Best 10 books of 2020

i.e. the best books I read in 2020, not the best books published last year. I read a lot, but given the year that it was, that comprised a good deal of comfort reading and reading for pleasure rather than erudition. I’m counting series under one heading so I can get more titles in here

  1. The first two books in Evie Dunmore’s excellent League of Extraordinary Women series, Bringing Down The Duke and A Rogue of One’s Own
  2. Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders. Mimi asked me what the book was about and I told her it’s a book in a book in a book, and she’s now obsessed with that idea.
  3. Nicci French’s Freida Klein series
  4. Elle Kennedy’s BriarU and Off Campus series
  5. Girl, Woman Other (Bernadine Evaristo)
  6. Convenience Store Woman (Sayaka Murata)
  7. Destination Wedding (Diksha Basu)
  8. Girls in White Dresses (Jennifer Close)
  9. The Ten-Year Nap, (Meg Wolitzer)
  10. Big Sky (the latest book in Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series, that I absolutely loved)

Honourable mentions

Famous people, Jeffrey Kuritzes
The Milkman, Anna Burns
The Luminaries, Eleanor Cald
The Dutch House, Ann Patchett (bonus: read this essay by Patchett on friendship and a bit about The Dutch House)
American Spy, Laura Wilkinson
Just realised 4 out of these 5 were books I read in March, when the horror of the pandemic was just becoming real (to the world; we were well aware of it in Hong Kong by end-January).

Raising atheists

Finally, finally, the kids are interested in reading the Bible. Nay, more than interested, they beg me to read it to them every night and for more chapters.

“What is sin?” Mimi asked today. And I thought, what a world away from my childhood that the very word has no meaning for them. They know right and wrong – this through reasoning not absolutes – but the idea that everyone is born sinful, as this Bible says, would I’d wager strike them as plain stupid.

Also, reading it all at one go like this, including the Old Testament, brings home to me how much was about land and property ownership and who will head the family and war, an impression I also got when reading Muezza and Baby Jaan.

We closed the good book, and then unable to bear Mimi handling it roughly – it already has a cellotaped spine – I shrieked, “Stop it, stop it! You have to treat the book with respect!”

Mimi gave me a weirded-out look: “You sound like one of those God believers.”

In my defence, while I am not one of those who requires books to be in pristine condition (mine always have food stains, since I read and eat by necessity), there is a limit to the abuse I can witness meted out on a book. But it is also true that I have my superstitions still. My children may be unbelievers, but I myself am a work in progress.

December reading list

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I’d Know You Anywhere, Laura Lippman
Decades after Eliza Benedict was kidnapped (and then rescued), she is contacted by her abductor who is on death row. He holds out the promise of closure.
One of my pet peeves is when people behave in irrational ways. Why would Eliza talk to Walter? Why? Okay she’s not thinking straight? Why would her husband support this? The motivation we are offered is that she wants to remain under the radar, and he promises to out her? But is there any evidence that that many people would care if he did? 
This novel got really gripping by the end and while I was totally expecting disaster, the conclusion was very satisfying.

Annabelle Thong, Imran Hashim

Singaporean chick lit in Paris. Intrigued? Read my thoughts here.

A Star is Bored: A Novel, Byron Lane

This fictionalised memoir is by Carrie Fischer (Princess Leia in Star Wars) former personal assistant. The takeaway: stars be batshit crazy but also genius. The assistant’s personal struggle raises it above mere celebrity voyeurism.

Twisted Twenty Six, Janet Evanovich
Yes, it’s the same old same old. But these books are like comfort food. A difference in this one is that Grandma Mazur seems to do a bit of philosophising. Not sure I like that

The Searcher, Tana French
Feels like one of those Wild West stories, only it’s in Ireland. Punctures the idea of the idyllic country retreat: So you thought you’d escape crime in the city? Think again.
I identified with the idea of losing one’s personal code and the disorientation that brings.

To Have and to Hoax, Martha Waters

I reread Evie Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke and A Rogue of One’s Own, and realised that there must be more of this sort of thing out there. There was, though not as satisfying. But I fell down a Regency-rabbit hole for a bit.

Read my thoughts on To Have and to Hoax here.

The Bridgerton series, Julia Quinn

I then read the first four of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton novels in quick succession. My thoughts here.

Blacktop Wasteland: A Novel, SA Cosby

This was a total drift from my Regency phase, and it’s to its credit that I could get into it. It’s a caper story with a black central character, and also an exposition of the roots of black crime.

