What in the World.

Time for another Jacinta-blog. There will be rambling and written stream of consciousness-free-flowing-figuring-it-all-out-as-I-type-and-simultaneous-breaking-of-every-guideline-for-good-blogging-ever-to-exist. But it’s my blog and I’ll ramble if I want to. You have been warned.

I’m coming out: I am Home School Curious.

It’s a dirty little secret I’ve been harbouring for years now, and recently the intensity of my curiosity has risen to the point where I am unable to stop myself bringing it up any time I’m in the company of anybody who happens to have ears. So, really, it’s not so much a secret any more. And yet, it still feels totally naughty.

I live in England. Homeschooling (HS) (or Home Educating, as it is referred to here) is not really a done thing. Yes, of course, some people do it, but not to the degree that it is widely done in the US. Growing up in Hong Kong there were several HS kids in my youth group. Now as an adult I have several friends who HS their children, but the majority of them are in America, or are American families living elsewhere.

My ears first really pricked up at the thought of HS my own two children when a couple of my most respected, nay, adored friends took the plunge. Then we happened to travel and ended up staying in the homes of a couple HS families. Until then HS for me was something I accepted as what some (if I’m honest) weird or ultra conservative Christian or earth-mothery families chose as an alternative lifestyle. But when people I trusted and respected talked me through it, and invited me to witness the reality of it, things started to change.

On top of all this, we used to live in Hong Kong, where unless you are happy/able to put your children through the local schooling system (which is affordable, but academically gruelling from the get go, and in Cantonese, mind you) then you can expect to have to find some way to first, get your children a place in an English-speaking school (may God be with you) and second, come up with the means to pay the extortionately high debenture and monthly school fees. This is manageable if you are a teacher and get to pay lower rates, or if you are just very wealthy. Alas, we aren’t either. So the idea of HS had been tossed around a fair bit over the years in light of all that.

Meanwhile, we moved to England, where children one and all are entitled to very decent schooling, usually a short walk from home, for free. The schools are lovely and the people who I’ve seen working in them are good people as far as I can tell. The school here is a hub of the local community and full of many good things.

Bottom line: It ain’t broke, so why mess?

This is what my internal imaginary panel of advisors asks me as I devour book upon book of HS exposition and methodology.

As I watch the collection of HS-related literature grow on the bookcase (that I actually ordered and then assembled in order to house said collection), I wonder if what is actually at play here is the most elaborate and potentially catastrophic wolf-in-sheeps-clothing form of procrastination in which I have ever indulged.

I have a PhD to write. And I will do some more work on it, I swear. Just as soon as I have read every book ever written on Charlotte Mason and all the books by all the people who think she’s the bees knees. While I’m at it I will grab myself a quick overview of the philosophical principals undergirding the Classical method of educating children according to the trivium of grammar, logic and rhetoric. Then after a skim over the various approaches to maths I will do my homework.

But I’d like to think I’m too lazy to do this much work in order to avoid some other work, work that I voluntarily elected to do, and am paying rather a lot of money for the privilege of doing.

So, then, for reals, what’s up?

My son didn’t get accepted into the same school as his big sister for September, and this is where all the HS thoughts resurfaced. I don’t love the thought of two sets of school runs, two separate school-based communities, and two lots of PTA meetings to feel guilty about not going to. Apart from the obvious inconvenience for me, the facilitator of all things family, I’d hoped Layla and Dylan would grow up together, enjoying shared experiences for most of their waking hours.

Voice of reason interjects – surely there’s a chance a place will open up and then all this will just have been a storm in a teacup. Yes and no.

Yes, we are on the wait list and yes an offer of a place might just change everything, but no, in that, this whole palaver has opened up an area of exploration that isn’t just going to go away. The not getting of the place was permission for us as a family to look up from the assumptions of everyday life and consider all the options, and now that I’ve considered a couple of them so thoroughly, the decision to accept any offers of a place will not be as straightforward.

There are pros and cons no matter what choices we make in life. I have looked hard at the pros for HS in a macro sense and more closely, in the Charlotte Mason/Classical methods, and I am starting to believe that they outweigh the pros for sending my children to school.

I am very excited about tailoring a life of pursuing passions, setting good life habits, experiencing the world through (off peak) travel as well as day to day local living, having time and energy to revel in great literature together, expose them to an array of art, music, food, language, sports, volunteer work, craft, nature appreciation, free play, outings to museums etc… I could go on..

It all sounds idyllic.

The purpose of this post is not to convince non-HS families that they are doing it wrong – I think HS would be a terrible idea for some people – or to try to gain approval from the HS world. It’s just me working things out in words, and then publically posting them for vanity to share with anyone who might be interested in what in the world is going on in my head these days.

Side note: a month and a half has past since I wrote the above. Everything beyond this point is fresh out of the oven.

 

SO… I did my research, I drew up many a spider diagram, I filled pages of free printable HS resource blank calendars I got from Pinterest just to get a hypothetical idea of what our lives could look like should I choose to push the matter to stage two: Convincing of the husband.

Like most couples Tom and I are very much on the same wavelength for many things – non-negotiable necessity for creative outlet, unwillingness to do soul-destroying work, muted sense of adventure, growing appreciation for old-people things like fruit cake and gardening, enjoyment of thoughtful and clean interior decoration and styling…

And, like most couples, we are from different planets in other areas – necessity of stacking the dishwasher just so, adhereance to good-blogging word count guidelines, willingness to follow recipes, size of (his) shoe collection, appropriateness of chocolate as a morning food, emotional response to prospect of instant noodles for dinner, volume level of general speaking voice….

So I was really preparing myself to have to give Tom a very persuasive Why-We-Should-Explore-Home-Education pitch. I assumed he would need a lot of convincing, and then might only reluctantly agree to give it a go for a set amount of time, on the condition that I fulfilled certain expectations that might or might not have included getting qualified as a teacher.

In my vision I would then tire myself out trying to win him over to the point that it wasn’t worth it and just throw my hands up in despair. (This technique of letting me arrive at “my own” conclusions has been used in the past when, in his wisdom, he knew that resistance would only fuel my drive – I was pretty sure this would be his plan B).

But no. I was wrong. Tom asked me for my three best reasons to HS the kids followed by three best reasons to keep them in school (to check that I was balanced) and then proceeded to completely bamboozle me by saying “Yup, I think we should give it a go.”

I was not prepared for this response. It threw me into a tizzy and I have been in one for most of the last several weeks. The idealised dream of HS disappeared quick snap, and I was left with the sobering thought of, crud, what will we actually do? Every. Day. Forever. And evermore. Amen.

When will I do my own work? Will I ever get to go out alone again? When will I do my marathon training (should I decide that’s what I might want to do one day, you never know…)? How will I nurture my introverted soul? What if people think I’m a hippie? What if I get hit by a bus and my kids no longer know how to function in a school setting?

Then I re-read all the books: a very important thing to do once the dreaminess of the fantasy has worn off. The books calmly told me what life would look like and reassured me that yes, I can actually do this, and yes, I am in good company. I’ve been all over the local and national HS facebook groups and am relieved to find I’m not alone with my cold feet.

A few weeks ago the kids and I accompanied Tom to a large church camp that he was booked to lead worship at (something we’ve not been able to do since school started). During some free time we stopped to watch a group of teenagers taking turns on the zipwire (flying fox, if you didn’t know it was called that either). This was one high up in the trees that they had to wear safety harnesses for.

