Blog Archives

Spader Fans! Here Are Your Quiz Answers:

Thanks everyone for reading and participating in my quiz: Trending Baby Names or James Spader in the ’80s?

The hair, the HAIR! From The New Kids, courtesy of Creative Commons and

The hair, the HAIR! From The New Kids, courtesy of Creative Commons and

Here are Spader’s muy beloved characters from the ’80s. Do you have a favorite?

Let me know!

2. FenwickDiner (TV short), 1983

3. LowellFamily Secrets, 1984

5. MorganTuff Turf, 1985 (Kim Richards was the love interest, FYI)

7. DutraThe New Kids, 1985

8. RichardsMannequin, 1987

11. Digby (I inadvertently wrote Dutra twice, so changed this later. Sorry for the confusion!) – Greasy Lake, 1988

13. SteffPretty in Pink, 1986 (Those deconstructed linen suits and loafers, no socks)

17. GrahamSex, Lies and Videotape, 1989 (his most normal name for arguably the weirdest guy in the bunch)

18. DeforrestThe Rachel Papers, 1989

20. RipLess Than Zero, 1987

As for those trending baby names, most of them came courtesy of The Huffington Post. But there are three baseball-loving boys in North Carolina who deserve a mention:

Price, Grey and Preston (future attorneys-at-law) – you rock!


A New Chapter

Hi rockmom friends,

In case you haven’t come across any of my shameless self-promoting tweets and posts, I’ve started writing for a site called Expat Living Hong Kong, sister site to Expat Living Singapore. You can read my first post here. The super coolio thing is I’m getting paid. Crazy, I know!

No way, no tan, no how! (photo used with kind permission of Philipp Engelhorn)

No way, no tan, no how! (photo used with kind permission of Philipp Engelhorn)

Without mentioning any names, I’ve done the whole ‘write for exposure’ thing and found that I got about as much exposure as a mainland woman wearing a face-kini.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ungrateful for the experience but after 5+ years of rockmom writing I’m ready for the big leagues. Or at least a decent AAA team in a mid-sized market.

The other nice thing, aside from the do$h, is that I’ll be writing about the same range of topics I’ve covered here at rockmom: raising kids, living in Hong Kong, raising kids in Hong Kong (a very special kind of pressure cooker). Expat Living might not want my post about the latest Father John Misty album – dammit! – but I’ll learn to live with that. In fact I’ll continue to post here, and not just about the oh-so-fabulous work I’m doing elsewhere. Fear not, this site isn’t going to turn in to some platform-building, writer’s promo machine, even if I knew how to do that!

Many moons ago, I started this blog to write about music but then it kind of morphed in to a place where I can clear my head of inane theories about parenting and education and why the next generation has been unable to produce a David Lee Roth. But what’s been most gratifying is realizing there are other people out there (and not just my sister) who worry as much as I do about the pressure on children in today’s world AND the future of One Direction!

So I thank you, dear readers, as always for your support. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy therockmom and I hope you’ll feel that this is where you can connect with like-minded individuals and be yourself – much like these women:

Quindao Beach 1.

Everybody’s Free (not) To Wear Sunscreen (Sorry! Couldn’t resist. Photo used with kind permission of Philipp Engelhorn)

Have a wonderful summer – try the beach! See you in August!

All photos courtesy of the fantastic photographer, Philipp Engelhorn, from his series Qingdao Beach No 1.

Philipp lives in Hong Kong – right on! – and his work has appeared in publications around the globe. Find him at:

Tales From the Bus Stop

9461265570_27b294b412_mA few years ago, when we lived in a different neighborhood and my kids took the bus to primary school, I was privy to the complicated world of the domestic helper. At this time, I was working from home, so I could meet my girls off the bus every afternoon. I was often the only mom there – me and our dog and about ten helpers waiting for the kids to come home.

One helper – let’s call her Riza – was particularly friendly and chatty. She liked to tell me what was going on in the lives of these women, and as you can imagine it was not pretty.

I heard about the young woman whose male boss liked to call her over for a chat while he sat on the toilet. I heard about the older woman hired out of a dirt poor village in India who could speak no English or Chinese and who was being paid about ¼ of what Hong Kong law mandated. She had no idea she was being underpaid until the other helpers told her. I heard that a normal working day – normal, I tell you – could last from 6am to midnight. Eighteen hours a day for six, sometimes seven, days per week. One woman in our building, who worked for a married couple with no children, was not allowed to take a holiday because: who would walk the dog?