Storming of the US Capitol vs Hong Kong Legislative Council

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I woke up yesterday to the news that a mob had stormed the US Capitol. My first thought was how the reactions (among my liberal circle at least) were likely to differ from the response to Hong Kong protesters’ storming of the Legislative Council on July 1, 2019, especially once I heard the Capitol police had fired shots.

Let me say here that I am supportive of the Hong Kong protesters’ aims and of the movement up to a point. I can stomach vandalising buildings, but my bottom line is beating up an innocent person or setting a man on fire.

The Hong Kong government has long maintained that no country would stand by and allow protesters to take over and vandalise the parliament building. The US has just proved its point, and China was quick to point this out.

Now, many of those in the US who supported the Hong Kong protesters seem incensed that the National Guard did not offer a more forceful response to the mob at the outset.

There was silence from the Hong Kong protest movement for a day, and then the think pieces started. An article in Quartz headlined “Why you can’t compare the storming of the US Capitol and Hong Kong’s legislature”, arguing that while the former was conducting by a mob trying to subvert democracy, the latter was by protesters calling for it and resisting the Communist Party.

This is true, but essentially this argument can be summarised as “the ends justify the means”. And that is basically the crux of the moral ambiguity (for me, at least) at the heart of the Hong Kong movement – do the ends justify any means? Is “the ends justify the means” even a morally valid argument? I tend to think it is, but there is (for me) then a lot of debate possible on which ends justify which means.

If we accept that the ends justify the means without qualification, can the same be said for the much-maligned Hong Kong police, if their ends are the maintenance of law and order, as per their job description? Should they stand by and allow the legislature to be vandalised (which they actually did, and were roundly criticised by all sides, including by the protest movement. They never made that mistake, if it was one, again).

Another article “Why comparisons between the US Capital turmoil and Hong Kong’s protests amount to perverse propaganda” argues that the difference lies in the quality of mob – one entitled, smirking and without legitimate grievances, the other deadly serious and the result of a long struggle. Much as I dislike Trump supporters, and acknowledge that white entitlement is part of their problem, they too have (some) legitimate grievances (not that the election was ‘stolen’, but if one looks further back into the history of the MAGA movement). In terms of the dissatisfaction that brought the two movements to a head, there are similarities, even if I sympathise greatly with the Hong Kong movement and almost not at all with the MAGAs.

The article makes a legitimate point in arguing that the Hong Kong chamber was empty when protesters stormed it (having surrounded it and prevented lawmakers from entering, it must be mentioned). One wonders what the reaction to this would have been in other democracies, but apparently we must not ask these questions because – see above – their ultimate purpose was noble). If the US mob stormed an empty chamber would the reaction have been less furious? If the Hong Kong protesters had stormed a chamber full of lawmakers would it then be okay to point out they had gone too far?

To dismiss all comparisons between the two as propoganda smacks of, well, propoganda.

And that is why I have become disillusioned with the usual left-learning academic circles I move in. The positions are so fixed that the responses are predictable. If you believe in social justice, then your responses to any event are a priori determined. And God forbid, you venture to think, wait a minute, sometimes our side might be wrong, or even, the other side might not be. Hence this blog.

Finally, this is not to say that I am not outraged by the recent actions of the Hong Kong government/Beijing in basically using the law as a tool of harassment (unfortunately something India, world’s largest democracy and all that, is quite good at, and Singapore perfected) and basically decimating the democratic opposition. Just that I don’t think support of a larger cause means one cannot criticise or rethink any of its actions.

***

Edited to add:

Last night, in bed, Mimi asked me what I was thinking about and I told her about this. I asked her if it made sense to compare the two events. “Of course,” she said.

Then, she added, “They sound the same. But maybe why they did it was different.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“So, you can just say, the actions look like the same, but the reasons are different.”

“But do you think, given these reasons, it’s okay to attack a building?”

“Not very okay. I think it’s violence.”

“But what if there were no people in the building?”

She was still not very comfortable with the idea of storming the building. “Couldn’t they just make a speech and tell the people, hey, guys, we asked nicely, and you’re not listening?”

“In Hong Kong’s case, they did that and it didn’t work. So then do you think, it’s ok to break into a building?” (and the US Trump supporters might argue the same, although I agree they have less of a case).

I can’t remember what she said. Overall, she wasn’t super okay with the idea of people storming buildings (remember, these kids have actually seen the street violence in action. They watched as protesters stormed an education institution near where we live. It goes against everything they’ve been taught about good behaviour. So it takes some discussion for them to overcome their almost visceral dislike of the means, to consider the ends).

