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Teresa Palmer on the great reset button

When Teresa Palmer answers the phone for our interview, her daughter Poet, just days away from turning one, has just tearily woken from a 2.5-hour nap. "That's the longest sleep she's ever had," Teresa says, as she calls for film director husband Mark Webber to take over.

She's scoffing a crumpet. It's been a busy Good Friday morning. The Australian actor and mother of three has just hopped off a live chat on Instagram with her friend, fellow blogger and co-author Sarah Wright Olsen to share the release of their new book together: Zen Mamas.

Teresa is at her home in the Adelaide Hills, her home town, where she lives when she isn't based in Hollywood. Sarah, also an actor and mother of two, tunes in from the US. Their husbands both make impromptu appearances. Sarah's husband Eric Christian Olsen, best known for his role as Deeks on NCIS: LA, drops in on the broadcast to comically grab a Pooh bear toy from the room.

A flurry of questions fill the feed. People want to know where Teresa bought the sun-shaped necklace she is wearing, which bears the names of her children. She credits the Glenelg jeweller who crafted it, as more questions come in asking where her green hairband is from.

"Guys, I have no idea," she laughs. "I actually only put this on so I don't have to brush my hair. I've still got the plain scrunchie in from last night. I have to wash my hair."

She's kind, funny and authentic, just as she is on her Instagram. Teresa's personal account has more than a million followers, while the pair's blog, Your Zen Mama, has some 60,000 followers. Their website is their vessel to share their motherhood journeys in their rawest forms.

 

Teresa Palmer has released a book, titled Zen Mamas with friend and fellow actress Sarah Wright Olsen.
Teresa Palmer has released a book, titled Zen Mamas with friend and fellow actress Sarah Wright Olsen.

 

Teresa is best known for her impressive film credits as an actor, with recent films like Hacksaw Ridge (2016), Ride Like A Girl (2019) and the TV series A Discovery of Witches among her filmography. But acting was never her only dream, she also wanted to be a mum.

Mark and Teresa have three children, Bodhi, 6, Forest, 3, and Poet, 1. The family are currently self-isolating on their 4ha property east of Adelaide. She's put a movie on and hands out popcorn so we can chat.

"If you could see the state of my house right now, you would probably giggle," she laughs. "It looks like a tornado has ripped through every single room in my house and that's with an hour of cleaning at the end of each night. It's made me realise that we must spend so much time outdoors or out of the home in general because it is so hard to keep on top of the mess. I've kinda given over to it."

It is currently Teresa's down time, when she would usually take a break from filming to be with the kids after being on set for six months of the year.

"I shoot about 70 hours a week on the TV show I'm currently filming (A Discovery of Witches)," she says. "I just shot season two and I'm about to jump on and do season three. Actually, whenever it starts up again I'll be shooting the third season of that show," she laughs at the uncertainty of the times we live in.

"I have my baby Poet with me every day at work, but the boys go to school and have extra-curricular activities, so I only get to see them for snippets before work or if they come and visit me," she says. "So, I always spend the rest of the year as a stay-at-home-mum when work is done. I was in the middle of doing that when everything changed."

 

Teresa Palmer, pictured with son Forest, admits life in isolation has been
Teresa Palmer, pictured with son Forest, admits life in isolation has been "colourful". For NRM use only.

 

What time in her day she can carve out for work has been focused on her side business LoveWell, an organic nutritional supplement, and the launch of her book.

Our interview is interrupted by some action in the kitchen.

"Mark's making us nachos for lunch," she says with gusto. "The bingeing of food has been shocking during this period. I've eaten so much sugar. I just ate an entire packet of burger rings. We feed our kids well, but then ourselves, we're just snacking terribly."

At her core, Teresa makes no attempt to sugar-coat her reality. She might be in the public profile, but when she isn't filming she lives a life much like any other Aussie mum. Until isolation and social distancing became the new norm, Teresa still did school runs, made lunches and taxied her kids to and from sports.

"Our schedule is always jam-packed and so now we are forced to throw that schedule aside and stay within the walls of our home," she says.

"There has been a lot of self-realisation in how much I've been enjoying not knowing what we are doing for the day. It's really slow living. That reconnection of family is the silver lining in all of this."

But Teresa is quick to add that it's not all smooth sailing at home.

"Some days we're super organised. We're doing our school work, I pack the kids' lunches and everyone is feeling positive and connected and I'm able to get little bits of work done and cultivate some self-care.

"Other days it all goes out the window. It's chaotic and the TV is going to be on. It's just meeting every day as it comes and being OK with the imperfect picture."

 

Teresa Palmer.
Teresa Palmer.

 

She doesn't shy away from talking to her eldest about COVID-19 either.

"Bodhi is very well versed in it," she says. "There's a really good podcast called Coronacast and they have a segment where kids can ask questions. I've been sharing that with Bodhi.

"He's asked me questions like 'do people die?' We just decided to tell him the child-friendly version of it. We wanted to answer his questions honestly.

"He feels like he is really doing his part by staying home, protecting the more vulnerable members of our community, including his nana, my mum, who lives in a granny flat here on our property.

"He knows we stay home to keep everyone safe. I think they feel proud of that."

Teresa's also cut herself some slack on the home schooling front, admitting some days it is hard.

"The first week I had our whole days planned out," she says. "I packed their lunches and they wore their uniforms and we did circle time. I still incorporate some of that, but I've since been doing two hours a day with Bodhi, and if he's not feeling it, we'll only do an hour.

