Guest Kween: LAURA BOUCHET “I’ve Felt Like An Imposter For Most Of My Career!”

Guest Kween: LAURA BOUCHET “I’ve Felt Like An Imposter For Most Of My Career!”

As I sat on the stage, my heart was thumping so loudly; I was certain the whole auditorium could hear it beat through my microphone.

A prickly heat rose through my body, my face was flushed and my eyes stung. I felt like if I took a breath, I was going to throw up right there in front of hundreds of my industry peers.

Let me digress for a second: I’m fully aware that so far this sounds like a middle-aged woman’s version of Eminem’s Lose Yourself but truth be told, I did feel very ‘8 Mile’ at the time. Okay, snap back to reality, I mean, back to my story!

Why was I, of all people, chosen to speak at this conference? “For god’s sake, don’t lift your arms, the sweat marks under there look like you’ve absorbed a swimming pool” Shit, I’ve been asked a question. “Why me? WHAT THE HELL DO I SAY NOW??!!”

This moment was meant to be the highlight of my radio career. I was supposed to sit in front of these people and speak about what I knew.

In a hazy blur (kind of like the camera work on The Blair Witch Project), I fumbled my way through the conference. People applauded, some even thanked me afterwards. Liars. That was a train wreck. I was a total imposter!

The next evening at the industry awards night, the same fools who asked me to speak on stage decided I would also win the highest accolade I could achieve for my job, ‘Best Show Producer’.

It was a huge honour but there wasn’t a single part of my soul that could enjoy any of it. I woke up the next morning with a feeling of dread and a terrible ache in my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking someone was going to knock on my door and tell me there’d been a terrible mistake. That I’d have to hand the trophy back. That I didn’t deserve it.

Hi, I’m Laura and for the past 12-ish years, I’ve been producing radio. Award winning number 1 radio.

Yep, but before I got here, I worked my butt off. From barbecuing sausages at promo events to stuffing prizes into padded envelopes; I got dirty, I woke up early, I stayed back late and I often did it for free.

I’ve now spent over a decade working with some of the most successful and respected media personalities in Australia and won ‘even’ more awards. I’ve also mentored young producers who have gone on to have their own brilliant careers.

Yet no matter how far up the ladder I climbed, that familiar waft of barbecued sausages from my first day would follow me. I was constantly waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder, rip me down off that ladder and say out loud the words that were continually taunting me in my head “You don’t belong here”.

What I had was a giant, crippling dose of Imposter Syndrome.

To save you googling it, here’s the Wiki definition of ‘Imposter Syndrome’.

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.

Doubts their accomplishments.  Check.

Fears being exposed as a fraud. Check. Check. Check.

Did I just win Imposter Syndrome Bingo?

Did you just call out “Bingo” too?

Imposter Syndrome is more common than I ever imagined, and it is particularly prevalent among women. Why? Well, probably for many, many reasons.

Here are some of the reasons I’ve identified based on my own experience:

A tendency to shrink around men. I really want to preface this by stating I love the industry I belong to, and the opportunities it’s presented me with. Like so many industries though, it is heavily dominated by men. Strong men with big personalities. Men who shine and command attention when they walk into a room. Have you ever shrunk yourself in the presence of a strong, shiny man? I sure have, countless times. These men, by the way, have every right to shine but it does not mean we have to shrink. Shrinking yourself only fuels Imposter Syndrome.

Common messages we hear, we think, we even say about other women.

They must have slept their way to the top.”

“They’re wearing their ‘close the deal’ skirt today.”

“Grow some balls.”

“You have to be more of a bitch to get ahead.”

You get the idea. Quite often it’s said in jest. But these shitty words are telling us that it’s unusual for women to succeed through hard work, intelligence and a career plan. This too fuels Imposter Syndrome.

Comparisons with other people. For me, that ‘other person’ was my own husband. (Yes, we are the clichéd product of a chance meeting by the office photocopier).

For a number of years, my husband and I were professional rivals, producing the #1 and #2 radio shows in Sydney; from within the same building.

