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.

 

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: 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: TONI LODGE “My Membership To The Dead Mums Club.”

Guest Kween: TONI LODGE “My Membership To The Dead Mums Club.”

“Hey Mumma, sorry I missed your calls, I just finished work, do you need me to grab something for dinner?”

“Toni, it’s Dad, I’m at the hospital with Mum – she’s not feeling well, they’re saying she’s had a stroke. I need you to go home and feed the dog and your sister is going to meet you there and you can drive here together.”

“Toni are you there???”

I went to the hospital with my twin sister (who, coincidentally, is actually 12 years my senior) and we arrived with a stuffed bear and all of my family in one little hospital room. There is no way I could forget the smell of that room, or the sticky feeling on my cheeks from crying in the car with Libby.

“What’s going on, what’s happening?” we rushed in and asked, grabbing Mum, all six of us, looking at each other.

“Um.. Mum didn’t have a stroke” my Dad said. “Fuck me, that’s amazing! Awesome! Well come on mum, let’s go home, why are we still here?!”, I said (tenderly). She looked at me, and my big brother gave me this shoulder squeeze that silenced me.

“I didn’t have a stroke”, she said, starting to shake and fight back tears, “I have a brain tumour.”

My whole world crashed. This perfect world I was living in where the only reason I could have a few missed calls from my Mum would be because ‘she needed something extra from Coles’ was gone.

I was in my first year of uni and feeling pretty damn invincible. After going to every WAAPA open day since I could understand what university was, I was there. I’d been accepted and I was on my way. I also had a job at Coles at nights and on the weekends, which gave me enough money to buy clothes, fuel, booze, and cigarettes to socially smoke (because that’s what you did at uni).

As soon as Mum got sick, that money changed to having just enough to buy fuel for my red Hyundai Getz to take me from the hills of Perth, to Mount Lawley, to Nedlands (where my Mum was in hospital), to Maddington (where I worked), and back to the hills. Paying for hospital parking and trying to look after myself as best I could to take any burden off my parents. (Definitely get private health insurance if you are reading this, it saved us.)

Eleven months later, she died. I had a Mum – this amazing Mum. Like, ah-maz-ing. And then I didn’t. Huh?

We got called into the hospital at around 3am on the 9th of September 2013 and she’d died. My Dad drove him and I, and we met my brother and his wife, my twin sister and her husband, and my other sister in the wee hours of the morning in the hospital car park to clean out her hospital room.

And then I just needed to prepare for my first funeral – my Mum’s.

I went with my sisters to buy a dress for this thing that we could barely believe had even happened yet. The shop assistant did the age old “Oh that’s pretty, what’s the occasion?!” and when I told her it was for my Mum’s funeral and she clocked all of our dreary faces she almost shat herself.

I wrote a eulogy and tried to fit my Mum’s amazing life into a couple of pages.

After that, so many people changed the way they spoke to me. Things like “I’m having the worst day, I missed the bus” or “I was late because I forgot to get fuel” or “My life is over this guy will NOT message me back” was always quickly followed by “Ohhhh Toni, I’m so sorry, you’ve just lost your Mum, this is nothing in comparison.” As much as this chubby girl with a brand new membership to the Dead Mums Club is horribly appreciative of the fact that my life seemed SO horrendous that it was the benchmark of shitness, everyone also has their shit too. Just because my shit is my mum being dead and your shit is that you were late for work, or a waiter said “Enjoy your food” and you said “Thanks, you too”, that’s okay! Your bad thing is your worst thing. We shouldn’t be on this planet to fight about who has it worse.

When I started at WAAPA I remember telling Mum that all I wanted to do was leave Perth and make something of myself. Then in 2016, I got my first job away from home (she’d been gone for a couple of years) and by this point, I was with my incredible boyfriend Alex, and we’d had been living away from home for a few months anyway. I moved a couple of hours south of Perth to pursue my career. I was finally doing it– making my Mum proud! Even though everything I’d done so far was coupled with her telling me she was so proud, it was the first big thing I had to do without her.

September rolled around and I spent the anniversary of her death away from my family. I dealt with problems at work, triumphs both professional and personal without her, and desperately wanted more than anything for her to be able to give me advice. Something I took comfort in was being able to imagine what she would say to me, or hoping one of my older siblings had gotten into the same mischief at some point and asking them what Mum said.