"A lot of it is led by him. He is interested in maths today and he's really enjoying reading. Next week we will move into something different.

"A lot of what I have been listening to and reading about is you want to try and keep learning fun so that the kids stay engaged. So, when Bodhi says 'I don't want to do mummy school right now', I ask him what he feels like doing. If he wants to build forts then I try to do it in a way that's educational."

 

Teresa Palmer with baby, Poet.
Teresa Palmer with baby, Poet.

 

So how does a mum who spruiks "zen living'' stay zen during these extraordinary times? After all, it's the name of her blog and book. She calls it "being zen-ish" and says she endorses the "ish'' part.

As Teresa is about to answer the question, her son Forest crashes the call. "He's really into dancing right now. That's his thing," Teresa says.

A recent video on her Instagram shows Teresa, Forest and Bodhi dancing in their lounge room to John Farnham's Take the Pressure Down in a #pressuredownchallenge during isolation.

"I want to tell you something," Forest says. "One more snack, one more snack". Teresa offers him the rest of her crumpet with vegan butter.

"I gotta say it's really liberating to not put the pressure on myself and that is my definition, staying zen is just letting go, being in the moment and allowing it to be what it is," Teresa says.

"In any other situation if my house was as big a tip as it is now, the kids are staying in PJS all day, the TV is on, however chaotic the day gets, I would probably be quite critical of myself.

"Instead, I am just thinking, wow, these are extraordinary circumstances and how can we just be the best that we can be."

Mark and Teresa make monthly donations to an economic human rights campaign assisting people who live below the poverty line in Philadelphia. They have also aligned with Dine One-One, an organisation that supports small restaurants in America that are feeding the medical heroes on the frontline.

"Each day Mark and I try to carve out ways we can help people and raise awareness," she says.

Teresa has also publicly sided with the many freelancers who were not included in the Australian Government's recent stimulus package.

"A lot of people I've personally worked with, crew members from Hacksaw Ridge and Berlin Syndrome and Ride Like A Girl, don't know when their next job is going to be and they have fallen through the cracks here," she says.

Teresa Palmer, with daughter Poet, lives between LA and Adelaide.
Teresa Palmer, with daughter Poet, lives between LA and Adelaide.

Teresa admits to writing most of the pages from her new book on her phone.

"I'm savvy on a phone, so I wrote the book in Notes (app)," she says.

At first, she admits she questioned the timing of the book's release during lockdown, but is now feeling positive about it. She wants readers to feel as though they are sharing their journey through motherhood with a friend by immersing themselves in the pages.

"I actually just said to my husband, 'do you think we should have another baby now' and he was 'woah, woah, woah. We've still got a baby'. I was like 'you're right'," she laughs.

She says she dreams of having four or five kids one day.

A poignant chapter in the book is about pregnancy loss which Teresa wrote after experiencing a rare molar pregnancy in 2015.

"We gave a chapter to delve into my personal story, as well as all the different types of pregnancy loss," she says. "Then, through the process of writing the book, Sarah lost her pregnancy. She was pregnant with her third baby as we were writing it.

"I had written the chapter myself because I was the only one that had lost a pregnancy. Her piece was about how to be a friend to someone who has lost a pregnancy when you yourself haven't experienced it. And that was her contribution to the chapter.

"And then things changed and she lost her pregnancy right as we were almost finished with the book. She had been so excited about this baby, she had seen the heartbeat once and the second time she went to see it, it wasn't there. She told me she just enveloped herself in the chapter and we connected. It solidified the importance of the chapter. It was the most profound moment of going on this journey together and writing this book, that this happened. It was a healing experience for her and a healing experience for me too."

Teresa pictured with son Bodhi, 6.
Teresa pictured with son Bodhi, 6.

Teresa is often asked why she chooses to openly share so much of her private life as a public figure. She regards this as "her gift".

"Sorry, one second, my son has climbed a chair to get a snack," she says, attending to Forest.

"Mummy, you didn't give me any snacks," his little voice echoes.

"Remember how I gave you a piece of crumpet. Are you still hungry?" she replies, as he disappears from the call.

"I feel as though I have a responsibility to use my platform to affect positive change," she says. "I think organically I have fallen into a place where through the blogs Your Zen Mama and Your Zen Life we try to celebrate the common thread that binds us. That's the human experience. Everyone experiences suffering in some form.

"If people look up to you, because you're in films or you're a public person in magazines, it can look as though everything is shiny and I do believe that can be really detrimental to people because they aspire to be this perfect person, when actually it is a false sense of reality. I just wanted to strip those barriers down."

Teresa says she doesn't see herself as "just an actor".

"I am a mother first and foremost.

"One of my number one things in life is exploring human connection and if I can't be open and real and vulnerable, then I shouldn't have a website. It brings me joy, I love it."

And for the moment that means sharing aspects of her "colourful" life in isolation.

"We can look at this time in history as the great reset button," Teresa says.

"What that looks like for each person is going to be unique. For me, that means I have realised my tendency to be busy.

"I am realising I need to slow down and reconnect with what is important. That is being with my family, being present and not filling our days with so much stuff.

"That is my great reset. I think I will be fundamentally changed from this experience."

Zen Mamas: Finding Your Path Through Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond is out now.

 

Zen Mamas by Teresa Palmer and Sarah Wright Olsen.
Zen Mamas by Teresa Palmer and Sarah Wright Olsen.