We all watched in anticipation as one girl climbed the tall pole to the platform where she would start her ride. She got up to the top and with the help of a waiting staff-member was attached to all the right bits, then the crowd below started cheering and counting down to help her launch.

But nothing happened. She froze. She was having second thoughts like no one I’ve ever seen before. We all chuckled and said understanding things like, “poor thing, it is very high…” We all just stood and waited for the nerves to pass and for her to take her inevitable leap. We waited, and waited. The understanding comments gave way to “oh come on, just get on with it” and eventually some of us took a seat on the grass as we verbally willed her to go, and mentally willed the woman up there with her to give her a shove.

30 agonising minutes passed as a staff-member on the ground explained to the impatient teens in the queue that it was important for the girl to make her own decision – something about not wanting to pressure her or cause trauma or lifelong sense of failure…

It was a very long and drawn out moment for all of us, but no one wanted to walk away. Her sobbing was audible from the ground but we could see that shimmying down the pole was not a much better option. Finally she went. It was the most anti-climatic thing I’ve seen in a long time. She zipped past us and rebounded off the rubber thing, was then lowered to the ground and detached. Her waiting mother gave her a big hug and then ushered her away from the crowd so she could calm down.

Anyway, all that’s just to say, cold feet. I get it. Sometimes things are really scary. I’m not scared of much other than the worry of something bad happening to someone I love, really, that and demon-possessed insects, the giant from Twin Peaks and the thought of sharks in unmarked swimming pools at night. But I have been feeling like that zipwire chicken girl for weeks now.

Yesterday I found out Dylan is number 9 on the waitlist for our preferred school. This is good. It means the scenario of them both being in the same school together any time soon isn’t very likely. This gives me courage. Other things that serve as confirmations have happened too but I can see that I’m over 2000 words now.

Layla is increasingly reasonable, and although she loves many aspects of school life (friends and monkey bars specifically), I am confident that she will love many aspects of HS life, and I’m sure she will benefit from the one-on-one learning side of things. But I’m not naïve, I know there will be very hard times as well. If you know me you will know I tend to get obsessive with my research on certain things (ask me anything you want about high powered blenders). I’ve done my research here.

We have made some good connections with people around here and between structured activities like gymnastics/swimming/football and playdates and hours at the playground nearby, I am confidant that our children will not suffer from social isolation. I’m told there is a strong HS community in East Oxford, so that can only make things even better.

I will have a think about how much I plan to blog about all this. I don’t wish to ruffle feathers but I do want to document it all for the kids, and for anyone else who wants to see how this all pans out.

Meanwhile, please rest assured, we love our kids and have no intention of messing up their lives. (but we will follow the advice of a dear psychologist friend who says to start saving for their therapy soon). If it doesn’t work out we won’t be too proud to put them back in school. We are not doing this for religious/afraid-of-the-big-bad-world reasons, or even dissatisfaction with schools. We are taking a positive step, (no, a massive leap of faith) out of a good situation, into what I wholeheartedly believe will be an even better situation for our family.

Watch this space!

Photo Credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1259691/The-children-ride-40mph-zip-wire-quarter-mile-high-to-school.html

(Not my pic!)

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Life on an Island

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“The Maldives are sinking and soon they will be completely underwater!”

I was under the age of ten years when this piece of trivia was made known to me. My young imagination conjured up images of island natives wading about their lives knee-high in water. In my mind’s eye the swirl rose gradually until they had to hold their breakfast bowls up above their heads to stop saltwater splashing onto their Cap’n Crunch. Eventually some wise island elder would say to the others, “Okay, its no longer a good idea to live here, it’s time for us all to leave.” And then they would all swim off to a more suitable habitat.

It has only very recently occurred to me that one possible reason that the thought of the sinking Maldives struck me so vividly as a child was that growing up in Hong Kong, I too lived on an island whose permanence was questionable. No, we were not in danger of physical submersion, but as citizens poised to witness the end of Britain’s reign over our home, there was a shared certainty that change was afoot.IMG_4247

Perhaps this is why Hong Kong has been described, quiet accurately, as “New York on Crack”. It is a city on fast-forward. It is the rush of drink orders at the bar’s last few minutes of happy hour. It is a region-wide flash mob, a spontaneous moment that you had to be there for, in order to really appreciate. On some level everyone in Hong Kong knows that change is coming for us and that is why we’d better live it up, play it up, work it up while we still have a chance.

The thing about the Maldives – God bless them – is that, other than a child’s imagined advantage of being able to swim (instead of walk) to school, there really is no silver lining to their situation. Once the inevitable happens to the Maldives, they are, well, sunk.

This is where Hong Kong has proven very interesting, as a small city we have taken more than our fair share of hits in recent years: the 1997 Handover, SARS, Swine Flu, Article 23, China’s National Curriculum, to name some of the big ones. But like one of those inflatable punch bags with the weighted bottom, Hong Kong has always sprung back to life, and usually with more vigor than could reasonably be expected of a little city taking such a pummeling to the face.

But some people can’t handle it. The transient nature of Hong Kong means that at any given moment there is a pocket of people poised and waiting for an event that will serve as the final push toward their departure. Each of the above listed headlines would have given some of these guys enough reason to throw up their hands, book the movers and leave. Meanwhile, the rest of us sat tight – either due to stubborn devotion to the city, lack of awareness or plain lack of options – and we watch until the dust clears just enough for us to continue on our frenzied ways. Our city has always recovered.

After SARS we bounced back with elevator buttons disinfected hourly and hand sanitizing stations all over the place. My in-laws bought a steal of property to boot.

I was born in Hong Kong and have, until recently, assumed that I would live there forever. I was passionate about my home to an unhealthy degree. I judged people as they left Hong Kong, calling them lightweights and concluding they never really loved the city as much as they had once claimed. I eyed up newcomers, trying to ascertain the purity of their motivations for moving to my city. Users, fair weather friends of Hong Kong, I presumed.

About two years ago my young son went through a season of illness that coincided with my own self-inflicted and culturally-approved season of over-scheduling. The too-many commitments and sick child collided and threw me into a state of stress/burn out/whatever else you want to call the feeling of I-can-no-longer-function. Something needed to give, and it goes almost without saying, that something was never going to be Hong Kong’s pace of life. Fortunately for me, my husband chose that moment to propose a sabbatical leave from his job of 11 years. We chose to move to England for a year. We planned to be gone from Hong Kong for 12 months.

Half way through our time in England we realized a year was a very short time for which to have performed such a major relocation. We had only just recovered from our departure from Hong Kong, and now it was time to start planning the return. I hadn’t recovered from my funk and we were just starting to see some positive developments in our son’s health. I had to admit that we were loving watching our daughter enjoy her school’s relaxed open spaces and low expectations. (I got a letter last September telling me there would be a grand total of one homework sheet sent home per week and it was to be understood that the completion of it was not compulsory)!

We chose to stay on in England. At that point we didn’t know how long we would be gone for, and at this point we still don’t have any answers. I started my PhD and Tom is enjoying new opportunities in his work. It seems we have officially moved away from Hong Kong. This was not something I would ever have imagined us doing.

I didn’t see the Umbrella Revolution coming. But boy oh boy, once it happened I couldn’t peel myself away from my computer. One tab for Apple Daily’s Live Stream, one tab for Facebook, one for Twitter, one for the SCMP and one for BBC World news.

It is hard to express the disbelief you experience when watching your city, your streets turn into front page global news. To frantically search the faces in the crowds on the slightly delayed and distorted live feed, looking for your big brother because he’s just SMS’d to say he was heading over to the protest site and not to worry. Not to worry!?