What she found harder to understand was why I was thinking about all this. She thought I wanted to write it up as a newspaper article. When she realised it was “just” for this blog, or worse my own thoughts, her reaction was: “What!?!”

This year you completed a decade

This was the year of the Great Lockdown that you survived only by playing very hard

This was the year when football fell by the wayside… and then limped back

When many bruises and a burn were accumulated

When you missed school

When you had your first crush

When you rediscovered cuddles and burrowed into us

When I accepted your proficiency with numbers and your dislike of elaboration

When you started to make pancakes and chocolate mug cake

When you discovered David Attenborough’s nature series. You liked the hunt best.

Of refusing to cut your hair.

Of developing a snaggle tooth  while your parents pondered the cost of braces.

Of friends coming over

Of sleeping with your shirt off

Of emotions and high drama and fighting with us every other day

Of cricket and “crickball” when the building seemed cricket too dangerous.

Of stories made up in your head out of Lego figurines

Of experimenting with food and tolerating spice

A decade already, and all the baby fat gone. Not the sweetness though.

Home improvement

Since we were planning to move to India, many things in our life in Hong Kong were in limbo. Our couch was symptomatic of that.

A sore point from the start – I insisted on this couch, but it wasn’t the best even early on – it has been in a dismal state since last year. The springs had broken, the cushions were flopping down loosely. But we decided to just suck it up because it seemed like a waste to buy new furniture for only a few months.

And then the pandemic struck and all the best laid plans went to pot.

The couch began to really piss me off. While I could put up with it for another six months, what if we didn’t end up moving in the summer next year? Also, it was impossible to invite people over, not that I’m a great hostess or anything, what with my husband’s anti-social tendencies, but this made it ever more impossible.

So I started half-heartedly looking at secondhand couches, but with the pandemic, it was hard to figure out. Most of the listings were on Hong Kong Island, and I wasn’t keen on buying a couch, especially a secondhand couch, without testing it, but I didn’t have the time to actually go around contacting sellers, making appointments, schlepping across town to view couches (if permitted) and then deciding. Nor did I cherish doing this amid Covid-19.

Finally, I just handed over the responsibility to V and he bought a couch from Ikea. The one he ordered was more expensive than I would have liked but otherwise it was pretty perfect. Blue, fit our space perfectly. It was not as squishy as our previous couch but squishy went downhill pretty quick. The handles were higher than I liked, which was why I had rejected that model in the first place, but it’s turned out pretty perfect.

It arrived just in time for a birthday playdate we had for Nene, which was great. And it’s inspired me to invite some friends over during the Christmas week.

***

But why stop there? We decided to get a bed made to use up the bay window in Mimi’s room. Again it’s something that we should have done a year ago, but put off because why bother when we’re moving?

Now, again, we don’t know how long we’re going to be staying, so we decided to just do it. So we’re getting a new bed too.

***

Finally, the kids demanded Christmas decorations. My helper had shipped all our decorations to the Philippines, and V was hoping we could just not have any this year, but neither the kids nor our helper was having it. So V ordered a small tree and some stick-on type decorations, and I have to say I felt much more cheerful once they were up. We watched The Christmas Chronicles Two on Netflix to get into the mood, and I quite liked it – the first time in a long time I’ve liked a mainstream Hollywood film.

November reading list

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A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit

Short stories and essays are not my thing, but sometimes an author’s best work is in this genre, and then I make an effort. Alice Munro, for example.

This books of memoir-ish essays was worth it – although I didn’t finish, because something was wrong with my Kindle version and if I shut the book, it opened at the start and then I had to thumb through till I got to my page. Which was bearable until I was at about 50 per cent of the book, and then it got old. This was exacerbated by the fact that with dense essays of this sort, I tend to start and stop and come back to it.

I’ll leave you with a taste:

Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself come from, and where you will go.

The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration – how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown. n territory, about becoming someone else.

It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own. Scientists too, as J. Robert Oppenheimer once remarked, “live always at the ‘edge of mystery’ – the boundary of the unknown.” But they transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen; artists get your out only that dark sea.

Something About You, Julie James

This is updated Harlequin, something I haven’t read in ages. Read my thoughts here.

Bringing Down the Duke, Evie Dunmore

This is one of the best, if not the best, things I read this year. My thoughts here.

