If you’ve had a baby since the onslaught of social media, you’ll be familiar with a special sort of scrolling that takes place when your days are divided between nursing and napping, and you’re too close to collapse due to disrupted sleep to do much else but flick through Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter. Depending on the day, what you see there can lift you up or drag you right down.
I came across stylist / photographer Cindy Chen during a spell of post-natal scrolling (our sons, Ollie and Isa, are around the same age) and was a bit glamoured by her considered approach to motherhood and work – and seeming ability to not sacrifice aesthetic (all black and white, with hints of grey and autumn) post-baby, which is no mean feat considering the prevalence of pink and blue across nursery items!
Today we speak with Cindy about first-time motherhood – and its inevitable impact on how you work, travel, eat and more.
Cindy, you’ve nearly 200,000 followers on Instagram – I think that makes you an influencer! (Can I say that? I hope so!) How did Ollie’s arrival just over a year and half ago change your work world – how do you curate a gorgeous life to be glimpsed via social amid the chaos of life with a child?
Oh, it’s changed my line of work immensely! I used to spend every waking minute planning upcoming shoots, but since having Ollie my attention and energy has been focused on nurturing him.
I suppose that’s when being your own boss comes in handy; I’m able to pick and choose the amount and type of work I take up.
And life is never as perfect as it appears on social media! I’m a very visual person, so I like my images to look a certain way, but there is always some kind of chaos beyond the four corners of a beautiful image. A screaming toddler sitting to the side of a seemingly delicious table of food, my unwashed hair and makeup-free face. That’s the beauty of an image-based platform like Instagram – it’s an escape from the storms, big and small, of everyday life.
You’re just about to launch the second season of M.O.P. Children’s Clothier. Can you tell us a bit about your vision and inspiration for the brand? What is it, I wonder, about becoming a mum that makes many of us more entrepreneurial? How are you supported to do this – what does your ‘village’ look like?
For me, it was a very specific light bulb moment – I was nursing Ollie, and must have allowed my thoughts to wander way too far! I knew I wanted creative release and a challenge that involved my new role as a mother (yes, some might say that’s challenging enough).
My vision for the brand is simple: to create quality, unisex garments and accessories characterised by classic, clean and timeless design. It’s incredibly exciting to see the business doing so well and I feel eternally grateful to my Instagram family for supporting me thus far – I don’t think I would have had the courage to start without their support. And as for help on the ground, Ollie goes to child care once a week and, when I have a lot to get through, I’m lucky to have my mother on hand to look after him.
Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Japan: You’ve travelled a ton with Ollie in his first 18 months. How have these trips compared with those taken B.C. – before child? Any advice for a successful holiday with a toddler?
Holidays are so different – they’re no longer about what we want to do or where we want to go – and we’ve learnt to ensure each itinerary is flexible enough to adapt to the spontaneous needs of a child.
I’ve discovered there’s never a ‘perfect time’ to travel as a family – as Ollie grows, trips involve different trials and tribulations. So whether he’ll remember visiting each place is not a concern for us; what’s important is him having new experiences – of environments, cultures and foods – and enjoying himself, which he invariably does!
For long flights, we find flying at night helps – it’s so much easier when Ollie is naturally tired and sleeps for most of the flight – rather than during the day when he is most active yet in a confined space with limited activities. We also try to make restaurant reservations ahead of time to avoid queues (and hangriness).
We share in common being mothers to baby gourmands (Isa’s current favourite is Adam Liaw’s Okinawan Taco Rice – thank you, Adam, for your extraord kid-friendly recipes plus these tips!) Food is a thorn in the side of many parents I talk to – how was your food journey with Ollie, and do you have any lunch and dinner tips for tricky eaters?
I think we were blessed with a good eater – we started Ollie on solids at five and a half months, and his love for food has blossomed ever since. I was careful not to introduce too many foods at once, and instead of using salt I relied on foods rich in umami like mushroom, seaweed, and tomato to bring out the flavour in his meals.
Bite-sized rice balls are my go-to lunch for Ollie, they’re simple to make and easy for him to pop straight into his mouth – which means less cleaning up for me! For dinner, I usually keep meals light; soba in clear broth with steamed barramundi, tofu and spinach is one of Ollie’s favourite dishes, with a small plate of roast seaweed on the side.
Can you give us a glimpse into how your day starts and ends with Ollie?
A typical day starts at 7am when Ollie wakes up. Dreary eyed, I stumble over to his room, always wondering why I didn’t go to bed earlier the night before. We have breakfast together, then he spends the day with me or my mother or at child care, depending on whether I have any shoots.
I get most of my work done while Ollie sleeps – those two-hour naps are a blessing! I usually have just enough time to prep his lunch, check my inbox, and pack orders. If I have any time to spare before he wakes up, I jump onto Instagram to unwind.
We have dinner as a family at 6.30pm, then my husband bathes Ollie at 7.15pm and tucks him into bed – after which I respond to emails, send out invoices, edit photos, and plan for the next day when it all starts again.
Moving across time, what kind of adult might you like Ollie to grow into?
I would like Ollie to grow up to be a person of determination and integrity, but also someone who is kind and compassionate to others.
I would like for him to see the world with open eyes, and be accepting of difference.
Children’s clothing brand
Goose down duvet by Norsk Dun.
Visiting the ducks at our local park or The Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery at Melbourne Museum.
It doesn’t serve dinner, but a place we like to go to for brunch is Fourth Chapter in Prahran. It has a wonderful atmosphere for both adults and children, and a park with a playground next door.