny show shovels with us and make tunnels and snow fortresses, and if the snow was moist enough, we would make snowwomen.

We would return to detskiy sad to have dinner, and then there was a nap time. For smaller children, there were bedrooms with metal-frame beds with springs. Older children had to take camp beds from a closet and set them up in the “big room.” All of us had to change into pajamas for nap time, and we had to stay in bed for two hours even if we didn’t need to nap.

After a nap, we had “poldnik,” and then one more class, and then we would get dressed in our outdoor clothes and get outside to play by close to the entrance to the detskiy sad, and that’s where the parents were picking us up.
Some parents picked their children earlier. I remember one girl was always picked up earlier by her father. I was so jealous of her! I even remember her name, although we were not close friends. Her name was Marina Efimova.
In winter, it was already completely dark by 3-30 PM, and we played outside in the snow, under the street like, and the snow was glittering.

After my mom picked me up, we stopped at the small grocery store, which was located in the basement of one of the homes near detskiy sad. It was a so-called “half-basement,” with the windows, although you had to go several steps down to enter. I am not sure why, but there were a lot of grocery stores in the older part of the city located in such half-basements.

That was pretty much all my day – after we got home, I had some supper and would go to bed right away.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Detskiy Sad: What Was On The Menu

The food in detskiy sad was in many ways different from what I ate at home, probably that’s why I remember so well what was on the menu.

I disliked many foods for a long time because of the way they were prepared in detskiy sad. In some cases, it took me many years to try some dishes again and realize that they are actually quite good.

I didn’t have breakfast at home on the weekdays, and I think most kids didn’t. I do not recall whether my mom had breakfast before going to work. Our breakfast in detskiy sad was the same every day. First, some hot cereal. It could be either mannaya kasha (farina), oat porridge, hot rice cereal, or “pshenichka” – wheat porridge, or millet, always milk-based, although dry milk was often used. Then, a piece of white bread, something like a french baguette, with either a piece of butter or cheese and something called either “coffee with milk” or “cocoa.” In reality, both drinks would come from cans of condensed sweet substance, which contained some milk, a lot of sugar, and some traces of coffee or cocoa. It was dissolved in hot water and then poured into our cups.

Shortly after noon, we had lunch, which was called dinner. I know it sounds funny, but I have no idea how to explain this linguistical paradox. I can only speculate how this swap of meanings happened historically, but I know for sure that in the 19th century, and possibly until after the revolution, the Russian language didn’t have this problem. The meal at noon was called “poldnik” which means exactly that: something happening at noon. Dinner would be around 5 PM (sometimes as early as 4-30, sometimes later), and then it could be supper after 8 PM (or it could be none). I should probably research what happened with the normal order of things after the revolution. In any case, it was lunch, which was called dinner :). And it was a four-course meal. The first course was “a salad,” which meant shredded carrots or coleslaw (without dressing). Then, there was soup (called “the first course). Then an entree (“second course”). And then compote made of dried fruit (which I hated).

All soups were cooked differently from how they were cooked at home, but I especially hated the yellow pea soup, sour schi, and “rassolnik” (and I hate the latter two till now:)).

The second course would consist of some protein (a piece of fish, or a meatball, or a piece of chicken) with some carb side (pasta, rice, buckwheat, or mashed potatoes). In addition, there was almost always a piece of a sour pickle. We were required to eat everything that was on the plate, and although you could sometimes avoid the food you really-rally hated, it was always a fight. Once, I accidentally dropped this piece of pickle into my apron front pocket and didn’t realize it right away, so I ended up getting away with not eating it. I tried to do it on purpose for the next couple of days, but then I was caught:). The only dish I ended up liking in detskiy sad, that I didn’t like before, was liver. I never tried it, but then I saw my best friend devouring it, and I decided to try it, and it turned out I liked it a lot.

Funny fact: they used to make some “detskiy-sad style” versions of famous dishes, including beef stroganoff, goulash, and beefsteaks, so for a long time, I could not understand what was a big deal about them :).

After dinner, we had nap time, and after the nap time, we had “poldnik” which does not make much sense since it was not at noon but 3 PM. It often consisted of a glass of boiled milk (boiled for sanitary reasons, tasted horrible) and something random. “Random” could be a pastry or a piece of “zapekanka” (cottage cheese baked with eggs and flour) or some vinegret (salad with beets). In theory, detskiy sad had to be open till 8 PM, and the kids who stayed that late were upposed to get some supper, but I do not think it ever happened.

There was always lots of drama around food in detskiy sad because very few kids liked all of the dishes served, however, we were expected to leave happy plates and consume two half-pieces of rye bread at dinner. I think, my passion for fresh fruits and vegatables can be explained by the fact that I had almost none as a child!

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

1967: Daycare In The Soviet Union

I briefly mentioned the situation with preschool and daycare in the Soviet Union when describing the daycare my own children attended. Although it was during the post-Soviet times, the daycare being on the more conservative side of the society in general, preserved most of the Soviet-time features.