It was a pretty sweet arrangement for the most part. Until my show beat his to the #1 spot.

He was gracious in defeat (at least to my face), but it was the innocent comments from other people that triggered old mate ‘Imposter Syndrome’ to flair up again.

“How’s HE doing?”

“Is HE okay?”

“I bet you’ll be cooking him his favourite dinner tonight!”

I couldn’t allow myself to enjoy that success. All I felt was that HE missed out on something that he deserved, therefore I didn’t deserve it at all.

Maternity Leave. When I returned to work nine months after having my little angel/spawn of Satan, my Imposter Syndrome was at an all-time high.

It didn’t matter that I had a supportive employer and a team who eagerly welcomed me back with open arms. This stupid stigma around getting knocked up and taking time out to birth a child remained, at least in my head. I felt like an Etch a Sketch. My career had been shaken clean and I had to prove myself all over again. And how on Earth was I going to fool them a second time?! Changing my identity from career woman to mother, to career woman/mother was a complete head-fuck.

Imposter Syndrome is an exhausting beast. It held me back from taking on new challenges. It stopped me from growing. But, the good news… Imposter Syndrome is totally unnecessary and surprisingly simple to let go of.

Here’s how I’m doing it:

I started doing massive cannonballs into swimming pools. I’m being extremely literal here. I used to be the ‘cautious, ease myself up to my waist then stand on my toes and gasp as the cold water hit my ribs’ kind of swimmer. Until I realised I was letting irrational fear and a bit of discomfort get in the way of my swimming time. So, instead, I took a run up and bombed the shit out of that pool. You can see the symbolism here, right? 

When I stopped timidly easing myself into the water, I stopped timidly easing myself into life. I realised I was never afraid that I was not good enough. I was afraid of my own freaking success. I was scared to make a splash. I was scared to shine!

I CHOOSE how I feel. This will freak you out but, an extremely wise woman told me that the physical feeling of anxiety (refer to the first lines of my Eminem-style prose) is the same physical feeling as excitement! Whenever I’m in a situation where I get that response in my body, I change the label to excitement. And it works for me every time.

I celebrate my wins. Big or small wins, it doesn’t matter. I reward myself with a beer, a fancy dinner, or a new pair of shoes. And I make sure I enjoy every delicious moment of it. Not because it might not happen again, but because I earned it.

I repeat weird little mantras to myself. Like this one (you’ve probably seen your grammar pedant friends post a similar line on FB) ‘With Imposter Syndrome, you know you’re shit. Without it, you know your shit’.

This is not a modern day, happily ever after fairy tale by the way. In fact, there’s probably no ending to this at all. I still have many moments where that dreaded feeling kicks in. But it doesn’t control me anymore. I’ve decided that who I am is more than good enough AND if I need a reminder, I find myself a swimming pool.

Bombs away. xx

Laura is an award-winning radio producer who has worked with some of Australia’s most loved media personalities. She met her husband at the work photocopier and together they’re raising a mini-copy of themselves, little Juliette. Laura once got busted asking a colleague if she was ‘prettier than Giuliana Rancic’ by none other than Giuliana Rancic. 🤣

Laura also enjoys making drunk purchases on Ebay, because it feels like Christmas every time the delivery guy knocks on the door with a surprise package.

📸: @laurambouchet

Guest Kween: SIMONE WHALAN “What Happens After You ‘Wait’ Till Marriage!”

Guest Kween: SIMONE WHALAN “What Happens After You ‘Wait’ Till Marriage!”

Having someone you love and know really cherishes you is special and rare but greater than that, is having someone who loves and cherishes you, when you are going through your toughest times.

This year, I will be celebrating 12 years of marriage to my husband Andrew.

We wanted to build a life-long marriage of 50-60 years, so we knew we needed to build strong foundations from the start and not just get swept up in the excitement of a new relationship. I always wanted my first time to be with my husband on our wedding night. For me it meant that I was completely in this relationship; that my whole heart was in it.

