Today is the start of our fourth and final year in Moscow. The past three years have brought about much change for us as a family, such as any three years in life will do for any family. We go into our last year at post with Lara, not Penny the dog, two much fatter cats, two much, much taller boys, a shorter-haired Jamie, and without Peter, who heads off to college next week.
Oh…and me not working. Yes, that’s a big one too. We have more artwork, a truck (actually, let’s call it what it is – a Mighty Silverado), 5 bicycles and a scooter. All the boys have added a Padi certification to their resumes and I have added, well, I lost count of how many, new crafts to my repertoire.
The thing is, all of the above would certainly have happened (or could certainly have happened) no matter where we lived in the world. So, I started thinking about how Moscow itself has changed us, and what our experiences here have done to shape who we are now.
I doubt that there is anyone reading this who does not know what Embassy Moscow has been through in the past year. Ironically or, perhaps, fittingly, it is just over a year since we found out that the Russian Government ordered us to downsize our mission by firing, or sending home, hundreds of our employees by September 1st. I’ve written more than once about the resilience and courage of the people who have served, and continue to serve, here. But I look at our family and see that while resilience and courage are undoubtedly outcomes of the year’s events, so too are others: an appreciation for a strong support system, for a close-knit community, for small pleasures, for routine, for the sheer luck of dodging the bullet. I see also in my boys a willingness to step up, to have a good work ethic, to show kindness and to be thoughtful, to show patience, and to show initiative. If you can forgive the clichés, I’ve seen them learn to take things on the chin and roll with the punches, to keep their eyes open, to be aware of their surroundings, and to be vigilant.
Again, you might say that these are lessons that might well have been learned, or qualities that might have developed, anywhere in the world. And you might be right. But I prefer to think that living as representatives of the US Government, in a country with whom the US Government does not have a positive relationship, my boys – our family – have again and again had to look past the politics and see the country, see the people of the country (including students with whom they study), and find a way to see the positives and live alongside them. More so than other places we have lived. And using those lessons, those characteristics, that resilience, has been the best way to do this.
On the other side, we now have a healthy cynicism, a more natural distrust of the status quo, and an awareness that nothing stays the same. That change will often be foisted upon you when you least expect it (and here I also think back to telling the boys that we decided to extend our tour here from two to four years).
Why should anyone come to live in Moscow? People have asked me that many times in the past months. Why bid on Moscow? Why apply for a teaching job there? Why? When you don’t know if you’ll get a visa. When you don’t know whether you might be unceremoniously sent home. There is no easy answer to this…but let me try.
First of all, and perhaps most significant, the work is of utmost importance – for diplomats, for their families, and for teachers. It is in the dedicated, tireless efforts of our officers here (against some of the greatest political odds) that the situation for future diplomats will be made easier, and the relationship between the two governments will become less fractious and more productive. And before anyone says otherwise, I truly believe that this is a desired outcome not only for the US and Russia, but for Global stability.
It is in the consistent support of families, and their willingness to make sacrifices, that diplomats will be able to do their jobs. And it is in the provision of the high-quality education currently to be found here at the Anglo-American School that families will be able to sustain that support. I say this last as the mother of one, and soon-to-be two graduates of AAS High School.
Secondly – Moscow is a GREAT city in which to live. I thought about trying to list why I love living here, but can I suggest you read my previous posts? Go back to the beginning, to the very first posts, and read about daily life, the metro, and finding our routines. Routines which turned out to be surprisingly easy to fall into. We have regular restaurants where they know our favourite tables. Anthony is well-known by the early-weekend-morning shift ladies at Billa (the local grocery store) who will (so says he) save him the best pastries and baguettes. The boys have a regular barber, and we have a regular pet store. We have regular bike-rides that we take, and regular movie theaters where we can find the latest releases not dubbed into Russian.
Then there are the not-so-regular features of life here. I have yet to experience winters as cold, as long, or as dark as those here (though I do feel the need to point out that Dublin is on the same line of latitude as Moscow, and as such I probably HAVE experienced winters as dark). But I feel that life here is lived somehow more intensely because of it.
Looking back on my blog posts I have been disappointingly neglectful of posting about theater, ballet, opera, concerts, art galleries, tours, walks in beautiful parks. I’ve focused on the breathtaking winter – skating, frozen lakes, tubing on ice-hills – but neglected to mention the gorgeous springs and summers when the city explodes with color, and it stays light until 10pm (though, admittedly, the 3:30am sunrise is the flip side of the Northern location). Or the Fall, when the light softens and colors are more muted, and you can feel winter knocking on the door, but you know you can squeeze another day outside before it’s time to light the fire.
The city is hopping with nightlife for those who look for it. Craft beer hang-outs and pubs spring up with more and more frequency, and there are enough restaurants to satisfy any taste, whether you are a hard-core foodie, or just like to have variety when you eat out with family and friends.
Perhaps my year off might be an opportune time to let you in on more of those hidden gems.
I have some regrets. I have contemplated roads not travelled, and places not visited; experiences I have not taken and moments that have slipped by unnoticed. Just like anyone leading this life who suddenly finds themselves with too many missing experiences to cram into the remaining months at post, I am currently making a list that is too long, but to which I will do my best justice.
And this is why Moscow.