People have asked me many times why I chose “Only Joy, Only Love” as my tagline for this blog. More than a tagline, it is actually my mantra. This is what this post is about. It’s a bit long but I wanted to give you some background about me, our life and the experience of moving to China 3 years ago.
Living in Shanghai has challenged me and helped me grow in ways I could never have imagined. It is a highly sensory city with 26 million people. That is not far off from the entire population of Canada. Think about that??!! It is loud with cars honking and people spitting and talking really loudly. It can be overwhelming in such a different culture and a very foreign language, especially at first. When we moved to Shanghai, I went from being a busy working mom with a career I adored to being a stay at home mom in a foreign country. It felt pretty lonely at times and was a huge adjustment, to say the least. It wasn’t my first time being a stay at home mom. My first daughter was born in Calgary, Alberta in 2007 when I was working with the Canadian Petroleum Institute. I did not work for three years after she was born but we moved from Calgary, back to Houston and then back to Newfoundland in those three years so I was very busy and I dearly loved my time home with my daughter. It was a beautiful time in our lives. Shanghai was a different beast all together.
The first year in Shanghai is a bit of a blur……kind of like treading water. Figuring out the basics like where to buy groceries – which can feel like hunting and gathering somedays because you just cannot find everything in one place – and getting around the city was enough to fill a day. Then there was the language. I felt so ignorant not being able to communicate and simple tasks were incredibly difficult. However, I quickly enrolled in mandarin lessons and I was so excited to be living with my husband and girls in the same city after 4 years of him spending more time working in China than being home. It was and still is such a blessing. Shortly after arriving, I did go through a period of mourning my job and life in Newfoundland. I missed my people and I loved my career where I worked as the Director of Marketing and Development with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra. I was able to work through that and embrace our life in Shanghai. I said “yes” to invites, went to every coffee morning and get together to try and help me and our family meet people and settle in. When people asked me how our first year in Shanghai was my response was always that I totally felt like I was dating again. 😂😂 My oldest daughter would say “Mommy, can you please keep smiling at people so we can meet them”. It was a good lesson for us all…..everyone is a potential friend. It was a busy and fun time, sometimes overwhelming, but I connected with people and made and still continue to make some amazing lifelong friends. The year just flew by. At the end of the school year, the girls and I travelled back to Newfoundland for the summer and my husband met us for the last couple of weeks. Time to reconnect with family and friends there and give the girls real experiences, memories and connections to Newfoundland. That will always be important to me no matter where in the world we live.
The second year I had learned some of the language and knew the drill. I felt less like I had to put myself out there constantly and was settling into a routine. Both my girls were in school and it gave me time to explore the city and continue learning the language. But something was missing. It happened gradually…..kind of just chipped away. I didn’t even realize it but I wasn’t finding joy in every day situations anymore. I have always been a positive person and could usually see the good in all situations and people but that “talent” was becoming harder to summon. I wasn’t living positively or purposefully. I was being reactive instead of proactive and a little complacent. I have never been a complacent person. I’m a doer! I get sh*t done, personally and professionally, but I just wasn’t motivated. Out of the proverbial steam and I guess it was the accumulation of the past few years catching up. It had taken its toll. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good year but I had lost sight of a piece of myself that makes me, well….me.
When we returned for our third year, I recognized that something had to change so I could feel more productive, positive, and settled. I didn’t want life to pass by and I wanted to appreciate Chinese culture, the people, and our life, in general. I started caring for myself more and connecting to the person that I was and knew I could be. So here I am. Trying hard to be the best person, wife, momma, daughter, sister and friend possible and most importantly, trying hard to handle life with grace, positivity, patience and purpose.
So this is where “only joy, only love” comes in. Shortly after returning to Shanghai from Canada for our third year, I had an experience that greatly affected how I deal with situations. One day at the grocery store, an old lady literally pushed me out of the way and cut in line at the cash register. It is totally cultural and this is a pretty regular occurrence. Locals just don’t line up in China and they also rarely stop at a crosswalk which has caused me to cuss more here than ever before. 😜 As a Canadian who holds doors open for people, smiles and says thank you, people aggressively cutting in line is sooooo foreign. When it happened this day, I SAW RED and almost flipped out on the poor old lady….what the heck? That was not me! I didn’t like the person I was becoming. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love old people. But thankfully, I paused, took a deep breath and said to myself “only joy, only love”. The words just echoed in my mind and instead of freaking out, I genuinely smiled at her and told her to please go ahead of me. She looked shocked, smiled back and then thanked me. HOLY CRAP! I can still see the reaction on her face so clearly. It was that experience of almost taking down an old Chinese lady (a little bit of an exaggeration but not really) that I learned the power of pausing before reacting to all situations and “only joy, only love” became my mantra. That short pause and reminder gives me perspective on how my words and actions affect myself and the people around me. It has definitely made me appreciate living in China more and made me a better mother cause you know how those kiddos can push one’s buttons sometimes.
It doesn’t mean that China and life still doesn’t have it challenges and that I don’t lose my patience from time to time. Mother Teresa I am not 😂 but I am a work in progress and feel like I am making positive changes to lead a purposeful life. Personally, as a couple and as an entire family we are working to embrace and enjoy life and be tolerant and appreciative. Pausing, taking a breath and remembering ‘only joy, only love’ has helped me live a more peaceful life. Because no matter how hard one has to look, there is joy and love in every situation. It really is perspective.
So the second half of our third year is filled with a renewed sense of hope and purpose. Our daughters are so happy and content at their school (YCIS Hongqiao) and just thriving socially and academically. After 7 years of diligently and tirelessly working in China, the environmental company that my husband runs (Shanghai West Mountain Environmental) is making positive progress. I am starting a consulting company, focusing on writing this blog and connecting with people all over the world! It’s an exciting time for our family, things are coming together and we are all stoked!
Thanks for coming along on our journey.
Until next time!
Only joy, only love,
P.S. This is a picture from our photoshoot with my friend and amazing photographer, Lisa Browne (@capturingthefabulise). This man was just lovely. It’s amazing the beautiful people you can meet wandering around alleyways in China.