Bathtime in the Anichkin-Ingram household is an international relations minefield. Does a duck, for example, go krya-krya or quack-quack? Are country folk awakened by a cockadoodledoo or a cookarekoo and does the sheep – Vita has a whole menagerie of plastic bathtime playmates – go beh or baa? The one that really gets me is the horse – who has ever heard a horse going eeh-gogo? But then, as Sasha quickly points out, where in the world does a pig (khryu-khryu) go oink?
Meanwhile little Vita’s head is twitching from side to side like a spectator at a tennis tournament as she watches what she had hoped to be two intelligent parents screaming bewildering farmyard noises at each other.
In fact, child psychologists seem to maintain that the child won’t become remotely schizophrenic from having a frog that either croaks or kvahks (quacks?), depending on which adult is making the inane noises at the time.
Is it possibly the parents, then, who become mentally imbalanced?
For, of course, the fight for Vita’s cultural heritage extends beyond the bathroom.
All the way to the kitchen, in fact, where I stuff her with Marmite, both to discourage a Russian sweet tooth and on the grounds that you can’t make a stronger statement about your Englishness than having grown up on Marmite. But now Sasha has her eating it off black bread.
Of course it won’t much matter if she watches ‘Blue Peter’ alongside ‘Spokoinoi Nochi, Malyshi’ (‘Good Night, Little Ones’) when we sooner or later resort to television as a part-time substitute for parenting, and she will have the distinct advantage of two great literary traditions to call her own.
But there are, nevertheless, serious minefields ahead, especially when the bicultural family straddles the defunct, for now at least, Iron Curtain.
Like all nearly talking children, Vita refers to all pictures of women as mama and all men as papa.
Thus when she pulled a biography of Stalin off the office shelves the other day, pointed to a portrait of Uncle Joe and triumphantly mouthed the word ‘Papa!’ I naturally launched into a long-winded denial which was inexorably heading toward a ‘Russians-as-baddies’ scenario when I remembered to my horror that she is Russian – partly at least.
Sasha eyed me cautioningly and we somehow distracted her until we have had time to agree upon a unified policy toward the past.
Most crucial of all, points out Sasha, is what exactly are we going to say to her when we settle down, en famille, to watch his favourite movies: John Le Carré and James Bond?
Originally published in The Moscow Times in Educating Vita column by Alexander Anichkin and Miranda Ingram. Read another 'Educating Vita' column 'Tolstoy: What We Need Most'.
'Spokoinoi Nochi, Malyshi' opening jingle: