One Mother’s Story For Women’s Empowerment Via Paris
It’s no secret to those who know me, that my first trip to Paris in 2009 transformed my life on a personal level which then led me to change my circumstances on an interpersonal level. As a result I ended my 17 year relationship, divorcing my husband of 14 years and started life anew as a single mother raising 4 children. Not an easy decision to make, not an easy path to undertake, much less after having been a stay at home mum in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. But like a newborn calf, I eventually found my steadiness and started to make my way. Much of this had to do with Parisian insights which on a practical level showed me how to find happiness, confidence and start to dream for myself again, in fact, how to find myself. I not only gained valuable, constructive inspiration, but then applied it consistently and saw how it empowered me to become my most authentic self and forge ahead courageously as a hopeful matriarch of my newly independent household. It was from here that the realisation dawned on me that the keys of my transformation could of interest to others by being turned into documentary.
But this wasn’t just about me, it was about a largely unspoken experience that mothers, are going through. We are far from finding that sweet spot under the work/family/life balance banner. Efforts must be amplified if we are sincere about creating a society where values such as good character, mutual respect, thoughtfulness, civility, equity, tolerance, kindness, non-violence are practiced across the board, not just preached in critical judgemental ways and then acted on, sometimes. If physical, emotional, mental well-being is a social goal then we need new models for how that might look and be honest about the environment we could create so that this can happen in safety, joyfulness and beauty. Otherwise the cognitive dissonance becomes part of the problem which accounts for the amount of anxiety people are feeling of all backgrounds and ages.
With this in mind, I set about identifying precisely what had happened to me and why it had the effect it did. This involved a brutally honest self reflection and self correction. I researched and read all that I could get my hands on delving into French history to decipher and construct the reasons for Parisian women’s mysterious “Je ne sais quoi”. Until I put all the dots together and can say
– Maintenant, oui, je sais quoi-
-Now, I do know what-
I spoke with several hundred women of all backgrounds and ages in France and Australia on topics I believe to be pertinent to contemporary women’s experience, the good, bad and everything in between, in order to better understand whether the insights that had benefitted me, could also be useful to others. I researched Australian women’s history to gain an understanding of subliminal links between present and past attitudes and feeling.
Out of my own pocket I put together a small budget to start creating a film trailer for funding purposes which admittedly took a while considering that camera hire and travel was a considerable cost at the time for me. I then interviewed and filmed women in Australia and France. Slowly, this idea which started based upon a lightening bolt experiential revelation in 2009, blossomed into something more substantial which will help improve the lives of many women on various levels and entertain too. And that is exciting because it has not been done in any way by anyone so far and will open people’s eyes to new visions and models they can apply to themselves. What’s the point of talking about anything unless it will be to express truth with pure, raw honesty, wit and have a positive impact? Parisians are great at this. I love it. I want to share it.
Meanwhile back in Australia, I lost a few friends who judged me for daring to step outside a role prescribed box by ending my marriage. Many were outraged that I ever even went to France at all, alone. But I gained other friends who were less judgemental and more supportive. I learnt to talk less to those around me, not everyone will be on your side when you start to lift yourself up, and instead focussed on working with those who understood my vision or wanted to collaborate. Moving forward even if it was in baby steps was all that mattered. I had been held back long enough, I wasn’t going to stop now.
The people whom I interviewed, and who generously shared their time, experiences, wisdom, and ideas with absolute candour, made everything worthwhile and I’ll be forever grateful. At times the conversations came from a place of such vulnerability, that I’d tear up whilst trying to keep the lens in focus and at other times there were so many “lightbulb” moments, as Oprah would say, that the conversations were pure delight!
