British writer Joanne Pasquale is mother to three kids – Samuel, 19 years old, Jamie, 17 years old and Louise, 12 years old. Joanne talks to us about homeschooling her son Jamie who has special needs and about her first book ‘A Positive Result’, about life as a mum of a child with Down syndrome, out next year
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
Originally from the UK, we moved to Singapore in July 2014. I was formerly a magazine journalist in the UK pre-children, working mainly in women’s magazines writing about homes and lifestyle. I now run my own business, Pasquale Publishing, where I write and edit for various magazines, websites and books.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I have always written and knew I wanted to be a journalist from a young age. I started at the bottom working as a secretary on a monthly magazine and through a lot of pushing and hard work made my way up the ranks – sub, writer, feature editor and deputy editor. When my second son was born I decided to step back from my career as things became a little tougher. He was born with Down syndrome – something we found out after the first scan – and so we needed time as family to adjust (not to mention attend the many appointments). Once we moved to Singapore I had time to get back to doing what I love and I started my own freelance business. I have also finally decided to publish my book, A Positive Result, which I wrote many years ago about the ups and downs (excuse the pun) of life as a mum of a child with Down syndrome. It is being published by Summertime Publishing next March to coincide with National Down Syndrome Day.
What advice would you give to someone who may have just had a child with special needs?
Don’t panic. Learn what you can about what that particular diagnosis (if you have one) may mean. Be patient – with yourself. Get support wherever you can and make friends with other parents of children with SN, they will be a great source of info, comfort, tears and laughter. Grieve for the child you thought you were going to have and then move forward. There’s a great essay called ‘Welcome to Holland’ that sums it up perfectly. Also, read my book!
What education resources and support networks are there in Singapore for your son?
Sadly as non PR it’s quite tricky. Jamie is at an age where he should be going to college, and there really isn’t much opportunity for him to do that here. We took the decision about six months ago to homeschool rather than keep him in a place that didn’t meet his needs and had to find everything ourselves. I share it with another mum who’s son is the same age and also has DS; this makes it a bit easier. We have a tutor that comes in a few hours a week and we fill their other time with sports, art, music etc. It’s the biggest juggling act yet! There are some support groups both local and expat and we try to get involved when things are relevant. The social side of things is very lacking.
If you could change one thing about your family’s situation what would it be?
Open a vocational training programme that actually offers Jamie skills he can use in the future and teaches him the life skills he needs. Also somewhere he could socialise and make friends. Move my parents and family here!
What has been a positive from being here in Singapore for your son Jamie?
Definitely his sporting achievements. He swam with The Special Olympics team in the National Games in May and won a bronze medal. Also, he and his friend Harry – who we homeschool with – swam at the Down syndrome Swimming Australia Championships as International guests in October. The British Club has been a huge support allowing him to train there with his sports therapist Fergal and Coach Alain, his swim coach. The Ring – a boxing community in Kim Yam Road has also been fantastic offering coaching to Jamie and Harry. Through a lot of pushing we’ve managed to make sure Jamie is kept busy with sport and training – which he loves way more than academics!
How do you maintain an identity separate from your child?
By writing mainly. My blogging has helped as it’s a chance for me to talk about things that are relevant to me as a person, not just as a mum. My first blog was called The Reluctant Housewife – that says it all! Five Go Mad in Singers has been a good way to reach out to people here and it has often hit a nerve with others – I’ve had some really lovely comments.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
Lists! Anyone that knows me knows I love a good list. I collect notebooks and in them you will find lists that relate to anything from what I’ve got to do that day to what to buy for dinner. I also know that pre-planning a menu for the week, and therefore planning what you need to have in the fridge, cupboards and so on is key. But I’m yet to hone that particular skill!
I wish I had more time for…
Editing my book!
I always feel saner after…
Wine! LOL! Also… talking to friends. I’m lucky to have some really good friends who have been there through good and bad. They are good levellers and listeners.
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
Bukit Timah near Binjai Park. It’s easy to get where we need to be, some great local cafes/shops and is still very tropical.
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
Sunday morning walking the dog at Tanjong beach followed by brunch somewhere.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?
Coastes on Sentosa, not too pricey, fast service and food is always a hit. Been going there for years (since before we moved here). Used to love Blue Bali too but it’s now closed down, which is a real shame!
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
Batu Batu in Malaysia is our absolute favourite; we call it paradise. Laid back, no stress – beach, pool, food, repeat!
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Ha! No, sorry. I think once you’ve been with your partner for 25 plus years you’re lucky to keep your relationship alive.
Favourite date night restaurants?
Honestly? I hate the whole ‘date night’ term. Sorry but I do. We go out together, sure, but it’s not a date night. It’s a ‘catch up really quick before we fall asleep in our dessert night.’ We do have family restaurants we always go back to, but not just us as a couple.
Do you have any tips working mamas in Singapore? How do you balance life, kids and work?
I find it much harder here as there is no support network from family, so it’s pretty tough. I work whilst the kids are at school, but since we started homeschooling Jamie that has become a lot harder. If I wake early I tend to get up and do some work – my husband often finds me tapping away at 5am. Really it’s just a juggling act but I try not to beat myself up if I drop a ball.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
Pick your battles. Learn your kids’ currency! Great advice because as parents it’s hard to know when to just let things go. Knowing what motivates your child means you have something to negotiate with and about.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
It’s your first time doing this, give yourself a break. Even when your children are older or you have more than one, this is true. I remember saying to my son before he went to uni that I was sorry if I didn’t get the right things for him, or give the right advice, or help in the right way but this was my first time as ‘mum of uni child’. He totally got it.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Remembering school stuff. I honestly think I’ve got it all sorted, adding things to calendars, putting notes in my many books. And still someone will say “did you go to…” and I won’t have a clue. And maths! I wish I could help more with maths homework, but sadly it’s like a foreign language to me after about year 4!
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Birthdays. If it’s the kids birthday we have a pile of pressies downstairs with balloons, banners etc and they know mum needs her tea before any paper is torn. If it’s mine or my husbands, they will pile into our bed (bringing tea with them if they’ve got their wits about them!) for the present opening.
My favourite moment of the day is…
My first cup of tea of the day is the way I ‘begin’ my day – and that can be hours after I’ve got up, but it’s when I feel things start. I also love that moment at the end of the day when I’ve achieved lots of things – be that getting the washing done or finishing a feature. I like ticking things off my list.
Many thanks to Jo and her kids for their time and of course a big shout out to Irina Nilsson and her beautiful shots!
To contact Jo about the book email her at firstname.lastname@example.org