This month’s That Mama is multi-tasking master Kara Arnaudy, Founder of the fantastic Facebook community Hong Kong Moms, Relocation Consultant at Brookfield, former Investment Banker and mum to four kids. We chat to Kara about HK Moms, top tips for a smooth move and the scoop on the infamous ‘Cake-Gate’!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your family and your career?
I was born and raised in the US where I was a swimmer at university. I began my career in investment banking in New York City and London. Wanting a change, I moved to California to work for two non-profit organisations. I moved to Tokyo with my husband for his job. After one year, he was transferred to Hong Kong where I joined Citadel (the US hedge fund). I took some time off to have four children who are now 1, 4, 6 and 8.
Can you talk us through your career pre and post babies? How did you get back into the swing of things after having children?
I was very ambitious at school and never expected to have four children! I was sold the ‘you can have it all theory’ so it was disappointing to discover that a career in finance did not pair well with young children and a travelling husband! In retrospect, it was a blessing though and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to spend that time at home. But, it was not easy to find a flexible job after seven years out of the working world! I just went back to work last year when I joined Brookfield as a Relocation Consultant. After ten years in Hong Kong (and having moved five times within Hong Kong), I thought my Hong Kong experience could be put to good use helping others get settled here!
How do you balance work and motherhood?
One day at a time!
Do you have any tips for other working mamas in Hong Kong?
I won’t venture to say that I have any magic tricks. I’m new at this after taking a lot of time off and still learning the ropes. The only thing I can say is that my children seem to appreciate me more when I am around so that makes being away easier to stomach.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tips and tricks?
Lists. Lots of them. They keep me focused and give me a sense of accomplishment (false or otherwise) when I can cross something off! I will also scan through HK Moms and make a note of things that I’m sure I will need to know someday!
What’s your favourite thing to do with your kids in Hong Kong?
We love to walk from our house in Chung Hom Kok down “snake alley” (at the top of Headland Road) to Repulse Bay. We will get a coffee at The Coffee Academics and croissants from Classified while watching the kids play on the playground. We have yet to convince the kids that walking back uphill would be fun so we take a taxi home!
Favourite date night restaurant?
The early-bird special at Cafe Grey is hands down my favourite date night. It’s great value for the consistently delicious food. I would go there for the tray of dark chocolates at the end of the meal for that reason alone! And, naturally, I learned about it from none other than a fellow HK Mom.
Any advice for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Stay in Hong Kong as long as possible! We don’t fight about leaving socks on the floor or who emptied the dishwasher last and that goes a long way in keeping romance in a relationship when you have four children!
What was your own Hong Kong relocation experience like? What advice would you give to other mamas relocating?
We relocated to Hong Kong from Tokyo ten years ago and it was a bumpy landing. I didn’t know anyone in Hong Kong and I was working full time. I would zip out at lunch time to try to madly dash through my errands – only to get frustrated that I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I wish I could go back and do it over again with the help from HK Moms!
What made you start the group Hong Kong Moms on Facebook? Did you ever expect it to become such a famous resource?
Hong Kong is a difficult place to navigate – finding something simple can take hours and require going from place to place! It occurred to me that there must be a more efficient way to share information and help each other out. But, I never expected it to grow this large! I remember thinking “wow” when it hit 500 members and now it is over 15,000 strong!
How has the Hong Kong Moms group changed how you think about mums in Hong Kong?
There are so many examples of ways HK Moms have helped each other. I am awed by the time people spend answering questions and helping others in a genuine pay-it-forward kind of way. It has become not only a ‘go-to’ resource for all kinds of questions but also a source of emotional support and community. It is a place where you feel like you are not alone tackling the daily challenges of parenting, working and life in Hong Kong. There have been spin-off groups in London, etc. but they don’t seem to have had the same impact in those areas. I should also mention that Hong Kong Moms has diversified and includes dads and people living in Hong Kong without children. There is so much collective wisdom in the group that is helpful for any English-speaking person in Hong Kong. I am grateful for all of the strong, smart, opinionated, passionate and helpful people that take a moment of their time to make a difference in someone else’s day.
