Thursday, September 20, 2012

The First Day of School

The long, light-filled, lazy days of summer have come to an end, but I welcome the cool mornings and evenings that fall brings. I also love sweatshirts, the smell of the leaves, and school supplies. Yes, now I get to buy school supplies all over again, because Misha has started first grade!

The first day of first grade is a big deal in the Russian-speaking world, because it's the official start of the school system, as opposed to preschool and preparatory classes. Usually, girls wear humongous white bows in their hair and dresses as they set off for their first day of class (often with massive bouquets in hand for their teachers), and boys are in suits and ties. Since private schools like ours don't enforce a dress code, students can wear what they please, so I didn't think to spiff Misha up. As it turns out, children go all out for the first day. You can see all the classy little outfits in this picture, … and then there's the slightly underdressed American boy. I'm just glad that his shirt had a few buttons on it and that the shorts were new and un-smudged.

Marching off to start their first day.

Before going into their classrooms, the school presented a welcoming ceremony outside for all the parents to watch. Since Ak Bala is a small school with just one or two classes for each of four grade levels, all the students stood facing each other around a square. The school directors gave rousing welcome speeches and introduced new staff and students. Then various children, including Misha, recited first-day-of-school poems in Russian for everyone's entertainment. In conclusion, one girl and one boy walked around the square ringing the bell signaling the school day's beginning, and all the students proudly marched off to their rooms for a non-stressful, half-day of school in which they met their teachers for various encore classes, including P.E. (or fiscultura), art, choreography, and martial arts. For the bulk of their subjects, they have one teacher, who looks very friendly.

The first-graders get settled into their classroom.

When I came back at the end of Misha's day, he reported that he had a great time. He likes his teacher, and he especially likes art and the active classes like Ushu, a type of Chinese martial arts. His class has about 20 students squeezed into cute little desks. He knows some students from the summer session he attended, and another from his old podgotovitilni school from which he graduated in May.

The school grounds are green and shady.

As a parent, I received a one-page-length, typed, single-spaced list of supplies (in Russian) that I had to buy for Misha. Lined notebooks, graphing notebooks, book covers, book stands, rulers, drawing books, green and blue pens, paints, markers, colored paper, colored cardboard, printer paper, glue, pencil cases, gym clothes – the list was quite daunting (and very specific). Between trips to various small shops and one big trip to the bazaar, I managed to find it all. I must add with a touch of arrogance that Misha now has the coolest triple-layer pencil case I've ever seen.

Ushu club. Misha's in the middle in yellow.

After-school activities have recently started up as well, and when Misha expressed interest in joining the Ushu club, I signed him up. It works about perfectly with my schedule, because on his two Ushu days, he finishes at the same time I finish work. The other days, he finishes a bit before me and has to wait. However, on those days, he now waits with Sebby's group until I come, thanks to the generosity of Sebby's wonderful teacher.

Ushu, or Wushu in English and Chinese, looks to be fun and interesting for Misha. Most of their activities are built around improving balance, coordination, flexibility, strength, control, and confidence, which can be applied to anything. They are learning various forms and routines right now, along with stretching exercises, or uprazhnenia as Misha calls them. This is Misha's favorite exercise, called Otdihayushi Drakon (Resting Dragon):

The dragon rests.

A bridge.

Showing me the routine they are learning. 

Kick-punch with perfect balance.

My Kung Fu Panda

Practice in the park.

Shpagat, aka 'the splits' - another exercise to practice.

The membership fee for the club is very affordable. (At 500 som, or $12, per month for 8 sessions of 1 hour and 15 minutes each, it works out to be comparable to the price of just a single lesson of his gymnastics classes he attended when he was four in the States.) Of course, we had to spend some extra money on his beautiful, bright yellow, silk robe, but judging from Misha's excitement to wear it, it's worth it.

Sebby plays outside at his school for a few minutes before we walk home for the day.

Sebby's daily routine has not changed all that much, but his maladshaya grupa ('young group' for three-year-olds, as opposed to the yasli group that he was in at age 2) officially started the same day. He loves his teachers (the same ones he has been with throughout the summer) and the activities they do, especially the exercise/dance/music class with which they start the day. He eagerly changes into his cheshki (flexible dance shoes) and dashes into his classroom at top speed. Everyone is impressed with his Russian. They even asked me once if he speaks English at home, because they thought his Russian was strong enough that it might have been his only language. (Actually, his English is a lot stronger than his Russian.)

School's out - ready to come home.

As a family, of course, we speak English together, because it would seem a bit absurd to speak Russian to each other. Playing outside, Misha speaks Russian with the other children until he has a question to ask me, which he asks in English. When the other children hear us conversing in English, they react with surprise. “Kak vy angliski znaete?!” they ask (How do you know English?), and I tell them with a smile that we are American.

Quite often, even just within our family, the boys will throw Russian words into their conversations. I have collected various examples because I find them interesting and amusing. Sometimes the Russian word pops into their heads before the English, especially with things relating to what they've been doing at school.

Picnicking just below our second-floor window.

Kid Talk – English with Russian

I showed them my little zoob, how it was wiggling.” (tooth) Misha talking about showing off his loose tooth at school.

I fell down, and now my jivachka is bad!” - (gum) Sebby lamenting that his gum fell out of his mouth.

How come your teeth are so rovna?” - (straight/even) Misha commenting on his mother's braces-perfected teeth.

Can I show you what I made with my korobochki?” - (little boxes) Misha presenting his little car made with matchboxes at school.

I gave it to him because I already have a kopilka. Now I can go outside like a little father!” - (piggy bank/money saver) Misha explaining how he gave Sebby his old Ninja Turtle bank because he got a new wallet.

It's easier when it's pustoi, because I won't crash into anybody.” - (empty) Misha commenting that it's nicer to ride a bike when there are no people walking around.

Mama, I got hurt from the butilka.” - (bottle) Sebby explaining how his finger got cut.

Mama, this is for risovania, for drawing!” - Sebby sharing his joy at the little draw-and-erase tablet he got from school during someone's birthday party.

And inside of the apple it has kostichki.” - (seeds, or literally 'little bones') Sebby pointing out that the inside of the apple has seeds.

I don't like Niara. She's closing my shkafchik. Not nice!” - (locker/closet) Sebby justifying his prejudice against a certain girl whose locker is near his.

I hear a squirrel in that tree!” I told Sebby recently. “No! It's a belka!” - (squirrel) Sebby corrected me, even though he knows full well that belka and squirrel mean the same thing.

Vitya is Kirill's brat.” - (brother) Misha telling me about two of his classmates, Vitya and Kirill.

Wait, I want to catch one!” Misha said on one of our walks. “One what?” I asked. “A strekoza, it's right here,” Misha said, approaching the dragonfly.

"That's his droog." - (friend) Sebby talking about characters in a book.

My teacher doesn't say chalk. My teacher says mel.” - Sebby explaining to Misha why he should say 'mel' and not 'chalk.'

"Sebby, you're meshai-ing me!" - (bother) Misha. 
"I'm not gonna meshai you!" - Sebby 

My ice cream is goli! My ice cream is goli!” - (naked) Misha, after eating off the chocolate coating.

My teacher said paint in the seredinka.” - (middle) Sebby demonstrating how he learned to paint within the lines from his wise teacher. He then told me how another student didn't paint in the seredinka and his picture turned into a "kalyaka malyaka" - a scribble blob.

When telling me stories of things that happen at school, Misha quotes students in Russian, while telling the rest of the story in English. For example, he told me today about a girl in his class who can pick him up: "So I told her, 'Mojet bit ya toje mogoo tak delat (Maybe I can do that too), and I picked her up, and she said, 'Ti takoi malinki no vsyo mojesh podnimat!' (You're so little but you can pick up everything)"

Kid Talk: Featuring Sebby

Sebby is at that adorable three-year-old stage where he is talking up a storm and saying very cute things. For example:

Mama, the milk dist-appeared!” - Sebby
Oh, you drank it all gone?” - me
No, it dist-appeared just!” - Sebby

He loves the word 'just' so much that sometimes he uses it like a verb. If he hears suspicion or concern in my voice when I ask him what he's doing, he defends himself with a vehement “I'm JUST!”

I wanna play mama and baby!” Sebby announced one day. “You're playing mama and baby?” Josh asked, with a touch of skepticism. Sebby's answer made us all laugh: “Yeah, I'm the mama and Misha's the baby.”

