Monday, May 17, 2010

Last Trip To Serov

May 17. 2005

Last Trip to guessed it, hazy, hot and humid.

We're ready early. Shock. We even manage to haul all the gifts down five flights of one trip! We are nothing if not short of amazing. Or determined. Or just damn stubborn.

Sergei's putting money on "just damn stubborn." Or so I guess by his look of distain at seeing two large suitcases, three

The playground outside of our apartment building

tote bags, one tea basket, one baby walker, one baby bag and two purses (not to mention the partridge in a pear tree with the five golden rings...) sitting next to us on the sidewalk upon his arrival. Sorry Sergei. Blame it on our hardy New Englander stock. We ain't no southern belles. We do let him load the trunk by himself though. Tough, yet sensitive.

We hit the road shortly after 7am and make our first stop before 7:30. We have to buy gas. Since gas is certainly necessary to get us to Serov and back, we're all for it. Sergei pumps, Sergei pays and Sergei drives off. We're on the highway about thirty seconds when Sergei stops, throws the car in reverse and returns to the gas station. The cashier forgot to return his card. Sergei fetches it and then blames Katya for its brief disappearance even though she hasn't set foot outside the car since our apartment. We're pretty sure he's joking.

Almost as soon as we start driving again, we stop. This time we pull over on the side of the road. Sergei and Katya talk on their cell phones. Wendy and I listen to them talk on their cell phones. We hear Igor's name. We hear Larissa's name. I am not a mind reader but I can safely guess what Wendy's thinking: "If they tell us we're not going to Serov, it's not going to be pretty." I happen to be thinking the same thing.

But we are going to Serov. Eventually. Katya explains they're waiting for a call from Igor and can't go out of cell phone range until they receive said call. Wendy and I relax. Sergei gets out of the car and smokes. Wendy and I are surprised because in all our time together, we have never seen Sergei smoke. Maybe we've driven him to it. Well, probably not. While our powers are undeniably great, Sergei possibly was a smoker before he met us. Law of averages or something like that.

The phone call finally comes through and we start rolling again. I look out the window and the trees and the mountains just behind them and think how it's a good thing it's our last trip out of the city because each time we go, my urge to run off and frolic in the forest gets stronger and stronger. Some people are not meant to be city folk. I am one of them.

Top Ten Car Games to Play on the Road to Serov

1. Slug-a-Birch-Tree: Think "Punch Buggy" or "Cadillac Whack" for this one...only insert birch trees instead and have ice

On the road to Serov...five hours of pretty much that.

standing by. You'll need it.

2. I Spy: Shades of Green: Note: this game does work better in the spring and summer. But fun for all ages!

3. Swerve Around the Potholes: Can be combined with...

4. Bang Your Head on the Ceiling: Van play only.

5. Miles divided by Kilometers or Kilometers divided by Miles: Show your guides the quality education available to American students!

6. Gotta go. We got cows.: Other variations of this game include: "Spot the Lonely Goat Herder"

7. There's a car. Let's pass it.

8. There's a cop. Let's pass him.

9. There's a police roadblock. Quick, put your seat belt on.: Note: Front seat only.

10. Are we there yet?
The next stop is at least one we recognize: the Greek restaurant rest stop. We go in for brunch (stewed beef and

Also on the road to Serov

potatoes again) and over our meal tell Katya how we've been trying to watch the weather report and understand it. We're mildly successful; it just takes us too long to translate everything so we always end up waiting for a call to or from Joe.

After we eat, we're back in the car. And we make another stop. Katya needs to pick up some paperwork somewhere just left of the middle of nowhere. The building also is host to a bus stop of sorts where a group of people are waiting. They ignore us. Katya and Sergei get out of the car and collect their paperwork. Wendy and I stay in the car and wonder how many more stops we should expect between here and Serov.