We had both been hurt in relationships before and hurt others too. I had spent time healing, becoming confident in myself and with being on my own before needing another relationship. I had learnt to love myself more than ever and wasn’t reliant on needing that love from someone else to be ok anymore.

I was drawn to Andrew’s joy and quirkiness; which seem to fit with me perfectly.

We met in Melbourne. Andrew asked me out while I was living there but I felt I wasn’t ready to commit. Andrew waited and asked me out again once I moved back to WA.

Long distance relationships can be tricky but also really great. We spent the time getting to know each other by writing letters. Each week we would ask questions and answer them in the next letter. Some questions were fun and silly but some were also tough: like what were our strengths, weaknesses and insecurities. We were honest and vulnerable but we were invested in trying to understand each other.

Eventually, Andrew moved over to WA to spend time getting to know my family as well and boy, did he romance me. There was no denying this man truly adored me. He spent a whole night filling up my room with balloons (which he blew each by mouth) just to surprise me, he took me on picnics, and he asked me to marry him one morning, after a beautiful walk along the beach. Those times were amazing and we married in May 2007.

We moved back to Melbourne and began our life together. There were some big adjustments.

Let’s be honest, I was not great with having my own house, living with someone 24/7 and suffered some serious home sickness. But it wasn’t until two years into our marriage, that we had our first big test.

Just before our wedding, I had found out my dad had died. I hadn’t seen him since I was little, so I shut down my emotions and said I would deal with it later. I was ok to never look at it again but I became withdrawn, unhappy and just not myself; this grief was trying to come out and it was scaring me.

Andrew was also struggling with the fact that this person he married, wasn’t the same person he fell in love with. But Andrew gave me space and didn’t try to fix me or change me. We went on a road trip to outback South Australia and met my dad’s family, visited his grave and I finally grieved.

I knew there would be a time when I would return the favour and be strong for him too.

Following on, we continued living in the city of Melbourne, running our own cafe for a couple of years and enjoying married life once more.

In that time, we had three children in four years and needless to state, life got busy, really busy. I struggled after the birth of our second child (later to realise it was PND) and at the same time the pressure was mounting for Andrew.

I had noticed that Andrew and I weren’t talking as much and he didn’t quite seem himself but at the end of the day when the kids were asleep, we were both exhausted too, so I would put it down to that. This went on for six months (maybe more) until we finally talked and I learnt that the heaviness of life and fatherhood was affecting him.

This was now my time to be brave for him, to listen, give him space and help him get the support of family and friends.

From these difficult times, things needed to change: like making sure we both have a ‘time out’ from the kids, see our friends and do things we both enjoy. We acknowledge that these are simple things, but they’re also the first things we both drop or forget when life gets a bit too much.

It’s easier writing all this down now but as someone who has always struggled to open up about her feelings, it can still be a challenge. I guess, I grew up believing this lie that no one really cared about what I thought or felt, so I shouldn’t express it. I now choose every day to speak up and be honest instead of letting this lie rule my life and relationship.

Learning to communicate freely with each other, without fear of judgement has been the greatest tool we have.

If we hadn’t spent that time at the start of our relationship to really get to know and respect each other, would things be different? I’m sure there are always going to be misunderstandings and rough times in a relationship, no matter how strong your foundation is. But I do believe, building our strong foundation, gave our relationship the best chance it had to succeed.

For my children, I hope they will see what a relationship of love and honour is like from us directly and that they will not settle for less. I want my children to be able to build life-long relationships too and to become the men and women who know who they are and what they are worth.

In these 12 years there has been a lot of laughs, and yes, at times many tears too. We have had some incredible years together and some years, we are just happy we managed to survive. We know that with children, the daily routine of life and being human, there will always be trials. But I am thankful every day that I have my best friend and my partner for life by my side, ready for whatever life throws at us next.

Simone is a 30 something living in Melbourne. She is a wife, mother of 3 and lover of all things bright and colourful. Is there such thing as too much colour? Simone doesn’t think so!

📸: @me_as_mum

5 reasons we’re all here for DUMPLIN’ (and why your inner Kween needs to watch it stat!!)

5 reasons we’re all here for DUMPLIN’ (and why your inner Kween needs to watch it stat!!)

Dumplin' (2018)

‘Dumplin’ is the plus-size, teenage daughter of a former beauty queen, who signs up for her mum’s pageant as a protest that escalates when other contestants follow her footsteps, revolutionizing the pageant and their small Texas town.’

5. The unexpected, celebrated but totally necessary new-kind of female lead.

Netflix and chill? More like Netflix and brill!! Ok, that didn’t quite work BUT… how fucking great is it that the last couple of teen-based movies to come out of Netflix (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Sara Burgess Is A Loser to name a few) have all had these incredible female lead characters of all these different shapes and sizes!? I die!

While watching Dumplin‘ my heart simply burst with joy and not to overplay the ‘bigger girl’ card but my lord, I wish there were these kinds of chick flicks around when I was younger; oh to have grown up in a world where healthy representations of women existed on the silver screen. I mean, the only storyline that was drummed into my pre-pubescent brain was ‘the guy notices the girl once she’s changed everything about her appearance’. Yawn! Gross!! So firstly, bravo Netflix and secondly, thank you.

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The role of Willowdean is played by the relatively unknown gem of an Aussie Danielle Mcdonald, who effortlessly brings this feisty, fabulous and fucking real character to life.

And spoiler alert: SHE GETS THE GUY IN THE END without changing a single god damn thing about her fine self. Yasss!

OR may I add, without the male lead (Luke Benward) tearing down another female character in the process. GOALS!

There are so many wonderfully relatable moments in this movie. One in particular involving Willowdean’s first kiss with dreamboat Bo and ahhhhh seriously, just kick me right in the feels why don’t you!!

4. Team Jen

Putting my Friends-obsessed self to the side for a minute, Dumplin’ is the Jennifer Aniston movie we never asked for but always needed. Jen totally shines in the part of Willowdean’s former beauty queen mother; serving all the sass but proving once again, that it’s impossible to dislike her, even if she’s occasionally playing an uptight mole!

Jen also is the Executive Producer of the movie and the driving force behind the ah-mazing Dolly Parton-themed movie soundtrack; even to the point of getting Dolly personally involved herself. Bless!!

But for those playing at home: if Rachel left Ross, moved to Texas and raised Emma on her own with Aunt Monica, THIS could also be the Friends movie we’ve all been frothing for as well. 😉

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3. Drag In The Kweens Pleeeeease! 

Gone are the days (thank god) when the popular girl in high school decides to give the misfit a makeover and all of the sudden everything is a-ok.

It’s now very clear that: Honeeeey, if you really want a proper ‘do over’ (starting with the inside out), send in the drag queens.  And who better than some of our Ru Paul favs. Riiiight?

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2. The feel good quotes to ONLY live your life by.

This movie covers all the big hard stuff: loss, death, betrayal, body image, loneliness, feminism (so have the tissues ready).

But if you take anything away from watching Dumplin’, it’s the quotes below:

“Go big, or go home.”

“If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain.”

“Figure out who you are and do it on purpose.”

“It’s hard being a diamond, in a rhinestone world.”

“If you’ve got it, flaunt it!”

“I’m not the Joan of Arch of fat girls.”

“Join the revolution in heels.”

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1. Hello Dolly!

Must I go on? Yes, of course I should!

There is no doubt in my mind that the linchpin of this entire movie is the music of Dolly Parton. From Jolene to Here You Come Again (my personal fav), Dolly’s voice sets every scene on fire and gives it that little bit more tug of the heart strings.

The story of Dumplin’ matched with Dolly’s heart-wrenching lyrics, has had me streaming the ‘Dolly greats’ for over a week now: it’s like listening to her for the first time all over again. It really is a perfect pair!

