sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

September 19, 2015

A Fall Reading List: Russian Lit 101

Filed under: parenting, politics, Russia, Ukraine — Tags: , , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 1:19 pm

If you are like me, you can’t find a free minute during summers.  But in fall, as soon as the kids head off to school, it’s time to relax, read up… blog.  So, fellow fall readers, I have a few suggestions with a Russo-Ukrainian twist, but please note, having read it in the original Russian I don’t vouch for the quality of translation:

  1. Mikhail Bulgakov Heart of A Dog.  This is possibly the best reactionary novella of all times.  Its setting is post-revolutionary Russia and its hero, Dr. Preobrajensky, is a stubborn carrier of tradition of the old order, a scientific genius and a brilliant conversationalist who fills the book with zingers, among them:

[i]f I, instead of performing surgeries every evening, will take up singing with a choir in my apartment, I will have devastation.  If I, walking into a washroom, start, pardon me, peeing beyond the toilet and Zina and Daria Petrovna will follow the suit, there will be devastation in the washroom.  Therefore, devastation is not in the closets, it’s in the heads.


Dr. Preobrajensky performs a revolutionary surgery turning a lovely stray dog named Sharik into a man, but as a man Sharik turns out to be a brute who got chummy with the commissars.  Not surprisingly, the commissars banned the book.  Written in 1925, it was officially released in the Soviet Union only in 1987.

Bulgakov remains controversial.  Last year Ukraine banned the film based on his novel The White Guard because of the Kiev-born author’s politically incorrect opinions on the civil war that followed the Bolshevik revolution.  Heart of A Dog gets nailed, deservingly, for eugenics, but we love it anyway for its biting satire of the communist regime.

2. Nikolai Gogol Taras Bulba.  This is what all Russians and Ukrainians know about Ukraine, but Americans, as a rule, don’t begin to suspect.  Nikolai Gogol, a great, if seriously mad, 19th century Russian writer, was a descendant of the Cossacks born in what is now Poltava region of Ukraine.  That being early 19th century, the name most commonly applied to the area was Malorossia or Little Russia, a reference to Ukraine’s status as a cradle of Russian civilization.

Gogol’s early work was fused with what we would now call Ukrainian themes, and Bulba is the last and most developed in this line.  Taras Bulba is set at the birth of  the Ukrainian nation, a Cossack revolt against Poles, in which Orthodox Christianity, as Gogol illustrates, was a rallying cry of the future Ukrainians.  Poles are Catholic, and to this day the border of Western civilization cuts through Ukraine, separating its Catholic and Orthodox regions.

Bulba is Romanticism for men — we women cringe at the carnage and prefer Gogol’s later, very different works.  This arguably the single most important literary work to understand Ukraine has in it a satirical description of a pogrom.  For our 8th grade matriculation exam in Russian literature we were made to memorize a page-long passage about Taras being burnt at the stake by the Poles.  Before meeting his violent death, Taras kills his son Andriy for falling in love with a Polish girl and betraying the Cossack cause.  It is Taras’s pronouncement “I gave you life, I will take it”, not the pogrom, that had our Jewish mothers railing against the book.

XVII century Bohdan Khmelnitsky’s uprising against the Poles ended with the Cossack asking Moscow for protection.  The death of Andriy did not put an end to Polish-Ukrainian, and more generally western-Ukrainian alliances, and yet Ukraine always ends up back with Russia — as it will this time around.

3. Yuri Trifonov House on The Embankment. This is an appropriately subtle book about Earth-shattering historic events. One student who was in the seminar I took ten years ago thought that Americans may read the book and enjoy it, but miss the subject matter completely.  I decided to test out this theory on my then boyfriend and now husband who got the message after the first appearance of the relevant euphemism.

4. Natalia Baranskaya A Week Like Any Other.  This is an affirmative action pick, selected primarily to illustrate a political point.  A Week Like Any Other is a story about a Soviet woman having it all.  Not.

Protagonist Olga works second shift at home, and, we are told, likes her work very much.  She harbors resentment against her husband rather than her government.  Her husband, to be sure, is of little help, but at least he’s around, and he’s sober.