The stories I heard were not as terrible as the plight of Erwiana, the Indonesian maid who was abused and starved by her employer. (You can read about her here.) But they all go to the heart of the matter, which is a lack of dignity for these women and the work they do.

On the other side of the equation I’ve heard about helpers who steal from their employers, feign sickness on a weekly basis and feed cough syrup to healthy toddlers just so they’ll go to sleep easily at night. The most common scenario is the helper who borrows money from a loan shark and names her employer as collateral. Then when the helper skips town, it’s the employer who gets threatening phone calls and even knocks on the door from an enforcer demanding payment.

It’s a curious relationship – employer and helper – one that requires a huge amount of trust on both sides. We ask them to come in to our homes and care for our precious loved ones and they in turn can only hope we’ll treat them fairly, with respect. In Hong Kong, where adequate daycare for children and senior citizens doesn’t exist, families will continue to need domestic helpers. Can all of these households afford to pay a living wage? Probably not. But the two-working-parents household can’t survive otherwise. It’s that simple, and that complex.

There’s hope that the conviction of Erwiana’s employer will make a difference, that governments will do more to protect migrant workers from exploitation. The women waiting for the school buses of the world are counting on it.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & Those Guys119:

2014: The Year in not-so Random Thoughts

Hi everyone & Happy New Year.

For the last couple of years, I’ve put together compilations of random thoughts and personal favs, mostly about music and movies, as a way of looking back at the year that was. The lists were heavy on sarcasm and mockery of easy targets like Justin Bieber, Robin Thicke, Lana Del Rey and Kanye West.

This year, I started my list and was about to post when I got an email from my brother in Paris describing how his sons’ school had gone on lockdown because it was quite near the kosher supermarket (site of the hostage crisis that followed the Charlie Hedbo massacre). As soon as he’d heard the news he went down to wait at the barricades along with many other anxious parents. He said his boys were ‘fine and brave’ after they were allowed to leave school but also exhausted after the stress of the day.

So you’ll have to excuse me if I couldn’t find a reason to post an inconsequential list about big names and my little problems with them. I know we all need humor in our lives and sure, it’s fun to mock the pompous and famous – witness three hours of Golden Globe tweets – but somehow this week I feel the need to put aside the snark.

We fly on airplanes, we shop for groceries, we send our kids to school, we pick up coffees on our way to work. We do all these things, every day. Yet sometimes, some of us – whether we live in Sydney or Paris or Peshawar – don’t make it home.

And so as I count my blessings and try not to live in fear in a frightening world, I think about why I started this blog in the first place: to connect with friends and family via music. Not only because many of the people I love are far away but because music has always been my source – of solace, energy, connection, transcendence.

Some people might think music is unimportant or frivolous, but I hope you, dear reader, can appreciate where I’m coming from. I’ll finish with the following playlist of fifteen songs that brought me joy and grooviness and something close to a state of grace in 2014.

May 2015 bring you love, peace and good music.

From Chicago to China and Back Again: Susan Blumberg-Kason

GCW CoverNot long ago I had the pleasure to meet Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of the recently-published memoir Good Chinese Wife. The book is a very honest and brave look at Susan’s difficult marriage to a charismatic mainland scholar and musician, Cai. They met in Hong Kong, spent time in China and settled in San Francisco, where their baby boy was born. After the marriage fell apart, Susan returned with her son to her hometown, Chicago. She eventually remarried and had two more children before writing Good Chinese Wife. I found Susan’s writing completely compelling but also very, very personal. It takes guts (!!) to write so candidly. After I heard her speak about the book’s journey, which is an interesting story in itself, I asked if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for therockmom, about writing, family and of course music!

Q: Let’s start with the memoir, which is a great read! Full of drama and emotion but not in a woe-is-me kind of way. When you were writing was it difficult to sort of re-experience your history or were you able to write in a more detached way? I imagine you’d almost have to look at yourself as a character, that you’d need that distance, to make the narrative work.

A: Thank you for the kind words about the book! If I had written it right after my divorce, it would have been an angry, finger-pointing story full of rage. But since I started writing it eight years after that marriage ended, I had enough distance between those events and the new life I had created for myself. I was able to distance myself from the person I was during the years of Good Chinese Wife. And once I started working with independent editors, and later my agent and editor at my publishing house, the book became a collaborative effort and I certainly looked at myself as a character. We would talk about me in the third person as if I was a character!