So, do yourself a favour (😋) and watch this movie immediately and then download the soundtrack on Spotify straight after! This is the feel good movie of 2018. Yeeeha.

Guest Kween: REBBECCA D’ROZARIO “I’m Sorry, There Is No Heartbeat.”

Guest Kween: REBBECCA D’ROZARIO “I’m Sorry, There Is No Heartbeat.”

There it was, a few small words, flashing on a little screen of a super high-tech digital stick… ‘Pregnant 2-3 weeks’.

It was 4.30am, the day after Father’s Day. I was so excited. Yes, I couldn’t wait till a more decent hour to pee on that bloody thing!

As I stared at the words I knew my life was never going to be the same. I already felt different, after decades of hating so much about my body, I was finally so in love and appreciative of it. I was going to be a Mummy.

I ran into our bedroom to wake my now-hubby and presented him with his belated Father’s Day gift. Half asleep he opened one eye: “You’re going to be a Daddy!”, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Over the next two weeks the symptoms came on thick and fast; sore boobs, constant nausea, complete and utter exhaustion, and being repulsed by the smell of cooking meat. I reveled in all of it; I thought it meant my baby was growing strong and safe.

Then the spotting started.

I remember googling ‘spotting in early pregnancy’. All the articles said it was normal. ‘Implantation spotting’ was what they called it. All the mummy bloggers stated the same thing: nothing to worry about. Regardless, I made an appointment to see my doctor.

I had blood tests every second day for a week, my HCG levels were still increasing… everything must be ok. I was sent for an early ultrasound just to make sure everything was looking ok too. The technician said I was measuring 6 weeks, even though I was technically 7 weeks. “Its normal to be a week or two out” she said. “I can’t see a heartbeat, but it may be because it’s too early”.

I knew in my soul that things weren’t right.

That night, with my arms wrapped around my belly, I spoke to our peanut and told it that under no circumstances was it to leave my warm comfy belly until I said so. I then prayed and pleaded to God, the powers that be, the universe, Mother Nature, Mohammad and anyone else I could think of who might be listening, to please please protect my peanut and keep it safe.

It was early Sunday morning, there was no longer spotting, there was bright red terrifying blood.

We called the Healthline and were told to go straight to the hospital. I was too scared to breathe, let alone cry on the way there. I started to talk in my head to our peanut again, begging for it to hold on, telling it how much it was wanted.

When we arrived, I was taken into a room and was examined. “Cervix still intact, everything looks normal, but we wont know until we can get another ultrasound, you’ll need to come back Wednesday when the technician is back in”.

I remember feeling sick that my baby could be dying inside me for another two whole days and there was nothing I could do about it.

The next two days felt like 20 years, and still the blood came. I burst into tears every time I went to the bathroom. I cried every hour of those two days. I lied in bed each night willing my body to hold my insides in, praying and telling our peanut how it needed to stay nestled safe inside because it was so loved, so so loved.

Wednesday morning came and so did the blood. I weeped during the examination, and not because of the pain or all the blood, but because I knew what was to come.

The ultrasound confirmed our nightmare: “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat. You are nine weeks along but only measuring seven weeks.”

The earth split completely in half, as did my heart. I was told that my body was not expelling the fetus, and because it stopped growing two weeks prior, I was at risk of infection or other complications.

I was offered to go home and wait to see over the next two days, if my body would naturally pass my baby and if it didn’t, I’d have to come back and have a D&C. Or I could have one there and then.

I couldn’t believe this was happening. I couldn’t breathe. I just broke down. I decided to have the procedure, I couldn’t stand the thought of my baby being dead inside me.

Before the procedure I had to make one of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever made.

Dad picked up the phone and I could barely get any words out, I was drowning in my own tears “Dad, I’m at the hospital, I need to have surgery. I’ve had a miscarriage.” We hadn’t even told our families, we were following the 12 week rule, which in hindsight is one of the most stupid things I’ve ever heard of, and whoever started that ‘trend’ needs a good solid kick to the shin!