For the little ones (they need to entertain themselves while parents are reading, no?):

  1. Ivan Turgenev Mumu. One of the most moving anti-slavery narratives ever written.  The toughest hooligans cry when this short story is read aloud in class.  Older kids may ask questions like “What does it mean that Gerasim was deaf and dumb?” and “You mean there was slavery outside of the US?”
  2. Alexander Afanasiev Russian Fairy Tales.  In this case I suggest the edition lavishly illustrated by the hugely influential early 20th century Russian Art Nouveau artist Ivan Bilibin.  If this edition is not available any other will do, I suppose, as long as the tales are really by Afanasiev and not rewritten by some shmuck with a political agenda.

Afanasiev was Russia’s Grimm, except that he worked several decades later and with better material.  Russian folk tales contain specific Russian motifs, but the synopsis is the same as in German or French or any other Indo-European folk narrative.  However, it is presumed that the tales first emerged in Asia and then traveled west across the Eurasian continent, and as the narratives travel, they lost some of their detail.  Russian tales, being more Asian are more complete.

As is often the case with folklore, Afanasiev gets really dark really quick, I recall being scared silly of the tales read in my pre-school

September 14, 2015

Degrees of Environmental Concern

Filed under: environmentalism, parenting, politics — Tags: , , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 7:36 pm

Environmentalism is an all-consuming ideology.  It postulates that a) the Earth is in danger and b) to save the Earth all of us (save Al Gore whose priestly status absolves him from acts of sacrifice) need to dramatically reduce our “footprint”. No aspect of our lives is too small because a) the planetary emergency and b) think globally, act locally because changes made by the masses on the personal level will affect the shared planet.  Act microlocally, I’d say, because true believers are to continuously alter mundane, inconsequential routines.  In reality it doesn’t matter, for instance, if one prefers plastic or paper grocery bags; in fact, plastic was encouraged 20 years ago, but today the same plastic bags are banned in California.

Young children are hugely susceptible to environmentalist propaganda, not because they understand ecology, but because it’s easy to coerce them into politically correct routines.  Ask an unindoctrinated adult to recycle, and he’ll demand a proof that it’s a legit exercise, but children like rules, routines and they like to sort.  They learn by doing; to them separating garbage is a game.  Reward them with a sticker of smiling Gaia (wait, is that conspicuous consumption?) and they’ll squeal with excitement.  They are conformists, too, so count on them to bully each other into compliance.  As time goes by, layer on propaganda.

On-the-fence parents can be approached through kids.  As students are taught environmentalist routines, they quickly begin to insist on implementing them at home.  Schools act as if the habits they import on pupils are grounded in universally accepted truths, but they merely reflect the opinions of educators.  Our family only recycles in as much as the behavior is mandated by the local government through manipulating the size and price of the garbage bins.  I’d rather have school focus on teaching basic good manners than recycling.  If our local schools accommodate (and celebrate) lesbian parenting, surely they can accommodate families with diverse traditions of garbage disposal.  But they don’t.  Our kids are a bit suspicious when I teach them something other than the received truths of public education, but they’ll come around.  This is nothing compare to how I grew up.

So que in Darleen Click’s post about a San Francisco mom and her uberannoying teenage son:

I can do nothing right in my teenage son’s eyes. He grills me about the distance traveled of each piece of fruit and every vegetable I purchase. He interrogates me about the provenance of all the meat, poultry, and fish I serve. He questions my every move—from how I choose a car (why not electric?) and a couch (why synthetic fill?) to how I tend the garden (why waste water on flowers?)—an unremitting interrogation of my impact on our desecrated environment. While other parents hide alcohol and pharmaceuticals from their teens, I hide plastic containers and paper towels.

And so on.  Why do I feel like I know these two?

Click makes an excellent point about the boy’s upbringing:

Where is dad? Or grandpa?

Where was the required influence of an adult man who would have pulled this little asswipe aside and told him to knock-off the totalitarian nonsense or get knocked into next week — “Don’t ever, ever let me catch you treating your mom this way again.”

No, really, where is the dad?  Did he entrust the boy’s moral education to school in which the boy get a big chunk of enviro-garbage that fills his head?  And why do the parents assume that they can control their son’s environmentalist fervor to the extent that it fits with the habits of their household?