A Rogue of One’s Own, Evie Dunmore

Hard to decide whether I liked this one more than Bringing Down the Duke. Lucie is who I identify with more, but my romantic prototype I like to think is more Bringing Down the Duke. My thoughts here.

Margaret the First, Danielle Sutton

This is a very whimsical, episodic life of Margaret Cavendish, the 17th C philosopher, scientist, and writer. My reaction to it reminded me of how I felt when I first watched Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth. I was nonplussed but then the impressions stayed with me, and it’s become one of my favourite films. I can’t say the same is going to happen with this book, but I enjoyed it, and I learnt about a fascinating woman, one of those we should but don’t learn about in philosophy class.

A Thousand Ships, Natalie Haynes

I’ve been trying to get a hold of this forever – a retelling of the Illiad from the point of view of the women – and I finally did. I was predisposed to love it, and I did like it a lot, but with a smidgeon of the disappointment. For one, there was too much tragedy (but that’s basically what happened to the women, tragedy without the glory).

I also found Calliope, the muses’ pronouncements, a bit too much. It was fine for one chapter, but then she spelled everything out too much. The idea of the war as something of an ecological cleansing – too many people, how to get rid of them – was timely, but it’s an idea I’m not fond of so I was vaguely irritated.

But also, there wasn’t enough getting into the women’s own heads, and more of them commenting on the actions of the men. I liked the bits on Polyxena and Briseus best (the latter became something of an obsessions with me thereafter. It never struct me before how Briseus – who I thought was a minor character – is actually a parallel Helen, a woman who changes the course of the war, but by pausing it).

Because of Madeline Miller, I am wedding to the idea of Achilles-Patroclus as the great love story, and the idea of it being “only friendship” doesn’t sit quite well with me. Of course, I began craving to read Miller again, but then I downloaded a whole pile of Troy novels and that faded. I basically fell down a Troy rabbit hole for the rest of the month.

The Song of Troy, Colleen McCullough

So, once one knows the mythology, the fun of reading new takes is how they explain the unexplainable. This version provided some backstory that I didn’t know and also contextualised the war as an economic conflict – a trade war as it were. But I didn’t find some of the explanations entirely convincing: why did Priam insist on getting his sister back? It’s understandable that Agamemnon would want an excuse for a war, but why would Priam provoke one? Helen falling in love with Paris was also not entirely plausible – which is why the myth provides a divine explanation (Aphrodite’s promise, but this novel ellided that).

Odysseus’ rationale for goading Agamemnon into killing Iphigenia was also not solid – he said that if he lost his son, Agamemnon should lose his daughter, but Odysseus’s son wasn’t dead. And if Odysseus didn’t want a war in the first place, why would he encourage a sacrifice that would prolong the war?

What struck me is the similarity between the Troy myth and the Mahabharata. A Thousand Ships suggested the real reason for the war was the need for a cosmic cleansing, an idea also suggested in the Mahabharata. The story of Thetis and Peleus was similar to the Shantanu/Ganga story in the Mahabharata.

McCullough provides a lot of details about the strategic choices in the war – splitting the army, for example. She also provides a political implications – Agamemnon’s need to defend the new (patriarchal) religion over the old.

Finally, McCullough’s take on the Achilles-Patroclus relationship is that it is just a friendship, a proposition that seems somewhat heretical to me, seeing as what got me started on this trip was Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, which was basically and Achilles-Patroclus love story. Could this be “just friendship”? Maybe, but McCullough’s take a pretty heteronormative, centering Achilles and Briseus and turning Patroclus into a sullen reject.

Girl, Woman, Other – Bernadine Evaristo

Years ago, Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman was a pop-feminist sensation, although I don’t think it has aged particularly well. This novel should replace it – a fictional portrayal of the many permutations and combinations of (black) womanhood.

The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker

Another female perspective on the events of Troy, this time narrated primarily through Briseus, who I now realise I’ve been fascinated with ever since the Troy movie (starring Brad Pitt as Achilles and Diane Kruger as Helen).

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, Mona Awad

Apparently, a fat girl can’t win – even if she’s thin. This is one of those angsty, clever girl novels, that I realise I’m not 100% a fan of. However, because she is not a manic pixie goth girl, but a fat girl, I was more interested. It’s also good that the novel goes beyond the teenage years, but unfortunately, she remains consistently unhappy.

Week of funk

Yes, I know I just wrote about some of the good things to come out of this pandemic, for me. But scratch all those feel-good vibes. Last week was a disaster.

