How I became an ‘already big girl’
From “Tales from my Soviet childhood”
It happened 35 years ago to the day. I remember it clearly as if it was today. On that beautiful day my brother was born. He was born the same date as my favorite writer, Anton Chekhov. This convinces me that there are no coincidences.
It was a frosty and sunny January morning with snow everywhere. It was always cold and snowbound in that decade during the wintertime. I was sitting in school in my classroom learning to count. Someone, whom we couldn’t see, knocked at the door and whispered something to our teacher. Our teacher went out for a short while. A few minutes later she returned to the classroom and announced: “Tanya Montik, we congratulate you. Your brother was born today. Now you are going home, for your dad is waiting for you to go together to the clinic to get acquainted with the new member of your family.”
Bursting with joy I rushed home, where my dad and my cousin were waiting for me. We immediately set out to the hospital. The way there lasted too long for me, as we had no car and had to take a tramway to go there.
When we arrived, we went to the building of the clinic trying to make out where the room was in which my mom and my brother were located. It was somewhere in the fourth floor. My dad yelled calling my mom’s name. Soon she appeared in the window waving us. My cousin and I looked up to her as she leaned out and tried to show us a bundle, in which there was a little living creature. But no matter how we tried from a distance to get a good look at the kid, it was impossible.
In those prehistoric times, Soviet doctors were obsessed with “sterility” at all levels. Hospital staff would not allow in any “outsiders”, even family members other than husbands. They were allowed to see their wives after labor only for a couple of minutes. So my cousin and I had to turn on and focus our imagination in those first minutes and try to imagine the face of my newborn brother.
Later in the evening when my Dad was celebrating with his buddies and some of my mom’s friends, the coming to life of his son. We all were eating our simple but delicious meal of herrings, potatoes and cabbage salad, which my dad and my cousin had prepared. The men drank vodka while women sipped Soviet champagne. At the same time we all were confronted with two tasks. The first task was mainly for the women. They were to write a list of clothes the new baby would need. According to superstition, you could not buy baby clothes before the baby is born.
The second task was for all of us. We were all loudly discussing names that would befit a new baby. Until then, all our ideas had revolved around various Slavs: Yaroslav, Svyatoslav, Vyacheslav … Suddenly it hit me. Why not call our baby just Ivan, or Vanya, Vanetchka, Vanyusha? It is such a beautiful and simple name and also a Slavic one. It sounded very noble to me. Also, there were greater reasons for choosing this name. We had a grandfather, Ivan, my father’s father and the father of my grandmother from my mother’s side also with that beautiful moniker. Why not give the boy the mighty name of his ancestors, so they could keep him under their protection.
At the time, children’s names except for the various ……slavs around us, there were only Dimas, Sergeys and Andreys. Because my brother Vanya had no namesakes among his peers, he was always known as “THE IVAN”. All people knew who he was, as he was the holder of a rare name!
With the arrival of my little brother at home our family life has changed considerably. For example, our little baby did not know when it was day and when it was night, when to sleep and let others rest, when to be active.
We had a lot of difficulty, but it was mostly joyful because we all started voluntarily serving the needs of our “Little Prince”. In those days, infants were swaddled, as they said if you don’t do it, kids would develop crooked arms or legs. They also said diapers and undershirts were to be sterilized by boiling and ironing, as bacteria could do a lot of damage to the infants.
As an older sister, I was entrusted with “the honorable task” of ironing all our little prince’s clothes and diapers, and sometimes of even walking him in the stroller on the street. We lived in different times. Letting a child push a stroller with baby in it down the street unsupervised was not considered supernatural, irresponsible or criminal.
I, who was two inches off the pot myself, was proudly marching with the stroller with my brother in it! And I hardly could you see over the stroller, as in those times that baby vehicles were much bigger than nowadays.
Many years later, when I was pushing a stroller with Anton, my own first newborn baby, in a park at Vladimir’s Hill in Kiev, my mind took me back to the days when I was little girl. And this is why I often referred to my son Antoshka as Vanechka. I still occasionally do it now. However, it does not confuse him, as Anton adores his uncle Vanya.
Scientists, in particular the Austrian Alfred Adler in his teaching “Individual Psychology,” argue that with the birth of a brother or sister, the first child begins to feel “being replaced from the throne.” This is not surprising. All the attention is suddenly directed to the new baby, and the elder sibling automatically, regardless of their age, becomes “already big” and suffers a perceived injustice. However, I was lucky. My young brother never managed to replace me from my throne. I assume that this was because the age difference between us was more than four years, so I never felt as if my parents had taken away my crown or as if I was cosigned to oblivion.
Of course, as in any family, my brother and I also quarreled from time to time, we fought and bullied each other, and I, as the eldest kid, was usually blamed for all the mess we produced. But I was lucky because it never bothered me nor have I taken offense, so my relationship with my brother never suffered.
I remember when Vanya was three or four years old and he went to his first karate class. Guess who was the first victim of our young Superman? Of course, me, his sister. But it was also me who was the first to capture our new “rising star of martial arts” in a picture, posing cool and self-assured, wearing a self-made karartegi and having on cool dark sunglasses. Our father was a keen photographer and he taught me to use his camera.
Unlike me, God generously gave my brother musical talent. I remember how I would swell with pride listening to him in the choir he sang with. During his school days, for several years he studied piano and choral conducting at the Municipal School For Musical Education. At one concert, which took place in one of the few churches of Minsk, I burst into tears when I heard the divine voice of my brother singing “Ave Maria.”
Many years passed. I got married and lived in Vienna with my growing family, but my brother Vanya became an integral part of it and spent every summer with us. We travelled together to Germany, Italy, and when he was fifteen years old, we sent him alone to London. When he returned, I cannot forget how lovingly my brother unpacked all the gifts that he bought for us with the money he managed to save for that trip.
There were more stories, including how Vanya decided to marry, in my eyes, being too young for marriage, how I tried to find for him a job in Kiev after he had graduated from University. Also how he lived alone in Minsk after our mother moved to Germany with her new husband, and several other incidents with my friend and colleague Florian who stayed with him during our research trips to Belarus. But this is already another story.
My brother grew up, matured, and become a man, a wonderful husband, a loving father and a successful businessman. For me, my brother is my pride, my support my maintenance and a shoulder on which I can always lean. When I realize this, I feel stronger and happier. Every time when I talk with my brother, I see that he, Ivan Montik, is a man of the New Age, free from stereotypes, independently minded and thinking boldly. Ivan is one, who perhaps without being aware of it, will change our world for the better.
Happy birthday, dear Vanyusha!
Your loving sister on January 29, 2017