Sebby, are your pants wet?” - me
No, just a little bit sprinkly.” - Sebby

Go wash your hands before you eat; they're dirty,” I told both boys after coming in from playing outside. Misha ran off obediently to wash his hands, but Sebby started happily spooning down his yogurt, telling me with carefree reassurance, “But my mouth is not dirty!”

Sebby has given his various pairs of shoes certain characteristics. For instance, one pair is very fast. To my disappointment one morning as we rushed off to school, I reached the bottom of the stairs only to look up at Sebby walking ever so slowly down the steps, one by one. “I put on these shoes. These cannot go fast,” he told me.

That is brrrrr water!” - Sebby about the cold bottle of water we just purchased.

Sebby has discovered where we stashed our Christmas tree. Opening the closet, he exclaimed, “Mama, I see Christmas! Inside!” He is already talking about how Santa is going to bring him presents very soon - in fact, tomorrow.

These are for jungle balls!” - Sebby pointing to our stash of dried kidney beans, with which we stuff our little triangular juggling bags. He refers to our bean bags as 'jungle balls.'

You scratched myself! You didn't say sorry!” - Sebby playfully scolding his cat.

I'm snuggling with my cat.” - Sebby in the covers with his pet.

Like this do!” - Sebby, being bossy. His word order is a little funny on this phrase, probably because in Russian the word order would be comparable.

He also loves to have three pieces of everything and to do some activity, like going down the slide, just three more times. His reasoning is, of course, "Because I'm three years old!"

Kid Talk: Featuring Misha

Misha has recently lost his second tooth. Since he lost the first one down the drain, I made sure that wouldn't happen again by taping his tooth to a square of cardboard. After putting it under his pillow, he eagerly discussed what might happen during the night. “But HOW? How does that happen? Is it magic?” he asked. Then suddenly, he had an epiphany: “I think it's Santa Claus!”

Wait,” I interjected. “Santa is the Tooth Fairy?”

Well …,” Misha pondered. “I know! Maybe it's Santa's WIFE!”

So there you have it. Mrs. Claus is one busy lady.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

An End-of-Summer Hike

Last weekend, right before the school year geared up again, we managed to fit in a little trip to the mountains at Ala Archa national park. Misha was eager to do some hiking, so we checked in to the hotel near the park's entrance, left our bags, and got ready to enjoy two days of mountain air. Many tourists come to Ala Archa specifically to hike and camp, but since we have no camping equipment (but we do have a Sebby), we decided the hotel would be the easier way to go.

Saturday was beautiful and sunny. We took the steeper of the two paths and hiked our way up into the mountains overlooking the gorgeous, green valley with the river trickling through it. Misha was gung-ho, leading our little group by a long shot, pretty much always just beyond the next curve. Josh and I followed with the backpack and Sebby, whom we held by the hand to help him maneuver his way over rocks and up dusty, sliding inclines. To his credit, Sebby did a good job of walking most of the way by himself! 

Photo time ...

The Happy Hiker
Starting out.

Daddy helps Sebby up the path.

Lookout Rock

Cruising ahead
After about an hour, we arrived at the Big Rock Landmark and settled in for a nice picnic of yogurt, homemade granola, canned fish, and cookies.

Josh basks in the sun.
Joined by two little hikers.

World Explorer

The picnic perch: father and son
Enjoying the view.
Beautiful valley

A Rocky Mountain boy 

The brothers, ready to come back down.

Going down was a much quicker process. But we still had to grab Sebby's hand often to keep him from sliding!

Independent trail blazer.

Our little hotel waits for us at the bottom.
Post-hike trail dust ... Time for a shower!

We cleaned up a bit, ate soup and lagman at the nearby cafeteria, and then took a walk down by the river as the sun descended. That evening, we enjoyed our nice hotel room by playing cards with the boys in pajamas.

Our room even had a couch where the boys ended up sleeping.

The view from our hotel window. 
In the morning after breakfast, we took the same walk along the river. The daylight allowed for nice photos the second time:

Lunch at the outdoor cafe: delicious lagman.

Misha strikes a pose.

Sebby contemplates nature.
Ready for take-off.

One can never get tired of playing in sand.

Mom and Sebby watch the churning river.

Sebby gives me a real, non-cheesey smile!
In the early afternoon, we took a taxi back to Bishkek and got everything ready for the First Day of School. Stay tuned.