Rationally, I always knew that we were in for ups and downs, periods of loosening and tightening of restrictions. We had around two months of very low case numbers, and for that I’m grateful. I got to go back to office, the kids to school and (except for V who actually enjoys being a hermit), we resumed normal life somewhat.

But with case numbers surging, we’re back to lockdown mode again. And it’s hit me harder than I thought.

On some level, perhaps because it’s been a year and we’ve survived it (fingers crossed), I now feel like we need to just try to live with this disease. Though logically I know that the reason we survived relatively unscathed is that we didn’t “just try to live with it”, Hong Kong as a society was vigilant.

But while continuing to be vigilant, I thought the kids might continue school and I might continue going to office. Then schools shut.

I decided that I’d still go to office on busy days.

Then a case was recorded in my building and my office barred me from coming in.

So I was basically stuck at home, and it really hit me hard. And okay, I was also PMSing.

But the very thought of spending every day at home killed me. And yes, I know this is many people’s lives, even before the pandemic. Some people even choose it (V loves it). But, as dear friend Curly pointed out, I’ve always said I don’t want to spend most of my day at home, or rather, I am my best self outside the home.

In my last few days in office, with the threat of lockdown looming, I realised that I not only like the office space – my corner of the world in which I can actually control what happens – and the hours to myself on the commute and the lunch hour where I can eat out (I have never been a home food person), I also like the office interactions, especially with my “office wife”. What I’m going to do when we move to Bangalore and I have to work from home, I don’t know.

It didn’t help that the work from home period coincided with an incredibly busy time at work. And that the kids were home the whole day and their “online learning” as all parent know by now does not keep them independently occupied in the way that school does. Even during the so-called online learning period in the morning, the kids are roaming around saying they’re bored (e.g. a 40-minute Chinese lesson consisted of a 10 minute video – which had I watched it with Mimi, I could have stretched to 15 minutes by making it more interactive. What they’re supposed to be doing in the rest of the 30 minutes is unclear. Yeah, an eight-year-old is going to spend 30 minutes reading out of a powerpoint herself. Right).

Last time around, the kids weren’t quite so noisy. Or maybe I wasn’t quite so busy. I found myself spending the last three days yelling at them to “shut up” and “cut it out”. I really do need a desk in a room that I can shut myself into, but we just don’t have the space and the dinner table in the living room is all I have.

And on top of all this, my weight has begun to really stress me out. Sure, I went a bit crazy with the food at the start of lockdown and I wasn’t moving as much, but once I started exercising, I thought the weight would come off as it usually did. But it didn’t. It seems like it’s here to stay (though there’s a possibility there might be some hormonal issues at work here) and this is profoundly upsetting.

What can I say? I’m glad this week’s over.

Pandemic blind spots

Last week, I was editing a piece in which a doctor argued that Hong Kong should increase its mandatory quarantine for arrivals to 21 days from the existing 14. His point was that it has not been conclusively proven that the disease will not develop after 14 days, and it’s possible that people who developed symptoms post-quarantine have caused the current fourth wave (our waves might seem like ripples to other places – we are currently on a war path over around 80 cases a day, admittedly a sharp rise from 10). And that because of these arrivals, various sectors of society – the restaurant sector for example – are paying a high price.

When my colleague saw this, he exploded. He had been through two quarantines already, and he was hoping to travel to Singapore. Apart from the cost, almost all travellers are required to quarantine in hotels now, so the cost must add up.

To me, though, unless the need is really pressing, why travel at all?

Then I realised that the thing that I dread the most is school closures. Despite the positives of online schooling, in-person schooling makes a difference (a primary difference being the teacher is responsible for teaching instead of the parent aka moi). But to a non-parent, that probably doesn’t seem so pressing.

I myself scoffed at the parent of a toddler who was agonising over him not being able to go to “school”. I’ve long thought it quite unnecessary for children to go to school before they’re say five years old, though nowadays three years has become the minimum requirement if you want to have a shot at even a so-so private primary school. But kindergartens serve a childcare purpose and give primary caregivers a break (I wish people could just admit that instead of going on about all the education their toddler is missing out on). For these parents, the lack of that break can be very painful.

I have family in India who have been socialising (in a limited way – for them) right through the pandemic (even the peak). My sister-in-law said that if she only had to see her husband and children every day, she’d go mad.

I have single friends for whom restaurant closures (in the end, these were only closed for two days) were a terrible blow.