Every cell in my body wrung with flashbacks from newspaper front pages reporting on the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Each cell sick with fear because several loved were taking a stand and I could lose the lot of them. Then came the pangs of remorse over the fact I was not standing with them, and finally a heavy realization that my being there would not change a thing – my city, my tiny beloved city had decided to engage in a standoff with an unrelenting bully. A Pomeranian picking a fight with a Pit Bull.

China is not famous for being reasonable. With my human eyes I cannot see how this is all going to work out – not in Hong Kong’s favour anyway. I have always underestimated the tension between Hong Kong (my birth place) and China (my Grandparents’ birthplace). My Porpor made dumplings and thick noodles like it was going out of fashion (it was). She wanted the whole family to be well educated and cultured, to speak both the Queen’s English and proper Beijing Mandarin. I didn’t know she was the exception rather than the rule. Having family roots in the capital, I always associated myself with the Mainland and felt sad when Hong Kongers dismissed Mainlanders as uncultured or worse. Why can’t they embrace their motherland? I wondered, naively.

Then I educated myself on some of China’s dark history and came to accept the fact that I was wrong to assume the Chinese government was at all interested in goodness, nor in the general pursuit of the betterment of society – local or global.

Thank goodness for “One Country, Two Systems” I thought, again naively. It’s a good thing Hong Kong has that fifty-year margin to figure out how to make this all work. And thank goodness we’ve got Britain there, keeping an eye on things. They promised to help out if we needed it. Fortunately it didn’t seem we did. It is true that after the 1997 Handover very little changed in Hong Kong – nothing overtly noticeable really. The Police force’s uniform changed, and the RSPCA changed its name to the SPCA (it was no longer Royal). Nothing major.

But then property prices starting going up, and luxury malls starting popping up. These malls are filled with designer label shops and hardly anything normal people can buy on a day-to-day basis. I’m no fan of the Golden Arches, but there is something sad about the day you realize McDonalds is no longer welcome in Pacific Place.

The new malls sit beneath massive luxury apartment buildings that hang garish crystals in their lifts and have a dozen security personnel to verify your right to exist on entry. The flats are inhumanely boxy but they are all kitted out with top of the line whathaveyous. Like shit rolled in glitter. And if this is the state at the high-end, what hope is there for anyone? The average Hong Konger can’t afford to own a car parking space, let alone a home.

Now that we’ve been in England for over a year, my children are well and truly not bilingual. If/when we decide to move back to Hong Kong there is no chance they could attend a local school (even if I were to join the mass hysteria that is the application process/hoping for a place somewhere, anywhere). I don’t really want them in the local system for education-related principles anyway. If they can’t go to a local school our alternative is International schooling with extortionate fees. Since Tom and I are both alumni we’d probably get them in, but since we aren’t bankers or teachers one of us would have to work damn hard just to pay the fees while the other one earns for housing and food. This scenario is not impossible, and this is not an article about why I no longer love Hong Kong. I love it more than ever, and I’m in deep lament. The truth is I believe one can create a happy life anywhere (and I’m daily thankful for the privilege of having that option) but since the first canister of tear gas was dispensed I have been carrying a heavy heart and this is how I work things out. My city has changed and this deserves my attention.

Property prices rocketed, and Disneyland came to Hong Kong. The sharply increasing numbers of Mainland tourists became noticeable. Friends from the West complained about how they pushed in lines and unashamedly photographed blonde children without permission. This broke my heart again. It’s very complicated. How can we presume to place our cultural expectations on them? Don’t ask me who our and them are to me, I’m not even sure.

My city and I are similar; we have parents of two different cultures. A third culture has emerged as the result of a lifetime of trying to reconcile the first two. There are literal Eurasians like myself; I am the most common kind, a product of a British father and a Chinese mother. But there is also a city-full of metaphorical Eurasians who are born to a Chinese Daddy, and have inherited his surname and looks, but who live at odds with the western and third culture heart inherited from their British mother.

In less coherent moments I like to blame the invention of long-distance travel for most of my issues. If my Chinese grandparents hadn’t been educated in America they wouldn’t have met, and they wouldn’t have had their number three daughter, my mother, who wouldn’t have met my Welsh father, who wouldn’t have travelled via Kenya to come to Hong Kong to work at the university here, and would never have married my mum. I wonder if maybe we all just should have stayed put where were born. There are several logical fallacies at play here, I know, but stay with me if you will. Or, perhaps not so much the invention of long-distance travel was to blame, as the penchant of world super powers to dominate substantial chunks of the planet.

In the opening chapter of his autobiography Going Solo Roald Dahl makes mention of meeting some of the “endangered species” that were the British Colonialists. The British Empire was winding down and with it came the “extinction” of several of the byproducts of colonization. I had never thought of it this way. As a byproduct of a specific moment in history we, the Hong Kongers who spanned that time, are an endangered species. We are dying out, and taking with us all that was the place we inhabited during that era. Now, the exact same principle could easily be applied (quite annoyingly) to anyone existing anywhere in any span of history, but I still argue that there is something poignant, potent even, about the combination of factors that collided to make Hong Kong what it was. If you were there you will agree.

It is hard to express to non-Hong Kongers just how exceptional a place Hong Kong was, and to some people still is, and to others still, hopefully one day will be again. There is nothing the rest of the world would consider conventional about the place. It is a small but beautifully formed land of possibility where you could find anything you want as well as several other things that hadn’t even crossed your mind. It’s no melting pot: it’s a flaming wok of people and ideas. It’s a paint pot accidentally knocked onto an old canvas to create a priceless and irreplaceable work of pure art.

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Around the time I had both my babies in a local hospital there was a big issue about pregnant Mainlanders trying to get over the boarder to have their babies in Hong Kong. Many benefits for them were to be had by doing this, to the degree that some ladies were hobbling through immigration, poker-faced, after their waters had broken. Hong Kong was up in arms about the scarcity of hospital beds. At the time I thought it rather ungenerous of us, but today as I try to picture life in Hong Kong after that behemoth, the Hong Kong-Zuhai bridge is built I am finally starting to see things differently.

Hong Kong is a game of musical chairs. The players are beginning to cotton on to the fact that unless they fight hard, play dirty even, there is a very real chance that they will be caught out when the music stops. The players feign nonchalance to cover frenzied dismay as they notice that with each round, more than one chair is being removed, yet at the same time more players are joining the game.

Scarcity is a real problem in Hong Kong. In my opinion it’s the main one. I’ve begun to see Hong Kong as a prophetic vision of what the rest of the world has in store for it. I thought about writing my PhD on this but decided it was too kooky a thesis. Not too kooky for a medium-length blog post though.

With over-population, diminishing resources, and an abundance of corruption I think we can expect to see what is happening to Hong Kong eventually happen everywhere else too. There aren’t enough chairs to go around at the rate mankind is demanding them. World leaders need to care about this, and care enough to take action.

Inch by inch small changes can lead to a total overhaul of anything. An old sermon illustration I’ve heard many times in my church-going career says that rather than getting permission from the committee to move the organ from one side of the church to the other, the best way to do it is to move it slowly and gradually, an inch a week until you get it to where you want it. I suspect China knows this.

I don’t know if China’s goal is actually to overhaul Hong Kong and rid it of all that it ever was. Maybe it wants to erase all memory of the British years; maybe it wants to remind stubborn Hong Kongers who their daddy really is; or perhaps it innocently wants its own citizens to experience the uniqueness that is Hong Kong, not realizing said uniqueness will be diluted due to scarcity.