In mom’s view the son is merely a puritan — basically on the right track, only his zeal is taking him a bit too far.  But in reality, she is a hypocrite because if she believes that there is a planetary emergency then no aspect of her lifestyle should remain unchanged in an effort to reduce her impact on the Earth.  She is the one who taught her son to “care[] a whole awful lot”, and yet she also insists on eating the polluting beef.  The two cannot be logically reconciled.  Environmentalism has no measure.

I can’t say I’m not concerned about the Earth, but the way I’m concerned about the Earth, I’m concerned about the Iranian nukes.  Or the 3rd world migrants flooding into the 1st world countries, many of them nuclear powers — not hard to think up the scenario in which Islamo-savages gain control of the French or the British nukes.  But whether or not my paper plates are recyclable, compostable or reusable?  Please, I’m just going to toss them.

And for the kids I have the following question: If grown ups, politicians especially, insist that you make environmental considerations central to your lifestyle, but they themselves don’t seem to act as if the planet is on an irreversible path to extinction, why do they insist that you spend time of your life thinking about the minutia?  Could it be because they don’t want you to spend your time thinking about something else?

April 20, 2015

A Few of My Favorite Things

Filed under: parenting, politics, Soviet Union, the Holocaust — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 2:01 pm

We recently watched The Sound of Music with our kids, and, dear readers, I’d like to share our observations:

1. The songs, once they got into our head, seem to have permanently settled there, but mostly in a good way.  Even if Do Re Me gets a little annoying, I’m always able to chase it away with A Few of My Favorite Things;

2. Loved the film, but it’s strange, is it not, to march to the altar to a song that declares the bride “a problem”?

3. Loved the film, especially because it featured a lot of kids and the central story was that of a man and a woman meeting, falling in love and getting married, and their lives are better for that.  So quaint.  Contemporary Disney can’t get around princesses who are not ready, get entangled in relationships with trust fund babies or, worse yet, so obviously represent the frigid dead end of feminism.

4. Watching the movie I found it necessary to explain to my children, 7 and 5, about the Nazis.  I don’t think there was ever a time in my life when I had to be explained such a thing.  I just knew.  VE Day, or, in Russian parlance,  Victory Day, was a major national holiday, every family was touched by the War and the media was saturated with War-related materials.

My husband, born and raised in San Fernando Valley, doesn’t remember being explained about Nazis either.  He does remember playing WW2 with his brother, though.  I’m quite certain I played the War a few times as well, even though I was a girly girl — because it was happening on the playground.  I’ve never seen American kids today playing anything violent with a reference to historical fact.

When we talked about Nazis being “the bad guys” my 7-year-old daughter promptly found an analogy: “Or, like they litter”.  Years ago I posted about a Soviet science fiction story where villains litter.  We can find faults with the Soviet story, but it’s my children who are living the life so overprotected, that they are unable to even begin to articulate the nature of evil.  (We shelter them from good, for a good measure, too, see number 3).

I recall, years ago, reading an article in local Jewish paper about teaching kids about the Holocaust.  It recommended waiting until they were 8 to explain that something horrible happened to Jews in Europe.  Perhaps I’ve forgotten some of the detail.  Maybe the conversation didn’t have to be postponed until 8, maybe the experts thought that parents need to wait until 5, but somehow I suspect a generation ago the issue was handled differently.

Granted, I didn’t know about the Holocaust until I was a teenager when my parents taught me about it.  I thought Nazis invaded our country and burnt villages, and my family, having no problem with this narrative, simply added on to it later.  Soviets weren’t big on Jewish issues, albeit there is the frequently played song about Buchenwald performed by Muslim Magomaev, but its subtext was by no means obvious:

My daughter shared her excitement about The Sound of Music with a girlfriend her age.  She told her not to worry, the movie is not that scary, although it has Nazis in it.  “So you get to learn abut the nuns?” inquired her half-Israeli friend.  Each year, Israel commemorated Holocaust remembrance day.

5. DH further researched 60’s musicals and found the following review of My Fair Lady:

No one younger than 50 will remember My Fair Lady. When it came out on stage and in movies it was wonderful. But now it just seemed dated. Radical lesbians will hate the thing.