Q: I’m always curious as to how writers’ families react to their work. You spoke about it a bit at your book talk, but I’m wondering: did you get your current husband to read any early drafts? What did your children think when they saw the actual book, I mean it’s such a fun thing, right? Seeing your name on a book!

A: My husband Tom hasn’t read the book yet! I was worried about family members reading early drafts because I was worried they would try to influence what I wrote (ie, keep me from revealing so much). I guess I didn’t need to worry about that with Tom! He has been so supportive and pushes my book at work like it’s a drug, then proudly reports back to me when a colleague has read and liked it. Now he’s trying to muster up Amazon reviews. Tom at first said he would read it, but I have the feeling he doesn’t care to go back to that part of my life. He knows about the events in the book, and I think that’s good enough for him! As for my kids, my son Jake is sixteen and hasn’t read it, but I’ve placed it on a bookshelf and told him he’s welcome to it anytime. Some of his friends have read it, though. My two younger kids are too young to read it, but they were so excited when my review copies arrived in the mail. We all held a copy like it was a new baby. I also brought my little ones to a bookstore to see it on the shelves for the first time, and that was super thrilling, too.

Q: Going back to the story of you and Cai, you met him in the world of academia, but you know after I’d finished the book I found myself thinking that being married to him sounded a lot like being married to a rock musician! The hours, the lifestyle, the – dare I say – ego. Has anyone ever suggested that before? What are your thoughts?

A: No one ever compared it to being married to a rock star, but Cai himself warned me—after we married. The first time he stayed out until the early hours of the morning, he was recording a CD for a businessman in Singapore with a group of musicians at the Wuhan Conservatory of Music. When he returned home the next morning, he shrugged and said it’s difficult being married to an ethnomusicologist. As it turns out, he wasn’t kidding! His late nights out in California were all music-related outings with friends he had met in the Chinese music community there. I don’t think that lifestyle is impossible for a spouse, but the person who keeps those late hours needs to make sure he (or she) makes up for it when he’s home!

Headshot from Hong Kong 3

Susan stopped in Hong Kong recently for the release of both Good Chinese Wife & the How Does One Dress To Buy Dragonfruit anthology.

Q: You mentioned that while you and Cai were together, you spent a lot of time around Chinese music and musicians. What’s your take on classical Chinese music? It seems to be an acquired taste!

A: I like Chinese classical music! I’m certainly not an expert in it, but I like the different instruments and the sad melodies. Often when we went out with his friends in China to karaoke, they would sing revolutionary songs, which I thought was funny in a kitschy way. I even learned some of them. I know that’s not classical music, but that’s what Cai’s generation grew up on and what they were most familiar with at that time.

Q: You’ve also said that you actually started to learn to play the erhu with Cai – how difficult was that? Are you a musical person? Do you play any other instruments?

A: I am not a musical person, although I took piano lessons for eight years when I was young and can still read music. The erhu was kind of a fluke. I had signed up for a Japanese language class in graduate school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, but the class was taught in Cantonese. So I had to drop it because I only speak a smattering of Cantonese. A friend from Japan was taking erhu lessons at the University, which I thought sounded very cool. So I signed up, too. It was a lot of fun, and Cai tutored me in erhu after we first met. After we got engaged, he stopped. My class was only a semester-long and I didn’t continue. At the end of the course, I could play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! I still have the erhu I bought in Hong Kong twenty years ago.

Q: What kind of music did you listen to as a teenager? What artists/bands had the most impact on you growing up?

A: I grew up in the seventies and eighties, so the first music I listened to on the radio was disco. This was the time of Saturday Night Fever and Grease, so the Bee Gees were my favorite when I was eight and nine. I also liked classic rock like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, which are my favorite bands to this day. But the ones that had the most impact on me growing up were The Cure, The Clash, Violent Femmes, and anything that would fit in a John Hughes movie. I not only watched his films religiously, but also grew up in the area where they were filmed. Also, my uncle was in a ska band in the ’80s, so I grew up on that. My parents would take us to all-ages concerts at venues that usually didn’t allow kids under 18. My uncle’s band played with Peter Tosh and The English Beat, so it was pretty cool to have a successful musician in the family.

Q: The English Beat! That is so cool. Are you sharing any music with your kids these days? You have a teenager plus younger children, right? Are there any artists that everyone can agree on – or is everyone’s tastes different?

