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Family

Renee Wright: What love and loss have taught me

Renee Wright talks openly about what she’s learned about helping children cope with loss, and her immense love and gratitude for her family.

By Emma Clifton
This year, Renee Wright will turn 40, and if that's a surprise to you, rest assured that it's quite the surprise to her as well.
As mum to three children, there is no time to look too far into the future, because the present is very much here, now, and requiring Renee to be in about five places at once.
When she sits down with The Australian Women's Weekly, Renee is midway through, as she calls it, "the never-ending school holidays".
It's a marathon, not a race.
"Some days, okay is enough," she laughs.
"It's like, 'Okay, we made it, everyone is fed, everyone is in bed.' Some days are like that – and some days are like that one after the other. And then on other days, you're like 'Oh yes, I'm on fire, I'm pretty much a super-hero,' and you're high-fiving yourself. And if you do that, you're in trouble, because you're absolutely going to get nailed the next day."
The ability to go with the flow is something Renee believes is crucial to being a parent.
"You have to let go of perfectionism, that's just never going to happen with kids."
And even though she and her husband Charlie, 40, have spent the last decade raising Leonardo, nine, Giselle, six and Arabella, three, Renee jokes she's still waiting for the ever-elusive "grown-up" gene to kick in.
"I always feel like my stuff is everywhere and I'm all over the show. I keep thinking, 'Well, I'll grow up one day and get my act together and then I'll be slick,'" she laughs.
"But when I think about 40, I remember when Mum and Dad turned 40 and it seemed so adult." She makes a faux grimace.
"So then it's like, okay, maybe this is the year I grow up? But really, I think maybe you just learn not to take yourself so seriously. Life is crazy – you never know what's around the corner."
As a minor example of this, our photo shoot is rescheduled twice because, the day of the cover shoot, Renee woke up with a sty in her eye that was so severe she couldn't open her eye, and a quarter of her face was inflamed.
When we meet for the interview, it's still so swollen the first thing she says is: "Don't worry, it's not contagious!"
In an attempt to balance her face, she's popped pink eyeshadow on the non-ouchy eyelid, to try to pretend that it's all just a fun make-up look she's going for.

In part of her current role, she's filling in on the morning show for Coast FM. She asked listeners for their tips on how to heal it and was inundated with responses, including a hot flannel, baby shampoo and, oddly, urine.
Luckily, the less controversial choice of antibiotics (and judicious use of eyeliner) meant the photo shoot was able to go ahead, but Renee jokes she's absolutely willing to do mysterious, eye-covering poses in order to make it work, just in case.
Her mix of being both funny and seemingly totally unflappable makes you think she must be a delight as a mother – although, like most women, she would probably scoff at that.
Renee had just turned 30 when she gave birth to Leo, and discovered she has a silent labour, meaning she gets about an hour's warning from whoa to go.
It would become a good metaphor for motherhood itself.
"I remember when I first had Leo, having that feeling of 'Oh, wow, I don't recognise my life at all.' Then I joined a boot camp with some other mothers, and I saw how they did the balance, and I thought, 'Yeah, it's all okay.' That's what I always say to young mums: This too shall pass. All these little phases they go through, they do pass and it does get better and better, and just when you think you can't love them any more than you already do, they'll go and do something else and you do – it just grows and grows."

"Women are starting to support each other by saying, 'I'm struggling a bit,' and being okay with admitting that. It doesn't take away from the love of your children – you love them more than anything in the world but it is tough sometimes. Especially when you're on next to no sleep and hearing 'Mum, Mum, Mum' a million times," she laughs.
"Nothing can prepare you for that, but when you're in it, and you're doing it, that's when it's important to have that moment where you catch your breath."
Having a support network is key, and Renee credits not only her parents Marian and Warren Wright, but her TVNZ work family as well.
"Working and children… I mean, it's not pretty, and it's not glamorous, and there have been times when I'm sitting in the dressing room with a breast pump," she laughs.
"But I'm lucky to have a dressing room, and a breast pump. It's tricky for women. We're so amazing that we can do what we do and just get on with it. But it is important to have those people around you who can help you, because you can't do everything on your own."
Going back to work after each of her children was always crucial for Renee – it was modelled to her by her own mother, and she's keen to pass that on to her daughters.
"It's important to keep doing things that I do to nourish me, so that then I can continue to give to those who need me the most. If my cup is full, then everyone is happy."
On Renee's Instagram, you'll often see sneak peeks of the mischief that goes on behind the scenes of the very serious news – with presenters like Melissa Stokes and Wendy Petrie joining in for a choreographed dance on set.
But the absence of her chief conspirator, Greg Boyed, is still keenly felt. Greg and Renee were very close and this August will mark two years since his death.
"He was very charismatic, very real, very funny and very, very naughty," Renee remembers with a huge grin.
"Things he would say… you'd be like, 'No, Greg, you can't say that,' but it was like church giggles, you know? No one else could say those things and get away with it."
She recalls the drive to his funeral, where she and fellow presenters Miriama Kamo and Mary Jane Aggett all travelled together.
"We were all talking and reminiscing, sharing stories. That was a moment I really treasure, because we were laughing so much – and crying sometimes. He was so wicked and naughty and it just really, really sucks that we've been robbed of him in that way."
She recalls a lesson he had imparted to all of his fellow TVNZ presenters – you are responsible for the energy you bring into the studio.
"And it's true, if someone does have a different energy, it really does affect everyone."
One of his favourite tricks, she laughs, was messing with the control room by talking about absolutely not-on-air material while they were counting him down to go live.
"At the last second, he'd click into professional mode, and he'd have that look and that voice and you'd have no idea. Those are the things that we're left with, and you just have to treasure those moments."

