Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Word mystery: solved

For as long as I can remember, Elena has been using the word "foochi." We thought, for the longest time, that this was just little-kid-nonsense word that she'd made up, and remained enamored of.

But then something clicked: I noticed that she always used the word in the same context: when she woke up, she'd cover her head with the sheet, as if she were a ghost, and say, "this is my foochi sheet," or "I'm a little foochi baby." So maybe... maybe she's remembering something amusing or important from her time in Kotlas, and "foochi" is Russian for "sheet" or "ghost" or "baby" or something. It sounds Russian, right?

Except it's apparently not Russian. I looked it up, using Google translate, and there's no Russian word close to "foochi."

So there it stood for a while, until this weekend, when I had an epiphany: there may be no Russian word quite like "foochi," but neither are there English words quite like "somefink" or "muffroom," both words which Elena also uses quite a bit. One shouldn't, in other words, put too much stock in the pronunciation of a five-year-old, especially one using a two-year-old's memories. So maybe "foochi" is really "thoochi" or "shoochi" or something.

And, lo and behold, шучу (pronounced "shuchu") is indeed a Russian word. It means "joking" or "kidding;" in the sense of "silly," I assume. As in, "I'm a little joking baby," or "I'm a silly little baby."

Google Translate has a "listen" feature, where you can hear a word's pronunciation. I turned it on and called Elena into the room. "Elena, what's this?" asked, and played "shuchu" back.

Her face lit up. "Foochi!" she said.

I added a word to the translation - малышка ("malyshka"), meaning "baby" to make "shuchu malyshka," or "joking baby." "Who's this?" I asked, and played it back to her.


That's about as close as you can get to a confirmation that "foochi" = "shuchu" = "joking/silly." And it gives us a bit of an insight into something Elena must have done when she was little: hiding under a sheet or blanket and making the orphanage nurses laugh. "Shuchu malyshka," they called her...and she never forgot it.

Friday, February 14, 2014


A few days ago, Elena was standing at the bathroom sink pretending to make tea.  She had her little plastic teapot, and used the bathroom sink glass as a tea cup.  And then she did something a little surprising - she quite naturally sat the "tea cup" into an upturned cap from a vitamin jar.  She called it the "tea holder."

Tea time for Elena - note the "tea holder"
 under the glass
We drink tea on occasion, but it's usually steeped in a coffee mug, not in a teapot - and we never use "tea holders."  But guess where they do use tea holders?  Russia, of course, where they call them "podstakanniks" (which means, literally, "the thing under the glass").

Podstakanniks, with their tea glasses.
The natural use of a "tea holder" is an interesting window into her early memories from the orphanage. The day we met Elena, the care-givers at the baby house gave us a sample menu and her daily schedule, and we found out she often had tea in the morning. (They gave us this info so we could try to keep as much similar as possible when she transitioned to her life with us ).  We assumed tea was served in the same glazed metal cups we saw in use at snack time.  But she must have had tea in a tea glass holder on some memorable occasion!

Elena's getting old enough that her memories of the orphanage are fast fading.  We'll ask her questions about her time in Kotlas, and often she won't remember, or will mix up more recent memories with those fading memories of Russia.  Every once in a while, though, a true memory will peek through - and it gives us another little glimpse of a part of Elena's life that we'll never know much about.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sadness 2

Elena is usually pretty easy-going. Because of this, she's had (I think) less trouble adjusting to family life than a typical orphanage child. Sometimes, though, things hit her just right. She's been upset before when watching a cartoon that had a subtext of abandonment (see this post). And just this weekend she had a similar reaction to a puppet show.

This last Saturday, we went out to Noel Night in Detroit. There were a ton of free things to do, and the first thing we went to was Kolobok, put on by the PuppetArt Theatre at the DIA. Kolobok is essentially the Russian version of the Gingerbread Man, where a couple bakes a little loaf of bread (Kolobok), who then runs away from his parents, plays in the woods, and eventually needs to outwit the hungry fox.

In this version of the story, two forest spirits interact with Kolobok and join him on his journey. The "forest spirits" are live actors, and control many of the puppets, and so act as both viewpoint characters and as the technical method to move the puppets around the stage. We see the forest spirits playing with leaves at the beginning of the play (there's a short video here), and later they play with Kolobok when he jumps off the windowsill where he was cooling after coming from the oven.

That's a nice way of handling the puppetry, except... Except Kolobok really is a puppet, and when in the story he "jumps" off the windowsill, in reality he's being taken off the windowsill by the live actor forest spirits. Being taken away from his mother and father, in other words.

Elena saw that and it hit her hard enough that she immediately began crying. It didn't matter that the story Kolobok wanted to jump off the windowsill, or that the story would eventually have a happy ending, or that Elena had actually seen the same puppet show before (a year ago, and not having made the same inference, obviously); it just mattered that the poor little loaf of bread was being taken from his Mom and Dad.

We wound up leaving the puppet show and regrouping in the corridor. Elena's just old enough that she can understand why she's sad and articulate that to us, so we all talked about what was happening and why she was sad. It was a good conversation, but Elena was still shaken enough that we went off to do something else: in this case a half-hour rendition of the Nutcracker, and then off to decorate a gingerbread man. So this incident didn't stop Elena from enjoying the evening. But still, it's a reminder that there are some things that will affect Elena differently than other kids, and sometimes those things can be quite unexpected.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The line game

We're recently started playing the "line game" - a two-person game handed down from Teresa's parents. The rules are: One person draws a simple squiggle, and the other person uses the squiggle as the basis of a drawing.