A: We listen to music mainly when we’re in the car. I’m a chronic station-flipper, so I turn the dial until I find a song I like. My little ones are familiar with Top 40 songs, whereas Jake, my teenager, has eclectic taste. My husband Tom and I have taken Jake to see Bon Jovi, the Rolling Stones, and Lady Gaga! That’s kind of a good representation of what we listen to in the car, and all three kids are fine with that. Jake plays trumpet in his school’s marching band, jazz band, and orchestra. I’m sure he gets his musical abilities from his father!

Q: So, since you’re from Chicago, I’ve got to ask about Windy City music, which is so varied and unique: blues, house, indie rock, etc. Is there one band or singer that you would say is the quintessential sound of Chicago?

A: I would have to say that Buddy Guy is the quintessential sound of Chicago. He has a blues club not too far from where I used to live in the city, before I moved to the suburbs. Buddy Guy’s Legends attracts both locals and tourists. Back before we had a smoking ban, he used to perform several smoke-free concerts every January. Those were always popular. Now Legends has a new venue, with great food, and it’s all smoke-free now. When I meet people new to Chicago or visiting for the first time, I always recommend a concert at Buddy Guy’s, especially if he’s performing.

Thank you Susan for taking the time to chat with therockmom!

For more information, please check out:

Susan’s website

Susan on Twitter

Monday Morning Music: Trampled by Turtles

YO’s turtles died.

Did I jinx them? I feel bad because I’m pretty sure it was our recent apathy that killed them. One passed away a week ago and the other yesterday. YO said the first one’s head exploded – I wasn’t here at the time thankfully, so cannot confirm or deny that report. The other one just simply closed its eyes and stopped moving. Hubs took care of the funeral arrangements, which greatly improved the general odor in YO’s room. All that’s left is an empty tank, and our memories.

I’m writing about this not with glee or delight (well, maybe some relief) but still with that anger at the fact YO was given those damn poor things in the first place – when she was three years old. Three years old! We didn’t ask for them, we didn’t want them, but now their deaths have made YO cry. And as always, when it comes to your kids you think: we could have done more. The guilt is just automatic, part of your parental DNA.

All I can say is we, actually Hubs, kept them alive for over eight years, which is about a quarter of a terrapin’s natural life span. I don’t know if they would have lived longer if we’d secretly released them in to a reservoir or park pond. Maybe. We didn’t know they were sick, but with a reptile’s slow metabolism, an illness wouldn’t have been easy to spot anyway. Back when we first got them, I packed them in to the car and drove up to Tai Wai (near Sha Tin) to a specialist vet to get them checked out. I told him about the tank we’d bought and what we were doing to care for them – sunny spot, heat lamp, rocks to climb on, etc. He was pleased and said what he usually sees is people keeping their turtles in a bucket under the bathroom sink. So maybe, just a little maybe, I can say they had an okay life. I wanted to google ‘Do turtles feel pain’ but was afraid to.

Instead I searched Spotify for ‘turtle’ and found this group called Trampled by Turtles. They’re from Duluth, Minnesota and play progressive bluegrass. Their song ‘Wild Animals’ is beautiful and haunting and feels about right for the occasion.

Scotty and Tommy, RIP. A pet is for life, so please think before you buy.

Keep wild animals wild.


After five years of posts – music-related, parenting-related, Hong Kong-related, comedic, serious, somewhere in between – my most-read post remains this one. It didn’t require any research or interviews, no field work, no iTunes purchases. Just over 500 words about how I spent an afternoon at my girls’ school. In terms of page views, it’s received almost twice as many as the next most popular read, American Village Idiot: Green Day in Hong Kong.
I don’t know why this post touched a chord with readers, but it did. I suppose that’s what we’re all looking for when we write – that satisfying moment when we put in to words what we’re feeling and we find out others feel the same.
Thanks for looking back with me this week and thanks always for your support. Have a good weekend!

The Serious Business of Talent Shows

It was one of those lump in your throat moments. A flashback to my younger self and a bittersweet flash forward of a young girl growing up in front of my eyes.

It was my daughter’s talent show.

The Year 5 and 6 talent show was not meant for parents. But I happened to be at school that day helping in my younger daughter’s class, so I asked my older daughter’s teacher if I could quietly perch in a corner of the hall for the show.