I made so many promises to my Mum as I grew up. I was the youngest child by a number of years which meant we spent a lot of time alone together. I told her all about my hopes and dreams, how I was going to have an amazing job that was going to move me around the world so she could come and visit whenever she wanted, how I would be famous (that one’s coming along really fucking well), and how I would be happy (workin’ on it. getting there).

But one thing is for certain: I took everything that happened to me on board and am now stronger and better for it. I am, of course, so heartbroken that my Mum is gone. In my moments of weakness where I miss her so much, I feel like I don’t know where my next breath of air is going to come from but somehow I always manage to inhale and exhale once more.

These days everything I engage in has a part of me that does it for her. Nothing changes your perspective and state of mind like recovering from loss, whatever the case may be.

Right before I jumped on the plane to my new Sydney life, I dropped in to visit my Mum. I cried. I wished she was here with me, then I realised she was, because there’s no way in hell I could have even thought about getting on that plane without her. Yep, for the second time, I was moving (across the country) to pursue my career. I am here for me, I’m here for my future, but she’s here too. And now here I am writing this for me and my fabulous Mum in my new fancy Sydney office instead of doing the job they hired me for (wait, is this being published somewhere?).

So my promise is to see the world with Mum in my handbag. To achieve everything I promised her I would because I’m fucking tough and I’m fucking strong. I am who I am because I knew my Mum, and also because I lost her.

Toni is a young 20-something year old trying to have it all. After the comedown of a brief brush with internet fame for having a Harry Potter event shut down due to it’s unfair under 15 age limit, she now spends her workday producing many National night radio shows for KIIS and iHeartRadio in Sydney.

@tonilodge

Kween Krush: HEIDI ANDERSON “Learning To Love Myself.”

Kween Krush: HEIDI ANDERSON “Learning To Love Myself.”

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

Heidi, we have a crush on you because you’re about to embark on a pretty important year. Not only are you fronting a new radio breakfast show (an honor normally given to the opposite sex) but you’re about to marry the love of your life, all whilst still vigorously working on yourself.

How different is the Heidi now, from the Heidi 5 years ago?

Same same but different.

I’m still loud, out-there & bubbly but I’m much more chilled & content. Radio has relaxed me a lot. I use so much of my energy in my job that outside of work I’m much more silent. 5 years ago, I operated at 100 million miles per hour. These days, a lot of that energy I use creatively and to bond with people. How I am when I’m drunk is how I used to be 24/7. No wonder I was single for so long!

Your brand is ‘Real Heidi’, a declaration of authenticity. Was opening up on an honest and raw level something that came naturally to you or was it a conscious choice?

It happened quite organically to tell you the truth. I have always worn my heart on my sleeve & spoken very freely & openly but when I was setting up my social handles after being on Big Brother, they told me to change my name from ‘Fake Heidi’ to ‘Real Heidi’ as people would know who I was. So ‘Real Heidi’ was born & it just fitted my brand. Working in commercial radio some of the topics I love to chat about were too taboo. My past male co-hosts found it too uncomfortable to discuss some topics on-air as well, so I started sharing them through my socials & people loved the real chat. I’m not one to just chit-chat, in fact I get awkward & anxious just chit-chatting. Getting real is where I’m at.

Why do you think as women we struggle to love ourselves? And what are some easy things we can do daily, to remind ourselves to cherish our heart, body and mind?

Oh god, it’s bloody tough for us women, comparison is huge for me and others! We compare ourselves to everyone and everything. Every girl on social media, at school, at work, on tv etc. We don’t do ourselves any favours by comparing & that’s something I’ve struggled with immensely.

Tips:

-Try & follow people on social media that don’t trigger you. If they’re causing you to have negative thoughts & feelings, simply unfollow. I did that a year ago; there was nothing wrong with these women and it wasn’t their issue, it was mine.

-Find something you like about yourself, your smile, your wit, your butt, etc. and celebrate it, whatever it is!

-Stop with the negative self-talk, it’s only holding you back, and stop giving so many fucks. We get one life. Enjoy it! It’s easy to say, but start pulling yourself up every time you do it. You’ll notice how bad it is.

