As I was packing lunches again this morning, I was remembering the good old days when my daughters' Russian preschool would feed them six times a day. Throwing half a dozen small wrapped packages into each lunch box, I thought of reading the daily menu as I dropped them off at detsky sad - eggs, fruit juice, yogurt, salad, meat and potatoes, and the obligatory soup. Not only did I not have to worry about what to send them for lunch, they got the extra benefit of being exposed to a wide range of fruits and vegetables. To this day, my older daughter, Miss K, happily professes mushrooms as her most favoritist food.
Lunch isn't the only thing I preferred about Russian school. The detsky sad system in Russia was set up to facilitate the lives of working parents. I dropped them off on the way to work, picked them up on the way home. I tried to be there by 5, but if I didn't quite manage, it wasn't the end of the world. Our school administrator did ask, quite politely, at one parents' meeting, to please try and pick your children up before 9pm. And the schools were open every day except federal holidays — when everybody was off. Now, it's in at 8:45, out at 3:15. No exceptions. And classes cancelled for teacher workdays every other week.
I met many, many Russians who hated detsky sad as children, but my daughters loved it, and I came to believe in it as an incredibly beneficial holdover from the Soviet system. Coming from a country where federally-mandated maternity leave is 12 weeks with no pay (for full-time employees who have been with an organization at least a year), a structure that allowed mothers to stay home with a baby, keep their jobs and eventually send their children to affordable day care seemed like a dream.
Now it's back to the world of expensive nannies and summer camps and praying for a job with "flex-time", but at least the school officials no longer refer to me as the "crazy foreign parent."
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