However, the daycare – Detskiy Sad – which I attended was a classic example of how it looked during the Soviet period of history, so I am writing about it from both historical and personal perspectives.

In the Soviet Union, there was no private daycare. All the daycare, including the infant care, was supervised by the Ministry of Education. In the early days of the Soviet Union (and even before the Soviet Union, in Soviet Russia), working women were given a relatively short parental leave. Yasli – daycare for infants and toddlers – was expected to take children as young as six weeks old. I am not sure whether any groups for the children that young survived by my time, but I know some people close to my age who started to attend yasli when they were eight or nine months old. Children from three and up to seven years old attended detskiy sad (the words mean Kindergarten in Russian). Children were divided into groups according to their age and would start school when they were seven.

The group for children six years and up was called a “preparatory group,” and it was essentially the K grade in the US nowadays.

I do not have statistical data on what percentage of children stayed at home with nannies until what age, but I started to attend detskiy sad relatively late: it was October 1967, so I was four and a half.

My detskiy sad was named “Druzhnie rebiata” – “Friendly Children.” It was located in one of the old buildings in Kolomna – an old historic district of Saint-Petersburg (Leningrad at that time). It was pretty close to the house we lived in, and we walked there. Now thinking about it, it should not have taken more than 10 minutes to walk there, but it probably took longer since I didn’t walk very fast.

The building was somebodies’ private residence before the Revolution, and I still remember the floor plan. Each group occupied its separate room. I think that initially, each room was a bedroom.

I vividly remember my first day in detskiy sad. I wore a sailor suit (a skirt and a top with the sailor’s collar), traditionally a festive outfit for children even before the Revolution. It was made of fine light grey woolen fabric, and the stripes on the skirt and on the collar were red and blue. I had to wear an apron over it – that was a requirement in detskiy sad, and I was very upset that my pretty outfit was not showing.

The first thing I was when entering the room was a large toy chariot. It was secured on the floor, and there was a seat with attached pedals, and in front of this chariot was a toy half-house with two moving legs. You pedal, and the horse legs are moving. I never saw anything like this, and I was fascinated.

Another thing that was new for me a caught my attention right away was a “mosaic.” It was a round piece of plastic with tiny holes and a set of multicolored hexagon-shaped pegs, which you could tuck into these wholes and make beautiful patterns. I didn’t have anything like this at home, and I loved it. I think I had very few (if any) of the board games at home, and I enjoyed them a lot in my detskiy sad.

Another funny thing from my first day at detskiy sad. After the afternoon nap, we were asked to sit at the desks. In front of each child, there was a small wooden board with a piece of colored clay on it. Since many new foods were introduced to me on that day, I thought that a piece of clay was also something eatable:).

It turned out that we were going to learn how to make a cup out of clay. Back then, doing arts for your own pleasure and enjoyment and learning certain techniques were very clearly separated even in preschool education. We were learning how to make a cup. I still remember all the steps! We knead the clay; then you separate it into two pieces, one for a cup and another for a saucer. You roll the first part into a ball. Then you make a deepening and keep pressing until it will start to look like a cup. Then you roll a ball from the other part of the clay and then flatten it until it resembles a saucer.

All was new and exciting, and I liked my first day at detskiy sad a lot!

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Pullman Open House

On Saturday, Igor, mom, and I went to the Pullman Open House to tour the homes. The weather was gorgeous; I do not remember ever being on that tour on such a perfect day. Also, that was the best open house we’ve attended from the organizational point of view; the route was planned perfectly, the sights were clearly marked.

Most of the houses which were this year were the new ones. And this time, no pictures were allowed inside, except for two places that contained exhibits.

Mom got tired of climbing the stairs in most houses, but overall, she liked this whole experience, and I am glad we took her out. Like one of the older volunteers commented: keep her moving!

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Pictures With My Father: Summer 1967

Yesterday was my father’s birthday. He would be ninety-three if he were alive.
I drafted this post two weeks ago but was putting it off. I thought that I would be finally able to write more about all the complexity of our relationships, but it looks like I am not ready yet. So let this post be yet another set of pictures from summer 1967.

I posted about that summer before. I spent it in Sosnovaya Polyana with my grandparents. My mom was going to work in the city every day and would return late in the evening. My father was showing up from time to time.

Looking at these pictures, I remember that he was trying to make it special. He called that pine at the edge of the forest “a magic pine.” I forgot how exactly he was trying to convince me of its magic powers, but it could supposedly grant some of my wishes. He referred to the “magic pine” long after, and I still remember how it looked and felt, and I remember visiting it years after.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

My 9/11

I was a consultant, and in September 2001, I was assigned to a project in the Daley Center. One of my fellow consultants, Chuck, used to come very early and leave early. On September 11, when I walked in and sat at my desk, he turned to me and pointed to his screen: look, a plane crashed into a building!