Most likely it all just boils down to money. Hong Kong is a cash cow, it always has been, and whoever gains power over it will enjoy its benefits. Hong Kong has been used and abused by more than one power in its history, and the fact that things always seem to be playing up shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who cares about the city.

The two bits of bad news that I think the Umbrella Revolution have brought to light are, first, Hong Kong’s problems are worse than many of us were willing to recognize, and second, the international support we have is substantially less than what we would have hoped for.IMG_4288IMG_4294

The good news is there are a lot of Hong Kongers who are unreasonably passionate about their city. They are intelligent, orderly and proactive enough to fight for it with grace and dignity. In light of the good news, who could possibly know where things will go from here?

The protests that erupted 76 days ago caused quite an inconvenience – both to the traffic and general functioning of the city (as planned: bravo you inspirational protest leaders). The protests have also stirred the minds and emotions of everyone who considers herself a Hong Kong Belonger.

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Wherever in the world we find ourselves, we have been forced to remember, and grapple with the thing that we have all known, on some level, all along – that Hong Kong’s (the Hong Kong we knew and loved)’s very existence is not a given. It is a forever shifting landscape. I grieve now, because only now have I admitted that I think the change has happened. It is done. I can’t pinpoint where the line was crossed, but I have to concede, the organ is now halfway to the other side of the church.

In absolutely no way do I think that this is the end for Hong Kong. More likely it’s the beginning of yet another glorious comeback – another new incarnation, and for the future generations I pray that it is. But my city, the Hong Kong that I, part of that endangered species, knew and now mourn for, is gone.

Maybe this is just a normal part of getting older – nostalgic feelings for the place of your youth – the time before you took up your share of the burden that is the world’s problems. None of us can go back to there, whether it’s a former colony under threat or a small hometown somewhere in the countryside. We can’t go back because it’s not a place, it’s a time.

There are two different issues at work here – first, the need to let go of the past, and second the garnering of strength to join those who are fighting to ensure an acceptable home for future generations. I have nothing but admiration and the desire to support those in the second category, and at this time of writing I am reasonably satisfied that I have taken a decent step toward dealing with the first.

The home of my upbringing was a fantastically beautiful blip in history; a foothill village sat perfectly happily in the shadows of an active volcano; or maybe even a tropical island paradise surrendering to the deep blue inevitable.IMG_4308

I Have a Plan!

I am almost at the end of my first year as a PhD student, and yet I feel like my main gain over the last 12 months is a reoccurring revelation of just how little I know, how much I want to know, and how unlikely I am ever to get the upper hand in it all. And every time I get to my conclusion it feels a little surprising, and in all honesty, disappointing. But there we go.

I already know that one highlight of 2015 will be commencing supervision by Francis Spufford, the author of Unapologetic and The Child That Books Built. The first title is the reason I decided to take the offer of acceptance by Goldsmiths University, the second is the reason I’m feeling the need to read as much as I can this year. I fear I am The Adult That Needs Some Bookish Renovation Work.

Ever the optimist, I have made a list of resolutions for 2015, and on that list is the challenge of embarking on a TEN YEAR reading list. I will never understand everything I want to understand, but that is no reason not to try.

One of my tentative goals for this year was going to be, “get published as much as possible”. As a writer who would love to teach at university level again one day a PhD is helpful, but a decent publishing record is non-negotiable. So far my record consists mostly of journalism and children’s books – nothing to turn my nose up at, but I’ve yet to crack the Creative Writing world as such. I will get to that one day, maybe in 2016, but the point is I’ve decided not to pursue publishing this year. This year I just want to read and write. That will be more than enough. Well, that and kids and job.

On with the Challenge:

I have never considered myself well read. When people drop quotes or references from books, even the classics, I rarely know what they are talking about. This became very clear to me when I did my Masters – a room full of writers is inevitably a room full of readers. Avid readers. The kind who devour books in single sittings. The kind who turn to books rather than alcohol, drugs, exercise, food or any of the other usual vices. The kind to which my supervisor belongs.

I myself have never claimed to be a book worm. In school when we would embark on Read-a-thons for charity I always set myself modest goals that I never managed to reach. I am a slow reader. A test I took via Facebook, the ever-reliable source of truth, tells me I read at the pace of a third-grader. As a brit I don’t actually know how old that is, but I assume it is a primary school-aged child rather than a close-to-completing-post-graduated-education adult. There’s a reason for this – I’m dyslexic. I was tested by a university professor friend of my university professor Dad when I was a child and found to be legitimately dyslexic. My Dad chose not to tell me until after I graduated with my Undergrad. His reasoning was that I seemed to be doing fine without the extra time-allotment in exams, and he believed I was likely to use my dyslexia to excuse myself from trying my best in certain areas. He was right and I thank him for his wisdom.

The upside of my slow reading pace is that I read deeply. I remember a lot of what I read. As I continue to pursue life with a make-lemonade attitude I have decided that it is probably more helpful to read fewer books and retain some of the ideas than to read large quantities and forget it all. All power to the readers who read lots and retain lots. I aspire to be you.

I write because it helps me get closer to understanding things. I also write because I want to take part in the Great Conversation that is Literature – art of words. I know that Literature is known as “The Great Conversation”, an exchange between history’s authors, but man oh man did I struggle to find a decent reference for this term of phrase when it was time to write about it in my Masters thesis. I wrote on regardless, and was happy with the end product, but it wasn’t until mid-2014, when I moved into my family’s house in Oxford that I came across the treasure trove I didn’t even realise I was looking for.

My Dad past away six years ago. He had a colossal collection of books. Most of these were given to Hong Kong University – there is an Anthony Sweeting Collection in one of their libraries. But some of his books, the ones he had moved to/bought in Oxford are still here. They were safely tucked away until recently. They are mostly non-academic reads – stunningly beautiful Folio Society hardback collectors items, and…drum roll… a set called Great Books. This is a 60-volume collection of what a group of highly-qualified experts has deemed the most important books in history, western history that is. The set comes with an introductory book entitled The Great Conversation. It took me about two months to read this.

So, right here in the home of my childhood summers, left by my seemingly all-knowing, all-loving and providing father is a copy of every important book in western history. All I need to do is crack them open.

So that’s what I’m doing. I have completed my first read in Jacinta record time – Plato’s Apology in two sittings. My new year’s resolutions are off to a strong start (I’ve also gone to bed at 10pm and exercised two days in a row – give it up people).

I intend to write reflections on each completed piece, but I’m still deciding whether or not to inflict them on my blog readers. I will say of Apology though, the wisdom of Socrates is all about knowing he doesn’t know, and having no desire to join the ranks of those who kid themselves into thinking they do know something about lots of things when really, they may, at best, only know something about one or two things.

So, there we are. I’m humbled and encouraged and ready to roll!

Reflections on the Creative Process

This was written near the end of 2011. The Reflective Essay was one of the assignments given toward the end of my MFA. 

Pic borrowed from a google search result.

Nom.

Reflections on the Creative Process

 

I am the girl who eats elephants.

Or tries to at least.

 

When creative challenges strut past me, flexing their muscles, swishing their tales, flashing smiles and suggestions of personal fulfillment, nine times out of ten I will cave in. I just love a project. It doesn’t matter what sort of project as long as it requires that I stretch myself far beyond what I am capable of in reality. Need a percussionist? I’ve never played, but I’ll have a go. A loaf of homemade sourdough bread? Couldn’t be too hard to learn. A Masters degree in the midst of starting a family? Sure thing.