-Rock what you got! As soon as you like yourself, you start to look after yourself.

With everything you have achieved, what are you most proud of?

Ha ha! I always think I haven’t achieved enough. How sad is that? Because when I stop now and think about it, I’ve achieved a hell of a lot. I think probably overcoming my anxiety & embracing it was my biggest achievement. It was honestly one of the darkest times, but now I look at it as a positive, as I have met some incredible people and it’s opened up many doors for others to share their stories. Connecting with people every day and making them feel something is pretty special too.

How does it feel to be a female leading an all-new-radio-breakfast-show in 2018? Nerve racking? Empowering??

I’m excited. I felt I lost my voice for a while, so it’s a new adventure with a whole new team. These guys are fun, vibrant, supportive & like my brothers. I’m pumped to see where it all goes.

What’s the greatest challenge being a female in the media industry?

As I mentioned previously, finding your voice & being supported. When you work with so many men and such big personalities you sometimes are made to feel misunderstood. It’s a tough industry, predominately male, so having them try to understand you can be hard.

You’re set to be married this year. Tell us one thing that excites you about that and one thing that scares you?

Just being his wife. Celebrating our love and commitment excites me. I just want a party & everyone to be together.

The one thing that scares me is saying the wrong name when exchanging vows. I told my partner Griffo this and he said “Oh well if you say your ex’s name, we’ll laugh and move on.” What a gem!

Tell us something about yourself that you haven’t shared on social media before?

Oh fuck, that’s a hard one, as I do speak so openly. Let me think… got it!

I do singing lessons for fun. Not because I’m good (far from it) but it makes me be mindful, present & in the moment. I love it.

What are your goals for 2018?

-Sober for 3 months (at least) for health reasons. On Sunday, I started a sobriety challenge and spent most of that day at the pub drinking soda. I got this!!

-Grow Real Heidi

-Walk more

-Do more yoga

-Continue to believe in myself

-Not give so many fucks about bullshit things that shouldn’t matter

-Love, live & find three things to be grateful for everyday.

-Oh yeah and write a book!

Carmela and Heidi have actually never met, but with them both working in radio and both constantly on the ‘socials’, it was only a matter of time till they would stumble across each other and bond over hashtags, lady-stuff and their favourite city London.

Obsessed with this Kween as much as we are and want to hear/know more?

You can catch Heidi 6-9am weekdays as one-third of ‘Heidi, Xavier and Ryan’ on Hit 92.9 in Perth. Also get a dose of kind-hearted honesty with Heidi’s podcast Real Heidi, Real People, Real Stories, follow her ‘lols’ on Twitter, and never miss a #inspoquote on Instagram.

Guest Kween: BELINDA COTTON “I Failed At My Chosen Career But I Survived!”

Guest Kween: BELINDA COTTON “I Failed At My Chosen Career But I Survived!”

I was always going to be famous. It was like, in my DNA. I got a taste of fame early on when I was the star of a local Telethon: the focus of a 24 hour live TV event to raise money for a children’s hospital. It was awesome! So I thought I’d better set about becoming famous for reals.

I studied journalism, television presenting and radio announcing. I decided I wanted to read the 6 o’clock news on the telly and I also wanted to read those bits on the TV after the ads but before the show: “This program, brought to you by Toyota!” You know the ones.

At uni I discovered radio was way better than television; less call for hair and makeup, more opportunity for ridiculousness, and I did it!! I achieved a small amount of fame for a little while. Not earth-shattering-Cate-Blanchett-style-fame, but people recognised me on the street, pubs let me jump the queue and shops gave me discounts. It was a super fun time!

Now, it was somewhere around this point that I started to royally fuck things up.

I jumped ship from my radio station, leaving my mediocre fame; seduced by the lights and the promise of more money on the other side of the country. Not long after that another company came along and promised me more money and more fame (which of course I was totally expecting), so I ran to them with open arms, just as the media company I was leaving was really transforming.

I never really hit my stride and I never really found my niche with the other company. I missed my opportunity. Slowly my star faded and I just became a worker bee, consigned to an irrelevant on-air shift that no one seemed to listen to. I took on more off-air roles that just consumed both me and my passion for radio. Where was my promised fame? Where was my name in lights? How did I mess this up so much? Was I really destined for the banal, the humdrum? Why wasn’t I reading the 6 o’clock news? How come bouncers weren’t letting me skip the line at the pub anymore?

