Guest Kween: JANAE BRANDIS “My Angel Baby.”

Guest Kween: JANAE BRANDIS “My Angel Baby.”

The last Friday of June in Australia is Red Nose Day and I’m one of the unlucky parents who this day has a very significant meaning to.

For as long as I can remember, all I wanted to be is a mother. Growing up all my friends had specific career goals that they wanted to achieve but for me, all I knew for sure was that when I ‘grew up’ I’d be a mum!

Well, as they say ‘dreams do come true’ but my journey into motherhood has been far from what I dreamed it would be as a little girl.

On Monday, the 22nd of August in 2011, my dream became a reality when my first son Nate Lachlan Brandis was born. My labour was long and if I’m honest, waaaay more painful than I could ever have imagined. I ended up in an emergency C-section but it was totally and 110% worth it when my big 9lb 9oz baby boy was handed to me.

The first week was tough, Nate’s blood sugar levels were so low, he needed to stay in the special care nursery. My milk never came in, which after my third baby I finally discovered I had IGT (Insufficient Glandular Tissue) which is quite common with women who have PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). Recovering from a C-section was also no walk in the park! After that week, I caved and decided I was going to bottle feed (my now starving) child.

I have to admit, it was one of best decisions I ever made. After his first full bottle, he slept!! He slept so well that I was the mum at my mothers’ group who lied to all the other poor mums because I felt so bad that my now three week old baby was sleeping eight hours straight a night! (While they were up every hour to attend to their baby.)

Nate was the easiest, crusiest, happiest, cheekiest baby I’ve ever met. (I’m not even joking, he actually was!) He fitted right into our world so perfectly. My husband Paul and I both thought life was pretty damn sweet.

When Nate was ten months and three weeks old our lives were irrevocably changed when he passed away from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). I was totally blindsided. How could this beautiful, innocent soul be taken from us so soon?

I was that mum who never put the cot bumper in the cot and dressed my baby in a sleeping bag instead of blankets (as that was the SIDS recommendation). I did it all and it made no difference!! It just didn’t and still doesn’t make any sense!

The next few days, weeks and months were a total blur. All I can remember is the amount of love that surrounded Paul & I from our family and those few friends (who know who they are) that we now consider as family.

I remember in the days after Nate died, I was peeing on a pregnancy test just praying for my baby to come back to me; like I was asking for some sort of miracle.

The pain of losing a child never leaves you. You just learn of ways to cope and live with the pain, as if it’s a new part of you.

So that’s what we did. Paul and I decided to live life. We both took nearly half a year off work and travelled the world together. We did so many amazing things on that trip from learning to scuba dive in the Greek Islands to skydiving over the North Shore in Hawaii to learning the art of making traditional Spanish sangria & paella in Barcelona. It was exactly the escape I needed but it was also such a bittersweet time in our lives too.

In the back of my mind, I expected to return from that trip pregnant and it devastated me that I didn’t. However, after nearly four years of struggling with infertility and having to go on a range of fertility meds, we were finally blessed with our rainbow baby, another son Luca. Luca’s name (as well as being a family name) means ‘bringer of light’ and that he certainly is!!

Two years later we were blessed again in a rather suprising & unplanned way (due to some of my own serious medical issues, which is a whole other story in itself) with the birth of our third son, Hudson.

Being a parent after the loss of a child is hard, I mean ‘parenthood’ is hard in general but it adds a whole other level. Those fucking ‘mum guilts’ creep in way worse when you’ve just had enough but it makes you appreciate the little things just as much too.

Nate’s still every bit a part of our family. Luca knows all about his big brother ‘Angel Nate’ and Hudson will grow to know about him too.

So this Red Nose Day (as I do every day) I will be thinking of my darling Angel Nate and sending love not only to him but to all of the other angel babies and the families they have so sadly left behind. Please join me.

Find out how you can be involved and support Red Nose Day here. Help reduce nine deaths a day to ZERO and donate.

Janae Brandis is a Bunbury girl, born and raised. She’s been married to the love-of-her-life for 10 years and she’s a mother to three gorgeous children; one of whom lives in heaven. Janae is obsessed with wine and cheese but thinks chocolate is life. In other words, don’t come between her and her Snickers bar.

📷: Red Nose

Guest Kween: FAYE LYONS-WHITE “The Best Day Of My Life Was Not (For A While) The Day My Daughter Was Born.”

Guest Kween: FAYE LYONS-WHITE “The Best Day Of My Life Was Not (For A While) The Day My Daughter Was Born.”

The best day of my life was not (for a while) the day my daughter was born.

Even seeing that written down gives me an immense feeling of guilt. I feel anxious writing this.

With time and perspective (and probably some minor memory loss) it has become the best day but for a while, it really was not.

Before I had Aifric, I was told that having a baby would be the best day of my life; better than my wedding day, better than the time I was 16 and saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the London Arena, better than the day I danced with Jeff Goldblum (husband Simon will be rolling his eyes here), even better than the day Ryan Gosling shook elbows with me (even more eye rolling, but that’s another story for another time).

Let’s not get confused with the best day of my life and the best thing that has ever happened in my life. Because Aifric is certainly that. She is the best thing that has ever happened to us and I am overwhelmed with the magnitude of love and pride I have for her.

But the day she was born was awful. She was 10 days late. Eventually after 9 days of waiting, I went into labour in the early hours of the morning and by all accounts, it started off well.

I was contracting every 3 minutes, all while still able to have conversations about what was trending on Twitter and Trump. Who wants to talk about him during labour? Hand up: this fool over here! I even had time to eat a lot of Party Rings. The phrase ‘she’s made for labour’ was even bandied about (which is weird in itself, does that mean some women aren’t?!).

Suddenly I wasn’t making any further progress, I couldn’t dilate past 7-8cm because the baby was sitting on part of my cervix. Cue syntocinon drip, and an epidural. Then all of a sudden: chaos.

