Friday, September 05, 2008

What babushki say

This is for Mrs, since they're studying Russia. Also, Will said recently that I should write down some of the wackiest scoldings I've gotten. It does seem like I've had some good ones lately.

But first, in case you're new to babushki, I'll try to explain a little of this basic part of life in Russia/Ukraine/former USSR. Babushki are grandmothers, the older women whose job is to manage all aspects of public life. They are usually very forceful and opinionated. Probably my most memorable and typical encounter with a babushka was when Jaan was two weeks old, one screamed at me, full volume, until we walked away, because I had him in a carrier that held him upright. (For those who don't know--as I didn't know then--Russian babies have soft spines. They have to lie flat, or they'll grow up to be hunchbacks.)

The most common babushka tirades are about health, and that usually means staying warm. Never, never sit on the ground (or stone or concrete), in the presence of a babushka. . . unless you have a layer of newspaper or plastic bag to between you and that dangerous cold; that makes it okay. No mater how hot it is, you'll hear about it, if you open a window. Drafts are deadly! Now, I do like this one: you know how the hot water goes off for long periods of time in Russian cities? Nursing mothers should not wash dishes then, because the cold from the water goes right up the arms and causes certain problems. Of course, the same problem with anyone walking barefoot, though. That cold goes right up and causes infertility, or just a cold, if you're lucky. See the theme? Don't get cold!

But that leads to an interesting observation. . . Ukrainian babushki seem to be obsessed in the opposite direction. I am used to just putting an extra layer of clothes on the children, so that I will be left alone. (A friend who works in Eastern Europe teased me in America: "You know, you really can take your baby's hat off here!") At first, I dressed our children here like I would in Russia, and everywhere we went, helpful babushki were peeling layers off of them and scolding me. Too bad moving air is still dangerous in Ukraine.

So, on to the best fussings I've gotten lately:
  • Asya's bladder won't develop properly, because she doesn't drink anything. "She'll be going to the bathroom every 5 minutes." Who cares that most of her diet is liquid; milk doesn't count. When I offered my standard protest--that I've done the same thing with her older siblings, and they're healthy--the answer was, "This only shows up later on in life. They'll all have bladder problems."
  • Asya is hyperactive, because I don't give her a bottle. I was struggling with her at church, and a babushka told me that if I would just give her a bottle, then she'd calm down and sit still. I had just nursed her, but again, that doesn't count. She backed it up with a long story about some kittens that she had saved. They cried when she gave them milk in a bowl, but once she got a bottle for them, they settled down and slept four hours straight!
  • "What kind of mother would go on a 17-hour train trip and not bring a bottle?!?" Um, a nursing mother; my baby doesn't know what to do with a bottle. "Well, you should have brought one anyway!"
Will wanted me to add a photo. This is from Zhatva last week, although I didn't hear these sweet babushki fussing about anything.

20 comments:

Mrs said...

Thank you for this! I look forward to sharing it with our co-op. It makes me wonder how much is tradition, how much is superstition, and how much is from personal experience? I mean, except for the cold water up the arms thing . . . that's just wacky.

Julie said...

I haven't heard the cold water up the arms thing. That is funny.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Phyllis! Also, isn't it also true that you cannot put ice in drinks because it will damage "things" going down that way, as well? And, I remember one Russian mother (who will remain nameless) that I should NOT hold Jaan upright because all his organs would fall down to the bottom because they weren't solidly in there yet! Personally, I like that one!! Love y'all!! Baba Julie

Laura :) said...

I remember the "no ice" thing when we were there but I was thinking it was because you might get a sore throat. They told us we'd have to ask for ice if we wanted any.

Laura T. :)

Mamasphere said...

All of the older women fuss over me and how I mother my daughter when we're in Brasil. I just pretend not to understand them, and thankfully we're only there for three weeks out of the year! Having to deal with meddlesome old women on a regular basis would drive me crazy!

Phyllis said...

Mrs, and to add to your questions, how much does the tradition and superstition shape their personal experience? I mean, we don't get sick when we get cold, but everyone here sure does!

Yes, Baba Julie, I didn't even mention the fact that Russian babies also don't have their internal organs nailed down. That's why you can't sit them up until a certain age.

Yes, ice in drinks causes sore throats. Again, cold makes you sick. Once my friend's son got strep throat from sucking on an icicle, and then she (the mother) came down with it soon after. I tried to get her to explain that to me. :-)

I've gotten past it driving me crazy. I laugh a lot, once I get home. In public I just try to nod and smile and not crack up. And I try to be thankful that they really do want to help.

Mom said...

Let it be known that you are the best young mother I know (and I observe some excellent mothering)! Watching you mother your children is one of the great delights of my life.

I salute you!

S & B In Asia said...

That is too funny. What makes it even more so is the fact that the Chinese Grandma's do that as well. Here they are called "chi pu" which means "Grandma chicken"

It is the same with layers. It was August and close to 100F and I took K out in a onsie and they talked.

heartathome said...

Oh, how fun to hear stories like this! I have a good friend whose mother was from Russia. We were at a birthday party together when my baby began to fuss. She firmly and authoritively told me to get up and go to the other room and give that baby some milk right now! I loved her motherly intrusion and just chuckled within as I sat in the other room nursing my wee one! Perhpas babushki truly take Titus 2 to heart (even if they are a bit wayward in their direction!)

Anonymous said...