It's impossible to shield children from some of life's saddest parts and, for Renee and Charlie, conversations about death have been hard to avoid over the past few years, as they have lost a number of family and friends, most recently Renee's grandmother and Charlie's uncle.
"My kids have had to encounter death quite a bit, for how old they are. They've seen it a lot and they've seen people grieving a lot," Renee says.
Just recently, Leo went with Charlie to sprinkle his uncle's ashes, and was emotional upon their return.
"We were talking about it and trying to change the focus from yes, we still love them and we miss them, to now it's important to be there for the people who are still around.
"Gigi thinks that when people die, they turn into stars, so she talks to the stars a lot."
When Renee's grandmother died, the kids met the undertaker and asked her heaps of questions. The undertaker told Renee it was good to encourage their questions, because it's the unknown that is most scary for kids.
"Nana was 92, so I just said that her body was very tired and she needed to rest. I just try and tell them that it's normal and healthy to feel sad, but also to feel happy when you think about the nice times you had with them. That's what you have to hold onto."
Balancing the light with the dark was also part of Renee's own childhood.
At one stage, her parents owned a series of McDonald's, which was quite a dramatic change from Renee's mum's previous job running a modelling agency.
As well as pre-packing Happy Meals as an after-school activity – and gaining serious street cred with their buddies by using the soft serve machine – Renee and her siblings Monique and Peter were always part of the midwinter Christmas celebration her parents would throw for families at Ronald McDonald house, where families of sick children stay for free.
"The idea that children might not make it to Christmas, or that it might be too stressful a time for the family, was just too much for Mum."
So in the middle of every year, Renee's parents would host a big meal at Ronald McDonald house for all the families and Renee and her siblings would get the day off school to hang out with the kids. "When I started working with TV and got pregnant with Leo, I thought, 'I need to check in with that again. I'm lucky enough to have a healthy child, I should be supporting someone who's not as lucky.'"
It's a partnership Renee has continued.
"There's nothing more stressful than having a sick child," she says.
"With this, you can take away the stress of 'where will I sleep, where can I get a hot shower, how can I keep my family all in one place?' And you also have support from other people."
She knows how isolating parenting can be, and the relief when you no longer feel you're on your own.
"It's a reminder of what's important in life and how lucky you are if you have your health, and you have a healthy family."
As a parent, Renee also knows how child-related costs can add up, so she's been happy to support Variety's back-to-school appeal, where sponsorship means kids don't miss out on uniforms, stationery and other basics.
And then there's the looming unknown of living in a world that's shifting very quickly due to climate change.
As one of the mainstays of weather presenting for TVNZ's 1 News, Renee knows the weather like the back of her hand. But gone are the days when weather was just weather, rather than a possible harbinger of doom.
This summer has been apocalyptic for Australia, with deadly bushfires ripping through the country for months on end.
New Zealand got a tiny taste of how unnerving it is when the weather upends the world around you, during early January when the smoke from the bushfires made its way here and gave the sky an other-wordly orange glow.
"The kids didn't understand what was happening, but they knew it was related to the fires… It made us all feel strange because it was so eerie and we all thought,'Oh my goodness, our poor Australian neighbours are going through hell at the moment.' It was a big wake-up call, for everyone."
The younger generation are hyper-aware of the importance of looking after the planet, Renee says, and it's a lesson her kids take to heart as well.
"At the beach the other day, Gigi was picking up rubbish, because she didn't want the baby turtles to get trapped – and then she was trying to stuff it in my mum's handbag," Renee says.
"But it's important for them to know they have to be aware, and do their bit, every day."
She tries not to look too far into the future when it comes to thinking about what kind of planet her children might inherit.
"Motherhood is so overwhelming full stop. At the moment it is really just take it as it comes. But if you think about it too much, it's just terrifying. The thought of trying to navigate three small people through that. We just have to all do those little things, and show them, through your own actions as a parent, that they have to be accountable for themselves, to be mindful. And then you just have to hope for the best."
With her youngest, Arabella, turning four this year, comes the realisation that there are no more babies in the house.
"It goes like that," Renee says, snapping her fingers.
"You particularly notice that with the third one. With the first one it's like 'whoa. WHOA.'" And then when number two arrived soon after, that was truly full-on, says Renee.
By the time Arabella was born, Renee and Charlie had the job down pat.
"So you relax and you really enjoy – I enjoyed her being a baby so much – I didn't want her to grow up any faster than she was. I was just loving and relishing every moment. I did with the other two as well, but you evolve with the children. It's lovely to watch the dynamics between them all."
It's been a big decade to evolve through, Renee says.
"It feels like LIFE," she enthuses.
"It feels like I'm in the thick of it – and this is the time when you usually are. Trying to build that family home, build your career, build your family, build all of those foundations. It's a lot and it's all at once. And that's why it's so important to have that support. Sure, there have been ups and downs, and life is always busy. There's always something going on. But it's good. It's wonderful."

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