From the picture, it was impossible to figure out the size of the airplane and the size of the building, and also, there was zero smoke. So I reacted like weird … I wonder why… and turned my computer on. At 9-15 AM, Cindy, a City employee who was our main point of contact, rushed into the room we sat. Her face was grey. She said: we want you guys to be out of the building immediately! We looked at her: what about our billable hours?! She said: we want you out! We do not know what it going to happen!

We all were commuting, and we looked at our watches and shrugged: we just missed the last morning train back; there will be no trains for another hour and a half. Nevertheless, we walked back to the station. The whole city was moving in the same direction, but we were still far from grasping the magnitude of events. Only when we came to the station, we realize how problematic our departure was going to be. 

People were standing on all platforms. One of the newsrooms in the station had a giant screen on the wall; they were broadcasting one of the news programs. There, around 10-30 AM Chicago time, we saw the second tower collapsed. Everybody gasped; many started crying.

The trains started to arrive at the platforms. Later, one of the conductors told me that they all headed home after the last morning train pulled up to the city, but their management called them back, and they showed up again. There was no schedule. A train would pull in; people would get on board, and when the train was full, it would head out, and the next train would pull into the station. 

Inside the train, people were standing, but nobody tried to squeeze in; there was no panic. I walked into the full train and leaned on the wall. The train started moving shortly after that. It stopped at each station, but most passengers were going to the suburbs. At one of the stations, a person asked from the platform: what’s going on? Aren’t there any trains to Chicago? You do not want to go to Chicago now! – somebody shouted. 

The was one man with a prosthetic leg; I saw him in Palatine most of the mornings. He was telling something and pointing at me; I could not figure out what it was. I thought he was asking me to move and let him through to look for a seat, but he waved me off: no, I was just telling him to move! I told him I couldn’t see a pretty woman! I still think about this dialog as the best compliment I ever received :).

Somebody in our car had a transistor radio, and we listened to the news and learned about another plain – the one who didn’t reach the Pentagon. Nobody knew how many plains could still be in the air, and what could be other targets. We worked on the 27 floor of the Daley Center; that’s why we were ordered to go home.

I managed to call Boris. It was not easy back then; I had to key in a long sequence on my cell phone to connect to a discounted service. 

In the evening, our director called all consultants and told us to stay home. He told us we would be paid for that day. The kids had school. I stayed at home, lying on the couch in front of the TV and crying. I could not bring myself to doing anything productive. I was staring at the debris, listening to the commentators, and lying there paralyzed with greave. For many days after, the most distinct feeling was this absence of joy in life. You tried so hard to be cheerful, go shopping, get ready for Halloween – and you could not. That part of your existence was missing.

Chicago Sep 11 2021 at the Daley Plaza
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A Visit To Pullman

For many years, Igor and I visited Pullman on one of the Labor Day weekend days – they always had something interesting going on. Last year, there was nothing because of COVID, but that year, it was going to be a big celebration: Pullman officially became a Nationa Monument.

We decided to go on Saturday because according to the museum website, the actual ribbon cutting was supposed to be on that day. Also, they were going to give away free tickets to tour a factory and Florence Hotel, and also there were going to be old Pullman cars tours.
It turned out that the ribbon cutting was scheduled for Monday, and as for the tickets, people stood in lines from 7-30 AM to get them!

We didn’t get any – they were all gone five minutes after we arrived. However, one lady happened to have one extra ticket for the cars tour, and I gave it to Igor.

Still, we managed to see a lot on the museum grounds, and we were shocked by the amount of restoration work that was done on the site!

Restored Main Gate
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1967: A Field Trip To Oranienbaum

Sometimes, mom would take me to one of the Palace Museums. Since Saint – Petersburg used to be the capital of the Russian Empire, the were multiple summer residencies of the royal family and grand dukes. And even though Leningrad was not the capital of the Soviet Union, the palaces were still there, and almost all of them were turned into museums. If you read into the history of WWII, and specifically about the Seige of Leningrad, you will learn that most of these palaces were literally burnt to the ground. The majority of them were carefully restored in their original glory, but no matter how authentic these palaces looked, that was not the original work of the 18th century.

However, one of these summer residences was not ruined, or the warfare damage was minor. I am talking about the original Alexander Menshikov’s mansion, Oranienbaum, which was renamed Lomonosov in an attempt to exclude the German names from the Soviet toponymic. After Menshikov, several other Russian royalties owned the place, and more palaces were erected nearby.

Due to several strategic reasons, these palaces suffered only minor damage during WWII. In the end, this didn’t help preserve the architectural masterpieces – the campus is located further from the city than other summer palaces, so its maintenance was deprioritized. 

Fortunately, Sosnovaya Polyana is approximately halfway between Saint-Petersburg and Oranienbaum, so it was a shorter trip for us. On the other hand, the palaces didn’t look as grand as in Peterhoff, and most of the time, there were fewer tourists and shorter lines to enter museums. 

I loved the park and the palaces, especially the one called “Sledding hill” (Katalnaya Gorka). The name is charming, and the palace is small and elegant. 

Sharing a bench with a cat
Continue reading “1967: A Field Trip To Oranienbaum”