Our new Russian heritage and a spring farm trip.

Last fall this article on parenting lasts went viral. Did it pop up on your news feed? The author, Devon Corneal, writes wistfully about the mostly universal truth that as our children grow up, their lasts often slip by unnoticed. We remember their firsts- first steps, first words, first wave- but we can't name their lasts- last time she jumped in the pool shouting watch me!, last time he needed help with his zipper, last time she hugged your knees from behind... we know when they're gone but we can't remember exactly when they left.

Arie came home with his cute little Russian nod and "da!" It slowly morphed into, "ya!" and then, "yea!" and just this week he's left that behind in favor of a fully decisive "yes." It comes out with a little baby lisp so it's more like, "yeths!" which, you can imagine, melts me to the floor.

As much as I love his "yeths," though, I'm surprised at the sad twinges I'm feeling as he leaves his Russian behind. The language fades away and the culture does too.

I'll admit that when someone first asked me how we plan to incorporate Arie's Russian heritage into our family life, I didn't really know what to say. Over time we made deliberate choices like keeping his Russian name (Artem), hanging a Russian map in his room, and working Russian recipes into our meal planning. As much as I love eating beets and cabbage, (as I'm typing this I'm realizing that could be read sarcastically. It's not! I really do love them.) it feels like it's not really enough.

Of course it isn't. Nothing can really fill in the gap that happens when you move from one culture to the next, can it? My grandparents immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands after WWII and as I've been working through all these thoughts and feelings about Arie loosing his heritage, I've been thinking a lot about the four of them. They are all Dutch parents who raised Canadian kids. I imagine they experienced some of those same sad twinges I've been experiencing as they watched their children grow up into a different culture than the one they could've would've should've grown up in, save for WWII.


My parents are proud of their heritage. And so are we grandkids. We don't really spend a lot of time wishing we would have grown up in Holland. Actually, we received the strange blessing of mixed culture. My parents were taught the Dutch language, simple, frugal European cooking, a strong work ethic, and passed down a the heritage of Reformed faith. They kiss each other on the cheeks to say hello. They passed down much of what they got to us as well, although not the Dutch language. My parents used that as their secret way of talking "behind our backs" when we were right in front of their faces. They did pass down their Dutch way of speaking very frankly about... everything, which I used to alienate a few more nuanced Americans when I first moved here. Still trying to figure out if that frankness is a blessing or a curse.

What I'm doing now is embarking on a new post-adoption journey, a journey in which I seek to discover the best parts of Russian culture and incorporate them into our family. In a way it's something I've already been doing as I raise my son in the States, as a third generation Dutch Canadian. I want him to say please and thank you and excuse me a million times per day like a good Canadian. I want him to drink tea as if it's water, like my grandparents. As for his Russian heritage: I want him to value family like, as one of my facebook likers recently said, "the mafia, but without the murder." I want him to be raised with an appreciation for the arts, which means I'll be getting an education myself! And maybe most of all I want to take on that Russian hospitality. In my reading one thing I've learned about Russians is that there is always, always, room for one more at the table. No matter how small the apartment or meager the meal- friends are welcome here. 

As I educate myself in all things Russian please feel free to offer me suggestions: books, articles, documentaries, moves, painters, etc. I'm hungry for it all! 


One thing that I really should appreciate being Canadian and having a Russian son, is cold winters but I will admit, hard as I try, by the time it gets to March I want to cry about the weather. I am beyond ready for the earth to warm up again. It was still cold this week, but sunny so I was feeling at least like I wasn't going to die, but then Saturday came and it is cloudy. And windy. And cold. 

To save me from my winter weather desperation, John kindly suggested we go see the spring animals at a nearby farm. (The farm exists just for this purpose.)  The sight of fluffy little chicks, baby ducks, and two week old calves is helping me remember that winter is not eternal. Spring is indeed here and summer is on the way

Arie was amazed, as usual. There was lots of him pointing and yelling, "OH BOY!" 

I know they already say that everything is new in the eyes of a child, but seriously everything is even newer in the eyes of a recently adopted toddler. His world was so small for two and a half years and in the past 4 months it has expanded so fast you'd think he'd be knocked right off his feet! But this kids LOVES life. He loves going outside and exploring new places. (Even the mention of a trip to the grocery store sends him into a fit of excited laughter as he RUNS to get his shoes on!) 

