Happy 10th Chinaversary to me!

Today marks my tenth Chinaversary. It’s no secret the most significant event I’ve experienced throughout my decade in China is motherhood, but second to that is the journey that led me to working with infants and toddlers and Montessori.

“I don’t know how you do it…I wouldn’t last a day!”

I hear this all the time and I always ask, “why not?” Often people have never really thought about it, nor asked themselves what exactly it is about young children that is so baffling or scary that they would never dare consider working with them. They just believe they do not have the patience for it. I hate to admit it, but once upon a time I was absolutely that person. Seven years ago if you were to ask me if this is where I saw myself in the future, my answer would have been a resounding NO…

…but here we are.

In 2011, I worked for a young, expatriate couple who had a two year old daughter and they changed my whole perception of family life. The parents were smart, beautiful, and both had successfully climbed to the top rung of their respective journalism ladders. But perhaps the most amazing thing to me was how much and they travelled and how easy they made it seem with a two year old—who was inquisitive with an energy that never slowed [I was exhausted just looking at this child, seriously]. I had always been told that children and travel do not mix and so, I said I would delay having a child for a few years. But I found myself being more and more curious about children as I continued to work for this couple. And so, I began to study child development.

While studying, I had the good fortune of witnessing for myself the wonderful milestones and the developments of infants and toddlers. It was so fascinating to observe all the transformations occur in their physical, cognitive, socioemotional and language skills. I began to understand children and I started to recognise the different ways they learn and the different ways their minds perceive different situations. It was also satisfying to successfully apply the skills I had acquired through the studies. It changed the way I interacted with children. I found myself becoming more empathetic, patient, and generally, just happier to be around them. I had gained an understanding of children that made it a pleasure to work with them—even on those really difficult days, when the cries would cut through you like a hot knife on butter, there was always something to be thankful for because I began to view the world through their eyes; I had gained their sense of wonder.

Now we fast forward seven years and I have devoted many years to studying children. I continue to practice my craft and I continue to find new ways of understanding them and so when people ask me, “How do you do it?” I simply say it’s because, “I want to.”

Thank you, China, for letting me discover what it means to truly love your work.

Daria Morgendorffer helps me parent. Yes, that Daria. 

I’m lying inside a giant box.

No, that’s not some weird metaphor. I am literally lying inside a giant box.

Why? Because when our new fridge arrived the other day, my first thought was, “Charlie’s going to love this box.” And yep, I was right. Now I’m lying inside the giant box as she sleeps sweetly, cuddled into me because, “Mama sleep in box, please,” completely melted my heart. And when your daughter melts your heart. You just can’t say no.

So, as I lie here (at 03:35 am because apparently, my body doesn’t like sleep) I am thinking about the box and why I thought of Charlie when most adults would be excited about the new fridge. (Is it that my brain is now incapable of thinking about anything beyond Charlie? Possible). But then I remembered…Boxing Daria.

For those unfamiliar, Daria was an animated show in the 90s–created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis–and for me, undeniably the best show ever created. Now don’t get confused, animated, yes–but certainly not your typical cutesy, Disney variety (I LOVE those too!). Daria was produced by MTV for a teen audience and it had all your typical teen angsty goodness with a touch of humor. It also spawned my love of satire. In the “Boxing Daria” episode, she finds comfort in a refrigerator box during a difficult time in her early years (thus, me lying in a giant box with my kid). 

While not hugely positive, Daria’s perspectives of the world around her enabled me to explore ideas that challenged social norms and pop culture. I feel like my individualist values are due to her refusal to conform to societal norms. (I’m really putting a lot of stock in a fictional character. Noooot entirely sure what to make of that.)

In my nine years of living in China (It was only supposed to be six months! Yikes!), I’ve witnessed, heard about and experienced for myself cases where people told me what to do and how to do it. I was told how to behave, how I should look, what to eat, what to drink, and what to wear, and what it means to be female and male, and what it means to belong in this society. I’m not saying, this is only in China. I know this happens everywhere. But because of China’s collectivist culture, individualism is not highly valued. There are so many societal pressures and to step away from the norm is just not acceptable here. For some people, at least. But with that, it is also getting a bit better. I still wouldn’t call it progressive, but there are sparks of hope every now and then (Yay, China!)

It’s 06:00 am now and I’m reminiscing about a cartoon (I can almost feel your eye roll…get to the point already). Anyway, so it got me thinking…Daria was socially awkward, completely pessimistic and wasn’t always pleasant to her peers. She was an outlier, yet despite all that, she remained true to herself and it made her resilient. At the end of the day, this is really all I want for Charlie.

I’m excited to watch Daria with Charlie (I mean when she’s 12). It will probably seem so ancient to her by that time, but considering my values are still the same…perhaps, Daria was onto something way back in the 90s.

Case in point, there is so much truth to this response to a question about her goals in life.

(I took this image from Buzzfeed.)