When I was about 5 years old, I had a best friend. One of those you never forget. We did everything together but one of the things we liked best was to travel to outer space courtesy of my best friend’s older sister, Kiki. By bedecking her room in blankets and scarves and with the assistance of a swirly office chair, Kiki would take us past comets…to planets untouched by girl-kind.
Many years and many lost and remade connections later, I was thrilled to visit with Kiki last summer at her home near Palma de Mallorca of the Balearic Islands in Spain; not far from where my own parents live.
It turns out that Kiki is still taking people on exciting and unlikely journeys….only now she does so with a camera crew in tow. As a journalist and correspondent for the UK’s Unreported World, she takes people from Northern Uganda and the side of a 15 year old deaf boy with no means to communicate, to the front lines of the Kurdish resistance in the battle with Isis and the families caught in the cross hairs.
Since my last visit with Kiki was on a perfect summer day with our sons in the pool, I had to ask her what drew her to leave idyllic Mallorca to pursue these stories.
Natalia Rankine-Galloway for World Moms Blog: Kiki, what made you decide to go into journalism?
Kiki King: I always wanted to do something which involved writing. But then I quickly realised that journalism, especially the fast-paced tabloid journalism I first got into, was actually a lot more about talking, which suited me fine because I like that too! It was through working in newspapers that I got the opportunity to work in TV news front of camera. Now I have made four films with the current affairs series Unreported World on Channel 4, and it is a great job which I’m thrilled to be able to do.
WMB: Was it difficult to plan for a family with such a demanding job?
KK: I didn’t plan to do any planning when it came to a family or my career. Perhaps I should have…. Mine was an exercise in haphazard lurching. I got pregnant just after leaving a nice, safe secure job at a magazine to write a novel. Ha! My planning could not have been worse! I finished the novel, never published it, and then spent some time figuring out how I could work and earn some kind of a living with a small child…. I edited and freelanced on magazines, did some TV work, PR, volunteered on a political campaign and in Parliament – all sorts of things. I thought seriously about running as a local councilor in London – but then took an entirely different path altogether. Now, I’m grateful for the haphazardness! Ultimately though, the awesome brilliance of paid parental leave, which my many American friends do without, is something we should all fight for.
WMB: How did your expectations of balancing work and family before you had children change after you had your children?
KK: I had no expectations at all! I was pretty much the first of my friends to get pregnant and I went in to parenting with no idea about the kind of mother I wanted to be. I’m very grateful for two things though: that I have a husband who was (exasperatedly) supportive of me and all my sometimes incoherent wackiness, and that I was brought up by a bread-winning mother. She was (and is!) the real ‘do-it-all’ power-suited eighties mom working in a male-dominated environment, and I was always incredible proud of her. She was a great example, but I knew very clearly I wanted to be around my kids more than she was able to be.
WMB: What do you feel being a mother has taught you?
KK: Motherhood is awesome for so many reasons, one of which is the challenges that make us question our lives and who we are in such fascinating ways. This should be a strength, not a weakness – it took me a while to figure this out. Motherhood has taught me not to judge, and to be happy and confident about my choices. That’s not to say I was always this clear, like a lot of my friends, I had a big old confidence crisis post-baby. I thought my brain would never work properly again, I’d never get out my yoga pants and that mine was genuinely going to be the one child still not sleeping through the night before his driving test.
People try and slot you into a neat little box: stay-at-home-mom, career mum, attachment mum….It’s boring and meaningless. This whole ‘mommy wars’ parenting style clash thing is horse-shit. The world will be a better place when we stop judging and sniping at each other for the decisions we make about how to raise our kids.
Today, I truly believe that finding that balance – if you are privileged enough to be able to even try and strike one – is a great adventure. I’m very aware of this and very grateful for it. I love my work, and I am very grateful I finally feel I’m getting my balance right.
WMB: Do you find that being a mother affects your choice of stories to cover? Does it make you do a risk assessment?
KK: Well, now that I am a mother, I want to feel my work matters somehow. Matters to me, I mean, that I see the value in it. So yes, in that sense I do feel incredibly lucky that when I leave my children behind for extended periods of time it is for something I value and enjoy. This is a great privilege – sorry if I keep repeating that!
And rather than affect my risk assessment, I think being a mother just makes me a better reporter, but this is just my personal view about myself.
WMB: I am thinking of the woman getting ready to deliver a baby in a truck outside of Kobani…does covering issues affecting mothers and children hit you particularly hard?
KK: Not really. I think it matters more to me now than when I was younger. I value the work I do more because I have a family at home, but a tough story is always a tough story. You don’t have to be a mother to cover these issues properly and compassionately, I certainly would not say that.
WMB: Can you talk about your decision to move your family to Mallorca? How has it helped you design the life you want?
KK: My husband grew up in the Balearics and his was a wonderfully free and natural upbringing. So I could definitely sense he wanted to inject some of that freedom into our kids’ lives. And it worked: we are all very happy here. We spend so much time outdoors, in nature, and being together. The weather is beautiful, childcare is way more affordable, state schools here mean both my kids now speak three languages. Right now, I think it has been one of the best decisions we made as a family.
WMB: How do you integrate your multicultural background into how you raise your kids?
KK: Good question! When people ask my children where they’re from their answers are long and complex! I am English/Venezuelan with Caribbean Jewish ancestry, and my husband is a Scottish Welsh mix. (But with any sporting event he’s Spain’s biggest fan – unless it’s rugby, then it’s all Wales!)
My daughter jokes about my South American-accented Spanish, so different to her own Spanish accent from here, and they are extremely lucky to have traveled so much for their young ages. Unfortunately, Venezuela right now is not a place I want to travel with my kids, so I make a big effort to make sure they stay connected to their roots: music, food, language…my mother is invaluable on this front.
WMB: How do you think all of this informs the world view you hope your kids grow up with?
KK: So my kids know nursery rhymes in Papiamento, the language my mother grew up with in Curaçao, songs from Venezuela, in Catalan and from Scotland through my in-laws. They are incredibly lucky to be such global kids. I hope it helps them as they make their own way in the world. Independence of thinking, I think, is one of the main things that coming from, and being surrounded by, different cultural backgrounds gives us. If you live in a great, multicultural city like London, where we lived before, you get this in the classroom every day. It’s fantastic, and I do miss that here in this corner of Spain. But I’m confident they’ll grow up happy and curious, part and parcel of their own cultural different-ness.
The image used in this post is from “Patrick Speaks” and is used with permission by Ms. King.