Each time we got to a new animal Arie would stand by the cage, listening to its noise and then shout it back. My favorite was the roosters crow. "KA-DOOOOOOO!!!" he yelled. 

So crazy adorable. 

We just happened to be there when the calves needed to be fed. The calf must have been so huge from Arie's vantage point, but he bravely stepped forward to give it a quick pet. 

Since it was still so cold and windy out (grumble grumble) we had to leave after about an hour and Arie bawled his eyes out, begging for "moy mam-ni-mals!" (more animals!)  Oh my heart. I love listening to him learn to speak! 

Happy weekend from this guy: 



  1. Russian Ballet is also a great way to get in touch with Russia's art culture. I'm not saying you have to sign your son up for ballet (I know many Americans think that boys doing ballet is weird, though if I have sons, they WILL all take ballet and my family can just deal with that), but you can teach him to appreciate ballet, and its music... Tchaikovsky is totally Russian, and Russian ballets set to Russian music are beautiful. Also, a thought on helping him to keep his Russian (and to help you and John learn Russian)... Muzzy! I have incredibly fond memories of Muzzy :)

    1. You will be pleased to know that we are looking into starting ballet with him next year! Maybe it's the non-American in me but I don't think boys in ballet are weird at all. I mean, seriously... have people SEEN male dancers? They're pretty... manly. Just sayin. ;-)

    2. I know! Ballet for men has nothing to do with tutus and toe shoes! You have to be super strong to be a male ballet dancer (and quite secure)!

  2. I'm not Russian but I listen to a fair amount of Russian music -- Eastern Orthodox Chant (esp. Russian Orthodox) is amaaaazing. It's really easy to find on youtube, and there are many CDs available as well.

    1. Our friends are Greek Orthodox and the chanting we've heard at their church is amazing! Great idea!

  3. Anonymous4/06/2013

    My husband is Russian and watched a cartoon called Nu, pogodi when he was a child. It has very little speaking, but it's really cute. Arie might like it, and you could probably find it on youtube.

    1. Thank you I'll see if I can find an episode! Arie's favorite Russian cartoon so far is Masha and the Bear. He LOVES it!

    2. Jill, I'm not sure if it's even possible without having a constant interaction with a Russian speaking friend or family (Ideally same age as Arie also), but please try to save as much Russian language as possible. If nothing else, it will absolutely be a great help in his developing brain. Numerous studies show that true bi-lingual kids have higher IQ and faster learners. I'll send you a couple of links to the most famous Russian Cartoons (ans they're really short, in case you want to limit Tv time):
      1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWGovsuRWYM
      2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMTwP7Lb1i4
      3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnQ2TMxEtEU
      4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3h_6ap_z_U
      5) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV3hIdOcRLk (nu pogodi, Anonimous mentioned)

      Lastly, I offered you Skype sessions on Facebook and my offer is still valid, even though I understand it is not easy to find time and energy to do it.

  4. I love your intentionality when it comes to... well pretty much everything... but this especially. Gorgeous pics... way to rock the red pants and if I learn anything about Russian culture that you don't already know I'll be passing it on post haste!

  5. Anonymous4/07/2013

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Has he just shot up? Or do the jeans just make him look long and lean? He seriously doesn't look like the same toddler you brought home!!

  7. Anonymous4/10/2013

    Ask your local children's librarian for good recommendations of Russian folktales that have been made into picture books (in English) and for collections of Russian folktales, poetry. Simple geography books about Russia, and children's international cookbooks and books featuring simple crafts from other countries may also be of interest, along with travelogue videos/DVDs about Russia. Glad you're working to keep Arie's heritage part of his life!

    Susan in Ky
    Retired Children's Librarian and
    Cousin to 2 from Eastern Europe
    (who are very proud of their national origin as well as being patriotic young Americans)

  8. Anonymous4/11/2013

    I've been reading your blog and would like to contact you via e-mail. I'd love to talk with you more about adoption from Russia (I'm Canadian). How can I get in touch with you via e-mail? Thanks!!

  9. Anonymous10/21/2013

    there's a great blog for Russian recipes
    we're Russian and use lots of those with our boys.


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