Over the course of developing this project, I’ve been asked why it has taken me “so long”. Apart from the fact that any film project, especially documentary, can take a while in gestation aka pre production, I am first and foremost a mother who prioritises my children. If I had a nanny, housekeeper and chauffeur, things might be different. But for all the talk in mainstream media about the importance of supporting representation of women by women, a sector which is continues to be under represented, due to the responsibilities and limitations involved in raising children, are mothers. How are we supposed to fulfil our dreams and potential which we worked hard towards, if then once we are in the role of motherhood, the odds are stacked against us? Especially single mothers, which was my status for five years after ending my first marriage. Not to mention those of us who are of non-Anglo Saxon background and never even hear accents on mainstream Australian TV, yet we too want to make a presence and communicate our perceptions and lives. There are simply not enough hours in the day, days in the week, energy in one’s body much less budget available in the bank which can hasten such a project along. So how do we tell our stories, share our perspective and break through cliches of non representation on screen?
Nevertheless, regardless of the pace of this documentary’s progression, I’ve continued developing it alongside finalising a divorce, rebuilding my sense of self, taxi mum runs of school drop offs and pick ups, housekeeping a home and feeding four growing boys, dealing with health issues and attending medical appointments, school excursions, birthday parties, playdates, endless laundry, cooking, driving to and from tutoring lessons and more. Being as attentive a mother as I could be every time they needed me, providing firm yet loving guidance and indulging them when I was able to . Doing all the parenting solo with a two day breather once a fortnight when they would spend time with their dad. Sure, a piece of cake!
As one mother said to me when I interviewed her: “Motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, including kicking cancer’s arse”. And in another interview John Safran said to me when discussing our break-up in our last year of uni after dating for nearly three years: “It would have been my nightmare to sort of give up pursuing creative stuff for a family”. It’s nice that men have that choice, but all too often, women don’t. There’s always a sacrifice to be made, yourself or your children.
This is how five years flew by as this single mother, yours truly, did her best to balance family life, with fulfilling a creative dream to one day be shared with others, all the while trying not to be late for school pick up! (sorry kids for those times I was late)
I then met wonderful man who became my best friend, and after 6 years we got married. Circumstances changed and the parenting was now shared. Together we’ve built a home together, sorted through our issues and merged to become a family. We started a French bistro in Melbourne, fulfilling my husband’s dream to own his own cafe. The French touch was added to it so I would feel like a piece of Paris was right here. Life can take us on a ride, it’s rarely a straight arrow that hits the mark, but one that challenges, is flexible, can bend with the wind, adapt and grow, yet firmly continues its course.
From the office upstairs at our cafe, I started editing all the footage filmed so far, but it was an overwhelmingly hard task for me to be objective about what to cut. So we hired an editor to work alongside me and little by little over 20hrs of footage filmed over several years, were reduced enough to create a trailer for the funding pitch.
Juggling my four children who were now in their teens, I recovered from some inopportune physical injuries, cared for my father and established a new life with my husband.
As for the documentary, I finished some last details on the trailer in March 2020, the month we went into lockdown. Added to pandemic anxiety and hyper vigilance, we suffered the loss of several family members, some due to covid, some due to other causes. It’s been a sobering two years.
It’s now 2022. Two of my sons are at university and the youngest two are in highschool. Covid lockdown in Melbourne particularly was tough. But we push on. What other choice is there?
Despite setbacks which took away from the momentum at different times, I am encouraged by a few factors. Firstly, the issues I initially wished to cover have evolved through my research, gathered depth, and remain relevant if not more so now. Secondly, I feel that I have as a woman matured in a way that my sensibility and perceptions can only be an asset to the production. This has pleasantly surprised me as it was a personal development that unfolded gradually and fills me with confidence that I can do the film more justice now. I feel ready to take it forward.
But more importantly my family is also better prepared for me to take this next step. With four children over the age of 16 who have more independence and flexibility, the juggling game and family duties continue but the dynamic has changed compared to when they were younger.
I’m looking forward to see what this next stage brings. I remain 100% committed to telling this story and helping to inspire women and men to find new ways to create more happiness in their lives.