But we are only interested in what gay men have to say about it!

6. Were The Sound of Music a Soviet film, Captain Von Trapp would be joining the Austrian partisans. Or at least the Italian ones.  And it would be no family fare.  Soviet and Russian WW2 films do not require redemption, are quite excellent, but very very difficult to watch.

June 19, 2014

Dear Parents of Russian Federation, Are You Nuts?

Filed under: parenting, politics, Russia — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 11:39 am

Echo Moskvy, one of the few opposition media sources (this is not an all-out endorsement, there are some despicable opposition figures in Russia) retells a personal story, corroborated with pictures, that previously made the rounds in Russian social media.  The event took place in late May:

Sick and sunburned, my daughter Ksenia returned from a Saturday celebration staged for Putin on St. Petersburg’s Isaakievsky Square.  5000 people, most of them from children’s’ choirs were appropriated to sing songs for the leader!  It was titled “The Limitless Wonder of the World”.

It was 30 degrees Celsius [~90 F – ed.] in Peter [St. Petersburg — ed.] that day.  All 40 under the sun!  The children were sent off at 8 am.

Prior to the entrance to the square, the children’s choir was thoroughly searched. Documents were required (my child is 12, so I provided her birth certificate), then bottled water and juices brought by children were confiscated.

And then as usual – everyone waited several hours for the tzar, who’s always behind the schedule.  A five-thousand-strong crowd was blazing under the sun until noon.  The only entertainment was watching the snipers that swarmed all the roofs around Isakievsky Square.  Six out of the 37 children in our choir fell ill, and, our daughter observed, people were fainting right and left — volunteers and doctors were barely able to take them away and treat them with water.

Putin appeared for about 3 minutes in the middle of the concert, took pictures against the background of several thousand children (the leader and children — always a good picture!), then gave a short speech and departed.  The concert went on until 2 pm.

Ksenia did not last until the end of performance. She regained consciousness in medical tent where they threw water on her.

With all the traffic jams, the children returned to Sestroretsk by 4:30.

The child was hungry — she was not allowed to take any food — sunburnt, and in wet clothes, so she refused to go to the Birthday party of our friends’ child.

She also missed school on Monday because she wasn’t feeling well.

She is still not 100% after this show-off (Russian показухa — ed.) for the leader, which should really be called “The limitless shame of Peter”…

Words fail me.

Words fail me too, but for a different reason.  It’s not merely that the children got sunburnt — kids get sunburns — or even that so many of them fainted. It’s that the parents allowed the state to use their kids for propaganda purposes, when they should have expected the state to use them up and spit them out.

How to raise a slave

When in 2008 a group of Beverly Hills parents encouraged their children to sing a silly ode to then presidential candidate Obama, at least half the country was vocally disgusted by the creepy production.  But note, that was parents raising their own kids.  And while some of these parents surely think, in abstraction, that children belong to the “community”, they do not realize that the logical outcome of this line of thought is wholesale child abuse.

The fatalistic submission of St. Petersburg parents is not at all surprising.  When I was growing up in the former Soviet Union, subjects, young and old, were herded to all sorts of mass events.  We went because we went. Adults had their own parallel holiday — gave to Caesar what was Caesar’s and had a semi-discreet swig of vodka.  Children came, and our little selves were twisted into submission early on.

Not much has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  It did not occur to the parent, who obviously dislikes Putin, to excuse her child from the event, however easy that would had been to do.  Nobody called in sick. Everyone knows their place.

March 13, 2014

Why I Can’t See Myself Homeschooling, Even Though I Kind of Am

Filed under: education, parenting — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 6:15 pm

A few weeks ago, I attempted to show my 6-year-old how to sew.  When I was her age, I knew how fabric was made and had the basics of needlework down.  I tried to show my daughter how make certain stitches and planned on helping her to sew a small toy.  I don’t know why I was under the impression that she would listen to instructions.  She immediately decided that she wanted to make a more sophisticated toy, and that she could do it all on her own.