 

The idea of applying for, then being accepted into this MFA was too much for me to resist. I had a story I knew needed writing, and enough hard-earned wisdom to know I should invest in learning the craft. That was about it. I put together the application in less than two days, and before I really understood what I was doing I was at my first residency, a day after I discovered I was pregnant with my second baby. Some might say it wasn’t a well-planned decision. I think it was meant to be.

 

Toward the end of that first residency Xu Xi made a point about how one does not actually need to be in front of a computer or piece of paper in order to write, that much of her writing happens on the treadmill or as she goes about her day. This turned out to be the nugget of wisdom that would see me through one of the biggest elephants I ever sank my teeth into.

 

Writing pregnant was easy. Writing sleep-deprived whilst trying to figure out how to handle a colicky baby certainly was not. The last twelve months have been difficult, overloaded plates. Life is life, but this year was exaggerated: two young children, a husband realizing his own creative dreams, a building project, four part time jobs and a Masters degree.

 

It felt as though my propensity to nibble on the ear of a challenge escaped all reason as I now found myself frantically gorging on multiple elephants as if trying to defend a title in an eating competition. People ask me how I do it. I wonder the same. There hasn’t been enough time to reflect. The baby is 7 months old and we are still sleep deprived.

 

As I attempt to ponder this question in the free seconds between preparing meals, disciplining a toddler, washing dishes and using a pipette to suck the snot out of my sick baby’s nostrils, I find myself drawn more to the question of why do I do this?

 

For years I wrestled with the guilt that I had chosen to pursue a creative life instead of getting a real job. Hong Kong is not a city built for artists. Smart people keep serious day jobs and then spend some of their wages on creative hobbies. I have had to adjust my definition of Smart People. The creative life is not really a choice. I have tried to abort and bury many projects along the way, but that usually just leaves me standing uneasily amidst a bunch of rumbling graves.

 

I have adjusted my perspective on the creative process. I am taking a more philosophical approach now and asking what is the point of life/work/the things we all busy ourselves with? Hong Kong is a city full of extremely busy people. I am one of them. I resent busyness when it is caused by obligation to things I do not love, but when it is a symptom of a life full of meaningful fun, then busyness itself becomes something I love.

 

I have been putting much thought into the idea of playing to one’s strengths. I find the notion troublesome. I have heard it preached on international platforms, read it in books on leadership, been challenged with it by my ex-bosses in HK, and recently, saddened to discover Plato’s stance on it via @ Twitter: “One cannot practice many arts with success.”

 

I understand the concept- why invest in taking one gift from a level 2 to a level 4 when you could put the effort towards taking a more promising gift from a level 7 to a level 9? But I wholeheartedly reject the notion of playing to ones strength. Failure and discomfort is the birthing place of great art – the sort that people can relate to. Playing to strength is a strategy that minimizes the possibility for failure.

 

 

I endeavor to read Plato, in order to be able to fully converse with him on this matter. I want to know his definition of success. I don’t think it is the same as mine. I am also told that Julie Cameron has something relevant to say on this matter, but she is going to have to wait until I have finished chewing on what I already have in my mouth.

 

I have spent years of my life envying people who are really really good at one or two things. I am not one of those people. I am a little bit okay at a lot of different things. I have come to accept this now, mostly as the result of no longer having the emotional resource to fight it.

 

I found that the times I have tried to shelf all but a couple of my inclinations in the name of playing to a strength or two, I have wound up miserable. I don’t dabble on a whim. I do it because I feel that I have been entrusted with an idea, and it is up to me to make something of it. It is almost a duty. If I turn a blind eye to those duties, I end up feeling depressed and unfulfilled.

 

There are some people in the world who hold such regard for the idea of excellence that they simply refuse to attempt something unless they are more-or-less certain that they will be happy with their outcome. I understand this and cannot argue against it because I have seen these people excel numerous times. What I will acknowledge though, is that I do not possess their same level of self-control. If I catch the thought of auditioning for a Masters Degree in Jazz Dance into my head, there is little that can stop me from trying, even though my chances of success are limited, so that at least I can know that I tried. We won’t go into that specific example right now though. I think there are just two different types of people – two different ways a human brain can be wired.

 

The disadvantage of my wiring is that I am very familiar with failure. Again, that’s not meant to sound heroic in any way. Anyone who has actually failed at something important will know that it is not an enjoyable experience, nor one from which it is easy to recover. The advantage is that I have enjoyed the process of trying new things, and have also developed some wisdom from experience, but most importantly, I feel, some tenacity.

 

I wonder if everyone only focused on their strengths, we would miss out on the awesome experience of uncomfortable stretching, and that thing that happens thanks to 2 Cor 12:9 where God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness? I’m no theologian, but my lay interpretation of this verse is that if I’m too strong then I don’t leave much room for partnership with the divine – for me, the source of all creativity. I honestly don’t know if I’ve got that muddled or out of context in some way, but I am most open to discussion.

 

I am not suggesting that mediocrity should be given the right to some limelight – that would not be fair on the work produced with excellence. I am saying that if someone feels that they want to try to develop their skills in areas of level 2-6 abilities, then why not just let them? I can say for sure that with or without the chance to get on stage, or publish, or sell art or whatever, I would still be doing what I do simply because I get uneasy when I don’t. If I do get given the those opportunities then how nice, but I think that life is more fun if we just get on with doing what we believe we were made to do, as long as we aren’t hurting anybody, regardless of audience size or response.

 

These are my reflections on my own creative process. If my circumstances were different perhaps I could lock myself away in a tower like Montaigne, for the rest of my life to contemplate it all. It sounds very nice but I am not Montaigne and our three-bedroom family flat in Discovery Bay does not have a tower.

 

The conflicting advice I have received since ‘coming out’ as a writer (and entering into the great conversation that is literature) is much like the conflicting (and usually unsolicited) advice I often receive as a new parent. Cloth nappies? Naked potty training? Bottle? Breast? Reject conventional form? Strip it all down? Elaborate? Bring more humour in? Take myself more seriously?

 

I have to consider the options but ultimately find my own way.

 

If I were to write a manifesto I would say that I will not fear the influence of other artists, but trust the authenticity of my own voice. I consider myself a genuine artist. As I plug away at my writing and all my other projects I believe that I contribute to changing my city into a place where creative souls can exist for the long haul. I will courageously accept the fact that my context does not allow for creative monogamy, but charge forth regardless, knife and fork in hand. Yes, that is all I can do for now, and enjoy it I will.

 

Parenting: Simple, Idle and Free Range!

 

GUILTforMumstobe

This was the actual checklist I was given when I went to my first pregnancy appointment! Perfection in the form of an innocent typo.

 

I’m not very postmodern in the sense that I love to solicit advice about all sorts of things. None of this don’t tell me what to do from me. I lean more on the side of oh crap, I have no idea what I’m doing, someone please give me the answer! Now, I am not in any way advocating that trait. I will put my thoughts on that in a separate post, but as an intro for today I’m just saying that my self-perceived deficit of common sense has led me to the self-help aisle of plenty of bookstores. The downside is that as a result I tend to ping-pong between all sorts of philosophies, often in an extreme way. When it came to food it was healthy to organic to vegetarian to detox to gluten free to paleo and now a big muddle of all, which essentially means we just eat whatever I can muster at the time, that usually means fish fingers.

