Rebirth and change come every spring, and this year beijingkids is blooming with new staff. We’ve said "see you around" to former Managing Editor, Aisling O’Brien, School Editor, Yvette Ferrari, and Shunyi Correspondent, Sally Wilson. We’ve introduced you to Jessica Suotmaa, the current School Editor, Anjana Kainikkara, the new Shunyi Correspondent, and Andrew Killeen, our interim Managing Editor. Lastly, meet Vanessa Jencks, the incoming Managing Editor, starting full time in July.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a writer! I wrote my first “book” when I was in second grade. My instructors, from second grade to college, frequently told me I would be one in the future. Ironically, their encouragement mixed with my fear of failure concerning this high-pressure dream delayed my pursuit until I turned twenty-five, (many serious writers start practicing in their teenage years). I explored every other interest until then, from fashion design to web design to education.
Do you have any siblings? If so, tell us their name(s) and a fun fact about them. Yes! I’m the second youngest in a line up of five.
The oldest, Jack: at fifteen years of age, my parents left him in charge while they slipped away for a rare date night at the beach. On their return, he greeted them at the door of the vacation rental with a white face. My mom asked, “What’s wrong with the baby?!” My dad asked, “What’s wrong with the chandelier?!” Jack was practicing his golf swing when everything came crashing down around him.
My only sister and goofy friend forever, Valerie: at sixteen, she was infamous in our family for doodling names and notes with big, fat Crayola markers, (nineties teen, anyone?). In the midst of our heated argument one day, she swiped a lime blue tip across my eight-year-old face. I grabbed the closest tube and slashed at her in revenge. Thirty minutes later, we ended the colorful duel with sides aching from laughter and neon lines all over us.
The middle one, Mark: at nine years old, he played a forbidden game of jump rope with the extra long dog rope. Of course, forbidden by my mom because of the danger of a running dog still attached to the leash. During one attempted jump, the rope caught at his shins. His forehead whacked the garden wall at the bricks’ edges. Lucky for him, the stitches healed fine; I no longer notice a scar.
The baby-turned-giant, Timothy: happily strapped into a car seat at two years old, he suddenly heard a large pop and hiss as the family van bounced to a stop. He then immediately heard my mom yell, “S***!” as she hit the steering wheel in anger. “What’s s***, Momma? What’s s***?” All five of us burst into laughter while he beamed from his unintended joke.
Who was your childhood hero?
This is so cliché and unfortunate, but Pocahontas as retold by Disney. Being mixed Cherokee, I thought the movie star Pocahontas was cool and mysterious. At 6, I frequently wore a bright blue shirt with her cartoon headshot plastered on the front. Someone even gifted me a “basket weaving” toy. Later as I learned more about the mixing of Native cultures and current Cherokee culture, the cartoon Pocahontas fell to the wayside.
What was your favorite childhood food? Has it changed as an adult?
My maternal grandfather often retold the story of how my one-year-old-self wanted to eat my all time favorite spaghetti sided by green beans from his plate, not from my own bowl. Although I’ve moved on from spaghetti to more sophisticated pastas and pesto, I still childishly snatch food from the plate of my husband, Bobby.
List up to three of your favorite childhood books:
• The Devil’s Arithmetic, I stumbled upon this book in the library at eight years old. I remember crying throughout the read and being utterly ruined when I finally closed the back cover.
• The Boxcar Children, although I lived in a house by the time I read the first of this popular series, the story resonated with my own family’s experiences with homelessness.
• Watership Down, this was an older childhood favorite passed down from my paternal grandmother. All of the competing personalities and microcosms fascinated me.
Tell us an embarrassing or little-known childhood anecdote about yourself.
I love to sleep and dream! On many summer mornings, I would stay in bed until noon to try to perpetuate dreaming, even after having gone to bed at eight the night before. I once slapped Jack across his face as he attempted to wake me from a deep sleep. I rolled back into the warmth of my pillow once his pestering stopped, but then awoke a couple of hours later with no recollection of the offense. From then on and regardless of room temperature, Valerie resorted to sheeting me for her own safety.
Tell us about your parents’ quirks and how they’ve shaped you.
My dad prefers any sort of drink other than water. He had to change as he started to age, but the habit already passed to me. I have to force myself to drink the stuff.
My mom loves mischievousness in most forms. We come from a long line of tricksters and wise guys.
What do you love most about being a mom?
I love what we do together that makes us close, a legacy to the fact that I married my best friend. We imagine we’re stealthy ninjas, scary wolves, ugly monsters and powerful giants to then chase each other around. We play extreme hide and seek, swim, and ride bikes together. Almost every night before bed, we read a book and a Bible passage to them, then we sing a song together. Even boring subway rides have become mostly enjoyable because we read or play travel games together. My daughter, 4, and son, 3, now consider us to be their best friends, and we want to preserve that friendship well past their teenage years. We’re delighted that they even consider each other best friends.
Vanessa Jencks has been working for beijingkids since March 2016. Born in Greenville, South Carolina, she moved to Beijing in 2013 with her husband, daughter and son. Prior, they lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, working with Nepali and Sudanese refugees. Vanessa enjoys stories, cultures, meal fellowships, parks and shopping. In her free time, she writes at vanessajencks.com.
Photos: Vanessa Jencks