''WE are crazy monkeys,'' Charlie squeals into the dashboard as she dials everyone whose numbers pop up on my ''recently called'' list. Gigi gleefully presses the horn with her tummy.

''You are lucky monkeys,'' I say, shaking my head at my daughter's mischief. You're lucky to be growing up in America, I think.

They are coming off an adrenaline high after running around an optical shop, trying on glasses and shrieking with delight.

''How old are they?'' the sales clerk had asked. Fortunately, she was amused rather than annoyed.
''Four and a half and two and a half,'' I replied on auto-pilot.

I dragged them out soon after, afraid they would break a pair of pricey frames. I'd arrived in the  United States 30 years ago with only couple of hundred dollars and still feared over spending.

Sometimes I wonder whether my liberal neighbors know how fortunate our kids are - how fortunate we all are.

''All is not lost,'' I want to remind them when they are consumed by news about the distressing state of our nation. We have the right to criticize, to vote, to dissent - and to leave if we choose.

I'm not sure they can understand what it's like to live without freedom. They don't receive warnings from the KGB, the precursor to imprisonment. They never lost family members to government work camps.

They got to explore, to rebel, to make up their own minds. Our children have the luxury of individuality.

My childhood was different from Charlie and Gigi's. It's as if I came from another planet. At day care, I got yelled at for talking, or for lying on my cot with with my legs immodestly splayed, or for not finishing my soup.

I was scouted for gymnastics when I was 4 - you couldn't just choose to participate in a sport. My coaches would sit on me to perfect the shape of my splits.

At home, my parents were loving but firm; social expectations prevailed. I was potty trained in infancy, taught always to be polite - ''Please'' and ''Thank You, ''Have a nice day.'' I chewed with my mouth closed.

My family left the Soviet Union in may of 1989, after the Reagan administration pressured Mikhail Gorbachev to allow Soviet Jewry to emigrate.

We waited in Austria, then in Italy to be granted asylum in the United States.
''What would you say to Reagan if you ever met him?'' I once asked my dad.

''I would say, thank you, Mr. president,'' he answered. ''Thank You''.

I was 8 years old when we made it to Brooklyn. The first summer my brother and I ate free lunch at a steamy school cafeteria  and ran around a sprinkler.

As Mom and Dad toiled to build us a life, we were largely cared for by our stoic grandmother, who had lost family in the Holocaust and grew up in the Siberian gulags.

''Ninety-five? Why not a hundred?'' she'd ask if I showed off a good grade.

It took me years to rid myself of  Soviet rigidity. But as an American mom, I let freedom ring.   

I am thankful my daughters get to be themselves, and to take time to figure out who those selves are. They are lauded for their effort, not for perfection.  They can play soccer or go climbing if they wish. They're trying gymnastics as well; nobody sits on them.

This is why we came here., I think, to raise kids who can ask for what they want and say NO to what they don't want.

It's more like ''No, yuck!''. But I am working on ''No, thank you,'' I swear.

''I worry about them too, like all parents. I worry about guns, bullying and bad men, and the myriad dangers we all dread.

Still, I am so grateful to be raising first-generation Americans. I believe in them. With their family's heavy-past and their nation's promise to liberty, they may have just what it takes to better the world.

Or not. No pressure.

The World Students Society thanks author Jessie Kanzer and wishes the whole family well.


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