I’m about to embark on my PhD and I can foresee a more intentional and probably academic reading plan over the next few years, and possibly because of this I have been indulging in some new parenting books lately. Or maybe the reading has been part of my attempt to find balance, as recovery after major life burn out that happened in Hong Kong, the city that really never sleeps. Or was that just my life at the time with Dylan’s sleep apnea, the son who never slept. Whatever the case, I’ve read some fantastic books recently and wanted to share them with you, especially if you are in HK and trying to fight off the tendency to freak about about schooling/activities/schedules/budgets/allergies/all things related to raising children.

 

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

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This is a gentle entry point into some parenting ideas that I would honestly say would feel alien to a lot of us young parents these days. The basic premise is Less is More and the author writes with professional and personal experience and real authority about scaling back in order to fully engage and enjoy a simpler life. Ahhhhh, a breath of fresh air :)

There’s a blog too, but I won’t comment on that as I haven’t checked in out properly yet.

 

 

The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson

This one is probably going to offend a lot of parents who pride themselves in trying really really hard every single day. I bookswas one of those a few months ago, and it got really really tiring, and quite honesty ushered me into a season of deprssion. That sense that no matter how much I did, there was always more I could/should be doing…

This book made me laugh and blush at the very silly way I had been parenting not too long ago. I can’t get enough of this one. I was actually quite sad when I got to the end of it. It had me at “children love a tipsy parent” (I’m not sure if those were the exact words, but I will go with the laziness that stops me from referring back to the original text, confident that this would not offend the author). I allowed myself to chill out, sit around with other grown ups drinking grownup drinks while our kids ran feral in the garden for a couple weekends, and low and behold, life started to feel manageable again. Click here for a taster in the form of The Idle Parent Manifesto. Genius.

 

Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy

I’m in the middle of this one now. It’s funny and again, makes me laugh at myself in almost every chapter – the ability to laugh at myself is one trait, and survival technique I have come to depend on.  Skenazy was in the press years ago for 51y6rCrGsVL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_letting her son ride the NY subway alone. She then went on to become the leader of the Free Range movement, encouraging parents to fight back against the culture of fear mongering that has taken up residency in the land of childrearing. Her message is basically CHILL OUT! And she has done her research into the statistics and facts that would be demanded of anyone with such an audacious message aimed at parents. The book is directed at an American audience, but those of us Internationals will be able to draw great value from it. Chinese culture is funny when it comes to kids, they must be bundled up under multiple layers of clothes all year round, and have to wear face masks to protect others from snot at the age of 2yrs, but they are allowed to be out and about town until 11pm. I’d be interested to know which culture has produced the most neurotic parents…

Here’s the Free Range Kids blog.

 

And finally, here’s a fun article from the New Yorker on the same theme that my sis-in-law Meg sent me the other day.

 

Famous Last Words

I’m really great at making declarations about my blog’s area of focus and then doing absolutely nothing to follow up on said area of focus.

 

The last post was my lament on Dylan’s ongoing sleep problems. After 2.5yrs of seriously interrupted sleep, I resided myself to the idea that I would be without good sleep for the foreseeable future, and might as well blog it out. I did embark on a mission to find help and to get to route of the problem. I did pursue a couple of very promising avenues of help. And guess what? I’ve just had FIFTEEN NIGHTS IN A ROW of very acceptable sleeps!

 

In the past we would experience anywhere between 30-mins and 3 hours of hysterical screaming that could only be soothed (and not always) by a bottle (or three) of rice milk.

 

My current definition of “Good Sleep” is ZERO bottles of milk between 7pm and 6am. We still have a bit of crying, but in the last 15 nights, no crying has lasted longer than TEN MINUTES!

 

I will control myself and resist the temptation to go into just how big a deal this actually is to me. First let me explain what happened.

 

We moved to England and here as soon as you get into the health system they send you a letter telling you they’d like to send someone to visit your house and see how you’re all getting on. That in itself blows my mind. So, I met with a lovely lady named Sian three times. During the first visit she listened to my terrible story and then made a time to see me again. During the second visit she gave me a very thorough photocopied wad of information about sleep training. She told me now that Layla was settled into school it was time to deal with Dylan’s sleep training. She said we had two main options: controlled crying, or inching myself out of the room.

 

The latter is a much gentler and slower process of getting to the point where Dylan could fall asleep without me being near him. I would just sit on his bed with a book as he fell asleep, and then night after night work my way onto a chair, then inch the chair out of his room. This sounded nice because Dylan definitely had some major anxiety issues. I attributed these to the fear that someone with sleep apnea must experience. They are said to have horrible nightmares about suffocating etc. He needed to know I was there with him.

 

I also had a big guilt complex from last year, back when I was working at the university three days a week. It just so happened that the schedule meant that I would put him down for his lunchtime nap and always be gone when he woke up. After a couple weeks he cottoned on to this pattern and started protesting his nap and then picking up a life-threatening lung infection. This was the start of his need to know I was there any time he stirred in the night.

 

The thing is I am not a patient person. I was groggy and wanted sleep NOW, not to inch my way out of the box room over a matter of weeks. Anyway, that would have been hard to do since I’m often alone with two kids at bedtime and Layla would have none of it.  She knows her rights.

 

So I told Sian I thought we needed to explore Controlled Crying. She explained that this is not the same as letting them “cry it out”. It just so happens that all things being equal, I am actually a big believer in letting them cry it out. It was the sleep apnea that rather rudely interrupted my attempts to co-author the next Gina Ford plan.

 

Controlled Crying means letting him cry for 2 minutes (a minute for each year of their life) and then popping back in and matter-of-factly reassuring them, and then leaving again. This can happen dozens, if not hundreds of times a night until they realize that they might as well just quit and sleep through. Sounded like a long shot but at this point I was a beggar too impatient to choose option one.

 

I was gearing up the strength to embark on this plan, and told Sian I thought my husband would be emotionally strong enough to hold out for the 5-7 nights it would probably take. Then something unexpected happened. I asked Sian if she thought Dylan looked well enough to endure it, if in her non-medical opinion he looked like a normal healthy kid who just needed sleep training. The reason I asked this was that a year ago Dylan was quite visibly an unwell child. This is what each member of his medical entourage told me anyway – I couldn’t see it because I looked at him all day long and in that situation it is hard to see the little changes that happen. According to his doctors he was clearly unwell – he had dark blue circles under his eyes, pasty white clammy skin and bright red lips indicating too much yeast in the gut. I thought he was looking pretty normal now, but wanted to double check.

 

She looked at him, then looked at me and went quiet for a moment.

 

Then she said to me “I think you should take him to the GP and just explain the situation so that he can assure you that he is no longer in danger. You might need that. He looks absolutely fine to me, but I think you need to hear it from a doctor.”

 

I must have looked a little confused because then she went on to say something along the lines of how big a scare I have had and how incredibly natural it is that I am terrified of leaving him in the night. He was at risk and I had to be on high alert, but just because that season has passed doesn’t mean I know how to come down off high alert.

 

Then I cried a lot.

 

Then I thought about blogging this development but procrastinated because it was quite painful.

 

Then I decided to do a bit of evidence gathering. Sian had told me to start a sleep diary but I’m not so good with the follow through, so that never really happened. Instead I just observed, and instead of observing Dylan I started to observe myself.