The baby’s heart rate dropped without warning and didn’t recover. We had an emergency episiotomy and forceps delivery and I got a third degree tear, losing two litres of blood. I was immediately taken to theatre and spent the first two and a half hours of our baby’s life away from her.

Later, when the feeling came back to the lower half of my body, I was in immense pain. So who can call that the best day of their life? Please. No one would describe severe haemorrhaging as the best day of their life!

It has taken me some time to allow myself to breathe and appreciate that thought. Even now my memory is playing tricks on me: was that the best day of my life? Maybe it was.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine, we were swapping labour stories and I said that this ‘best day of your life’ stuff is just total rubbish. Aifric is the best thing to ever EVER happen to us and we cannot imagine life without her but the best day? It certainly was not!

The next day I sent this friend a follow-up message saying how guilty I felt. How much I felt I had let Aifric down by saying her birthday wasn’t the best day of my life and that really it was a great day because we got baby Aifric out of it. I wouldn’t want Aifric to ever think I resented any of it. Ever. Because of course, I don’t.

This lovely friend of mine replied. She told me that I hadn’t let Aifric down just because I didn’t enjoy the labour. That the labour was a reflection of my love and appreciation for her. A testament to my love for her; that I could go through all that and still think she’s the best thing I have ever done.

Thank you to that friend for helping me manage that funny guilt, one which I think is probably going to stick with me for a little while longer and may possibly change in its appearance, cloud my judgement and my memory: but it’s ok, I am ready for you!

And thank you to my friend for teaching me (us!) yet another lesson. To be a little kinder to ourselves, a little softer, in this totally and utterly crazy journey of parenthood.

Faye is a showbiz correspondent living in London with her husband Simon and 6 month old daughter Aifric. Life was all about the red carpets and interviews: now it’s Napisan and nipple shields.

Faye started blogging about life as a new mum on her site notsoshowbizmum. She very much enjoys an instastory, a good gin, netball and is pleased TayTay and KP have finally made up!

@posh_faye

Kween Krush: ALICIA GARDINER “From Screen Dream To Dancing Queen.”

Kween Krush: ALICIA GARDINER “From Screen Dream To Dancing Queen.”

Kween Krush alert!! This is where we celebrate everyday women for being complete badass Wonder Women.

Alicia, we have a big fat crush on you! We’ve watched you from our living rooms for a while now; famously as ‘Kim’ in the Network Ten series Offspring but also in Wolf Creek, Redfern Now and Miss Fisher’s Mysteries. Over the last few months you’ve been touring Australia and wowing audiences on stage as Rosie in the musical Mamma Mia; sooo we’re not going to pretend that we didn’t go into complete ‘fangirl meltdown’ when you started following us on Instagram.

First of all, bravo, well done, hooray! How long have you been acting for? And most importantly, why are you an actor? 

Thank you! It’s nice of you to have me here.

I was always interested in performing growing up, thanks to Young Talent Time in the 80s, and ended up studying voice and drama at the Victorian College of The Arts but my first gig almost felt like an accident – I’d heard the ABC were looking for an actress, who could sing,  for their new mini series Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude with Ben Mendelsohn. Somehow, I landed the job and twenty years later I’m still here! I have no idea how or why. Part tenacity and part luck, I guess.

I’ve really focused on my acting work over the years, by choice. I’m fascinated by how people and relationships work, or fail, and there’s something very juicy about delving into a new character’s psyche and trying to bring it to life. Acting teaches me about people, and myself. It forces me to stay present. I also like playing dress ups and I like the on set catering!

Is making your mark in the world of acting and entertainment in Australia. as challenging as one might think?

I don’t think I’ve ever tried to ‘make my mark’. Things really have just evolved over time in terms of my work and there’s been no method whatsoever. I’d like to say it’s all planned but, really, nope! I think a lot of people get to this ‘middle aged’ point in their lives and think “how the hell did i get here?”. That is me. Most days.

Did you have moments where you wanted to give up and do something else? If so, what gave you the strength and courage to keep going? 

A few years ago, I remember questioning the relevance of what I was doing. I had two little babies on my own and life just suddenly became more meaningful!  I remember thinking that perhaps I should be doing something with a deeper impact; something which made a difference to people’s lives and something less self focused. But over the past ten years I’ve really been reminded that there’s a side to this business that is far greater than any of us – most recently in fact, a girl came up to me on the street to tell me she is living with stage 4 terminal cancer. She told me she watches Offspring religiously and that my character ‘Kim’ makes her laugh and reminds her of the nurses who helped her in hospital. I could see how much the show has meant to her during her illness. Stories like these make me realise that what we do actually does make an impact; helping people feel and think and laugh. It’s important and, I guess since becoming a mother, I get that now.

You’ve played some gutsy, witty and glorious characters, are taking on these kinds of roles a conscious decision? 

Sometimes. I actually prefer working on drama than comedy, believe it or not. Overall, I’m more likely to want to play roles that are different to others that I may have played in the past, so it’s more about contrast and challenge than anything else. But there were certainly times, long ago, where I had to say yes to whatever work came along just to pay the rent.

📸: Giovanni Lovisetto

Bear with us but we need to get a few burning Offspring questions in. What was the best part of playing Kim Akerholt? 

Playing ‘Kim’ was a huge adventure. We never really knew what the writers were going to throw at us at any given time, so there was a lot of joy in that. I also really valued the freedom we were given from our directors and producers. So much of the final cut was born from the playfulness that existed on set; we were encouraged to take risks and make bold choices – an actor’s dream.

Kim is funny, sincere, brutally honest, a lesbian, a working mother, a devoted partner and beautiful friend. How did it feel to cover the sensitive and complex subjects she dealt with? 

We really did cover a lot, didn’t we?!  Cleverly, Offspring was able to flow from absolutely heartbreaking storylines to ones with mayhem and hilarity, sometimes within the one scene. We felt supported as actors with the directing and writing team so I knew the balance between ‘Kim’s’ bluntness and heart was always going to be kept in check. The comedy/drama line can be a tricky one to find, sometimes. I just feel very lucky that I was able to discover and develop this as ‘Kim’ over such a long period of time.

📸: Sarah Enticknap

What was it like being on-set with such a diverse cast and are there any cast members that have become like family? 

In many ways, the cast and crew did become like family. I guess that happens after 8 years of long hours making television together! Many of us had children during that time, got married, got divorced, got pregnant! Huge milestones.  This industry is quite unique in that you can work extremely intensely with each other for years but, next minute, you start a new job and inadvertently become part of another ‘family’ with similar intensity! So, yes, we stay in touch but this business means we are not always in the same city or country at the same time. Thank goodness for social media!

Seriously bear with us. Did the death of Patrick devastate you too? Haha. 

I do remember the first time I read that particular script and I gave Matt LeNevez (Patrick) an extra big squeeze at breakfast the next morning! We knew it was going to upset the audience but had no idea it’d be to the extent it became. I STILL have people telling me they haven’t recovered! Many liken it to when ‘Molly’ died in A Country Practice and I remember that sadness myself so I can feel how much this particular storyline meant to people. It’s a great testament to the show and to actors like Matt and Ash (Keddie) to have people respond like they did to their work.

📸: Giovanni Lovisetto

We get the impression you’re a proud feminist, is this true? 

I guess so! I’m the daughter of a strong minded women who was very independent and outspoken and I almost feel as if I am becoming more like her, the older I get.  My Mum was always about fairness and, growing up,  I never had the feeling that I couldn’t achieve or do anything different than my two brothers. There have been relationships along the way that have challenged me and these beliefs but, in hindsight, I’ve only come out the other side even stronger and more determined that I can have and do anything I want.

If so, does this change how you raise your children? Does this change how you are at work? 

I hope my kids don’t feel a difference between their genders. I’ve taught them that Princesses can slay dragons and that Kings can cry too and my daughter knows very much that her worth is not tied up by her looks or the dress she wears. I guess when my kids leave the nest and step out into the world they’ll come across experiences and attitudes that will contradict their own but hopefully I’ve given them a solid enough base.

I think we are progressing slowly, in Australia, with content for women in our industry and you only need to look at what’s happening in the states to see how much this will change over the next few years. Thank goodness! So, this is exciting and I’m happy that my children are growing up in a period where equality and attitudes within the workplace are being so widely discussed.

📸: James Morgan Photo

What women are you krushing on at the moment? 

I’m currently working on Mamma Mia! The Musical which is produced by three incredibly, strong women – Louise Withers, Linda Bewick and Phillippa Gowen. I’ve known Louise and Linda for almost 20 years. They put their whole heart and soul into producing these mega musicals and run an incredibly tight ship yet, at the core, have a genuine love for bringing beautiful stories to life on stage and bringing good to the world. I’m learning a lot from them and the way they operate. I’m also working alongside two amazing actors; Natalie O’Donnell and Jayde Westaby. We are touring together for 13 months and I have major crushes on them both! It can be a tough gig but these two slay it every single night and I watch them in awe, not just as performers but how they just tackle their days as working women and mothers. We spend a lot of time together; mostly in fits of laughter in our dressing rooms but also propping each other up in support. It reminds me daily of how important it is for women to be there for each other. I don’t have sisters, but I’m glad I have these two.

Is it an absolute thrill being back on stage? 

It really is! Musical theatre can require so much more of you, especially vocally, and I’m enjoying that challenge. Our physio calls us athletes and when you see what our ensemble do, you wouldn’t be surprised. We need to be meticulous with our sleep and food routines and coffee is now my new best friend! The challenge is real but the buzz of working live is so worth it.

What’s the whole experience of rehearsing and touring been like so far? 

It’s quite intense. I’m a single Mum and my kids tour with me. I’m not exactly sure how we are making it work, but we are – and that’s all that matters right?!  We’ve toured to Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney already and each city has been full of new adventures for us. I’m looking forward to bringing the show to other states over the next few months.

Touring a show like this is a lesson in logistics and the company is like a well oiled machine in regards to the crew. The work we do on stage is only the tip of the iceberg.

Is it possible to prefer performing on stage over being on-screen? Or is it like having to choose your favorite child? 

It’s hard to say. If I look back on past jobs, my favourites have always been the ones who have had great people involved. Yes, the piece itself matters, but to me it’s also about who I’m collaborating with and what they stand for. There’s nothing worse than working in a toxic environment. It stifles creativity and prevents people from doing their best work. My life is too short for unenjoyable experiences!

Speaking of favs, ready for another tough one? What’s your favourite ABBA song? 

We sing Dancing Queen twice in Mamma Mia! and it’s now becoming my favourite – which is surprising because it’s actually quite a killer song to sing. ABBA were tricky like that. Many of their songs are quite easy to listen to but once you pull them apart they’re often really bloody difficult! Our audiences are absolutely going off during Dancing Queen though so that softens the blow!

How did you do/feel/think when you heard that after 35 years ABBA have reunited and are making music again? 

The first thing I said was “I need to be in the front row!”. It’s going to be one of those tours – everyone will want to go to. I met Bjorn 17 years ago when I performed as ‘Ali’ in the original Mamma Mia! musical. He seemed like a great guy but we have barely kept in touch so it’ll be great to see him again (haha!).

📸: Richard Dobson

📸: James Morgan Photo

Why should we come and see Mamma Mia!? What makes this show so special? 

Firstly, you should come and see it because it’s great to support live theatre in Australia. That’s a no brainer! Secondly, this show is like a delicious cupcake! It’s story is simple and beautiful, focusing on love and family and friendship – but it’s blended with kick ass ABBA tunes and some incredible spandex costumes. We genuinely want people to come along for a laugh and a cry and let loose a little!

And finally, you must be super chuffed with everything you’ve achieved in your life. What’s one thing you would now tell your younger self? 

Oh, gosh!  I think I would tell my younger self that life is not always lollipops and rainbows; you’re going to win friends and loose friends, you’re going to fall in love but it will hurt like hell too, you’re going to miss out on that gig you really want and society is probably going to tell you you’re no good or ugly at some point – so just ride it out because one day you’ll see that none of that really matters at all.

Carmela has been a ridiculous fan of Alicia Gardiner for like a gazillion years! So she was thrilled when Alicia turned out to be an absolute treat and gem of a human through out this whole interview process; reaffirming once again that it’s ok to meet your heroes guyssss.

📸: Peter Brew Beven

MAMMAMIA NATIONAL TOUR DATES

PERTH

Crown Theatre From May 15th 2018

MELBOURNE

Princess Theatre From July 10th 2018

ADELAIDE

Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre From October 9th 2018

TICKETS ON SALE NOW!

@mammamiainoz

Carmela’s Mum and Aunty Maria went to see the show at the Crown Theatre in Perth and they had an absolute ball! Do yourself a favor… 😉

Guest Kween: MARIA CONTARINO “An Open Letter To My Firstborn.”

Guest Kween: MARIA CONTARINO “An Open Letter To My Firstborn.”

Dear Carmela (Moo),

I loved you from the minute you were born and still do.

From a young age being a mum was all I ever wanted: I honestly couldn’t wait to fall pregnant.

At 11am on the 21st of February 1986, here you were, finally in my arms. It was a very long labour that ended in an emergency C section but from that moment my life completely changed; you were my world, the air that I breathed. Yep, the bond was there right from the start; I loved the fact that you needed me. Everything finally made sense. I was a mummy, it made me feel important.

You were such a bubbly baby; you completed my days. We were like a team. I talked to you every minute of the day and waited every morning for you to wake to do it all over again. Poor dad, he felt rejected, as all my focus and attention was on you.

When your sister Domenica was born you helped me in every possible way, we were in this together. Team ‘Mum and Moo’ was the best team ever. We filled our days talking, watching TV and having afternoon sleeps together in the big bed (my bed).

Life was great. Having two little girls felt like a sense of achievement. I dressed you both the same whenever I could.

Then came along your brother Sam, and I guess that’s when you really turned into a ‘mini-me’. Domenica wasn’t fussed but I think you thought he was pretty special. You helped me raise Sammy right into his teenage years.

With me being the youngest child of a large Italian family, I was incredibly spoilt. I really had the very best childhood. So when I became a mum I also wanted you to experience the same feeling. I’m just not too sure how I went with that, because with me having to work most of the time, I don’t think growing up you were as happy.

Nonna was always home and I got away with lots. As for you Moo, it just wasn’t the same because you had to step into my shoes when I wasn’t there. You were only eleven-years-old when I was running a supermarket deli (meaning I wasn’t around in the mornings). You would wake your sister and brother up, make them breakfast and walk them to and from school. You were a part- time mummy/part-time sister and were always asking if I needed anything. This is probably why you’re so mature for your age: you had to grow up really quickly. We needed your help but it’s one of my regrets.

Sometimes I feel like I failed you and wasn’t the best mum going around. With the long hours that I worked to bring the extra money into the house (which I thought was important at the time), I missed out on spending precious time with you. I compensated for this in your teenage years. I wanted you to make your own decisions. You probably thought I was the biggest pushover but I wanted you to love life and enjoy being free.

Even though I had the most amazing childhood, your nonno told me who, what, when, why and dictated how things were done. He made all my decisions till the day I married your father and life with your Dad has been pretty much the same. I didn’t want that for you. All I really ever wanted was to be a stay-at-home-mum and not work.

Carmela, we were friends all through your school years. I liked how you trusted me and talked to me about lots of different things. It made me happy.

When you moved out of home for the first time to live in Sydney, you left an empty place in my heart. You were on a journey to build your career and I thought ‘ahh she’s going to forget me’ but we still kept in touch (most days). I loved when you would call asking for advice (like the time you needed to know how to boil pasta) haha.

As the years have gone by, you’ve moved from Sydney to London with no job and no place to live. You’ve been there on and off for three years now and traveled to places I can only dream about. I want you to know how proud I am of you and your achievements; with all the ups and downs, you’ve always managed to survive.

Rumour has it you’re my favourite, well let everyone think what they want. 😉

Thank you so much for all the things you have taught me: mostly to believe in myself and have faith that I can do anything.

Most of all THANK YOU for loving me, still giving me cuddles and allowing me to be your mum.

LOVE YOU Moo,

Mummy.

P.s. Team Mum and Moo Forever.

Carmela’s response:

Dear Mum,

Please don’t feel guilty for having to work during my childhood. I’ve sensed for a while now that it’s been eating you up inside.

Don’t you dare let it!

YOU are the reason I am brave, the reason I am strong, the reason I have an impeccable work ethic, the reason I am resilient, the reason I am a fighter, the reason I am bold, the reason I am successful, the reason I am kind, the reason I am loved (and know how to love) unconditionally.

From a young age I watched a woman raise a family on her own and sacrifice everything to provide for them; you’re still providing for us now.

Don’t you get how fucking proud I am of you? In a world where you’ve never had it all, you’ve always ensured that I did.

For over a decade you held down the fort while dad worked in Perth. You took a small business and turned it into an homeware institution. From not having a proper education; you’re the highest-paid person in your field. You’ve had three kids and somehow are skinner than me. Haha.

