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My wife Victoria and I welcomed a new daughter last week. Born April 14, at 7:12 a.m., Ekaterina Ava Rust arrived -- singing. By this I'm not trying to create a pleasant description of her crying, because she does plenty of that, especially between 11 at night and 5 in the morning. But she also sings -- usually in single hummed notes at the end of a crying session. At other times, these sounds -- not cooing, not moans -- emerge randomly both awake or asleep, single notes, hanging in the air for a second before disappearing into the silence again.
It's really cool.
Named after my wife's aunt, a beloved young woman whose life ended too early in the Russian village she grew up in, Ekaterina is the Russian version of Katherine. We call her Katya, which is the diminutive of her first name. Rather, we call her that when we aren't calling her so many other things, like Pomidorchik (Little Tomato), because of the bright red color she turns when throwing a tantrum: No wet diapers, for even a second, for this one.
Her middle name is after my grandmother Eva Rust, who was a remarkable woman and one of the first women business leaders in town. I have early photos of Eva Palmer (her maiden name) with captions on the back in German, which was her heritage. Eva would be pronounced with a long A in German, and thus the reason for our spelling: Ava.
It is not, as older sister Yuliana may believe, a name after the courageous, little heartthrob robot in Pixar's "Wall-e" movie.
Katya enters a world with love all around her: doting grandparents, loving aunts and uncles, caring friends. There is no treasure greater than a happy family, and my heart goes out to all the children in today's world who arrive to only one parent -- or worse. Equally, my respect is immense for those parents who struggle on their own to provide for and love and teach their little ones without the help of a partner or supportive family, because it is the toughest job there is -- tiring, frustrating, demanding -- and they are heroes for their efforts. Of course, the rewards are great, too.
With us, it is something we couldn't do without God at the center of our lives.
Katya is also blessed to have a big sister who is excited about her arrival. For months, we talked about Mama's growing belly and the baby inside. And we asked Yuliana if she wanted a brother or a sister. One week it was a brother. The next it was a sister. After a while, it became: "Only me. Only Yuliana."
At that point, we figured she was starting to understand her life would be different, too.
When she learned it would be a sister, though, and we began using the name Katya, Yuliana fell in love (as far as 3-year-olds can). She helped pick out clothes. She made sure we saved a seat for Katya at each dinner, and she pointed to where her baby sister would lie (between her and Papa) during bedtime story reading. She also began telling friends and strangers, "I'm going to be a big sister."
Being a big sister has important responsibilities, we've told Yuliana, because babies have to learn to do almost everything, and they need help.
During these first two weeks, if you visited us, you would often see Yuliana peering at the baby, almost forehead to forehead, with a big smile on her face, sometimes showing teeth, sometimes just a bright happy curve of her mouth. "I'm teaching Katya how to smile, Papa," she would explain.
As with Yuliana's birth, calling Victoria's parents in Belarus has brought special memories. The communication started with a flurry of text messages when Victoria and I went in (for five hours of monitoring) a week early because of quickening contractions. And they continued at a fevered pace until the originally scheduled C-section, eight days later, was over and everyone was all right. In Belarus and Russia, C-sections are rare procedures and considered highly dangerous. So the worry was high.
If they could have seen the wonderful hospital rooms, the incredibly nice staff and our amazing doctor Wendi Carns, I'm sure they would have worried a lot less. Indeed, every woman visitor, while we were still in the hospital, remarked how different the atmosphere is for births today than they were "back when." Blessings, indeed, abound.
One time, during the middle of the night, while Victoria was still asleep but the baby was crying, I called her mother Valiantsina, who because of the time difference was in the middle of her work day. I heard her turn the mobile phone's speaker on so others in her office could hear, and explain, "This is my granddaughter."
The crying went on for a minute, the Little One turned bright red. And, then, suddenly, the cries ended -- with a hum.