SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST — Family Post
I'm Game If You Are
Families who run together have fun together. I can't disagree with that. Fitness is very important to our family. Physical activity is good for our bodies and minds, and it provides another way for our family to develop strong bonds.
Sport runs in the family. My husband is from northern England and grew up playing cricket. He played here until fatherhood got in the way. He is a diehard rugby fan, and it is a passion he shares with our eldest daughter, along with golf. Our daughters also play football.
I grew up in the exurbs of a Canadian prairie city, so baseball was the big thing in summer. Then it was ice skating and jam pail curling in winter. (There were no girls' ice hockey teams back in the day.) Although I loved to play, I was not a stand-out. It wasn't until high school, when the focus of gym programmes went from team sports to ones that had an element of 'individualism', that I really became comfortable in gym class.
All of a sudden, it seems, I found out I was good at something outside the classroom. I excelled at archery and cross country running, I surprised myself by realising I could finish a 10-kilometre run. All I needed was an opportunity to find that out. I see this experience as a formative event.
It showed me that we can all be good at a wide variety of endeavours, and that we shouldn't pigeon-hole ourselves or let others try to do that with schoolyard labels. We can be everything we want to be, and we should never hesitate to give it a go. As a parent, I see it as job number one to introduce my children to as many different experiences as I can. I like to observe how they react and where their interests and skills lie. Then I can help them figure out how they want to take it forward.
This has resulted in some interesting activities and experiences. One summer I took my children on an 'eco-journey' to Iceland, where we rode on hydrogen-powered coaches, toured geothermal plants and played golf under the midnight sun.
We hiked the pristine hills around the capital, Reykjavik, by day, and swam in the geothermally heated public swimming pools in the evenings. My children have been ice fishing in Canada, and to Green School in Bali, where they planted rice in muddy warm paddies and learned to make chocolate straight from the cacao pod.
Everything has been memorable. Some things we wouldn't do again - too much work. But our experiences have made us closer. Sometimes my efforts paid dividends later: my daughter cited learning Apsara dancing at a school of performing arts in Cambodia as one of her proudest achievements as a dancer.
As a parent, I am well aware that children learn by example. I believe what we do influences our children the most. It is a case of showing rather than telling. I have always made an effort to show my kids that mum likes to lead an active life. When they were toddlers, they complained when mummy went to the gym. But as they grew, they understood the importance of this routine. They cheered when I came home from Macau with a medal from my first half-marathon.
Last year, my eldest started running alongside me in a 10-kilometre race. Her idea was to give me moral support. But she ended up enjoying the experience so much, she went all the way to the finish line. She finished about five minutes behind dad - and five minutes ahead of me. We couldn't have been more proud of each other. I do yoga, too, and everyone makes fun of my exercise positions. But at least my children know that 'this is what families do'. The ribbing I take is just part of a mum's job description.
We are always looking for something new and have recently discovered the secret society of geocachers. Geocaching is a cross between orienteering and a scavenger hunt. It involves GPS-enabled devices and secret caches strategically placed in public spaces, in wooded areas, and on mountaintops. Secret messages are written and shared. It can involve arduous hiking. Sometimes there's treasure. We have become quite obsessed with the activity. It keeps us all busy and together.
Karmel Schreyer is a freelance writer and mother of two
No Place Like Roam
My youngest daughter went off to Year Five camp last week. She and her schoolmates went to Cheung Chau for five days, and it was hard to say goodbye. It brought home the notion that, while I have done my best to protect my daughters during their childhood, I will have to start letting them go. It also brought back memories of my own travels and journey of independence.
I had planned my departure from high school in a way that gave me an eight-month gap before university. After months of my cajoling them, my parents gave me permission to spend five months in Paris (to improve my French), and a month in Florence (to study Renaissance art history and etching). There was a two-month break in between, which I planned to spend backpacking from Norway to Greece. I was armed with my backpack, my student rail pass and my Let's Go guide to Europe. It was the mid-1980s, communism still loomed large and I was just a few weeks short of my 18th birthday.
I had an unforgettable time seeing the great sights of Europe, but what I remember in a more visceral way are my encounters with people - and wildlife. Some of them were fun and fascinating, but others were not. The bedbugs at the hostel in Amsterdam, for instance. One day I found myself crouching in the middle of the street in Fiesole, Italy, next to my art-school classmate, holding the hand of a woman who had just been hit by a truck. (She later died.) I told my parents about these incidents.
But there were things I didn't tell them: having a gun pointed at me by an Albanian border guard; the youth hostel in Nice that had no locks; perverts accosting me in the gift shop at the Centre Georges Pompidou and on the Paris Metro; being propositioned on the train to Marseilles.