 

I had a flashback of one of the many visits to the GP in Discovery Bay I was on with Dylan earlier in the year. The DB Medical Centre were getting ready to launch a Frequent Visitors scheme just for my family. Not only was I running down there every time Dylan got a sniffle, I would do the same any time anyone in our household so much as cleared their throat – the basis for this was that I could not afford for anyone to infect Dylan. I sat in the waiting room as Dylan played with the toys in the corner, and imagined the receptionists rolling their eyes at me here she is again, doesn’t she have anything better to do with her time… I’m partial to letting the odd conversation play itself out in my head, and in my head I replied I know, I know, it totally LOOKS as if I’m a neurotic mother who has nothing better to do with my time, but believe me, I am a very busy lady. There are a hundred other things I need to be doing instead of shuttling my son to and from waiting rooms all week. I looks like I’m the problem, I can totally see how it would look like that from where you are sitting, but I assure you, it’s not me…

 

I was satisfied with how that mental exchange concluded. In my mind the receptionist nodded and agreed, yes, you’re right. It does look like you are the weirdo, but after hearing your explanation I am convinced that you are the helpless victim in this situation. Of course no mother wants her kid to be sick. No, you’re doing everything right…

 

Back in Oxford, in reality, I was beginning to allow myself to explore the possibility that I could be the problem. It seemed ridiculous but stranger things have happened.

 

I noticed that Dylan was much calmer when Tom put him to bed. I noticed that Dylan insisted on my spoon-feeding him, even though he is well past the age of independence in this area. I started him in daycare and he only cried for me for 5 minutes on the first day and after that couldn’t wait to be dropped off. I asked his minder if he ate anything at school and she said yes, as if of course, why wouldn’t he? He’s just a normal kid.

 

Then one night it happened. It was after Tom had been away on a tour for a few nights. I was exhausted from being the sole adult in the house and Dylan was kicking off in the middle of the night. I lost my temper. I took him out of my bed, turned a light on in another room and gave him a telling off. I put him in timeout so I could go to the loo and take a breather because in all honestly I was worried I might chuck him out the window if I didn’t give myself the timeout.

 

I breathed a quick prayer and then went back to him. He was hysterical to the point of hyperventilating. I went through the process of getting him out of timeout – explaining why he was there, asking him to say sorry, and then cuddling him and telling him he could not come back to bed until he stopped crying. He controlled himself beautifully. I knew it was hard for him, but he did it. As soon as we got back to bed he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. We slept until 8:30am. Layla was late for school the next day and none of us was sorry.

 

I knew I was on to something. I bought Boundaries with Kids, a book I knew I needed to read for other reasons, and it confirmed things to me – I needed to be firm and clear with Dylan about my expectations for the nighttime and if he chose to scream all night, then I could not reward him with milk, or even with my presence, but instead that I needed to make it not an enjoyable experience for him. Thankfully he’s only needed two midnight timeouts since that night. They always happen quickly now.

 

I’ve just noticed how long this is and Downton Abbey is on so I will conclude part one here.

 

xox

Spare Rib Syndrome

Recently I have allowed myself to dream big dreams again.

Then I got scared. The dreams are too big and greedy and likely to embarrass me when they don’t work out.

I decided to put them on the shelf; at least, that’s what I was telling people I was doing.

In fact, I was shoveling dirt onto them as they lay in the grave I had dug for them earlier just in case. I said had to “shelf” them because I have young children and my husband needs me to be available to support him. These are not bad reasons. Raising my babies is the highest calling I will ever have in this life. Playing a supporting role in my husbands dreams is a part I have always felt not only comfortable with, but truly my authentic self in. So, when I got scared and began hedging my bets and weighing my options I felt sure that no one would question my reasons for the “shelfing”. No one can argue with the young kids excuse. I mean reason.

I went to church this afternoon totally unaware than my careful construction of excuses was about to be wrecked. Church, my church, was one place I safely assumed would affirm my need to shelf. However, not today. Today was the day that Founding Pastor (and my father in law) Tony decided to courageously speak a life-injecting word about the value of women. He was supposed to be speaking about social justice but according to him social justice must begin in our hearts and in our church home, and our attitude towards gender injustice. His words soaked into the parched dry ground of my past-hungry for affirmation, exhausted-from-multitasking feminine soul. As tired and afraid as I am, those words will not return to him void.

The children are asleep, one is coughing. I will probably have to get up to settle someone a few times tonight. My eyes are heavy but dammit, I am reaching towards the shelf, to pick up the shovel and begin to unearth those dreams again. God help me.

It’s Complicated

That’s no lie – it really is.

First off, I hereby acknowledge my failure to listen to the little voice of truth that whispered in my ear “this isn’t going to work” the second I typed the words in my last post:”I’m going to blog every day”.

Good, now that that’s out of the way… 

I’ve been having some thoughts… they have been percolating for some years now, and I haven’t really known how to even broach the subject…

No one likes a raging feminist.

One of the things I liked about my new faith when I ‘came out’ as a Christian at the age of 15 was the fact that, for the most part, Christianity seems to condone a sense of inequality between the sexes.

I liked the idea that a girl should do ballet, wear makeup, grow up to become a mummy, and then make food in the kitchen and wear dresses and all…I think this is because my mum has never been what most would consider to be a traditional mum. Mine worked hard, has been the director of her organization forever and is well respected in her professional field. I resented this growing up because I never had anything good in my lunch box.

Somewhere around the ‘believer age’ of 13, having been married for about 4 years, I took a job at my church, where my husband and also my father in law also worked. It was explained to me that our church supported the notion of couples ministering as couples, but that due to limited funding I would not be paid a decent salary nor would I be allowed to work in the same area as my husband because we couldn’t afford to double up roles and there were many other things that needed doing. At the time I saw no problem with this. I worked at church for 4 years before I started feeling like something was not right.

Before I go any further, I need to say that I have been committed to my church, The Vine Church since I was 15 years old. That is not in question. I love it and I love the people who make it happen. I don’t agree with the way everything is done but this is not meant to be an attack on any of the wonderful men I have in my life. Remember, it’s complicated.

Anyway, toward the end of my stint as church staff I realized that although all the boys I’d grown up with were fast being rebranded as Pastor thisorthat, I was never going to be given this title. We do have a female pastor in church – as many might expect, she is the Children’s pastor. We have even had a female Elder, we have female worship leaders and females are welcome to preach from the pulpit, although the statistics on how often this actually happens are not overly helpful. 

‘Why don’t we have more women on the platform?” I ask from time to time. 

“We would love to,” Comes the response. “But there aren’t many suitable candidates around right now.”

I was not in a good place when I left my job at church – I was working through mental things, my father died, I got pregnant and had a baby, and I honestly had no sense of what I was meant to be doing.

Motherhood came along and I pushed all the feminist-flavoured questions to the back of my mind. 

Yesterday I was in town buying some soy formula for 16mo Dylan. It just so happened that OBE Rob Glover,  someone I respect very deeply was in town, two doors down from the formula shop, holding a meeting for the board of trustees for his charity, Care for Children. I was pulled into the meeting and listened happily as the people around the table and on the conference call introduced themselves – high powered men, every one of them.

Again – I have NO problem with any of these guys. 

As they all took their turns it dawned on me that I was going to have to say hello and explain myself too… I wasn’t sure why I was there, and as the wearer of many hats I didn’t know what angle to go with…why was I there?

“I’m a writer”

“I run Handmade Hong Kong”

“I’ve just finished my Masters and getting ready to do a phd”

“I was responsible for coordinating the 50-person trip to CFC’s BeijingHQ back in 2008”

“I’m just a mum”

or…would it be…

“I’m Tom’s wife and I’m here to represent him.” 

