Lucky, expatriate trailing fathers like me, get to spend quality time with their kids here in Moscow, before we also pack up shop and head off to greener lands. I had forgotten life in the playground these last months, as I have been busy spending time with other peoples brats, sorry, I mean darling angels. Playgrounds are interesting places to study human nature and to see a variety of personalities and stereotypes in all their, beauty, vulgarity and eccentricity. I think we all love playgrounds, as we feel like children again. I know this sounds all wrong in today's, screwed up society but I love playgrounds, I am a swinger and I love swings. Playgrounds are fun for you and the kids. Swing on the swings, go on the see saw, roundabout, make sandcastles and watch happy faces playing.
Being "expatriates", we live in an area that has other international expats. We were sold into this dream, by the real estate letting agent and we had no idea we would be placed into a community of expatriate clones. As a twist of consequence, we luckily, get to choose from a variety of different playground areas to take our kids to. The most popular being "Patriarchy Ponds". We don't live there but can easily take a bus or a metro. This is a large pond (it's a lake but called a "pond"), situated near the Moscow zoo and I won't bore you with it's history. It has a playground area at one end of the pond and is surrounded by trees, as a park in the centre, it's a nice one and away from the main traffic noise and smoke. When we first arrived here, I took my kid there everyday, as I did not know where else to go but since then, I have found a huge number of other playground areas that are far better. On most days, I would push my kid in the snow, rain and sunshine to the Patriarchy Pond. Mostly out of desperation to get out from my flat, to breath some air and to meet with other parents. In the summer, I would walk past groups of teenagers drinking beer from cans, while they ate potato chips. Drinking outside in parks, is very popular among Russians and not seen as socially unacceptable. Lovers, would sit kissing on yellow benches, women would be gossiping and people would walk by with small trophy dogs, that would look more at home in Beverly Hills than in Moscow. Patriarchy Ponds, is popular for wealthy Russians and for expatriates on wonderful relocation packages, as rents are very high in that area of Moscow. I would sit down on a bench at the playground and watch my kid, while he climbed the slide or went down the plastic tunnel on the play area. I always felt very uncomfortable at this playground, I felt a kind of impostor, as I was surrounded by women, many of them British. I felt like a man in a women's shower room. This would normally be fine, even exciting, in a different situation (the shower room I mean) but playgrounds and children are a world, that belong to mothers and not to us hairy men. In previous countries, I had always avoid other expatriates but moving here with a kid, changed that freedom and anonymity.
When you are a foreigner in a foreign country, you get a kind of desperation to hear your own language spoken and to speak to people who actually understand you. I was like that, although I often spoke to the wrong people, as I was desperate to talk to anyone that would listen to me. Expatriate mothers are often middle class, have husbands who are directors or top managers and who live comfortable lives abroad in an expatriate bubble, tied to each other by an invisible umbilical cord of motherhood. I had as much in common with them as an alien from another planet. These are the very kinds of people, that I would avoid back home. They cannot be avoided here, they are at the playgrounds, at the schools and at the kindergartens. At first, I tried to befriend them but was met with one way conversations and suspicion, a man at a playground, how very strange. After a while, I found myself chatting to Russian mothers or to Filipino girls. These people were far more interesting, genuine and real. I got to know the regulars and their faces and their kids. I could recognize a kids face and link him or her to a nanny or to a mother. A man would arrive every morning at the Pond playground, in most weather conditions and do stretching exercises or chin ups, on the playground climbing frame. He had a friendly, lived in face face and we would often chat in broken English, about everything and nothing. This brief male company, was a shot of normality, in a raging sea of vaginas as I felt I was drowning back then.
Middle aged Russians nannies, called "Natasha" or "Olga" would be wrapped up in layers of warm clothing in the winter, feeding the birds in the snow, while their adopted children would play nearby. These nannies would feed the pigeons seed or bread and were very happy to share their bird food with us. It is a delight to put bird seed into a tiny child's hand and watch him smile with joy when the birds ate the seed. These nannies do not have boundaries or walls and are genuine people, that carry a history of life. They are fine, if you don't work with them, as I have done and are a dish best served cold and anonymously (See Best Posts to see why). I always enjoyed speaking to these women, when I found they spoke English, of course they had no idea that I did the same thing as them, in looking after my own kid and I did not try to tell them my story, what would be the point?. Filipino girls, would often ask me "sir do you need a nanny" I would reply "no I have one thanks", if only they knew.
Now I have returned to the playground but not to so much to Patriarchy Pond, unless absolutely necessary. I went there a few times recently, mostly out a perverse curiosity. Many of the familiar expatriate faces, of many nationalities, have since left Moscow, to be replaced by new expatriate faces, in an endless conveyor belt of people, all in a bubble of make believe. Does that make me sound like a hypocrite? well no, sure we are "expatriates" but we are not like them. I must say, it is refreshing to see them gone and to watch a new batch arrive, fresh from the factory.
The great thing about Moscow and kids, is that there are small playgrounds all over the city, they are like mushrooms, in a forest and come in different sizes, shapes and colours. They sit behind blocks of flats, in parks or in courtyards. If you don't like one playground, you can choose another. Some have their resident drunks, some have their resident nannies, some have their resident nut jobs who carry their possessions in a bag. Many are a peaceful oasis, in a city of concrete and traffic. Some have new plastic climbing areas and some have old climbing areas, that would look at more at home a post Soviet museum to communal living. After a while, you will find the best play areas that you like and they will be part of your daily routine. I have found three where I live that are better than Patriarchy Ponds. You hardly see a British expatiate, drunk or nut job but you will see a lot of Russian mums and grandmothers, playing with happy, smiling children. You can sit on a bench under a shady tree and watch your kids playing, play with them and feel at peace with the world. If you want to talk to other parents, you can and you won't usually hear a British accent. No one judges you and you can do as you wish.