You were never just the mum that worked and wasn’t there. You squeezed in as much as you could and juggled it all. Even today (at nearly 60 years of age) you do a 9-5 and still put a home cooked meal on the table every evening.

No one ever has a bad word to say about you; though I brag about how ‘I have the best mum’ all the time anyway. You’re a second mum/nonna to so many and that’s because you’ve welcomed all my friends into our family home and treated them like family as well.

Yes, my childhood was different to other kids but I also got to grow up with a mum that I could tell anything to and never had to hide anything from. You trusted and respected me from such a young age; I think it’s really why I’m a feminist and enforce women empowerment.

You’ve taught me to put memories first before money and never stopped me from living my life (no matter how unusual my choices may be). I am the lucky one.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Love,

Moo

Maria Contarino is Carmela’s mum, she’s also the successful store manager of House in Bunbury (otherwise known as ‘Mrs House’). Maria cooks a mean bowl of pasta, is an obsessive owl collector and is the first one on the d floor whenever ‘Dancing Queen’ or ‘You’re The One That I Want’ is playing.

The reality of being unemployed past your thirties.

The reality of being unemployed past your thirties.

friends-unemployed

In my twenties I hit the ground running, I was focused, zealous and fearless. Some would even say I ‘peaked’ too soon. I landed my dream job at the age of 23 and was on more money than my parents combined at 24, but by 25 it all came crashing down. It wasn’t completely dire afterwards, though I had to rebuild. Everything I thought I knew was no longer. Everything that used to be, now was different. I went from co-hosting a Sydney radio breakfast show which had me interviewing celebrities and getting dressed up for red carpet events to someone who worked at a newsagents, a clothes shop and a jewelry store just to make her rent.

Eventually I got another job in radio, but it came with half the profile and therefore half the money: so I had to keep working one of my part-time gigs. I was also lucky enough to land a manager who booked me regular spots on national TV shows (which straight after I would run to the newsagents and be confronted by customers with: “Didn’t I just see you on TV?”).

Slowly but surely and by that, I mean with a hell of a lot of persistence and tears, everything went back to the way it had been. Bigger radio and TV jobs came along. Some would even say I was ‘back on top’.

My point is, this definitely isn’t a bust out the violins story but, in my twenties, I thought I knew what it meant to struggle and to have ups and downs in my career.

Enter my thirties.

When I was 29, I left my life in Sydney and risked it all for a new, happier life in London. Looking back on it now I can understand why my friends were constantly saying “I don’t know how you’re doing this, I could never!” “Are you fucking mad?” “You brave bitch!” I was moving to a new city, with nowhere to live, no job prospects and no support network.

Also enter a new phase of my career: where I was basically starting all over again. I became familiar with the term the ‘British guard’ meaning: anything I did in Australia didn’t count unless I had done it in the UK. So, while I took meeting after meeting with different TV/production companies and radio stations, I was working in a pub earning a minimum wage of 6 pounds an hour, pouring beers, rolling cutlery and dodging mice.

I came over with some coin to get me started but the conversion rate at the time was shocking: so more than half of what I saved was just gone. Yes, I should have researched more. Yes, I should have put aside more money before I left and I know I’m ultimately responsible for my own life, my own choices, my own actions and therefore my own shortcomings but in my (slight) defense: I was the first in my immediate family to do this. My Mum and Dad had just as much of a clue as I did. Cousins who had done it before did talk about their own ‘London war stories’ but they were from over a decade ago (therefore outdated) and I guess if I had really looked into how fucking hard this was all going to be, I may have chickened out and never done it. Blind hope and a little bit of that fearlessness that I had when I first moved to Sydney at the age of 21 was what I needed again at the age of 31.

So, slowly but surely (but with a hell of A LOT more persistence and tears this time) everything went back to the way it was, I started to get those TV and radio jobs again. I bet you’re thinking that this is where the story ends but either there’s something wrong with me or the saying ‘be careful what you wish for’ really is true.

After 8 months of being ‘back in the game’ I was more miserable than I was when I first moved to London. I was working 14-hour days, 6-7 days a week, my time was filled with catering for the same narcissistic evil radio hosts I came to know and loathe in Sydney and my life was no different to what it was in Australia. “Why was I here?” “What was I trying to prove?” “Was I really doing this for me? Or was I doing it to show those assholes back home that I could do it without them?” (even though the folklore goes that they were ones responsible for my success overseas **eye roll**).

So once again, I packed it all in for the search of something more. I returned home to Australia. I was back under my parents’ roof. I was living in my childhood bedroom (that I shared with my nephew whenever he would sleep over). I went on the dole. I then got a full-time job at the first radio station I ever worked at (which ignited that bright-eyed naive-of-sorts passion again). I got my Italian passport. Cleared my credit card debt. Saved more money to come back over to London with (this time fully aware of what the f**king conversion rate was). Reconnected with my family and friends and prepared for London 2.0.

Initially, I thought I had ‘cracked the code’. Yep, thanks to my new-found research and life experiences London 2.0 was off to a much better start. I aligned myself with recruitment agencies that got me work in environments that were not media-based. I was on better money. I had a better work-life-balance. I was home by 6pm every night. I didn’t work weekends. I had savings for the ‘just in case’ and most of my travels booked for the rest of the year were already paid for. More importantly, I learnt that what I did for a job didn’t define me. I was kicking London in the dick.

So I thought.

Unfortunately London 2.0 hasn’t also been without its psychotic flatmates and work contracts ending unexpectedly.

In the last few months, I was let go at work, forced to move out of the flat I was living in, put all my belongings into black plastic bags and have had them sitting at Carly’s place while I rent out her Airbnb room. I also had to finance two trips back home to Australia. In this time I applied for 60 jobs on LinkedIn alone and woke most mornings with the anxiety that if I don’t find a job soon, I would be homeless and broke in the very near future. Fun! Yeah, London 2.0 has been just as hard at times too.

