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.

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.

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

Continue reading “Summertime in 1967”

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 :).

Continue reading “July 1966”

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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Spring/Early Summer 1965. Nanny Katia

No pictures from the first half of 1965, and once again, some pictures taken in the summer (from late spring to early fall). Once again, I am staying in Sosnovaya Polyana with Baba Ania and Deda Fedya. Mom is still commuting to work, 1.5 hours one way.

A new person is Nanny Katia. Katia was somebody’s relative “from a village.” The peasants’ slavery at collective farms was more or less over, and the peasants were not only allowed but were required to have passports. However, one could not move to another place on their own will, especially from a village to a city. Many of my relatives from my mom’s side still lived “in a village,” not because they wanted to be there. The kolhozniki (“collective farmer”) had neither enough food nor general merchandise available for them even in the mid-sixties, although they were no hunger deaths like in the 20s and 30s. Still, people lacked basics and were looking for opportunities to move to a city – any city.

I just visited my mom, and I asked her when Nanny Katia started to live with us and whether she was there when my father was still around. She said – yes, and she added that Nanny Katia slept on a camp bed which she would set at the End of the Hallway. That would make sense because it would be difficult to set up a cot in our small room. And that means that she didn’t hear what was going on.

I still think that Nanny Katia came to live with us at the beginning of 1965 or the earliest possible – at the end of 1964. She stayed until I started preschool (detskiy sad) in fall 1967.

In Sosnovaya Polyana, and yes, the same jacket
Do not ask me, why a year ago I wore valenki, and a year later – sandals, both time with the same jacket and the same hat.
Here is Nanny Katia, I think she didn’t even turn 18 yet on that picture. I loved her.
Continue reading “Spring/Early Summer 1965. Nanny Katia”

Beginning of 1965

I finished my last “historical” post with the memories of me climbing on the kitchen stool to wash my hands and looking at the sun in the kitchen window. It’s January 1965, and I am two years old. That’s the moment in my life starting from which I remember not just the episodes, but I remember how my life was unfolding as a story. Even though I might not remember some particular details, I remember my life in pretty much the same manner as I remember my adult life. Pushing the stool to the sink and turning on the faucet was a part of the morning routine. Sitting by the large kitchen table covered with vinyl tablecloth was a routine. Nanny Katia appeared in my life later that year, and my previous nannies (Nanny Olya, Nanny Sveta) faded from my memories. Our walks on the English Embankment (which was called the Red Fleet Embankment at that time) were parts of the daily routine as well. 

My parents started to fight almost every night – that was the routine as well. 

I am trying to piece it all together, and I know I should make myself open the box with their letters to restore the chronology of events, but I do not feel like doing it, at least today. Maybe I will return to this post later and edit it. But these night fights should have to be happening before Nanny Katia started to live with us, which means it should have been in the very beginning of 1965. 

I have no idea why my parents thought it’s OK to fight when I was presumably sleeping. I knew better than make any noises and reveal the fact that I was not asleep. But I remember these heated arguments, maybe not every night but quite often. I do not remember whether my father stayed with us at night at that time. I know that it sounds contradictory because I just said that I remember everything from my childhood, but I know that my mom tried hard to erase all memories (at least, all positive memories) of my father. For example, she removed all pictures where my father and I are together from the photo album, except for those where I cry. I found the rest of the pictures when Boris and I scanned the original films. 

I can’t imagine they could think that I am asleep when they yelled at each other, but they pretended so. Also, I do not know why being just two years old I already knew that I should not let them know I am listening. 

I remember these scenes. I was in my crib; I remember peering through the rods, and I remember the night light on the desk and both of them screaming at each other. 

Also, by that time, I knew that mom wanted me to hate my father. And to be honest, I remember when I hated him for my own reasons, not because mom wanted so. I remember sometime in the fall of 1964, we were on a walk together, and I wet my pants. By cultural standards of that time, babies older than 12 months were expected to use the potty most of the time and have only occasional accidents. When a child started walking, they were not wearing diapers anymore, and the accidents were visible. 

I was 20 or 21 months old, and I wet my pants outside, and those were nice red pants. My father got angry and spanked me. I remember occasional accidents which happened in my mom’s presence. She never scolded me; she just laughed it off. Later, I read about these accidents in her diaries, and I know she didn’t think it was a big deal. Anyway, that’s the only instance I remember I was mad at my father. In all other cases, I just knew my mother wanted me to hate him and that when she asked me whether I wanted to have a father, I was supposed to say that I don’t.  

These questions would happen in the later years; in 1965, nobody asked me what I wanted.

I do not remember being particularly scared by these late-night fights, and I do not remember having any nightmares. And during the day, life was normal. 

Another frequent thing from the same time: climbing these stairs inside our apartment. Because of the ceilings’ height on each floor, I had to climb about 9.5 meters (30 feet) up, and the steps were stip. I only had a stroller for a very short time. Since I started walking, the expectations were that I could walk by myself almost everywhere. I remember being jealous when I saw other small children in the strollers on the streets because I was often very tired b=coming back from the walks with my mom or nanny. And then, I had to climb these stairs! That’s one of my worst memories of my early childhood. I would stay by the door and cry and won’t step on the stairs, and my mom would get mad and start to yell at me. 

