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That Mama: Caroline Coombs

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Single mum to gorgeous Lily, Personal Trainer specialising in pre and post-natal fitness, founder of Single Mums Hong Kong and organiser of the increasingly popular Good As New Baby sales… we’re not quite sure where Caroline Coombs gets her energy from, but we’d like some, please! Here we meet this one-woman entrepreneurial whirlwind and she shares her motivational secrets, her fave spot for a skinny cappuccino and her fantasy date-night dinner spot with Sassy Mama!

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How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
To-do lists, to-do lists and more to-do lists! I have a terrible memory and if I don’t add tasks to either my to-do list or iPhone calendar immediately, I will forget! I make sure that every night before bed, I go through my list, update it with items completed, (there’s nothing quite like the satisfying feeling you get when you cross an item off your list!), make a fresh list for the next day and number each of the items in order of priority to be completed. This really does make for a much smoother day!

I wish I had more time for…
Dinners out with the girls as I quite literally have zero nightlife these days! I do actually aim to go out once a week, but the reality more like every 2 weeks. I still spend so much time with Lily during the day that night-time is the only time I get to do my work – either running my Bootcamp sessions or arranging Good As New Baby events! Being the sole breadwinner, work has to be the priority. One day when the businesses are fully established I know this will change, but right now, this is the way it has to be and I really don’t mind… for now, at least!

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I always feel saner after…
A good night’s sleep! These are very few and far between these days, as I don’t usually finish work until at least midnight! And then like clockwork, Lily will be up at around 3am for a bottle (a habit I need to break soon!) and up again at 6.30am for breakfast. I know I need to start getting to bed before 10pm, but it just never happens! I also always feel saner after a good personal workout and a Skype session with my bestie Emma in the UK!

Favourite activity with the kids in Hong Kong?
Lily and I are still building our network of mummy and baby mates, especially for weekend hang outs, but in the week our fave activities are play dates with the new buddies we have made at either the playroom in Happy Valley, Lily’s playgroups, or through meeting mums at my Good As New Baby events – one of the reasons I started the events in the first place!

We have yet to really enjoy the outdoors together as it’s either been raining for what seems to be forever, or it’s been just too hot to go out with a fair-skinned toddler! We head back to the UK for the summer so we can enjoy some outdoor activities, then when we’re back in Hong Kong and the humidity has dropped, I’m looking forward to some time at the beach, Ocean Park and Disneyland!

Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Hong Kong?
Classified in Happy Valley. I am slightly biased as we pretty much visit on a daily basis, as it is right near where we live, but I have to say we love the staff, and they love us… I say us but I mean Lily! They always make us feel welcome for a skinny cappuccino and Lily’s Babycino. They also do a delicious Mac & Cheese for kids, which Lily loves as her weekly treat, while I usually have their tasty chicken and avocado salad.

Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
Lily and I travelled a bit when she was 8 months old, where we spent 8 weeks in Thailand, where we stayed at ‘Cocoville’ in Chalong, Phuket.

Since being back in Hong Kong, I’ve been keen to meet other single parents and have created the Single Mums Hong Kong’ Facebook Page – not only for weekend playdates, but also with the aim of arranging little holidays. It would be great to get a few mums together for a trip somewhere in Asia that is both kid and adult-friendly! I’m sure that would be a treat for most of us, and more importantly, much needed!

Activity that I do not love to do but do it anyway because my kids love it…
We recently went to Messy Play Hong Kong for a friend’s birthday party, and until that point I really wasn’t aware that I can’t stand the feel of sticky/dirty/slimy stuff – either on me or on the floor! Of course, Lily absolutely loved it, so I can see that this is definitely going to be one of those activities that I will have to go to for the sake of my little one’s enjoyment…

Favourite special occasion restaurants?
I would love to go to Caprice in the Four Seasons and that I’m secretly hoping that one day a hot date will take me there! My favourite tried-and-tested restaurants are Sushi One, Bacar, Enoteca and Peking Garden for their mouth-watering chilli prawns and the best Peking duck in town! I also have the fondest memories of Cococabana in Deep Water Bay. It’s the perfect setting for a relaxing dinner catching up with close friends and enjoying a glass (or two!) of Prosecco whilst watching a beautiful sunset over Hong Kong’s picturesque ocean and mountainous scenery.

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Can you talk us through your career pre and post babies? How did you get back into the swing of things after having children?
For 12 years pre-Lily, I was in the Investment Banking industry in both the UK and in Hong Kong. With a ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude, I’d accepted it was unlikely I’d meet the man of my dreams or have a child of my own. One whirlwind romance later, it turned out I was expecting Lily! Although that relationship didn’t last, I always had faith in my belief that ‘everything happens for a reason’ and I was ecstatic at the thought of being a mum, even though I knew that I’d be going it alone. It also became apparent that the long working hours in Investment Banking would need to stop as soon as my baby arrived, and as such a new career path had to be chosen.

