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.

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
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Summertime in 1967

Looking at the pictures of my granddaughters taken by their multiple living relatives, I can’t stop comparing the summer Nadia has now with my summer of 1967 when I was the same age.
Yes, once again – no pictures for the whole year. Apparently, nobody thought that something interesting is going on in my life and people’s life in general.

My mom worked. My father was mostly out of the picture. Nanny Katia watched me and took me on the Neva River and to the Bobrinsky Garden. My aunt and great aunt read books to me, and in summer, I was again at Sosnovaya Polyana, my last summer with Baba Ania. Mom says that Baba Ania already had a stroke earlier that year, and the left side of her body already didn’t function properly, so she had to manage with one hand. But I remember nothing of it. When my mom or my father come, there were pictures.

On my grandparents bed – the only real bed in the apartment

I was obsessed with Indians. A children’s comic books series, Cheerful Pictures featured a group of diverse characters, including the Indian Chief Va-a-tu-re. He was the best, and I loved all about him. There was no way for me to replicate his costume, but mom helped me decorate myself with small tree branches, flowers, and leaves and make my silhouette resemble the one of Va-a-tu-re

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1966 – Life Goes On

Some time ago, one of my friends mentioned “a season of watermelons.” My first reaction was, “Is there really such a thing as a season of watermelons? Aren’t they always available? And then I remembered! During my childhood, the season of watermelons was a thing. 

Previously, I mentioned the concept of “deficit” in the Soviet Union: anything, which was not available in the stores at any given moment. Anything you had to “look for,” “procure,” “get”. Which meant – most of the things.

Watermelons were grown in the Southern part of Russia, mainly in the delta of the Volga River, in the Astrakhan region. They were ready to be harvested in August-September, and that was the watermelon season. It was impossible to buy a watermelon anytime outside this timeframe. 

Watermelons were not sold in the stores. Here and there, on the streets, “watermelon cages” emerged. Inside these cages, watermelons laid on the ground. Customers stayed in long lines, as in any other case of “deficit.” When your turn comes, you are allowed inside the watermelon cage, and you can walk around and pick a watermelon or two, and bring them to the scales, then pay for them and take them home.

Although my mom says that Baba Ania was not allowed to show up in our apartment on Galernaya Street, I remember that she was sometimes visiting. And one of these times was the day of the Watermelon story.

I don’t even remember staying in the line that day; most likely, we were fortunate, and the line was not that long. What I remember is that we were carrying it home, or rather Baba Ania carried it, and I was gingerly skipping alongside her. And the next thing I remember – a watermelon on the asphalt. It was ripe. It was red inside. But at least half of it was broken into small pieces.

I do not remember how Baba Ania managed to collect most of these parts. But I remember sitting in our giant kitchen, while the broken watermelon is sitting in the middle of a table in front of me. Baba Ania put some broken pieces on the saucer, and I was eating them with a spoon – a deficit should not be wasted!

***

Once again, there is a huge gap in the line of photos. Here are several pictures all taken one afternoon at Alexandrovskiy Park. and at the nearby Dvortsovaya Embankment. I can’t imagine what would be a specific reason for taking pictures on that day. No relation to the story, except for it’s September, a watermelon season. Most likely, about a year later than the Watermelon Story.

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July 1966

It has been several months since I last wrote a historical post. I moved and got settled, so there are no more excuses. I am going to continue from where I stopped back in March – summer 1966.

It is summer again, and I live in Sosnovaya Polyana with Baba Ania and Deda Fedia. And once again, most of the pictures are taken by my father. It might be that it was the only time that summer he visited.

My parents were already divorced by then, but I do not remember that something changed drastically in my life. My father was on and off by that time; the late-night fights continued, though less frequently.
I am assuming that it was my father who bought me a bike. A bike had training wheels, and I never learned to ride a regular bike when I was a child. Believe it or not, I only learned to ride a bike in the US after both Vlad and Anna learned it.

But here I am, happy on my four-wheel bike :).

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Spring 1996

I am trying to figure out the exact time these pictures were taken and can’t figure it out. I know that the year is 1966, but as I’ve already mentioned, I could easily wear the same clothes outside for six months in a row, because that was all I had.

In winter 1965/66 I got a fur coat made of black rabbits fur. That was the most common fur for the children’s winter coats. But it looks like I wore it almost until summer.

The pictures with my mom and I following my father to the tram stop with his skies must be taken in March. In March, there was usually a lot of snow to the north of Leningrad. My father is carrying a rucksack, so he must be going for a multi-day ski trip. All sort of “tourism” or rather hiking was very popular in the 1960s in the Soviet Union, and my mom would complain later that my father would always disappear when she needed his help.

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1965-1966: Discovering Myself

It was one thing that since 1965 I remember my life as a sequence of events. Another thing that happened during the same year was my realization of myself being a person: one of many and unique because this person was me.

Strangely, I was ashamed of these thoughts and never told my mom about them. Also, these thoughts made my head spinning, quite literally. I felt lightheaded when I thought about that for a too long time, and that’s why I was trying to divert my thoughts in some other direction. 

That’s how it would go. It happened most of the time when I was outside, taking a walk with Nanny Katia, and saw other children walking with their parents or nannies. I thought: that’s me, and I have all these thoughts in my head, and now I speak to myself, and also I can see everything and everybody around me. That’s my “inside”, and all my thoughts and impressions and “inside.” But at the same time, on my walk, I meet other children. 

And for me, they are just “other children.” But for each of them, they carry their own worlds inside, and they look at me and see “me” as one of many other children. For each of them, they are the most important thing in the whole world. I imagined how each of these children had their thoughts and had their “I”‘s, and at that moment, my head would start to spin. I would start to repeat in my head: Who “I” am? What it means – “I”? What is “I’? What makes “I”? How come that I have the whole world inside me, and the whole world exists as long as I can see it and touch it? 

I remember that I thought that all these thoughts are wrong, and I should not think them :). And I was trying not to think them, and I never told anybody about them.

Now I am wondering whether all children have such thoughts when they start to form their “I” and distantiate it from the outer world. When they realize when they have their thoughts and that the world exists as long as they can see, feel and touch it.

…. And you know what? Fifty-six years later, it still feels like a miracle: the fact that “I” exist, snd that everything happens with “me.” And I am a participant and an observant at the same time.

Summer/Fall 1965

These photos are from the same films as the ones with Nanny Katia from the previous post. Last week, when I started to look at them closely and to do some minor editing, I realized the strangest thing: there were way more photos of Nanny Katia than I remembered.

I’ve mentioned earlier that my mom didn’t print any photos where I was together with my father. That way, I remembered way less of him than I should have. This film is not an exception. There are several photos of my father and I where we are playing ball. I think, he id trying to teach me some soccer 🙂

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