We went to our usual Estonian playgroup on Sunday. The kids had fun. Myself, I almost snapped, from too much exposure to Estonian-style parenting. Parents who tell their 4-year-olds how crappy their painting is; who constantly demean and humiliate their kids; whose parenting skills go no further than “stop that right this minute” and “why are you such a whiner”.

Not all Estonian parents are like that, of course. But this kind of attitude towards children (and husbands and wives, and other people in general) is sufficiently common that you cannot really avoid it. The general undertone is that other people do not deserve your respect, that really they’re irritating idiots, and you see no point in hiding that opinion.

During our annual trips to Estonia we live in a cocoon, only spending time with friends and family. I have no wish to go outside that cocoon.

I remember so sharply an episode from one of our previous summer trips. We were at a roadside eatery. We sat outside, and when Ingrid was done eating she went to the little playground they had. There were two other girls there, maybe a year or two older. She cautiously tried to make contact, and got instantly, sharply, snippily put down. I don’t think they even spoke directly to her but one of the girls said something mildly but clearly scornful about Ingrid to the other. Ingrid was totally confused and had no idea how to respond. Like, why would they do that?

How do you explain that in Estonia people are like that? Tell her to not go around trying to make friends? I don’t want to need to explain things like that.

Another thing that I always notice in Estonian playgroup is that almost all of the other kids are super reluctant to ever answer any questions from the teachers. Even when the question is something that you cannot fail at, like “can you come and pick one of these stuffed animals for the next song” or “what’s your favourite food”, they don’t. They cover their faces, they squirm, they hide behind mum’s back, they just won’t.

It’s not an age thing, not a phase. The ones older than Adrian and the ones younger than him all do the same.

A deep-seated reluctance to get noticed? Because odds are, you will only get criticised for it? Or maybe I am totally over-analysing this.

To close on a happier note, here’s a totally unrelated photo of two tired kids happily playing together.