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Another Day Without Papa

I trek to the internet place this morning, and I’m struck by the crispness of the morning air and the sun’s low angle, striking just above the tree tops.  I love the fall season, and although we’re missing it at home (all those yellow-leafed aspen trees!), I’m getting a little dose of it here.  I’m thankful for health, especially since Dan is still under the weather.  Very under the weather.

Though it’s Sunday, the outdoor clothes and fruit vendors are setting up–sweeping the sidewalks, calling out their early morning greetings, laying out their wares.  I wonder if they ever get tired of not having a Sunday break.

In my morning visit with Liliana, I put her in the stroller, and she pumps her arms in delight.  I take her to the government plaza where the birds are, then to the Yalta pier where people are sitting and strolling in the sun.  When a group of three women see Liliana running after a dog, to try to pet it, I get scolded in Russian.  Tsk, tsk.  Now, being a dog person, I know a mongrel dog when I see one, and this isn’t one.  It even has a collar.  It’s more a puppy than a dog, but given the fact that it’s chasing the battery-powered cars and barking at their every turn, it’s been deemed unclean by these women, and they can’t believe I would let my little girl touch such a filthy animal!  I have to laugh.  There’s so much that I’ve already done this week that I’m sure if I had the Official Mothers of the Year here (is there such a thing?), they’d be giving me lists and lists of correctives on How to Behave With a Child.  But I’m not willing to let these moments slip by.  How often is a child interested in stopping at every bush and flower and (you guessed it!) cigarette butt, to pay attention. On our walks, I’m stopping so she can see the water rushing through the gutters (don’t worry, I know enough not to let her touch that!).  I’m pausing to let her feel the bark on the trees.  I even hold her firmly while she bends down to dip her fingers in the sparkling water in the huge water fountain.

We sit on a bench, and she wants to play “ticka ticka ticka ticka.”  She’s referring to about a week ago when I took her shoes off and lightly tickled the arches of her feet.  When I originally did this, I said, “Tickle, tickle, tickle…” then switched to a shortened form of “ticka ticka ticka.”  That’s the part she remembers.  So, now she wants her shoes taken off, and she says with a huge grin, “Ticka ticka ticka.”  She wants to be tickled.  Her laughs come from her belly, and this goes on for some time.

In order to tell what happens next, I must explain that people do not smile here.  Ever.  Not even when you smile at them.  We asked our translator about this, and she said, “No, I don’t know why.  Once, I went into a store in the late afternoon, and I said, ‘Hello.  How are you?’ and the lady said, ‘You’re the first person to ask me today.’”  The lack of emotion is very noticeable, and it makes it seem like people really would rather you leave them alone.  No holding doors for other people.  No thank yous.  No waiting in line for your turn–nope, as long as you can shove your way to the front, then it’s your turn.

Another thing you must know (before I can continue the story about Liliana being tickled) is that, because of this no-smiling, it really stands out when you do.  I smile all the time, and they look at me like I should be in a nuthouse.  Dan said that when he went into the corner store to get water and soup, the woman glanced up at him, then kept reading her tabloid magazine.  You have to understand.  Here in Yalta, there’s only one supermarket where you can grab things off the shelf.  The rest of them look like the meat department in any American store.  Everything is on shelves behind the store employee or in a glass case in front of the store employee.  You’re supposed to say what you want, and they get it for you.  [Not very efficient, if you ask me, but maybe they have problems with shoplifting.]  Well, after Dan had stood there, waiting for a while, the woman finally heaved herself up off the glass case.  She acted like everything Dan pointed to was a burden she didn’t want to have to bear.  She’d sigh, pick it up, and smack it down in front of him.  [I am tempted to say she was irritated with the language block, but I’ve seen our translator talk to the store employees, too, and be given that same irritated look.]

So, there I am, sitting on a bench with Liliana, tickling her, and she’s laughing that kind of laugh that’s contagious, you know, where you laugh just to hear the other person laughing.  This woman, maybe in her late 50s, stops right in front of me–about 3 feet away–and stares at Liliana.  I can’t figure out if the woman thinks I’m mistreating Liliana, or if she’s wondering if something’s wrong with Liliana.  I smile at the woman and continue tickling Liliana.  Yep, the woman’s still there.  Seriously, I’ll bet she stands there for a solid two minutes.  Finally, she says something.  I touch my lips and say, “English.”  [Brilliant, Elissa, brilliant!].  And she shrugs and moves on.  Hmmm.  I don’t know what she’s thinking.  She’s probably muttering, “Mothers these days.  What is this world coming to?”

In the afternoon, I bring Liliana back to the apartment, where she can see Dan.  [She already has the cold that she gave Dan, so we think it’s okay.]  She starts to cry when Dan picks her up, but then she’s distracted, and she goes to him willingly–especially for animal crackers and apple juice.  She even goes to the front door and picks up his shoes to bring them back to him.  So, she’s noticed his shoes.

She watches Dan like a hawk, and always knows where he is.  But frequently she’ll cower from him, as if she can’t quite let go.  We can’t understand this because she’s only had good experiences with him.  We know she has no precedents for a papa, and tons of examples of mamas (in the orphanage caregivers).  She just needs more time with Dan, and since Dan’s been so sick, they have a lot of catching up to do!  It’s frustrating for Dan, as you can imagine, and it breaks my heart that he has to go through this, because he’s got all the love in the world for this little girl.

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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