The good news? I have finally secured another job and I’ll move into my new pad at the beginning of next month. Phew! Today also marks another year that I’ve survived this bad-ass city. Yaasss!!

So the real moral of the story is: while I was home back in Australia for those months in 2016, I witnessed my 60-year-old Dad (who also happened to find himself unemployed) get up every morning, look at the job vacancies online, check his emails (to find no response from any of the jobs he applied for the previous day), and muster up the courage to do it all over again: it nearly broke him.

There is something utterly soul-shattering when you find yourself unemployed past the age of 30. The constant putting yourself out there. The way your heart skips a beat and then sinks when you check your inbox. The realisation that there’s now a much higher chance of someone younger and possibly more qualified than you going for the same role. The acknowledgement of how big the gap is getting from when you last did the job you love. But mostly, ignoring the constant feeling that you’re failing. It got me real dark most days and I had to really try to find the quick wins in life. I can only imagine how my poor Dad felt during his period. If I was struggling with this at 30, what was going through his mind at 60?

The truth: I’d love to wrap this up with something hopeful and with the reassurance that everything is always going to be ok, but I didn’t have the courage or the energy to put this down on paper till I was employed again. It’s funny how that 9-5 life gives you that feeling of purpose and how necessary that is for your mental health and self-care. So I get it: if you’re going through this or have gone through this in the past, it’s hard to hear or take comfort in those words, especially when you’re in the thick of it.

The real truth: I can’t guarantee everything is going to be ok, no one can, in my experience it hasn’t always been. Things that make it a hell of a lot easier? Take those FaceTime calls from your family (even when you can’t bear to actually ‘face’ them), have a good chin-wag with your nearest and dearest and get that ugly off your chest, have someone in your life that encourages you to remember all the things you should be grateful for and have those cups of peppermint tea on the reg.

One piece of advice: in these times of trouble try and avoid alcohol and drugs, if you can. I’m not a saint and it’s absolutely the first thing I reach for whenever I’m in despair, but I read this great quote and it’s really changed my mind set.

‘If you drink to numb all the difficult things in life, you’ll numb all the good bits too.’

Remember, every next level of your life will determine a different you.

Peace out Kweens!

Stay strong.

Big love,

Carmela.

x

Introducing Carmela Contarino, the #PowerKween behind ‘So The Fairy Tales Lied…’ 👸🏻♥️✨

Carmela is an Aussie in London with wanderlust. A TV/Radio rebel. Fierce feminist. Loud laugh-er. Emotional eat-er. Pop culture cat. Red wine wooer and karaoke kween. She hopes that her experiences are just like yours, funny, warm, loud, raw and that maybe you can figure out this thing called ‘life’ together. #YasssKween 🙌🏼

Guest Kween: FRIDA PAYNE “Autism, My Son And Me.”

Guest Kween: FRIDA PAYNE “Autism, My Son And Me.”

For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a mother. Growing up in an Italian family we were always surrounded by our younger cousins. I couldn’t wait until I had my own.

I met my darling husband at 31. I got married at 33 and I was knocked up 6 months later.

It was a long 9 months and the birth, it didn’t go to plan. Antonio was one week late and I ended up having an emergency C section. We named him after our Dads: Antonio Ross Payne and from that day on in December, our lives changed forever.

Motherhood was not what I expected it to be. Antonio did not sleep for the first two months and when I say he didn’t sleep, I mean he’d be down for a max of 40 minutes a day. We tried everything; rocking him, driving him around, he just would not settle. Antonio didn’t breast feed well either. I stuck it out for two months and then put him on the bottle (side note: my second child breast-fed for 18 months with no issues).

The first few months were like a blur. I did not have that maternal feeling and I was questioning everything. I’m usually a confident person but when it came to this, I was shit. It was like I was an ‘amazing parent’ before I actually had kids! I did everything I said I wouldn’t do. And I hate to admit it but I felt like I didn’t love him.

This makes me cry when I think about it now. How could I not love this child? Deep down I knew I loved him but something was missing. That loved up motherly feeling that everyone talks about wasn’t there. This should have been easy for me and I just wasn’t getting it. (Side note two: when you have a baby take all the help you can get. Don’t be a hero! People do want to help).

When Antonio was six months old we decided to try for another baby.  I mean seriously, what the fuck were we thinking? Lol! But things had settled down heaps, Tonio was in a great routine (after a lot of hard work) and generally he was a happy baby.  We got pregnant on the second try and nine months later our little Kiki (Chiara Lucia Payne) was born. Making it 15 months between the two of them. Chiara was the total opposite to Antonio, she slept well, fed well, and things were generally going great!

At this time my husband Marcus started working FIFO (fly-in fly-out in the mines). His roster changed a few times but mostly he would be away for 28 days then back for seven. At this point, we had a two-year-old and an 11-month-old, so off he went. At the time, it felt like 99.9% of things were okay, but when I think back on it now, I honestly don’t know how I did it. Silver lining: yes, it did enable me to stay home with the kids without working but it was even harder on Marcus as he missed out on a lot of the kids growing up (he missed every one of Kiki’s Birthdays until she was five). To survive, I spent most weekends at my Mum and Dad’s house. My sister also lived around the corner, so the kids were able to spend heaps of time with their Nonno, Nonna and their cousins.

Generally Antonio was a happy toddler, he didn’t really speak that much and was always fussy with his food. He would pick one thing to eat and pretty much refuse anything else for the next few months. He wouldn’t eat vegetables without adding something sweet to it. When he turned one he just refused to eat anything. Nothing!! He would have major tantrums in shopping centers and it got to a stage where I would just not take him out. He would flap his hands and walk on his tippy toes, sometimes even on pointe, like a ballet dancer. He was always moving.

