This week’s That Mama is schooling expert and mum of two, Ruth Benny. On a mission to demystify Hong Kong’s baffling education options for the rest of us, Ruth runs Topschools education placement and information service. This week, our regular Sassy Mama expert contributor fills us in on conquering organisational challenges, the activities she loves (and doesn’t love!) with the kids in tow, and where to satisfy curry cravings on a restricted diet right here in the ‘Kong.
How do you save time?
I delegate – a lot. I need good people around me who can almost second-guess me. I have my strengths but I know my weaknesses, and number one is ‘detail’ – I’m frightened by lots of data. So I don’t waste my time struggling with it.
What are your organisational tricks and tips?
I’m really not very organised! I rely on my iPhone calendar and get an email alert at 5am every morning. It’s not unusual for me to wake up, check it and realise I have something important to do that I’d forgotten about!
I always feel saner after…
A foot massage – I thought at one point I was almost addicted to them! I usually go to a little place around the corner in North Point – I get a foot massage, mani-pedi (with OPI!) and still end up with change from $400!
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Difficult! We recently had a date night… but it was the first one this year. My husband works a lot and travels too. If he’s been away for a few days, the reunion is always fun.
Favourite date-night restaurants?
We stick with what we like. I’m allergic to seafood and hubbie is a gluten-free vegetarian, making us nightmare dinner party guests! Because of our diet, we like Indian food and the best Indian restaurants are not the fancy ones – we go to our club and sometimes to Chungking Mansions (The Khyber Pass, Block E, 7/F, Chungking Mansions, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.).
Favourite activity with the kids in Hong Kong?
Hangin’ at the pool – the kids swim and run wild with their little posse and the adults relax and chat, swim a bit and eat a lot!
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Hong Kong?
I used to like Cafe Deco, Top Deck, Pizza Express and Dan Ryan’s, etc, but now my kids are 5 and 6 we can take them anywhere and they’ll sit still.
Can you talk us through your career pre and post babies? How did you get back into the swing of things after having children?
During the first year, I eased back into work with some part time working and consultancy. I was also lucky to have flexibility after the birth of my son. Basically, I did not – and could not – do the 10 basic weeks maternity leave and head straight back to full time work.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
I don’t remember! I’m not good at taking advice. I remember feeling terribly worried before I had my second that I wouldn’t love him as much as my first. Someone told me the old adage ‘you don’t divide your love; it multiplies’ and that’s stuck with me. Not that I’m thinking of having any more…
Do you have any tips for any other aspiring “mamapreneurs”?
Find a niche and test the market before launching. Get some good business advice, but ultimately go with your gut. Recognise your weaknesses and don’t try to do everything yourself. Put some money where your mouth is and invest in your fledgling business at the start. And enjoy… !
As a mum I wish I were better at…
Organising. I find it difficult to juggle their schedules, organise playdates, extracurricular activities, etc. Also, I’m not so good at just dropping everything to play with them; I wish I were better at that.
Activity that I do not love to do but do it anyway because my kids love it…
Sweating! We do a lot of outdoor stuff – the kids don’t seem to mind the heat, especially when they’re in the pool but I’m not fit and I find it all a bit hot and sticky. If I had my way, I’d trawl the malls!
I wish I had more time for…
Myself! I’d sleep, watch TV (and probably wonder what the point was of all this free time!)
My most humbling mama moment was…
The realisation that I was put on the earth to do this. Perhaps I can make a difference in other ways too, but probably not more so than in the lives of the two human beings I have been blessed to mother.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
In HK, it’s really important to start thinking about your child’s education ASAP – even before they are born! Some preschools and primary schools accept applications from birth, so get the birth certificate within the first few days and send in your applications.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
I sing a little song to each of my kids before they sleep. It’s a silly, little ditty I made up about how I love my “baby girl/boy” but they insist I sing it every night after prayers.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…
I actually don’t. I sleep well – just not enough!
Bedtime is always smoother when…
They are not overtired. The kids love reading and will ask for more and more time to read, but if we miss that window it can be hell!
How has having kids changed the way you define work?
I realise that work is not simply an exchange of time for money; it’s an investment in the future. This is what spurred me on to start my own business – the more I invest, the more rewards there are; not just for me but for my children.
Even when my child has a family of their own, I’ll still…
Be the best grandmother I can be! It’s hard to imagine…
One thing I won’t sacrifice as a mama is…
A few simple treats – some ‘me’ time, some treats and adult time.
My favourite moment of the day is…
Waking up. Usually both kids are in bed with us by then and my son, in particular, likes lots of cuddles.
What advice would you give a working mama in Hong Kong?
Employ the best domestic helper you can and rely on her! Find someone you can trust, give her lots of responsibility, independence and flexibility and don’t waste time checking up on her.
Beautiful photos of Ruth and her children courtesy of the talented Elizabeth at Lumo Photography, and you can check out the rest of our That Mama hall of fame here.