I think it’s enough of the sad episodes from my early childhood, mainly because, once again, I didn’t think about them as making me a miserable child. That was just life like other children had…

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.

Here I Am In My Childhood Apartment in 1965

My greataunt used to say that we had four different heating systems in that apartment. The only one who was working at the time of my childhood was the central radiator heating, where warm water from various industrial cooling systems was recycled for heating purposes. We didn’t control when the heating is turned on or off and what was the desired temperature.

The non-functioning heating systems were two masonry heaters; one of them looked almost exactly like the one on the picture, and another one rectangular-shaped and covered with tiles.

There was a huge fireplace in the largest room, and sometimes, when my cousin had a gathering with his friends, they would start the fire in the fireplace, and everything worked as expected:). Lastly, some heating system inside the walls was using hot water running through and heating the spaces. My greataunt called it the Amos heating, but I can’t find any references for this name anywhere.

We had only cold running water. In the bathroom, we used a small gas water heater. Each time you needed warm water, you had to lift the level, start the pilot with the match. Then, you would turn the water on, and this would turn on the heating.

There was another, even smaller gas water heater in the kitchen, but it was seldom used for some reason.
Bit overall, the kitchen was a fascinating place, with many objects to explore. I remember an iron nade of cast iron and brass mortar and pestle and a non-electrical coffee percolator.

And I remember the morning sun in the kitchen window and a thin water jet running from the small brass kitchen faucet, and me standing on the large rectangular wooden stool by the kitchen sink washing my hands in the morning.

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 Childhood Apartment Part I

I didn’t have time to continue with my historical posts for the past two weeks, and now I hope to use my mini-semi-vacation to catch up with these writings. In my last post, I showed the pictures of the former Anglican Mission building where I lived as a child.

As I already mentioned, I do not have pictures of our apartment’s inside, but I will try my best to describe it (edits from Igor and Anna are welcomed :)).My grandaunt received the “order” for this apartment sometime in the 1920s when she worked as a reporter for Smena – Leningrad Young Communists newspaper. All the sources tell me that the building was abandoned since 1919, and I have no idea why it sat unoccupied or so long when there was such a shortage of real estate. But my grandaunt Fania told me that when she entered it for the first time, it looked like the occupants left in a hurry and that there was a lot of furniture left behind, and even the priest’s library.
I do not know where the books went. As for the furniture, most likely, it was gone during the Seige of Leningrad. I remember only two pieces of furniture that survived. One was a “lomber table” – a small table for the Ombre card game, which was used as a phone stand, and I didn’t even know what it was until my grandaunt told me. The second piece was an English redwood armchair, just slightly darker than the one on that image.

Update: I found online the exact image of how it looked like, only made of a different wood:


Two more armchairs could be potential survivors as well, but I am not that sure about them.

Here is a picture of the courtyard from the previous post, with our apartment being on the right side on the second floor.

You would enter a door on the right (you almost can’t see it, it’s right after that black car). There were wide stone stairs that led to the first-floor landing. The back entrance to the department of tourism was on the left, and only the people who worked there were allowed to enter. To the right, there was a door with a lock, which led to the two apartments. On the first floor, there was apartment #7, the former servants’ quarters, which the janitor’s family occupied. The second door on the first floor (also with the lock) led to our apartment #8. To be precise, it led to the stairs – two flights of stairs. These stairs would lead to the apartment itself. Imagine that you live in a two-story house, but you can’t enter the first floor. Instead, when you enter the house, you have a separate door to the stairs, and you live on the second floor only. That would be the closest to how our apartment looked.

After you climb these two flights of wooden (painted with a dark brown paint) stairs, you would find yourself in the huge hallway. It was twenty-five meters long and two meters wide, which gives you 50 square meters in total (almost 500 sq. feet). The ceiling was 4.75 meters (15.6 feet) high.

All the rooms were on the left side of the hallway (the right one was the wall adjoined to the next building).

The first room was the bathroom with the bathtub from the Anglican Mission times, made of cast iron and placed on the four brass lion paws.

The next one was the kitchen. My grandaunt told me that the first of the rooms was a “blue parlor,” which was later converted into a kitchen, but since there was an old tile-covered wood-burning stove in the corner, it seems to be an original kitchen. I do not remember this stove being ever used; most likely, it was never used after the war. We used its surface as a place to keep different kitchen utensils and devices. Next to the kitchen, there was a smaller room where my father lived, and where he and mom continued to live when they married, and where mom and I lived after my parents divorced. This room had a second door, which led to the next room, but this door was never used.

The next three rooms were occupied by my great-grandmother Baba Gitia, her daughter Baba Fania, Fania’s daughter Aunt Kima, and Kima’s son Dodik. Who of them lived in which room has changed several times.

The hallway ended with the door to the Church, but since we could not go there, a large dead-end led nowhere. A long time before I was born, a curtain was placed to separate this dead-end from the rest of the hallway, and it became a storage of everything-which-we-do-not-want-to-throw-away. It was called “The End Of The Hallway.”

Since I can go on for hours describing this old apartment, I think I will stop for now 🙂

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.