As it turns out, there are no other stops except for the one we've been waiting for. We all get out of the car and Sergei opens the trunk. Wendy takes an armload. I hand the baby bag and social worker gift to Katya so that I can take one of the suitcases. Sergei has other plans though and tells me, "Mine." and won't allow me to carry a suitcase. So I get to hold the doors for everyone else.

Wendy, Jupiter and Larissa the baby home director

We go into Larissa's office and show her what we have brought. She especially loves everything Jupiter's grandmother made and says she would wear them if they were big enough. We present Larissa with her gift. She asks where the lighthouse on the postcard is and Wendy (via Katya) explains that its near Jupiter's new home. Larissa tells us (via Katya) that there were two boys adopted from the baby home who now live in Portland.

Everything's going swimmingly. Larissa thanks us for the caregivers' gifts and says she will hand them out soon. They have a holiday coming up and she will save them for that occasion. Next she gives us Jupiter's papers and Jupiter's cross as she tells us that the social worker won't even know that Jupiter is leaving with us today. It's our secret. We readily agree.

The baby arrives shortly after that and after I take pictures of Wendy, Jupiter and Larissa together, we go down to the infirmary to play until lunchtime. The plan is this: play, lunch, play some more while lunch digests, then we go just as a certain someone will be ready for a nap. Well, we'll probably all be ready for a nap then, but I meant Jupiter.

Getting ready to go

When it's time to go, Wendy dresses Jupiter in her going home outfit. It's a big hit with all the caregivers. Jupiter takes Wendy for a walk around so she can visit with everyone and distribute hugs and show off her new clothes. Larissa comes in to say goodbye and gives Wendy and Jupiter a children's book and a card, wishing them the best. The card also contains Larissa's email address. She says she would appreciate pictures; she likes keeping track of her kids, even after they've gone home. Then she sends us outside.

We can't actually leave yet as we're waiting for another phone call to come through so we wander around the yard. Jupiter carries around her new book. She doesn't drop it until she herself is ready to drop. I catch it and hold on to it. We wander back to the car to find out that all necessary phone calls have been made and/or received and we can now depart. Larissa comes out for the final farewell. She hugs both Wendy and I and wishes us both luck. I don't need a lot of luck as my role in Jupiter's life is rather easy: Love her to death and spoil her to death. Check and Double Check.

We get in the backseat around 2:30pm. The previously sleepy Jupiter is now wide awake as this is a rare experience in her young life. She sits in Wendy's lap (no car seats or seat belts in the backseats here) and looks around apprehensively. We get stopped at the train crossing on our way out of town and she gawks at the train. Then she looks alternately at Wendy, Katya and me. She liked us fine when we came to visit her but she knows something is weird now and doesn't know what to make of it. We try to be reassuring.

It must work because she falls asleep shortly after we get out of Serov. Wendy explores her contortionist side as she tries to keep the baby comfortable, support her head and protect her from the sun streaming in through the window. I stand by to fish things out of the baby bag and hand them to Wendy. Apart from a blanket to help create a sun shield, my fetching and handing skills go untested. But I maintain hope. It's still a long trip back to Ekaterinburg.

It's especially longer when you make another unscheduled pitstop. The documents Katya collected on the way up now have to be dropped off. So it's back to the left of the middle of nowhere. This time

A picture to make the gulag seem less frightening

however, Sergei gets lost and we get an extended tour of the village, including an up close examination of a barb wire enclosed gulag. We also get up close and personal with the village cows who have taken up at least temporary residence in the middle of the road. Sergei and Katya have to pull over and ask for directions more than once. Sergei makes Katya do the asking more than once. After about a half hour on the back roads of Russia, we stop in front of a bright blue building. Katya gets out to run the papers inside. Sergei gets out to smoke another cigarette. Wendy, Jupiter and I stay in the backseat and melt.

Jupiter wakes up and I try to read her new book to her but since I can't really read Russian, I'm forced to make up the story. It appears to be the story of Puss in Boots but all I can think of is Antonio Bandares's role in Shrek 2. So I describe the pictures and crack myself up with my own jokes. Jupiter doesn't laugh. I don't know why.