Around the age of two he started to write letters. Totally self-taught. I remember my sister (who is a special needs teacher) saying to me “You do realize that it is not normal for him to do this at his age”; it was like he had a photographic memory.

I guess I always had a gut feeling something was off, so I went to my GP.  He advised me to wait because of Antonio’s age and explained that things may settle down. I must say they did. He started talking more but he also started to bang his head against doors and walls. It wouldn’t hurt him, he just wanted to do it.

Just before Antonio started kindergarten at the age of three, he was writing big words like ‘elephant’ and ‘iguana’. He could read books. But the meltdowns were also more frequent and I knew we had to investigate it further. An angel came into our lives in the form of his kindy teacher. I explained to her what was happening and with her help, Antonio was referred to the school Occupational Therapist.  The OT (another beautiful lady) did some tests on him and wrote us a letter to take to a developmental pediatrician. Cue another trip to the GP to get the referral to the pediatrician. You would think getting an appointment would be easy right? The waiting lists were six to nine months long. Luckily for us the pediatrician (another angel in our lives) had a cancellation and we finally had an appointment.

She told us she thought there was reason for him to be tested for Autism. I was not sad, nor unhappy, I just wanted to help my child quickly and get it done.  This was just something we needed to deal with.

A speech pathologist and a psychiatrist came to our house (Marcus was home) and they started doing the tests.  I held it together for a little bit but then I just broke down. I knew what the answer was going to be but the reality of seeing him with these two women really broke my heart. He was happy and fine. Mummy and Daddy were not.

Nine months later we had our diagnosis. Antonio had Autism. So what’s next?

Well, there isn’t a ‘person’ that you can go to get ‘all’ the answers. Nope, a magician does not come riding in on unicorn and tell you everything that needs to be done. You have to research OTs, speech pathologists, psychiatrists, etc. You need to research what’s going to be the best form of therapy to get him through a day, to get him through his life. Forms needed to be filled out, there was funding to get. So many factors all wrapped up in this one word “Autism”.

The first two years of school were a learning curve. Yes, kindergarden was hard but we got through it. Antonio had two brilliant teachers and an amazing Educational Assistant. He was having therapy weekly and he was making progress. He even tried a strawberry (that was the one and only time, but he tried it). Antonio had an IQ test to see how exactly smart he was. He was doing fantastic.

Then BAM! There was full-time school: new rules. I was so used to everyone listening to me and working as a team with people around him and all of a sudden no one was paying attention.

“He has to do this, he has to do that. He has to eat his lunch.”

“Antonio doesn’t eat. He will eat when he gets home.”

“He has to eat!”

“He won’t eat, do you understand?  Do you realize his brain does not work like ours?”

“Antonio is hitting, he is aggressive.”

“Hitting? Who is this kid?  He has never hit me in his life!”

“We need to tell the other kids he has Autism.”

“Why? We aren’t ready to have that discussion yet.”

I literally felt like I was the one now hitting my head against a brick wall.

In the middle of last year my Dad suddenly passed away from a heart attack. It turned our world upside down. Antonio did not cope. On the day of the funeral, it finally hit him. As we were walking in to church Antonio was saying to me. “Where is Bello (a name he called my Dad) ? Why did Bello die?” The reality had set in. His words were so literal. He asked me “Can we build another Bello?”.

He still will not listen to any Elvis songs (my Dad was a massive fan). My kids would see me crying every day which in turn would make them cry. “Mummy please don’t cry, please don’t cry. I don’t want you to cry anymore.” The loss of my Dad left a massive void in not only my life but my husband’s too. He was dealing with his grief and I was dealing with mine.

So in the middle of all this grief, Marcus and I had to decide if we were going to change schools. Countless meetings had not changed anything. Do I leave this school where he has amazing friends who knew his quirks, who loved him? Do I move my daughter who loves this school? Chiara, who had had been to every therapy session with him, who stood up for him when he needed help? My blue-eyed gorgeous angel Kiki, could I do this to her too?

While debating the issue, I would drop Antonio off at school with nerves in my stomach. What was this day going to bring? To cut a very long story short I started interviewing schools. I spoke to a lovely lady who said all the right things. “Nothing you are telling me about your son is anything we haven’t dealt with before.” YES! I had finally found the right one. I cried and thanked her. (Side note three: I’ve lost count of the amount of crying I have done in front of strangers).

After a lot of soul searching, we decided to change schools. Marcus was back from FIFO as things were getting too much for me to deal with on my own.

The first few weeks were bumpy but I am so happy to say we made the right move.  I knew going to a new school was not going to magically fix everything but having people around him who understood why he does what he does is making life a lot easier for all of us. He loves it there and so does Chiara. He has had the best four weeks at school – better than the whole of last year. Kids are so resilient! I also started working again this year which added another level of stress but it has all worked out amazing. To be honest I think my dad has been pulling some strings up there.

The one major thing I have learnt out of all of this is you find out who your real friends are. The people you think will be there, really aren’t. To the point where I told a ‘friend’ I would fucking kill her if she spoke negatively about my son and his Autism again. A bit dramatic I know (and as if I would) but I’m also lucky to be a part of a big supportive family and an amazing network of friends.

I thought it was quite apt that World Autism Awareness Day fell on my Dad’s birthday this year. My Dad was always open to finding out more. He came to a few of Antonio’s appointments and really tried to understand how to help him.

Everyone out there be aware. If you see a little boy or girl having a tantrum, it could be part of a bigger problem. For example, one day we were out and Antonio could find every letter of the alphabet in this shop but couldn’t get to the Z. He had a full blown meltdown in the middle of the supermarket. There was nothing I could do but reassure him that we would find the Z somewhere. We ended up getting a piece of paper and writing it all down. In situations like this, please don’t stand and stare, there is nothing worse. He cannot help his behavior.