Tom is quite highly sought after, and so he should be. He is very talented, he is at the head of the pack in terms of what he does here in HK/Asia. But not only that, he is an incredibly valuable team member/leader. He is very tech savvy and practically minded with a generous dosage of creative foresight. Anyone in their right mind would want his input.

What I am trying to work out is, where does this leave me, and how do I do both of these things:

– avoid competing with/resenting him

– avoid giving myself up completely and becoming ‘just a wife’

From what I’ve observed, it’s very easy to go to either extreme. In church culture I fear that there are many wives for whom their wife/mother role becomes the path of least resistance. I’m sure many of them are deliriously happy in that role, and again, if that is what God wired them for, then all power to them. 

Other women might set themselves against the idea of becoming a supporting role, and even shelf the wife/mother option for a bit/forever. 

This recent article says it nicely – you can’t have it all

At this point in the thought chain I begin to lose track of what I’m talking about… what’s my problem? A feminist has to have a problem right?

I guess my problem is that I’m beginning to face up to the reality of the fact that I’m living in a man’s world, and indeed, and even a man’s church. I can see the path of least resistance beckoning me on, but there is a little raging feminist inside me threatening to break out. It’s not actually that I’m mad. I’m sad mostly.

I don’t think that, in my world anyway, any men are purposely creating resistance in some areas (and therefore paths of less resistance in other, less valued areas). I actually think it’s what starts as a harmless boys’ club, and evolves into something simultaneously hard to pinpoint yet almost watertight-impregnable. Like the popular crowd in high school – they are just enjoying their cool fun stuff so much they don’t realize how left out the losers are feeling, or how valuable the input of those losers could be if they could all just play together.

Here’s where the complication steps up a notch, and may even be accused of bordering on hypocrisy,or contradictory at the very least: I think we ladies are the weaker sex. I think it takes a very strong and very generous group of men to step aside and allow the girls to shine too. 

I can see why it doesn’t happen as much as it should. Women can really suck for many reasons – we can be, and usually are very complicated, emotional, talkative, needy, sensitive, jealous, insecure, fallible creatures. But, we also have a lot of value to offer, and more than any of us really know. 

I actually agree that operations, events, teams etc can work much smoother and more harmoniously with less estrogen… this is where keeping it guys-only is indeed the path of least resistance…least drama anyway. But, that low-drama path just doesn’t sit right with me. Somewhere in my feminine spirit I long to see women doing things: Awesome things, and ordinary things that usually default to the boys. Am I just complaining because I wish I would be asked to lead/preach/sing? No. hand on my heart, no. I’m not after another single thing to add to my plate. Too busy unraveling the current mound of spaghetti.

When I can’t find a strong woman role model anywhere I look, week after month, after year, I begin to die a little inside. Something says to me, why bother? Who cares? And I start the process of checking out.

If men are the stronger sex, and I’m ready to argue that they are (I love them), then the reason there aren’t many strong female candidates around right now is probably because the dominant sex is not proactively making room for them. It sounds whiney, I know, I know. But this is the whole point, girls generally don’t compete well on the same level as boys because girls are not the same as boys. If given an opportunity to contribute even though they whined instead of competing for their place, then they will often deliver something valuable that few men possible could – because girls are not the same as boys.

So, what am I saying here? What’s my problem? I’m not entirely sure. This one is still in the sketching phase. I’ll color it in slowly once I’ve done some more thinking. It’s really very complicated.

Bleh

The morning started with me waking up to the glorious realisation that we had all slept through the night! This is an increasingly rare phenomenon in our household, ever since the arrival of my little lactose intolerate bundle of baby boy joy. He’s now 15 months old and between taking FOREVER to figure out what his problem was, and teething, and numerous other issues, we’ve not been having much sleep.

As a new mum the first thought to rush into my mind upon waking naturally at any hour after 6am, is “has someone died? Is that why no one’s crying woke me earlier?” I realized this morning that the new-mum thing had worn off. I snoozed for longer than I have in ages and then realized Layla, my 3yr old was snoozing in the bed with me. Soon enough little Dylan came toddling in and we all enjoyed some cuddles in bed. Dylan found a ball on the floor and started rolling it around, then fussed as the ball lodged itself under my bed. Layla, the ever-loving and helpful big sister rushed to his rescue, but took us all by surprise when instead helping Dylan, she vomited all over the poor little guy.

Layla proceeded to projectile vomit for what felt like an eternity as I screamed for Eden (our live-in helper) to come and take Dylan to other bathroom as I waited for Layla to finish her business and then got her hosed down in my bathtub. It was a most dramatic 3 minutes.

I work from home. My workload was already piling up to an uncomfortable level due to the fact I’d been shuffling Dylan between three different doctors’ appointments yesterday. I had a lunch appointment booked in with a professor at City U that I really didn’t want to miss, so I jumped at my Mum’s offer to spend the day with the kids. She walked through the door about five minutes after the spewing incident and the kids settled into joyous play with her (she is an early childhood expert and pretty much on par with Disneyland for my kids).

I managed to spend an hour in my room/office catching up with work, and then headed over to Kowloon Tong to chat with Prof Rocio Davis about the possibility of doing a PHD in the nearish future. Lunch was yum and the conversation most encouraging and inspiring. I’ll write about that later.

After a quick-ish stop at Toys R Us (where I bought a guilt offering for my kids for leaving them sick) I came home for a really nice afternoon of family time. I made a hair clip rack out of some old scraps lying around, watched two episodes of The Modern Family, and then worked on my website.

 

The reason I’m recording all this is that today I’m really struck by the truth that life happens and will continue to happen despite the fact that I would like everything to wait for me to get my act together, or step aside so I have creative space and time to really focus in depth on the stuff that I feel needs it at that moment. Ain’t gonna happen. My option will always be to shelf the things I want to do in order to deal with whatever is most pressing, or to find a way to fit in all the things I just know in my gut that I’m meant to be doing. Sometimes I will have to call in sick, and sometimes I will get the balance wrong, but I’m not going to stop trying to fit it all in.

The house still smells a little of sick, and I’ve failed to exercise yet again, but tomorrow is another day. I had to write this post because I’m tired of waiting until I’m ‘ready’ to write. I’m going to write daily. I just decided.

 

 

 

Golly Gosh (2011 Aug 11)

Yup, just a quick update because I’m not through the tunnel of stupid-lack-of-boundaries-crazy-busyness YET.

March:

Had a baby

April:

+Had no sleep because baby had colic.

+Turned 32, but feel 62 :(

May:

Worship Central

June:

+Still not sleeping more than a 3 hr stretch

+Complete artwork for VC2 creche wallpaper

July:

+Church moved from Central to Wanchai!

+Foolhardy decision to accept job of writing VC2 book

+Scramble to interview relevant people before leaving for:

+Holiday in Phuket with Cooks, husband and my two little munchkins

+8-day intensive Uni residency that required the appearance of coherent thought, boy baby with ear infection, girl baby with tonsillitis, me with food poisoning thus missing last day.

+writing of 38 pages for VC2 Book in 3 days

+writing of makeup assignments for missed day at Uni

+Sick again with two days of sweaty-chilly fever

+I think we just sold our flat

+oh, it seems to be August now. Does it really matter?  Who even cares?  Life isn’t much fun right now.  Wah.  I need a violinist and a medal.

Today:

+vow to reevaluate priorities and learn to say no sometimes.

+too much of a good life is still too much.  Apparently I have limits.

#newstome