Wendy, Jupiter and Katya, our fabulous and beloved translator

Katya and Sergei get back in the car and we start off again. It takes another half hour to get out of the village as we get lost yet again but on the plus side, we get to see the other side of the gulag which is apparently a hot happening hang out spot for boys and girls. They put their beer bottles down long enough to tell us how to get out of the village and back to the highway.

We stop for the last time at the Greek Restaurant Rest Stop. Wendy and Katya get food. Sergei and I don't. Jupiter snacks on mashed banana, a baby biter biscuit and juice. She's mesmerized by everything around her, the people (especially the other kids), the ceiling and the television behind her that's playing a variety of music videos. It's her first exposure to television and she gets Beyonce and 50 Cent. Wendy's thrilled. I'm just glad we're not in Nike.

When everyone is fed and watered, we head for home. My fetching and handing skills are put to the test as I search for toys to entertain Jupiter. We play with stacking cups and stacking rings and purple duckie and bunny and then Jupiter's shoes when everything else loses its appeal. She tries to play with the car door but Wendy won't let her and so Jupiter opts to sit with me. Little does she know I may be the fun aunt, but I won't let her play with the car door either.

Jupiter, peeing on my lap

When she does make this discovery, she goes back to Wendy and I am left looking at my lap, thinking it's more moist than it was earlier. Yep. The baby's wet and now, so are my pants. And Sergei’s backseat.


Since there's really no place to change her and nothing we can really do about it, we don't do anything. I dig through the baby bag to find a washcloth and start working on cleaning poor Sergei's backseat. Sorry, Sergei.

The first stop back in Ekaterinburg is not our apartment. We have to go to a pharmacy and purchase a cough syrup for Jupiter. Katya asks if I can go in the store with her so Wendy and the baby can stay in the car. I hand the washcloth to Wendy and say yes even though I'm sure it'll look like I peed myself. But it doesn't. My Tommy Hilfiger cords hide it nicely. Thank you, Tommy Hilfiger!

We go inside and I ask Katya if we can also buy band-aids while we are here because I still have blisters and am in need of band-aids. She doesn't know what band-aids are so I show her the one of my ankle.

"How many do you want?" she asks.

"I don't know. How many come in a box?" I say and get a blank look in response. "Unless of course they don't come in boxes."

"They don't," Katya says.

"You buy them individually?" I ask, a little incredulous.

"Yes. How many do you want?"

"I don't know," I say again. This concept has completely blown my mind to the point where I can't even think of how many band-aids I would like. This is what you get when you live in a culture where you just buy them by the box. "Ten, I guess. I think ten will work."

Katya asks the clerk behind the case for ten band-aids and the woman pulls out a handful and counts out the number for which I've asked. They cost a little more than one ruble apiece. I wonder if anyone ever comes in and buys one band-aid. Damn, got a papercut. Guess I'll go the pharmacy and buy a band-aid...

We take the cough syrup and the band-aids back to the car and head for the apartment. I am looking forward to getting there because I really want nothing more than to get out of my pee soaked pants and tell Wendy the band-aid story. Wendy, I'm sure also wants to get out of the car if for no other reason apart from the fact we've been in it for the last six hours. Jupiter has done remarkably well. She's less fussy than us.

At the apartment, Katya's boyfriend Michael is waiting for our arrival. I get out of the car as he approaches. Katya introduces us. I say hi and that it's nice to meet him but I feel like I'm being rude because I'm thinking more about going upstairs and changing than being polite and making conversation. We gather all of our stuff, apologize to an understanding Sergei, bid farewell to everyone and then climb the stairs to the apartment.

As soon as we're inside, we change. I change. Wendy changes. Jupiter changes. We make a big pile of laundry for the next day. We make dinner and then we make phone calls and tell our good news. Joe is good enough to again send out an email announcement for everyone we're not calling.

Then it's bedtime, and not just for Jupiter, but for all of us. Jupiter goes right out and we soon follow.

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