To any parents on an Autism journey, keep fighting and be an advocate for your child. You are the only one that can, you are their voice!

The one thing I do know is with our love and support and the right people behind him, Antonio will be fine. He is one of kind. Just like my Dad. He also loves to sing and perform (like his Mumma). He is obsessed with words and letters. He is so fucking smart.

We never question anything Antonio says. He can’t lie (unlike his sister hahaha). He is going to do something great one day, I know it, and if anyone crosses him Chiara will kick their ass.

Motherhood may not have been what I thought it would be but it has taught me so much. I would die for those two little fuckers. I love them so much my heart hurts.

Frida Payne is a fun, loving Mum-of-two from Perth, Western Australia who lights up any room she walks into. She’s a one-eyed West Coast Eagles supporter, a mad Elvis fan, a vintage Barbie collector and a karaoke enthusiast. What’s not to like?

@fridapayne

Guest Kween: LAETITIA ELFASSY “First Time Mum, Married And Divorced In Two Years!”

Guest Kween: LAETITIA ELFASSY “First Time Mum, Married And Divorced In Two Years!”

If you told me 5 years ago that today I’d be a single Mum in France and going through a divorce, I would have said “Yeah right!”.

3 years ago, I moved back to France from Australia after living and working there in media. While I was there all I cared about were my friends, having a drink, planning for my next holiday and pretty much LIVING THE LIFE!

Having already spent thirteen years down under I made the decision that it would be best to move back to France and be close to my family. I had to do things differently in order to get a different outcome. I was petrified of the unknown and what was going to happen next but I was certain about one thing: I had to take charge.

So at the end of the Summer of 2014, I quit my very well-paid job in radio, gave notice to my apartment in Bondi Beach and packed all my belongings into storage.

In June, I flew to France and spent 3 months there living at my Dad’s. I realized soon enough that I definitely had to move back permanently and start a new life there close to my loved ones.

So I flew back to Australia in September to sell my car and all my belongings. It was hard to say goodbye to all my friends, mostly my best friends that I shared all my favorite memories with from my twenties and thirties but here I was now forty and needing to start something new. I was frightened of what was to come but at the same time excited and ready.

I still remember that first day arriving back home in France with my suitcase, it was cold and raining, a typical winter’s day. “Fuck! What was I thinking?!”.

Regardless, I was motivated and I knew I would be able to start over. I immediately started to send out my resume and look for apartments in the city. By January 2015, I had moved into my new flat and things started to get easier. I decided to check out Tinder to see what kind of men there were around here.

I quickly began to make a few connections, and with this one guy in particular, let’s call him Samuel! 😉 He was kind and persistent. I waited 2 months and turned him down 3 times before agreeing to our first date on the 25th of February 2015.

When we met, it was love (or lust) at first sight. We had dinner and drank all night, and from that point on we started seeing each other every day. He was very romantic, wrote me little notes, sent me flowers, took me to London, Paris, Spain. He spoiled me with gifts and told me everyday I was the most beautiful girl in the world. He was extremely nice to my family and we had a lot of common interests. The romance was there, I was hooked!

On the 31st of July 2015, he proposed with an amazing diamond ring and by August I was pregnant with our child! I was very lucky to fall pregnant quickly, being forty years old. We were happy and were looking forward to the future.

We quickly moved in together and started planning our wedding (well now that I look back, I planned our wedding, hahaha!).

In March 2016, we bought a 3 bedroom apartment, in April I gave birth to our son, whom I named Sydney after the beautiful Australian city I lived in and in August, we said “I do”.

Everything happened so fast, I didn’t have time to realize what was going on. That’s when things started to change.

After the wedding, our lives slowed down and I had huge postpartum depression. This shit is real and those hormones hit you hard (even harder when you’re forty I reckon). I adored my son more than anything but couldn’t fight the sadness and stress of the sleepless nights and the scare of anything happening to him. Yep, depression is real!

Instead of supporting me and helping me through this phase, my husband was blaming me for being depressed and scared all the time. I decided to ignore his attitude and keep moving forward. I started a new job and focused on my son’s happiness and wellbeing.

My husband was working too and we lived together like this for a few months but we soon became strangers to each other; that’s when we started sleeping in separate beds and the communication was non-existent. We only discussed matters about our son and his needs. Within a few months after getting married, we were like roommates. We stopped going out on dates but mostly stopped making plans for the future. It was dull, boring and suffocating.

A week before our first wedding anniversary, my sister had a terrible accident and was in intensive care for 2 months and that’s when things really started to go downhill. My husband was not supportive and couldn’t care less about what I was going through. We decided it was best to go our separate ways. Making that decision was a hard pill to swallow for me but seemed easy for him as he was married twice before (should have listened to my gut more and noticed the red flags, but hey).

I’m now going through a divorce but thankfully I am able to keep full custody of our son. My only goal in life now is to ensure I provide the best life for my little man (who’s now 2 years old). Its not easy, I miss Australia and my friends every day. Raising a 2 year old can be challenging at times, but I wouldn’t change my situation for the world. Even though my ex was not the right person for me, he gave me the most precious gift in the world: my son – and for that I am forever grateful.

Lessons learned:

• Don’t do online dating

• Take time to know someone before you commit

• Be independent no matter what

• Be positive and keep moving forward

• YOU’RE NOT STUCK; you’re just committed to certain patterns of behavior because they helped you in the past. Now those patterns have become more harmful than helpful. The reason why you can’t move forward is because you keep applying an old formula to a new level in your life. CHANGE THE FORMULA to get different results!

Laetitia is a senior sales executive in media. Being a single mum, she is also currently enrolling in real estate courses to be able to work from home and look after her little boy. She lives in the south of France and enjoys a nice work-life balance surrounded by her family and beautiful beaches.

@laetitiaelfassy