The group of five girls was dancing to (oh, irony) Lady Gaga’s ‘Just Dance’. One of the girls, who goes to a hip-hop class, had choreographed the routine. There was considerable back and forth about costumes: black t-shirts, jean shorts check. Hair up, hair down? Baseball caps on or off?

They had discussed and rehearsed during lunchtimes and breaks. We parents had nothing to do with this performance at all. We didn’t even have to arrange carpools!

When I told my daughter I might pop in to watch she didn’t seem to mind. When I asked her if I could bring along a big poster a la American Idol and yell out some whoop-whoops, she screamed and pummeled me with her fists.

‘What?’ I asked, ‘You don’t want me to embarrass you?’

She screamed louder. I promised to behave.

The show began with a group of Y6 girls sort of dancing, not quite karaoke’ing, but mouthing the words to ‘Fireflies’ by Ocean Eyes. Their teacher sat near me, reminding her students in the audience to show ‘big smiles’ and ‘encouragement’ and clap for those courageous kids on stage.

The acts that followed – a tap dancing duo, a drum solo and a comedy skit (boys in crazy wigs, always good for a laugh) – revealed an earnestness and seriousness of purpose that can still surprise me. Maybe the joy is in finishing?

It was now the Ladies GaGa’s turn. My daughter and the choreographer took the front two spots while the other three (taller) girls stood behind. Turns out the back three didn’t know the routine quite as well, and they spent a good portion of the dance giggling at each other and trying to catch up.

But those front two? Man, they owned it.

They sang along and danced with confidence, wonderfully free and unembarrassed. The steps were simple hip-hop moves – neither raunchy nor suggestive – and everyone clapped when it was over.

My daughter is changing so much. I turn around and her new self appears before me, taller than yesterday and oh so competent.

Many years ago, my friend, Christine Chapa, and I danced to “Night Fever’ at our elementary school talent show. We wore pink shorts and t-shirts with our names ironed on the back. I remember walking home from school that day under a brilliant blue sky. I still had my costume on, and I felt like a fluffy white cloud up there.

At my daughter’s show, I felt the same high. I also felt my eyes moisten, and I wondered why I get so emotional.

But right at the end, I managed a slightly muffled whoo-hoo!

The Trouble With Turtles

A Star Trek fan fiction that’s maybe a little, you know, fan fiction


CAPTAIN ‘HUBS’ T. KIRK: Spockmom, our current course is taking us to an outpost that calls itself ‘Asia’s world city’. Not much ambition beyond its own planet. What do we know of this quadrant?

SPOCKMOM: Very little. What we do know is bizarre. Despite extremely crowded conditions, hot, humid weather and a lack of good Tex-Mex, the population – a mixture of locals, foreigners and mainland shoppers – co-exists relatively peacefully.

KIRK: Relatively? Anything else I should be aware of?

SPOCKMOM: Governed by a distant, suppressive regime. Political frustration tends to flair when young tourists eat or urinate on the MTR. Democracy, like bladder control, looks increasingly problematic.

KIRK: Prospects for cooperation?

SPOCKMOM: Inconclusive.

UMYRNA: Captain, I’m picking up an island substation distress call. Priority fai-de-la?

KIRK: Fai-de-what?

SPOCKMOM: Translated as, roughly speaking: move your butt.

KIRK: Sounds a bit rude, don’t you think?

SPOCKMOM: The inhabitants are not known for their manners or patience.

KIRK: Prepare the transporter room.

Captain’s log, Stardate 11409.09 Island substation POK4LAM has issued a priority one distress call. We are set at warp speed six and assuming Klingons. We’re going in armed for battle.

I'm your new crew member, honest!

I’m your new crew member, honest!



KIRK: Turtles! They signaled for help because of turtles!

SPOCKMOM: Trachemys scripta elegans also known as the red-eared slider. The most commonly traded turtle in this part of the galaxy.

KIRK: What seems to be the trouble?

SPOCKMOM: A most curious situation. Two North American terrapins – an invasive species that carries the disease salmonella and has a life expectancy of some 30 years – were given to a three-year-old as a birthday gift.

KIRK: A birthday gift? For a toddler? Who would do such a thing?

SPOCKMOM: Apparently this is typical behaviour on planet Hong Kong. Illogical, to say the least.

KIRK: I’m not allowing turtles on my ship. Remember the tribbles?

SPOCKMOM: Yes, indeed. And the creatures before us now aren’t even cuddly.