While on maternity leave, I completed a personal training course, specialising in pre and post-natal fitness. I knew there was a gap in the market in Hong Kong for this, and decided this was the career I was going to follow when we returned.

Aside from the training, being pregnant as a single mum in Hong Kong made me very aware of just how expensive it is to buy baby items, and I really felt that there was a lack of good quality used items available. I knew that if I felt like this, there must be others in who felt the same, and would benefit from the ‘good as new’ events as both shoppers and sellers if I set them up. This would also have the added benefit of helping me to network and socialise with new mums! When I returned to Hong Kong after having Lily in the UK, I put together a plan to get my business visa in place, and in March 2013 ‘Good As New Baby’ was born!

The events have gone so well that the ‘Good As New’ empire has expanded, with ‘Good As New Kids’ table sale events for older children’s items, and ‘Good As New Body’ outdoor training sessions for ladies only – either one-on-one, or group sessions. I’m really hoping that each of these new ventures will be a success, and that way I can make sure that I won’t have to return to banking!

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How has having kids changed the way you define work?
I have always been a hard worker and will always put my heart and soul into any project, as without the passion, success is limited – this is no different now that I’m a mum. If anything, failure is now not an option at all for me, and that is a pressure no banking job can ever match!

I enjoy every second of my multiple roles – as a mum to Lily; as a personal trainer helping new mums get back to their pre-pregnancy fitness levels; as co-creator of Single Mums and Dads Hong Kong, bringing together parents across Hong Kong; and as organiser of the Good As New Baby and Kids events, helping people to save money and make new friends.

Although doing all this on my own can sometimes be scary. I have faith that the amount of effort I put in to my businesses and to nurturing my daughter will all be worthwhile when Lily grows into an adorable and incredible young lady… well, let’s hope so!

Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and other working mamas in Hong Kong?
If you have a goal in life you want to achieve, plan for it properly then go for it! Stay positive, stay focused and do not give up… success doesn’t fall in your lap; you have to work for it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
You know your child better than anyone in the world. Do what you think is right and trust your instincts, rather than all the advice/tips/opinions you’ll receive elsewhere, and you can’t go wrong!

As a mama I wish I were better at…
Cooking! I am such a boring eater and have zero flair in the kitchen! Thank God for Annabel Karmel’s cookery books!


My most humbling mama moment was…
When I got my first proper cuddle from Lily. It was such an amazing feeling, and made me realise that all the hard work over those first 8 months had paid off! Even though I cuddle her all the time, when she reaches out to me at random moments, and says “hug”, I melt every time… there really is no feeling like it!

What’s your favourite family ritual?
I never miss Lily’s bedtime routine, no matter where I am, or what I’m doing. I’ve put Lily to bed every night of her life, and the thought of not doing it really upsets me! I recently had to ask my helper to keep Lily up as I was running 10 minutes late, and I literally ran home knowing that I only had a small window before meltdown time. I ran through the door to find that my helper had just put her to bed and was absolutely gutted! I opened the door a crack to see if she was still awake, when she spotted me, leapt up in her cot with a huge smile on her face, dancing a little jig with her arms outstretched! How could I not give her the biggest hug, get her up again, only to start the whole bedtime routine again 30 minutes later…

I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…
I sometimes wake up remembering those things I’d forgotten to add to my to-do list… but I admittedly also sometimes think about how I’d like to go on a date! Sad but true!

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Bedtime is always smoother when…
I’m not in a rush to get out the door. I’m sure she can sense that I’m going out and tries to make the guilt I’m already feeling even worse, by having meltdowns or point blank refusing to go to bed! My bedtime is always smoother when the flat is tidy and I’ve completed my list for the day! Both of these make me very happy!

Even when my child has a family of her own, I’ll still…
Cuddle her all the time, whether she likes it or not!

One thing I won’t sacrifice as a mama is…
Being me. As much as I like to think I haven’t changed, my lifestyle definitely has and my ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude of old is now more ‘work hard, play with Lily while I can’!  However I am a very sociable person, who loves to chat to people and loves to laugh on a night out. I have as much fun as I did back in the day… although nowadays I can safely say that I always remember every second of the night before when it comes to the next morning!

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My favourite moment of the day is…
When I go into Lily’s room first thing in the morning and she is as excited to see me as I am her. It quite literally puts me in a happy mood for the rest of the day!

Beautiful photos of Caroline and Lily courtesy of the very talented Elizabeth, at Lumo Photography. Check out the rest of our That Mama hall of fame here.

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