Hubby and I decided to take a break for a year so I could recover and focus on enjoying our newlywed bliss for a while. We are still hopeful of becoming a family in the future.

This was my first experience with miscarriage, and unfortunately it wasn’t my last. I suffered another excruciating miscarriage just two months later.

Yes, I found out I was pregnant for the second time on Boxing Day. I lost the baby at seven weeks. Every year it’s hard because it’s another year we don’t have either baby to celebrate Christmas with.

You definitely feel the loss more at special times of the year, and especially on your due dates. They used to be just a random date in the calendar but after the loss of a baby (or 2) those random dates become days of hollowness and reflection.

I light a candle on each of my due dates, as well as the dates I miscarried, to acknowledge our loss and as a symbol of hope for our future babies.

No one talks about miscarriage and how common it is until it happens to you. They don’t tell you that 1 in 3 pregnancies won’t make it past the first three months. They don’t tell you how painful it is, both physically and mentally. They don’t tell you how betrayed you will feel by your own body or how to cope with the immense and all-consuming guilt.

It’s so important that the grief surrounding the loss of a pregnancy, the loss of a baby and the loss of all the possibilities and dreams of the future is something that is validated by society.

This is why we must discuss and diminish the taboo surrounding miscarriage, so that women no longer suffer in silence.

Rebbecca works as a HR consultant in the public sector, is fur-mumma to her gorgeous puppy Benni, and is a freshly down the aisle newlywed. She is currently honeymooning around the world with her new-hubby, both of which are self-proclaimed geeks, and tragic Harry Potter fans with the tattoos to prove it.

Rebbecca is also incredibly grateful to Sands Australia for their support during her time of need.

Sands is a miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death charity. They operate across Australia assisting anyone affected by the death of a baby.

Sands has five key information services for bereaved families, including their National support line (available 24/7), live chat, email support, men’s service, and a network of local groups as well.

Happily Ever After? Guest Kween: CAITLYN FAIRHEAD

Happily Ever After? Guest Kween: CAITLYN FAIRHEAD

To celebrate #STFTL’s one year anniversary, we’re checking in on some of our favourite Kweens and Kings.

What are these gems up to now? And how much can really change in a year? So…

Happy 1st Birthday #STFTL! I can’t believe it’s been a year. We’ve had some good times, haven’t we? All those mornings reading your posts in bed instead of getting ready for work… I’ve treasured every one. You’re a breath of fresh air out here, girl, and we love you. Keep doing your thing!

When Carmela asked me to write this ‘one year on’ piece, I felt like a bit of a fraud, because very little has changed since this – I’m still very much the mother/wife/teacher/whinger I was a year ago. But I’m a whole year older now, so some things must have changed, surely.

I’m still teaching (it’s going good, thanks for asking), studying (also good), mothering (it’s good/relentless) and I suppose I’ve grown a little bit. I still don’t feel like a grown-up though, it’s like any minute now someone’s going to tap me on the shoulder and ask me to step aside so the real grown-ups can take over.

Has anyone (a child, probably) ever told you they want to be like you when they grow up? I recently had this experience and I’m not going to lie to you, it was a bit of a shock.

Not that a five-year-old might look up to me (she’s five, she doesn’t know any better) but that I’m considered a ‘grown-up’. Not just an adult, someone who has literally ‘grown up’, A GROWN-UP!

I looked at her little face and, after briefly wondering why my own kids don’t say these things to me (note: do not pull at this thread), I chuckled pretty lamely and said something like: “Oh, wow, and I’m not done growing yet!”

I’m willing to concede that at 32, I’m possibly not getting any taller at this point. And I admit I’ve done some grown-up things. I got married and had kids (not necessarily in that order), sometimes I buy the expensive tissues instead of the 99c ones and I know my tax file number by heart. Those seem like grown-up things.

But in lots of ways, I’m nowhere near grown-up. I have the attention span of a goldfish and still have a lot of things I want to achieve. I still run late in the mornings. I think thongs go with everything and I drink the cheapest wine I can stomach. I still don’t know what half the settings on my washing machine do and I can’t do eyeliner to save my life. At best, I’d say I’m en route to being a grown-up, but still a way off.

