Fast and spurious
Hong Kong is famous for its fast pace of life. Before we know it, days, weeks, months and even years have hurtled by in a blur, leaving us musing: 'Wow, is it really May 2012 already? Where did all the time go?'
Having a child really hits the time-accelerator pedal. Before this, my wife and I prided ourselves on carefully planning our future, mostly our immediate future. Which restaurant, where to spend our next holiday and whether to stay in Hong Kong for Christmas or Lunar New Year were usually the heaviest decisions we took. With the recent addition of our daughter, Maggie, we now find ourselves broadsided by a whole slew of important ones.
The first decision shock arrived when a well-intentioned friend and mother of two toddlers advised me to enrol my baby at a kindergarten as soon as possible.
Here I am, a new, stay-home dad with a one-month-old child, struggling to cope with sleepless nights and nappies, and I'm already being advised to plan her schooling? My friend briskly brought me up to speed on how things worked in the city: the right playgroup leads to the right kindergarten. The right primary school ensures a place at the right secondary school. The right college is imperative to being accepted into the right university. The whole process seemed inextricably sewn together with an endless list of deadlines, all screaming for my diligent execution. Looming over the process was the evil spectre of non-compliance: a doomed future for my daughter.
My life lay clearly before me, and it was in the form of a child's competitive, educational road map. Time began speeding up, and my own timeline rapidly withered. According to some, from now until 2020 I will be working from a new rulebook. School application deadlines, entry exams and child interviews will take priority. Extended exotic holidays and other personal pet projects will be shelved - permanently. I have been buckled into the unstoppable Child Conveyor Belt and, for a late starter like me to the procreation business, by the time I reach the end it will be: 'Thank you for travelling on the one-way Child Express. Please take the next exit on your left and follow the signs marked 'pensioner'.'
From that point on, everywhere I turned, wide-eyed parents would excitedly recant the nightmares of trying to secure their children places in the right school-track and, therefore, ensure them a bright future. Living in the wrong catchment area, missing a registration window or giving a bad interview could have dire consequences. Staring into the abyss of these bad decisions left me feeling my time with my daughter was racing out of control. In the quiet moments while Maggie slept, I began to ponder this new path. Was it really possible that Maggie's life could be derailed by not placing her in the right kindergarten?
For my wife and me, this question could not remain unanswered. It also warranted a complete review of what had been presented to us thus far. The cause of my fears quickly became clear. Before Maggie's arrival, my wife and I had always been a solid team. Now it seemed there was an expectation for us to be relegated to a support team on an educational journey, pockmarked with uncertainty. This had to be wrong.
After much consideration, we decided that rather than lose sleep and watch our hair turn grey planning her future, we would concentrate our efforts on planning our future as a family. With the realisation that the three of us were on a life journey together as a team of equals, the pace of life gently returned to normal.
Now I no longer believe my daughter's life is racing on ahead. Where she goes to school is just one of the many important life decisions we'll face together as a family, and I refuse to let it cast a shadow over the special times we are having now watching her grow. Other parents may desire pole position for their kids, feeling the urge to launch them into the fast lane as soon as possible, or even run shoulder to shoulder with other Tiger Mums, but we won't. You'll find us together at the beach, savouring time as it slowly passes by.
Richard Scotford is the full-time father of baby Maggie