Drawing has been something we've been working on, in a low-emphasis way, for a while.  Way back when we visited her in the orphanage, we brought some markers.  Elena had a unique approach to drawing, where she would pull a marker out of the box, pop the cap off, and very carefully make the tiniest dot on the piece of paper. Then she'd recap the marker, put it back in the box, and repeat with another color.
April 2011 - Elena draws, a dot at a time.
That's a very process-oriented approach, and one I suspect stemmed from limited practice time with markers and crayons.  The orphanage doesn't have a lot of money, so I think there's little room for consumables like paper and crayons.

It took some time after Elena got home before she actually began scribbling and drawing, and so it's pretty satisfying to see her actually draw something. It's been just recently - in the past month or so - that she's been able to consistently draw something recognizable.  Which brings us around to the line game.

We started the line game with Elena squiggling and me drawing, but just today she decided that she wanted to draw.  So I made a red "V" shape, slid the paper to Elena... and she made this:

A line game birdie.

A very recognizable little bird.  From her own imagination, in her own hand.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Vacation again

We went on a week-long vacation earlier in the month.  Elena loves going on vacation - "who doesn't?" you might ask, but the sudden change of venue and schedule can be somewhat scary for kids with an orphange background, as I talked about last year at this time.  Elena's never really had that problem, and in fact loves just about every aspect of taking a trip, from hotels to restaurants, even (to some extent) the car ride.

Part of her enthusiasm is getting both of us to herself for an extended period, I think, but another large part is just in doing different things.  We went again this year on a trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, staying in Marquette and Houghton.  Last year, we made a similar trip, but only made small, short trips out-of-doors, knowing that a three-year-old's stamina wouldn't match ours.

Elena's four-and-a-half now, and old enough that her stamina is noticeably better.  And, we found, she's much more adept at walking than she was a year ago, and can keep up with us for the most part with no trouble, even along paths filled with roots and stones.

And so we got to take some pretty lengthy hikes, along the beach or just exploring some of the terrain.  Like waterfalls, for example:

Water-walking at the Hungarian Falls

Or just walking on the rocks in the river:
Walking through the water with Mom.

What was really, gratifying, though, was that after we were done with some of our walks. Elena would say, "Mom!  I had a lot of fun today!  Walking here-or-there was really really fun!"  This even after she'd originally expressed some skepticism about whatever it was we were doing.

It's gratifying that Elena enjoys doing some of the same things that we do.  Maybe that's not all that surprising, since we're talking about walking in the water, or hopping across rocks, or just exploring - thinkgs I think kids would universally love.  But still, watching her discover some of these places and things for the first time is a little special.

Even more fun is that we spent some time walking around the Quincy Mine near Houghton - not underground (this time), but just through some of the ruins on the surface. I've always thought the old mining equipment and old buildings were cool - there's a sense of history, and the large industrial equipment appeals to my engineering sensibilities.

That's not really a reason I'd think would resonate with a four-year-old, though, so I wasn't certain Elena would actually enjoy looking at the mining equipment and buildings at the Quincy Mine.  But, surprisingly, she did.  Or, rather, she enjoyed climbing on the old mining equipment.

Dancing on the "stage."
Which, really, isn't all that much different from my attraction to this old mine stuff - it's just a different way to interact.

Climb aboard!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The internet giveth, yet again

As I've said before, I try to keep tabs on what's happening at the Kotlas baby house.  Thus, I just stumbled across a group that purportedly donates items to the baby house (I say "purportedly" because there seems to be some question about whether monetary donations actually end up where they're intended to go - but, for the moment, that's neither here nor there).  This group has been around for a couple-three years, and has visited the baby house a few times.

And...they took pictures.  Including a visit in May 2011 (this would be a few weeks after we first came to Kotlas) where they delivered some toys.  A few kids were wating for the toys:

Kotlas baby house, May 2011
And those few kids include a little girl in a yellow dress and red bow (in the center).  Yup, that's Elena; another picture of her that we've never seen before.

They also visited in June 2011, when the Baby House celebrates the "Day of the Child" with some costume skits:

Kotlas baby house, June 2011
The kids in the picture are the right age to be Elena, but it's hard to tell.  I asked Elena if she remembers this, and she matter-of-factly identified herself as the third baby chick in the picture above.  It's hard to tell if she's remembering truely, or is just influenced by the yellow dress in the first picture, but it's quite likely she's one of the kids in the picture or just off-camera.

I was just remarking to an acquaintance how rare and special pre-adoption pictures of orphanage kids are, and here are a few more to add to our collection.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

It's that time of year again

We are once again preparing to file a post-adoption report with the Russian government.  All in all, we need to file four post adoption reports: at six months and one year after adoptio (ones we've already completed), at two years (due this year) and a final one in 2014 at three years after adoption.  We're filing these primarily because we promised we would: Elena is still a Russian citizens, and the state has an understandable interest in her welfare.

Last year, though, there was the added incentive that not filing the required post-adoption report could affect those families that were currently in the middle of their adoption process in a negative way.  This year, however, the Russian governement halted US adoption of Russian orphans, so there are no  American families currently in the middle of their adoption process.

We're still filing, of course, and preparing the report gives us an opportunity to look over the last year's worth of pictures; always fun for any reason.  But it's a bit sad that our timely filing won't actually make a damn bit of difference to anyone.