Heh ... they have those in Poland, too, though perhaps not as pronounced. The hardest thing for me was trying to explain to my friend's mother that my children really do have food allergies and can't have healthy foods like dairy, etc. She thought I was starving them to death!

Oh yes, and fear the deadly draft! Nothing like a stuffy apartment in July where everyone's afraid to open the window!

We don't live in Poland any more (because of the allergies), but reading your blog takes me back to that part of the world.

Great post! :-)

Laura

Sarah said...

I so remember those babushki! Our driver once whisked away our then 5 month old to a babushka in a bazaar because he insisted that I did not do a good enough job at swaddling the baby. I could not understand all that was said to me, but I did understand quite clearly that I was being scolded! lol Our driver kept pointing as the babushka was swaddling Caleb correctly to get me to understand that was the proper way to do so. Of course, the babushka was adding in her two cents too. =) I remember being scared that someone could just take a baby out of my hands so quickly! Forget the swaddling! What about kid knapping?! lol I thought the swaddling was because of baby not being covered enough as I was told babies get sick if cold. So maybe when you hit the winter time you will experience the layer issue again? Or maybe I misunderstood and the swaddling had something to do with another superstition? hmm...

Mrs said...

Glenna and I have had such a good laugh about these additional stories! Himself would never survive babushki. At the slightest coolness in the air he opens every window in the house! Sometimes there's quite a breeze and we're all huddled in quilts while works contentedly in his office.

Anonymous said...

I heard a new one this summer: You can't eat hot and cold food at the same time(think pie and ice cream), because the temperature contrast is really bad for you. And when I commented on the amount of ice cream some of them eat and how cold it is, it was explained to me that you eat it very carefully, by placing small amounts at the very front of your mouth, so that it can melt before it gets to your throat. Ohhhhh, now everything makes perfect sense. =-) Anna

Phyllis said...

Sarah, I'm sure we'll see the overdressing obsession when it gets cold. I do hear it sometimes here. They believe it whole-heartedly. It was just really surprising to have them take layers off. That was entirely new to me. Will says that it just shows that they have some common sense. :-)

Anna, that is one of the really standard ones. Thanks for sharing it! Adults are always telling children to eat their ice cream slowly and carefully in the summer, meaning that they should eat it in exactly the way you described. The contrast in temperatures is extremely dangerous. But, on the other hand, the ultimate health experience is banya and rolling in snow? Or a "contrast bath" at home? Of course, only very healthy people can do that.

Anonymous said...

I just want to add to the comments about sore throats because of eating cold things or drinking liquids with ice. It DOES happen, but it happens to Russians because they're not used to it. Once you or your baby are used to icey cold drinks, then it's no problem. I'm Russian and have never in my life had ice cubes in my drinks UNTIL I came to the States (now I can't do without them). Belive it or not the first week of being here literally knocked me down. I spent the entire week in bed with sore throat, runny nose, headache, earache... you name it, I had it all. Since then passed 8 years and I've never had this problem again. The same was with ACs. Breathing air conditioned air in the car was making me sick, almost to the point of throwing up. Now... I don't even notice the difference. My kids eat cold yogurts, drink cold water and breathe air conditioned air and they're totally fine. So, prejudice, superstition, tradition or else, I think it all comes back to being used to certain things. :-)

Leana

Phyllis said...

Yes! And it can go the other way around. After 7 years of living here, wind blowing on me overnight really does give me a stiff neck. It's not enough to make me close the window and smother, but I know that's what it's from. And I automatically move to keep my baby out of drafts, without even thinking about it.

Leana, maybe we're in trouble. I still believe that sickness comes from germs, but I'm starting to get it from cold, too. Wouldn't it be better if it was one or the other? :-)

(I think Americans have pretty much the same obsessions; they just substitute germs for cold, and it comes out a little differently.)

Phyllis said...

Oh, also, cold drinks! I automatically warn people when I pull juice out of the refrigerator. That gets a funny look. Try handing an American a cold drink and saying, "Be careful, it's cold."

Martha A. said...

It is funny for me as someone asked me once "Do you feel like you live in two worlds?" and I do!
I would never ever do some things around my Russian relatives, that I would do no problem at home or with my family. My older boys grew up wearing 2-3 layers of clothing! I got scolded all the time because I hate tights....I was told how I was going to get something horrible which I finally figured out what they were talking about and laughed by myself, because it is actually the opposite!
I have probably heard all the nursing advice too....none of my children ever took bottles and my FIL was convinced my oldest son
was starving to death because he did not drink from a bottle and no woman could ever make enough milk. The fact that he was round and chunky did not count...it was only bloating and my brothers who were nursed, when they got older they would have health problems from the lack of nutrition. His other grand daughter drank a a whole liter of cows milk every day!
I am glad you learn to take it with a grain of salt! I have had to too!

Maya said...

Hee hee - I have to share this: while here in America< I (Maya) saw a pregnant lady pick up my Timothy, 1year old, and who is pretty heavy. I was right on top of her - hey, no,no, you are not supposed to lift heavy things. She just stared... I think I will make a good russian grandma. I had to explain myself. :-)

Phyllis said...

Maya, that's the part of "babushka-ing" that I love: pregnant princesses! :-) I don't think I could have survived any of my pregnancies in America or another country. When I was 8 months pregnant with Jaan, we went to Estonia. I got on a bus, and no one stood up. I was shocked. Finally a RUSSIAN babushka started yelling at all the Estonians, and someone reluctantly gave me his place. Of course, pregnant women should be treated like royalty! :-)