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Jessica Rudd: My daughter can't play outside without a surgical mask

Welcome to Mum vs Life, where we talk to mums in the public eye about how they manage their lives. This week Jessica Rudd, writer and mother to daughter 20-month-old Josephine, tells us what life’s like as an ex-pat mum in Beijing

Run us through your typical day…

Wake up at about six to Josie’s enthusiastic, ‘Hi!’ from her cot in the next room. We get her up, change her and bring her into bed with us for a cuddle in the hope that we can hit the snooze button for 20 minutes. Failing that (usually the case) we get up, make breakfast, listen to AM online, chat and read stories.

At nine, Maomao, our magnificent nanny, arrives. I jump in the shower, go out to a café and write—my new Ruby book, a column or whatever else I’m working—and come back by the time she wakes up from her afternoon nap at about 3.

Then there’s playgroup, music class or grocery shopping, depending on the day.

Dinner is at 5.30, extravagant bubble bath follows at 6, after which it’s playtime with Baba (Daddy), story time and bed at 7. In theory.

Then it’s wine o’clock.

What are your biggest challenges?

Beijing, like any city, has its pros and cons. On the pros side, I have access to affordable in-home care for Josephine. This is a complete blessing because: (a) it means my working times are flexible because childcare is always available, (b) Josie is bilingual, and (c) I’m a hemisphere away from my family and wider support network and need all the help I can get. I found that distance especially hard when Josie was a new born—I just wanted my Mum.

Also, some days here are filthy, with air pollution at hazardous levels. Josephine is getting better at wearing a mask (initially she thought it was a game of boo), but I long for our local park in Brisbane with its lush grass, majestic trees and glorious sunshine.

Oh and the food. When I’m back home visiting family and friends I delight in the fruit and veg section of our local supermarket where everything is super fresh, delicious, safe and often organic. Problem: I end up buying waaaaaay too much, like we’re preparing for the end times.

What is your favourite time of the day?

Josie is in her element at bath time. She’s an absolute delight. Her favourite word is ‘bubble’. We have a bath time playlist on my iPhone that we dance and sing along to. We’ve had the same repertoire since she was three months old.

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When is the last time you lost your cool when dealing with your kids?

‘Stop. Playing with. The Christmas tree—no! Put that bauble down. Mummy said no!’

When is the last time your daughter embarrassed you in public?

It hasn’t happened yet, aside from the occasional in-flight meltdown. I used to feel guilty about them but now I just block out the eye-rolls of other passengers and concentrate on settling my little one. Frankly, if they have a problem flying with kids they shouldn’t have flown commercial. *ducks*

What about the last time you embarrassed her in public?

The thing I love most about toddlers is they are unembarrassable. They couldn’t give two hoots about what anyone else thinks.

How does being a modern mum make you feel? What are the specific challenges you face?

I seem to always feel guilty about something. If I exercise—big IF—I feel guilty about being self-indulgent and spending more time away from Josie. If I don’t exercise, I feel guilty about not being a healthy role model. When I go out and write, I feel guilty that I’m missing moments with Josie. If I don’t write, I don’t feel like a whole person.

This isn’t new. Most of my Mummy friends are guilt-ridden. By the time Josie becomes a mother, if that’s her choice and she’s lucky enough to have children, I hope we have all stopped beating ourselves up.

How do you get everything done and ensure you pay enough attention to Josie?

In the beginning I was very reluctant to delegate anything. Control freakery got the better of me. I wanted to be the one who made everything perfect. It was wholly impossible and turned me into Jess the Mess.

Once I began to relinquish control and accept that I couldn’t do everything myself, things began to improve.

Was it hard to go back to work after becoming a mum?

Yes, it still is because I get the guilts—especially when she’s sick.

But my transition back to work, which only really happened four months ago, was made a hell of a lot easier knowing that she is in the care of someone she knows and trusts in our home with her own bed, high chair and toys.

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As I write this, I’ve just received a text message from Maomao saying Josie has gone down for her nap. Every afternoon she takes about a two-hour nap. That means I can get about two more hours of work done and be back home in time to take her to playgroup this afternoon.

Childcare centres back home are great but it isn’t practical for them to always be flexible to the individual needs of kids and parents. I really wish in-home care was an affordable option for Australian parents, especially parents of two or more kids. I’m writing an essay about this at the moment.

How do you make weekends special for your family or are they just as crazy and busy as weekdays?

Weekends are wonderful Mummy, Baba and Josie time. Albert takes Josie swimming of a Saturday. We have brunch together (Josie loves the fish tank at our local Yum Cha restaurant—she says, ‘ishhhhh’ and ‘Nemo’) and we take long walks. Albert and I try to have a date night after Josie goes to bed on Sunday nights.

How involved are you when it comes to school and activities?

I love taking Josie to music class on Wednesdays. We all sit in a circle, sing along and play with the instruments. It’s wonderful to see Josie’s chest swell with confidence when she remembers the actions to a song or dance.

Has she asked you any questions about your work yet?

None yet.

If you could ask for any sort of parenting advice, what would it be?

Is there a special factory that can copy comforters which are out of stock and no longer being manufactured? If not, why not? We are down to our last Sleeping Bunny. *gulp*

If you could share one thing you’ve learned about motherhood, what would it be?

Stop being so mean to yourself. You are doing an excellent job.

Jessica Rudd, 28, had three career changes in as many years—law, PR, politics—but is now going steady with her life as a writer. She hopes Ruby Blues, sequel to Campaign Ruby, will give her readers as many laughs as she had writing it. Jessica is based in Beijing. Purchase your copies here.

If there was one question you'd like us to ask celebrity mums, what would it be?

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