Basically, I’ve realised that what is unbearable differs from person to person. V, who has loved working from home and having a readymade excuse not to meet anyone, thinks even I, who has been meeting two friends every three weeks (initially only in someone’s house when case numbers are low) as taking unnecessary risks. He doesn’t get why anyone needs to go anywhere and meet anyone. But the rest of us need to do certain things for our sanity, and what those things are differs (after all, for people in Hong Kong, it’s been almost a year of restrictions – even more if you count the periods of house arrest due to the protests last year).

Also, each of us have our blind spots in the preventative measures we take. Mine was sending my children downstairs to play. When case numbers were spiking, we stayed home, but I always allowed the kids to go down to the park and play for at least an hour or two. Even with other children, but with masks on. Even when there were a couple of cases in our estate. Perhaps if there was clear evidence of community transmission in our estate, I’d do differently, but seeing as the pandemic didn’t seem to be ending anytime soon (little did we know back then), I figured it was not sustainable to keep the kids cooped up.

Others might disagree, and I know there are many parents who thought unlimited screen time is a small price to pay.

For me, travel is an unnecessary risk; others justify it.

For many in Hong Kong, wearing a mask is an absolute requirement, but they practice no other forms of social distancing.

One of my friends said that while initially her elderly parents stayed home all day, she realised they were getting depressed and that this might be more delibitating and cause other health issues than Covid-19. So they started going about their usual routine, taking some precautions.

Basically, I don’t think there’s a single person out there in a position to cast the first stone, myself included. Each of us draw our own lines about what is bearable (recently, I’ve decided that going to office is necessary for my mental health) and make our decisions accordingly. We make our decisions based on what we know and what we can bear.

How one conforms to Covid-19 restrictions seems to have become a grounds for virtue signalling. Scratch the surface though and a lot of this rings hollow.

 

Pandemic blessings?

I know, I know, I said there are no silver linings. And I fully acknowledge that this pandemic has wreaked havoc on people’s lives. My own life has hardly been a bed of roses, and I definitely struggle with long stretches at home, all of us on top of each other, juggling online schooling with work, and latent stress about the kids’ health.

But some of the changes wrought by the pandemic have benefited us.

  1. Online schooling drove me mad on many levels. It required my involvement – I had to supervise, answer constant questions, troubleshoot IT problems, juggle the timetable. Basically, the stuff we send kids to school for. It chafed that I had to do all these things and pay the same steep school fee.
    On the other hand, it allowed me to keep tabs on my kids’ learning in a way that was proving hard to do otherwise. Partly, more work has been sent home so I can have a better idea what they are learning and how that’s going.
    Once I went back to work in the office and the kids became more independent with online learning that slowed down, but I think I have a better insight into where the kids are academically than if we hadn’t had online schooling.
    International schools send little to no homework back in the early years, which is great in some ways, but not so great in that you actually have little idea what the children are learning and where they are. The report cards are so vague as to be useless and come at the end of the term usually. Parent-teacher meetings tend to be cumbaya. I had a rude awakening when the kids had to do admission tests for schools in India, and realised I’d have to do some monitoring and pushing on my own. Let’s just say I’ve become a believer in homework, textbooks and ocassional tests. Online schooling made this easier, though now that Nene is in Year 5 more work seems to come home.
  2. More time with the kids and family generally. This is a double-edged sword because in some cases, being on top of each other in a small apartment has its own frustrations. But one of the trade-offs of working outside the home is that the amount of time I spend with the kids is far from ideal. Lockdown and working from home helped there.
  3. I ended up with more leave. The company forced us to take 15 extra days of unpaid leave, which meant a salary cut (luckily, I was also promoted so the actual cut pinched less than it might have + we are in a fortunate position financially). Apart from allowing me more family time, I could use this leave to get some important things sorted – dental work and counselling.
  4. Oh and the big one. The pandemic delayed our move to India. It was almost as if the universe is telling us not to move. V, the main only driver, of the move resisted changing course, until it became obvious that his position was ridiculous. These extra months (or what is looking like an extra year) have given me the time to get used to the idea of moving to India. I realised that for me, until I actually had the conversation with my boss about moving, I never really psychologically grappled with the reality of it. I was really really upset after that conversation (not because he was an asshole, far from it), but  once I got over that (which frankly took some time), it was a relief to know that working out of India (a big question mark) was viable. Knowing that was a big load of my shoulders and then I could look at things with less of a sense of panic (don’t get me wrong, I am still giving up a lot moving from a full-time job to a freelance contract, but (even the reduced) money will go a long way.