After some pretty self-indulgent reflection on my part, I think I’m in this weird, in-between stage where I still feel like a young person, but at the same time am bloody glad I’m not one. I guess that cliché about growing old, not growing up, is pretty spot on.

I love that I’m not in my twenties anymore. God, I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for my thirties. Going to bed when I’m tired! Saying no to things! Making time for myself! Taking risks! Having a career! Being wiser, smarter, sexier (‘cause of the smarts) and not caring what people think of me! (At least, not as much as I used to). It’s bliss. I’d honestly never be a teenager again.

I don’t know if this feeling is unique to me or what, but frankly, I’m really enjoying getting older. Granted, in the scheme of things I’m still young, but so far I’m only getting more comfortable with myself with each passing year.

Wrinkles? Gimme ‘em. Grey hairs? Sure. Retirement? Farkin’ BRING IT. I know, I shouldn’t wish my life away (or my kids’ lives, since I’m supposed to be enjoying every precious moment, woopsee woops), but you can’t bloody tell me Gloria Steinem wasn’t onto something when she said this:

To that little girl who may one day read this (you just never know): don’t worry a damn about growing up, my darling. Eyeliner is hard, girlfriend, and to be honest the cheap wine does the same job. And f*** that washing machine, too. Just enjoy growing older.

Maybe I’ll change my mind when I’m in my seventies, but this growing-up business can go jump. Growing older is where it’s at!

Caitlyn is a thirtyish-year-old teacher with a passion for good books and cheap wine. She has two children and an ever-patient husband, though her true love is Mexican food.

 

Guest Kween: TAM HEINJUS “My Wonder Twins And A Fight For Life.”

Guest Kween: TAM HEINJUS “My Wonder Twins And A Fight For Life.”

I just remember being so fucking angry.

Why is it that a chick on crack can deliver perfectly healthy babies? And here I am, off alcohol, off ham, off mouldy cheese, off everything!! And yet, my babies – yes, plural – babies! Are fighting for their fucking lives?

It was at this point, the NICU psychologist suggested I continue my sessions.

The NICU.  The Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit.

It’s a world unto itself.

My hope is, you never have to experience it. It’s where all the really sick babies go; and the lower your bed number, the sicker you are.

My twins occupied beds 1 and 2, for over six weeks. It was only about half of their time in hospital… and yet, we were lucky!

Hi. My name is Tam, and I was never going to have kids. I have one ovary (the result of an ovarian cyst removed during an endometriosis operation). However, in a bizarre twist of fate, I conceived on the first attempt at pregnancy.

So again, lucky right?!

Yep. These are the things I kept telling myself, sitting bedside in the NICU, while twin 2 stopped breathing for the 10th time that morning.

It had already been a difficult pregnancy! At 12 weeks, I’d been told I was having a miscarriage. Only to discover, I’d actually lost one of three.

At 20 weeks my water broke, and I was told to abort the pregnancy, and start again. I ignored that advice, and decided to take it day by day.

Every day was a long day. Especially after the twins had been born. Welcome, 12 to 15 hour shifts sitting bedside in the NICU. These are my children. I love them. But I couldn’t sit for 15 hours a day.

I couldn’t sit there and watch them stop breathing every three to four hours, only to be brought back to life. With that moment of hesitation every now and then, when the regular ‘tricks’ didn’t work. When the monitor kept triggering the non-responsive alarm a few too many times; wondering if this was it. Am I going to lose a baby right now, in this moment?

It was mentally draining.  Day in.  Day out.

My only reprieve was going to milk myself in what we called the ‘boob room’ every three or so hours. Hooking my massive twin mum melons up to a double suction machine, to get every last drop of milk out for the twins’ current diet of 1ml, every two hours. Yep. 1 ml!!!

Fun fact: even when you deliver a baby 15 weeks early, your body knows you’ve expelled life, and starts producing milk.