I found myself angry and sad, overworked and underappreciated. I realised this wasn’t super fun anymore, but I had a mortgage now. Disillusionment set in with a thwack! Here I was, on the wrong side of the country, not rich and famous, doing a job that I now hated. How the hell did I get here? I’ll tell you: by my own bad decisions. I didn’t know they were bad decisions at the time but there’s not a single other person on this planet that I can blame for where I ended up. And trust me, I tried.

Then, I got made redundant; worst fear realised. “They hate me, I was crap at my job and they wanted me out” were the constant thoughts running through my head. I had never felt so low, so much like a disappointment. It was like all this hard work I had done was for nothing. And I still had that damn mortgage to pay.

But, sometimes you fear the worst, only to find out the worst isn’t really that bad. Actually, it’s nowhere close to what you were worried about.

No, these turns of events didn’t leave me living in the gutter, never getting out my pajamas or currently typing this on a shared computer at the library. I reincarnated myself. I’m currently living my life post radio, and guess what I do for a job? I read those bits on the TV after the ads but before the show: “This program, brought to you by Toyota!”. You know the ones.

These days I work from home. I run my own successful voice-over business. I get paid stupid amounts of money to read scripts that are only 30 seconds long. I’m the girl you hear during most of the ad breaks; sometimes selling you a car, sometimes convincing you to take a holiday. It doesn’t suck.

Life didn’t turn out the way I expected, and I have decided I’ll have to turn to reality TV to achieve my much needed fame, but it’s not all bad news.

I failed at my chosen career but I survived. Then again, did I fail? Or did I just get lucky?

Belinda Cotton is a professional voice-over artist who likes to drink beer, hang out with friends, listen to live music and travel. Preferably all four at the same time. She’d also like to have a dog and two cats, but so far no luck.

@Belyando

Guest Kween: CAITLYN FAIRHEAD “Could These Really Be The Best Days of My Life?”

Guest Kween: CAITLYN FAIRHEAD “Could These Really Be The Best Days of My Life?”

IMG_5326Standing with a trolley full of groceries – half of which I’d never use but felt good about having in the pantry – I grimaced apologetically at the older woman in line behind us. My two year old was biting the trolley in a rage, furious I’d made him return the KitKats he’d swiped while I wasn’t looking, while my four year old twirled in her Elsa cape, shouting ‘Ana darling, don’t forget the tampons!’

The woman looked at my spawn and smiled with the wistful grace of someone who’d been there, done that, and made it out the other side. “It’s the best time of your life, you know,” she said softly, leaning towards me.

I almost keeled over. I love my kids and all, but if this was it, I thought silently, if this was the best life was going to get, then for God’s sake just let me off here.

Is it some kind of Stockholm syndrome, I wondered? Where you come to love your captors even though they torture you with sleep deprivation and covering you in bodily fluids? How do people seemingly forget how exhausting it is to have small children?

Some days it’s hard to get past how tiring it is, how messy and monotonous, requiring the kind of stamina only seen (ironically) in a toddler on birthday cake. It’s frustrating to hear how great this life is when at 27, you look like 70-year-old Elton John on a particularly rough day.

Still, I went home and thought about it. There is something pretty raw and simple about this time in my life. Everyone knows how hard it is, and their expectations of me are gloriously low.

The rules are simple, too, just keep everyone alive and fed and you’re doing a good job. You’re allowed to stay in your PJs all day and cry into a glass of wine at 2pm some days, that’s okay: you’re doing the hard thing. The normal rules don’t apply.

As the wisdom of strangers gently reminds me, this time is fleeting. Probably I won’t always be sleep deprived and covered in bodily fluids. I’ll not always get to smell their hair as they sit in a trolley, or feel their hand in mine as I cross the road.

I’ll not always be in the company of little children everywhere I go, even to the bathroom, and one day I might even miss their little faces as they proudly hold up a boogie in the middle of a shopping mall.

Could these really be the best days of my life? I can’t picture it yet, but I’m willing to concede it’s possible. But only on days they’ve slept through the night, and only when I can shop alone. That seems only fair.

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.