So now I start to wonder how to protect my children from such encounters. When I look back on my backpacking days I see how naive I was. And I don't think the world has got any safer, not even with Skype and Facebook and texting for instant communication. Because of this, I have decided I will be more proactive about teaching my girls the ways of the world, and I have started early.
Last summer, I took my nine-year-old on a 'backpacking' trip across Belgium and France - destination Barcelona. I had no illusions about spending any more nights in youth hostels. My backpacking days, at least as far as accommodation goes, are behind me. We went from one hotel to another - interspersed with stays with friends. One day, at the Renaissance Barcelona, I watched three strapping American youths check in using (I am fairly certain) one of their parents' reward points. They had brand new backpacks, unlike the old days.
My eldest daughter was not with us. She had been selected, along with three other 11-year-olds, to represent Hong Kong at an international peace camp and would meet up with 12 other 'delegations' from around the world. These lucky 48 children would be kept in seclusion for a month to learn from, and be taught, the art of 'peace education'.
When told about her assigned camp destination some months earlier, I was grateful to learn that it was in what I consider a safe country. These camps are held in more than 60 countries each year, and I thought nothing out of the ordinary would happen in Oslo, Norway. But I was wrong.
My youngest and I had a few scrapes: we were confronted by aggressive beggars in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, ripped off by buskers in Barcelona and somehow ended up in a bikers' bar in the backwoods of Belgium one rainy night. But at least I had always been there to protect her.
As for my eldest, all I could do was have faith in the delegation leaders and camp directors, who refused to let all their work be compromised by the senseless tragedy visited upon the people of Norway one week before the end of my daughter's peace camp, when 69 people died in a shooting massacre on a Norwegian island.
What doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Still, when my girls grow up and leave to see the world on their own, I will want to go with them. It will be hard to say goodbye.
Karmel Schreyer is a writer and mother of two children
My 11-year-old daughter is in Year Eight and weighs about 32kg. Her schoolbag is new this year and on Monday morning, it seemed to weigh a tonne. 'You need a suitcase!' I said, not laughing, as I ran to get my camera - and the scales. She was running late, which is normal for a Monday, but she smiled as she tried to stuff a thick library book into the bag.
My daughters and I, and Aunty E, who helps me raise my children, crowded around the scale to see an astounding 10.2kg start to flash. That's a heavy bag. Aunty E's first point of business for the week is to carry my daughter's schoolbag down the 198 steps to the bus stop, and I sometimes wonder if I am guilty of illegal deployment.
Had it been Wednesday, the schoolbag would have been even heavier, holding her gym clothes. Had it been Tuesday, she would have had to carry it along with her guitar case. On Fridays, she goes straight to golf squad and so she needs her clubs. (They weigh only 4.8kg.)
Being a Hongkonger, I am familiar with the issue of heavy schoolbags and their effect on the spines of the young, especially on those with petite frames. So, on Tuesdays, I get on the school bus with my children, saddled with my own kit bag, my yoga mat, 10kg schoolbag and guitar case.
My younger daughter, of sturdier build, carries her own schoolbag, but as she's only in Year Five, it is significantly lighter, for now. On Tuesdays, I stay on the bus and get off one stop beyond the school.
I sit in a coffee shop for an hour before trudging to my weekly yoga class. I get weight training from carrying the schoolbags. Aunty E gets more exercise every Friday afternoon when she takes my daughter's golf bag to school on her bicycle, and returns with the 10.2kg schoolbag. She is trying to make it up the hill to our place without getting off and walking the bike up. It hasn't happened yet, but she's making progress. I said when she can do this I will sponsor her in the extreme sporting competition of her choice.
Mums and aunties know that part of the job involves being a mule - or, from an Asian perspective, a Sherpa, which sounds much more respectable. After all, where would Sir Edmund Hillary have been without Tenzing Norgay?
Sherpa Tenzing was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. Not only did he help other people achieve their goals (I am thinking of Hillary and countless other mountain climbers), but he was also able to achieve his own ambitions and help the community of mountain climbers/porters and his fellow Sherpa people.
To admirably do one's job to help others succeed, to fulfil one's own ambitions, and to contribute to one's community - now, that sounds like a life lived well! I think about this, especially every Tuesday morning, and I don't feel so bad.
In Wikipedia, in a quote from James Ramsey Ullman's book Tiger of the Snows, Sherpa Tenzing says: 'It has been a long road ... from a mountain coolie, a bearer of loads, to a wearer of a coat with rows of medals who is carried about in planes and worries about income tax.' I don't know about medals, but the thanks from my children, and their uncompromised little spines, are reward enough for me.
Karmel Schreyer is a writer and mother of two children