KIRK: Spockmom, did you just say ‘cuddly’?

SPOCKMOM: I did, Captain, Hubs…


KIRK: It’s not that kind of fan fiction, Spockmom.


KIRK: We have orders.


SPOCKMOM: According to my readings, the terrapins, while healthy, are unlikely to reproduce. They’ve been living in a small tank for some eight years, and the daughter, now eleven, has grown bored with them. It’s clear that…

KIRK: They need a new home.

SPOCKMOM: A larger living space would certainly improve the animals’ physical and mental health as well as the overall well-being of the parents looking after them.

KIRK: This planet looks green and lush. Let’s release them in to the nearest body of fresh water.

Don't even think about it.

And yet…

SPOCKMOM: Illegal, Captain. And rehoming to larger quarters is not an option either. The local reptile rescue society has informed us of 100 other abandoned animals currently in the queue before these two.

KIRK: 100?!? This is madness.

SPOCK: One could say that. In fact, the mother just did.

KIRK: I did notice a certain frustration emanating from her, not to mention the small bald patches near her temple.


KIRK: Mister Scott.

SCOTTY (on board the Enterprise): Aye, sir.

KIRK: I want the latest status report on the reptilian rehoming wait list. What are our chances?

SCOTTY: Cap’n, I’ve tried everything – that queue won’t budge!


KIRK: We’ve done what we can, Spockmom. Let’s blow this popsicle stand.

Someone obviously didn't get the Federation directive.

Someone obviously didn’t get the Federation Directive.

SPOCKMOM: Blow, Captain?

KIRK: Not now. I mean, let’s get out of here.

SPOCKMOM: The mother seems to be blocking the exit. I detect a weapon, a device invented by the Native American tribes of…

KIRK: That’s a hockey stick. Watch out!


KIRK: What’s she saying? I can’t decipher her screaming.

SPOCKMOM: She says she cannot let us leave without the turtles. She must know that transporting animals from one planet to another is a Federation offense.

KIRK: She’s not listening to reason! That’s it: set phasers to stun. Ma’am, we don’t want to hurt you.


SPOCKMOM: If she touches you with the terrapins you must wash your hands immediately.

KIRK: By the far reaches of the galaxy, I’ll never let that happen!


KIRK: Ma’am, I know a shifty smuggler, deals in tribbles. You won’t want to know what he does with them, but I’m sure he’ll take your turtles. Spockmom, head for the door! She’s closing in!

SPOCKMOM: Not without you.


KIRK: Scotty, beam us up! Beam us up!



SPOCKMOM: Are you hurt?

KIRK: I’m fine. But Spockmom, do I detect concern?

SPOCKMOM: Captain, it is a logical reaction after battling a half-mad mother who finds she is unable to offload two growing terrapins.

KIRK: Turtles she never even asked for. I’m afraid we were of no help to her whatsoever. Tell me, Spockmom, how could this happen?

SPOCKMOM: I am not privy to the inexplicable nuances of human gift giving. I see no practical use for reptiles kept as pets.

KIRK: They’re not even cute.

SPOCKMOM: Captain – Hubs – did you say ‘cute’?


KIRK: I suggest we continue this conversation in quarters.



Beam me up_text

All photos by therockmom.

Is Bad Parenting the New Adultery?

Hey Anna! Yeah you, Anna Karenina, lying pale and stricken on the train tracks. You think you’ve got it bad? You think it’s difficult being a woman without honor in Imperial Russia? So they call you improper, scandalous, an insult to decency. So they kick you out of your home, prevent you from seeing your child, shun you at the opera.

Kids’ stuff!

Try being a parent in the private school world of 21st century Hong Kong. Try being a parent of the kid who’s been ‘asked to leave’ school because of some stupidly bad, bad decision. And try being a friend of that parent as the whole community weighs in with judgments and recriminations and told-you-so’s.

It’s exhausting.

photo courtesy of SabrinaDan photo (

photo courtesy of SabrinaDan photo (

For months now, I’ve been pondering how to write about this topic. Should I use humor, should I be ‘angry mom’, or should I just lay it all out there and ask you, dear reader: what do you think? And then I watched the recent Anna Karenina and I thought, yeah! There’s the parallel. Mistakes made, but few willing to empathize or forgive. In the world of mothers with too much free time and too many worries about their children’s futures, we talk and talk about other people and their kids, measuring and comparing and ultimately weighing them up as good or bad influences.