First, I panicked, because OMG she’s setting herself up for failure. Then I figured that maybe she needs to fail and learn from it.  Only she didn’t really fail.  First, she asked me to thread her needle, a process in which she had no interest.  I showed her that she needs a knot at the end of her thread, which she watched me tie.  Then she proceeded to making a toy out of a sock, occasionally asking me for assistance with some technical details.  I finished off some of the elements (like tying the knots on the other end of the thread) when she was done and wasn’t even looking.  Her “pet” turned out touchingly crude, and she was very disappointed in some of her failures in the process, but at the end she succeeded.  All on her own.  I’m very proud of her, but she took on an open-ended project.  I can’t teach math or spelling in this manner.

But I am teaching her math and spelling.  When I went to school, I did homework on my own and was graded for each assignment.  Now I find that all parents supervise homework, and that homework is not graded because that would amount to grading parents. I frequently find myself explaining rather than reviewing.  I find that basic penmanship was never consistently taught, and for that reason I have to break the bad habits she’s already developed.  Why did I ever assume that a public school teaches students?  In the best schools in our area, students are red-shirted and start kindergarten already knowing how to read.  They don’t learn in school, they learn for school, often in private tutoring that starts at kindergarten or earlier.

/End rant

January 26, 2014

Is It OK To make Fun of Women Nearly 20 Years Younger Than Me?

Filed under: feminism, parenting — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:20 pm

It’s easy to go incognito with a name like Amy Glass.  When a feminist named Amy Glass wrote an anti-mom screed, my first thought was to check out her age.  It was practically impossible since there are so many Amy Glasses out there, so all I have to go by is that she sounds like a rather immature 23.

Ms. Glass confidently announced that she looks down on young wives and mothers:

You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.

I hear women talk about how “hard” it is to raise kids and manage a household all the time. I never hear men talk about this. It’s because women secretly like to talk about how hard managing a household is so they don’t have to explain their lack of real accomplishments. Men don’t care to “manage a household.” They aren’t conditioned to think stupid things like that are “important.”

And there I was, thinking that I’m doing the most important job in the world — raising the next generation of citizens.

It’s amazing how little respect people who make the world go round get these days.  Me, I’m just a lowly housewife — but Amy Glass, she blogs for Thought Catalog.  Now that’s a job for the ages!

Judging by the originality of her ideas, the young woman is destined to be a foot soldier of the pink sneaker brigade for years to come.

Feminist leaders want followers, and they found a faithful one in Ms. Glass; good for them.  But what’s in it for Ms. Glass herself? Perpetuating one’s genetic material and one’s values onto children is a kind of immortality.  Very few women (or men, but especially women since we are more ordinary) are capable of achieving immortality by other means.

Amy Glass’s profile photo.  Ripped jeans + laptop = free spirit + “big ideas”

On the plus side, by eschewing young motherhood Amy ensures that she has time to party.

I’m looking forward to reading about Glass injecting round after round of hormones 15-20 years from now.

UPDATE: Linked by Linda Szugyi over at Da Tech Guy — thank you!

November 14, 2013

Loosing Innocence

Filed under: parenting — edge of the sandbox @ 9:41 pm

My six-year-old daughter was screaming her lungs out.  I sent her upstairs to get ready for her ballet class, normally a seamless procedure, save me raising my voice a few times to remind her to stay on task.  She’s an actress, my six-year-old, so, once she started with the yell I had to pause to consider if it was real.  I knew her brother was in the room with her, but he seemed to stay silent.  What could be happening?  I went up.

DD was covering her body with the curtain:

“He just wants to see me naked!”

DS, now four, was dumbfounded.  If being naked means anything at all to him, it’s that it feels rather good, even if mommy and daddy do not approve.

That same night they changed into PJ’s together, so, I guess, the girls in her ballet class were talking modesty which she connected specifically to changing into her leotards.

She’s generally becoming more self-aware.  For instance, she came out with an idea of wishing grandma a happy birthday on a “float”.  The “float” was a large cardboard box in which she was pushing herself.  She made a flag out of a pencil and a paper on which she drew a fancy heart, and she wanted to wave it as she was pushing herself.  She loaded her float with gifts she made for grandma.  Somehow the whole project didn’t work out.  I offered to help, but she immediately became self-conscious.

At the same time she’s very unselfconscious when it comes to her table manners.  She just wants to kind of eat as quickly as possible and then play.  I’m going to miss that once she grows out of that stage.

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