A winter spent juggling is worth it, for a summer of outdoor fun shared with family.
Since coming to China in 2008, I have returned to Canada every summer. When one kid came along in 2012 and then another in 2013, I returned first with a pregnant belly, then with six-month old baby in tow, then with toddler and new pregnant belly, and then with preschooler and a new baby against my chest. I felt a bit like a human reproduction clown pulling out an inexhaustible string of humans like a trick handkerchief.
Now that they’re both big enough to be running ahead of me through the airport corridors, the additional joy of purchasing full-price airline tickets to Canada is never something I’m thrilled about. But, it’s my own fault: I have created an expectation among family and friends to continue the annual habit and so here we are in the scrambling season as I anticipate the expenditure.
The thing is, I’m not a teacher. I don’t get paid for the summer months, but I’m happy to have designed my life in such a way that I don’t have to do much work when I’m back in my home country. I can juggle a freelance life in the colder months like a crazed circus lady, and this affords me the luxury of chaises longues and leisurely afternoon swims throughout most of July and August. In other words, I live summers like a teacher, and that’s probably because I was raised by two of them. I want to be resting and spending time with family. I want to be free. About the good things, we always tend to replicate our childhoods for our children in some fashion, don’t you think?
As a kid, I found it annoying having my parents around in the summer months. They would make us work with them in the gardens or on home renovations, or would be with us when we went camping. Of course, we were kids and couldn’t go camping alone, but I was personally offended that I never got to go to “summer camp.” I didn’t know then that summer camp was the answer for parents who still had to go to the office everyday. And while summer camp might have been fun, I’m not disappointed that I got to go fishing with my dad and make little birch bark canoes with my mom that my sister and I would race down campsite rivers and then transfer to suburban puddles when we returned to the city.
So, when I load my brood onto a plane and head back to my home country — kids now 3 and 5 — I revel in being able to show them a Canadian summer of outdoor sports, crafts, nature, and short trips. We visit many people in both cities and countryside, take long walks in woods, and play in the water in countless lakes, rivers, and swimming pools until my kids practically grow fins. They also experience eating outdoors and cooking on an open fire, even when we aren’t camping. The patchwork of environments that wrap around their summers is as colorful as any Chinese marketplace and it’s a joy to see them fit right in.
Canadian summer is a respite and this year will be no exception. In the end all the scrambling and juggling is worth it when I can experience a summer filled with sunshine in both the sky and on my children’s faces. There’s nothing more valuable.
Maybe this year, I’ll get out the unicycle that still lives in my parent’s garage. Yes, it’s mine. And yes, I can ride it. Or else, I could. I’m sure the kids will much prefer seeing their mommy do that kind of circus play!
About the Writer
Ember Swift is a Canadian musician and writer who has been living in Beijing since late 2008. She and her husband Guo Jian (国囝), who is also a musician, have a daughter called Echo (国如一) and a son called
Topaz or “Paz” (国世龙).
This article originally appeared on p 46 of beijingkids March Issue. Download a copy here.