Do we believe, as Karenin did, that ‘sin has a price’?

See, here’s the story: A friend’s son is now at boarding school because of a huge mistake he made. There’s no doubt he screwed up. And there’s no doubt he wasn’t the only one involved, but he was the one who got caught. And for that he’s had to face the consequences. This happened a little over a year ago, and seemingly the dust had settled. Or so I thought, until I was approached a few months back by another friend, who expressed her ‘concern’ about our continuing relationship with this family. She said ‘some mothers were talking’, and she thought I should know.

She told me these things, I didn’t know how to respond, and suddenly, like that – poof – my five-year friendship with this concerned woman was history. She hasn’t spoken to me since.

It was an odd, empty feeling. Like falling in your dreams and waking up with a start. Part of me was angry, really angry, that some women – women I didn’t even know – were talking about me, gossiping about my child’s social life! So high school, right? And no doubt 100 times worse for the family in question. Part of me was hurt, for being shunned, for being judged. But another part of me felt confused and unsure and I asked myself: did I really put my child in harm’s way? Are we talking about bad influences here?

It was then that I realized nothing feels worse to a mom than sitting next to another mom who says emphatically, assuredly, with conviction, ‘I would never allow my child to do that!’ When the small voice inside you is responding, ‘Well, actually, I just did.’

Did I dodge a bullet or take one in the back? I’m still not sure.

Some parents are strict, some parents aren’t. One Dad’s idea of youthful experimentation is another Dad’s road to ruin. Some kids rebel at structure, some kids thrive with boundaries. You say Ted’s about a guy and a funny bear, I say it’s a foul-mouthed piece of cr*p. And yet the bottom line is – all things being equal when it comes to money, shelter, education, a stable household – you need a crystal ball to know if you got it right as a parent. Not to be facetious here, but do you think George W. Bush would have been president if there had been camera phones and Facebook when he was in college? The guy partied, hard.

In Hong Kong’s expat community we often become friends with the parents of our kids’ friends. Some relationships last, some end as soon as one family moves on to their next posting. And sometimes we have to decide if loyalty to our friends conflicts with our responsibilities as parents. While our hearts tell us to be Kitty, loving and accepting, our minds (our anxious, parental brains) twist us like Countess Ivanova, critical and disapproving. And we ask ourselves: do we want our kids to see us sticking by our pals in tough times, even if we disagree with the decisions they’re making as parents? We’re not in college anymore. Back then we could live with wild behavior in our friends (we were probably joining in), but it was conduct that we’d never accept in the mother who shares carpool duties with us.

After my encounter with the concerned mothers of HK, I began to imagine myself as Princess Myagkaya (minus the flawless bone structure and pale skin), reaching out to take Anna’s hand at the opera, to show her some kindness. I wondered if the Princess faced any repercussions after her show of support for a fallen woman. I wondered if she ever changed her mind about Anna. Maybe she thought Anna was a bad mom after all. Maybe she knew Anna loved her son dearly, despite the affair. Maybe she thought, I’m sorry Anna’s dead but I could never have allowed my child to have a playdate with her child.

You understand, don’t you?


For this post, I’d like to acknowledge a couple of articles that helped me find my focus:

*Amy Gray is a writer, mom, Australian – a person with good ideas. Find her at:

Guest Blogger: YO’s Perfect House

YO's dream

For those who’ve been reading therockmom for a while, you know that I try to write something different than the usual proud mom, naval-gazing kind of blog. Music is my main interest, but as it turns out, my parenting posts are always my most popular reads. However, I don’t know about you, but I really don’t need or want to read about toilet training or first words or fussy eaters. We’re years beyond that anyway.

I also don’t want to put my kids on show all the time, and I figure it makes more sense to make fun of myself and my foibles as a parent instead of oversharing about my girls. After all, it’s not their choice that I write about being a mom.

But today I’m going to make an exception and share YO’s drawing of her perfect house, which is just so wonderful and funny and precious. We should all live in a place like this! Plenty of food and play areas, and two escape routes, just in case. I especially like the generous space she’s allotted for the massage room – right next to the ‘woreout’ area, which is I guess where you go after you’ve had a tough day. I’m hoping that’s where the wine fridge and magazines will be. And of course being a Hong Kong kid, she’s got room for servant quarters, natch.

We all need to dream. What’s yours?