Just a reminder, my name is Tam.

The woman with: one ovary, two premmie babies and a gazillion tears.

A miracle mum to twins born at 25 weeks gestation.

I can tell you, at 25 weeks, babies are U.G.L.Y.

Their skin is transparent.  They still have hair all over their bodies. And they’re small.  So small. Imagine a tub of margarine, and add a half. That was the size of the twins. Less than 30 cms long from the top of their heads to the tips of their toes.

Black eyes, because their eyes actually haven’t developed yet. And their lungs are so tiny, they actually can’t operate on their own; so they need breathing assistance, 24 hours a day.

Add to this, a Swine Flu outbreak.

It’s 2009, and Melbourne is reeling from a Swine Flu epidemic. I walked into the NICU, and the section where beds 1 and 2 are, is isolated. The rest of the beds in that room have also been removed.

There’s a certain kind of paperwork across a bed area, next to twin 2, so I know someone’s baby has died.

Truth is, I saw that baby dying the day before, when the nurses called a code blue. I left my babies’ bedside that day, so the mother of the dying baby could spend time alone with her miracle. The mother of that baby saw me the day after. She didn’t speak to me. She simply squeezed my arm in appreciation for allowing her to be with her baby privately.

For us, the isolation meant five days of sitting bedside wearing face masks and waiting for the results of two blood tests. Finally we discovered the twins didn’t contract Swine Flu.

What they did contract though, was a certain ability to talk to each other subliminally.

Still, Twin 1 wasn’t well at all.  For the best part of nearly two months, machines had been doing the breathing for her. As her mother, I’d only held her a handful of times in those eight weeks. In fact, it was seven days before I got to first hold her after she was born. Seven fucking days. An entire week of not being able to hold my newborn daughter.

I had to sit beside her crib, and just watch a machine breathe for her, holding onto her tiny little leg while another blood transfusion made its way through her translucent foot.

It was at this time, twin 2 needed an operation that could only be performed at a different hospital. So, off we went in the morning for surgery. There was no room in the NICU for twin 1 post-surgery at this other hospital; so we were on ward. It was AWFUL.

I pleaded to get my boy back to the same hospital as his sister, and back into the same NICU and as fate would have it, we luckily qualified for the last transport ambulance for the ‘week’.

We made our way back to the hospital where twin 1 was pulling her usual ‘help me breathe’ routine. As twin 2 was wheeled past twin 1 on his way back to his crib, he stopped breathing.

Alarms start ringing. Twin 1 then decides to stop breathing also. More alarm bells!

The nurses put twin 1 and twin 2 side by side. They both start breathing fine. No alarms.

And this continued for the entire night.

This was my life. Watching these tiny, tiny humans communicate through lung capacity!

I had visitors during the week, each helping me take my mind off the fact that one or both of the twins could die at any second. But it was the weekends that were the longest.

One weekend hubby would be down, relieving the pressure on me for a few hours. The next weekend, I’d be on my own.

We lived four hours away from the hospital and with a mortgage to pay, another child to care for… there were only so many times he could come and visit.

I remember thanking the guy at the local coffee shop with a card when we were allowed to leave the hospital. He pretended to understand why I had looked forward to his coffee every Tuesday afternoon. He really had no idea.

No one has any idea how hard it is to have a premmie baby, unless you’ve actually had one (let alone two).

This isn’t meant to be an ‘I’ve done it harder’ story. This is simply a ‘Fuck, I did it hard’ story, that you may or may not identify with.

Either way.  Motherhood…

It’s the hardest, most rewarding, awful, beautiful, gratifying, disheartening, fucked up, beautiful thing… ever!

I just hope your journey, doesn’t include a NICU. But, if it does, I’m here if you need to talk.

Tam Heinjus is an overworked, underpaid creative writer who writes for passion when she can’t pay the bills. A woman who tries hard to be a good mother, wife and friend… and fails miserably at all three some days.

Tam Heinjus

365 Real Days

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.