What is the most remarkable thing that has happened to people because of the group?
There have been some very heart-warming stories. My favourite posts are about people going out of their way to reunite cameras, phones and loveys with their rightful owners. I was really touched when a camera with priceless pictures from a trip through India found its way back to the owners who lived in Australia! Also during the Occupy Central protests, the site became the main resource for English-speaking real-time news on the situation with constant updates on traffic, demonstrations and supplies needed.
What’s the funniest thing that’s been posted in the group?
Well, I am always surprised how personal some of the posts are about husbands, sex, bum rashes and helper dramas! There is clearly a guilty pleasure voyeuristic aspect to it that can be pretty entertaining. But with some of the posts, it is as if people forget that 14,500 people are reading it! But that is also the beauty of it – the virtual anonymity. Although, people often come up to me in the supermarket because they recognise me from HK Moms so it is not as anonymous as one might think!
Do you ever have to sit on your hands to stop yourself from weighing in on a hot topic?
Absolutely. But, I try to be more of an observer and only participate when I need to or when no one else has answered the question. And sometimes I really just want to say, “Come on, have you tried Google?”
Can you tell us a little bit about the famous ‘Battle of the Cake’, which saw you intervening for the first time?
“Cake-gate” ignited a blizzard of very impassioned comments. I thought the server was going to shut down! But the topic quickly devolved into some very hurtful comments. Ultimately we all have to remember that there are real people behind the profiles and that is when I need to step in. Although despite removing the post when I saw what was happening, someone still threatened to sue me for not removing it sooner!
How do you switch off and what do you do to relax?
I should take a walk or meditate or something but the truth is that I eat chocolate chips and watch House Hunters with a glass of wine! They always pick the wrong house!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening, it just stops you from enjoying the good.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
Don’t be tempted to embroider or personalise anything for your firstborn! I had onesies, bibs, blankets, backpacks and more all adorably labeled with “Owen” that became rather useless for Callum, Elodie and Amelia!
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Crafts. I’m really rubbish at all of those projects you see on Pinterest! Oh and French braiding. I was so excited to have a girl only to discover that doing her hair in the morning requires mad braiding skills that I do not possess! I need to go to French braiding remedial school or something.
My most humbling mama moment was…
Realising that children don’t follow the parenting books. I was such a smug pre-parent. I even sent my sister the Gina Ford sleep book when she complained about being tired with her first baby – as if that would solve everything if she just read the book! Before having children, I thought I could organise my way into being a good parent only to discover that parenting is a lot more about instinct and being present.
One thing I won’t sacrifice as a mama is…
Travelling. I was lucky to be in Tokyo and Hong Kong for a couple of years before I had children so we were able to go to some amazing places. Although our holidays are now a bit tamer, we still travel a lot as a family.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
If I’m doing it right… and wondering what I’m doing wrong… and wishing someone who has older kids could tell me what they wish they had done differently… and if my kids are over-scheduled… or not doing enough… and if I should stop worrying about all of this and go back to sleep.
Even when my children have families of their own, I’ll still…
Make them wear matching pyjamas on Christmas! (Or at least try to!).
My favourite moment of the day is…
When I put the kids on the school bus! They blow kisses to me from the bus window and then I do a happy dance. After the frenetic rush to get everyone ready for school, I finally have a chance to hear myself think, go to the gym and spend some time with my youngest.
I always feel saner after…
Running. It clears my head and those endorphins really do make you feel invincible (momentarily)!
I wish I had more time for…
Reading. I used to read a book each week but now I fall asleep after just a few pages!
Bedtime is always smoother when…
I’m not there! My helper says they go to sleep quickly and without a fuss. When I do bedtime, it seems to drag on for ages!