The Best of the Clan of Mahlou: Oldest Child: Lizzie


The following is a post from the blog, Clan of Mahlou, that MSI Press author, Elizabeth Mahlou, maintained while writing her book, A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God.

Oldest Child, Daughter Lizzie

Our oldest daughter, Lizzie, was born in Hamilton, Montana in 1972 in the shadow of Trapper Peak. Now a professor of cognitive neuroscience in a distant state, she has never seen her birth state. Every time I have wanted to take her there, "events" (often tied to finances) have intervened. Maybe one day...Donnie and I made it back only once since we left in 1974, and that was to attend the 50th wedding anniversary of friends. (Boy, were they surprised!)

In 1983, Lizzie married Blaine, the boy we took in as a 13-year-old. Boy, were we surprised! Our Middle Eastern friends, however, were delighted. This is how it is done over there: one marries relatives. That way, one knows what one is getting. At least, there is no common blood between them. We have enough birth defects as it is! And, the marriage is working out. What can we say? We like BOTH sides of the family! :)

Significant Events in Lizzie's Life

1. Back in the USSR
When Lizzie was 11 years old, I received a fellowship to conduct research in the Siberia in what was then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). There were 8-9 American scholars allowed into the USSR that year, and I was the only one with a child. Needless to say, the experience was a challenge for Lizzie, for me, and for Inotdel, the foreign student office at the University of Moscow, even though I had come prepared: I had communicated with Hedrick Smith, author of The Russians, a very insightful book, and at the time the only living American I could find who had spent any time at all in Siberia (he had gone there for a couple of weeks as a journalist), and I had tracked down the child of an American diplomat and the child of an American journalist, the only other children at the time to have attended Soviet schools. (After us, many more scholars went to Siberia, and a few more American students went to Russian schools -- but nearly all of that occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union and the reemergence of Russia.

Lizzie started out at a school in Moscow. I will post more details on that later. For now, I will say that it was a mixed positive-negative experience for Lizzie, who was the only Westerner in the school. Most of the children were puzzled: This was someone who lived in the land of Enemy #1, but she did not seem like a big enemy. Most of the teachers were supportive and even approving as Lizzie's language skills improved, allowing her to prove that she had done her homework and that she was a serious student. Being a serious student was a very good thing in the Soviet Union. There were a few teachers, however, who disagreed with the school director's decision to allow Lizzie to attend their school, and they showed their dissatisfaction by constantly scapegoating Lizzie. Every time she made a mistake, on would say to the other students, "Nu, chto vy ozhidaete ot amerikanochki?" (Well, what do you expect from a little American girl?) Lizzie once told me that she hated the label amerikanochka (little American girl) and if she were to hear it one more time she would either cry or scream.

In addition, most of the parents cautioned their children against playing with Lizzie, fearing government retribution, although, happily, there was a group of four children and parents willing to brave government frowning on fraternization with an American child. These children invited Lizzie to their homes and visited her in our University of Moscow dorm suite. However, given Cold War protocol, once Lizzie returned to the USA, she could only communicate with her friends by writing a letter to the whole class through the class leader (similar to a US homeroom teacher).

Given these difficult moments, years later, when someone offered me a button that read "veteranka kholodnoj vojny" (veteran of the Cold War), Lizzie snatched it, saying with a smile, "I really am, you know." Of course, she is.

One of Lizzie's biggest disappointments occurred when she was 16. She wanted to return to the Soviet Union for the poslednyj zvonok (literally, "last bell" -- similar to a US graduation) of her class. Unfortunately, at the time there was just no money available for a ticket. However, the satisfaction of fond memories, language proficiency, cultural awareness, and the knowledge that she may have given a human face to the enemy for classmates who grew up to see and perhaps even participate in the great conversion of the Soviet Union as enemy to Russian as cautious ally outweighs any small personal disappointments. She was a Cold War veteran who had fought for peace long before she could understand what war and peace are all about.


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