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Mum vs Life: Dinner time with my son drives me to my wit's end

Welcome to the summer series of Mum vs Life. Each week we’ll bring you our favourite celebrity mum who will take us through their day. This week we talk to TV and radio journalist Anjali Rao is a presenter on Dateline on SBS and is often seen on Channel Ten’s The Project. This successful mother-of-one has an interesting take of being a single working mum.

Anjali Rao

WAKE UP

Having hosted breakfast TV for eight years on CNN and Sky News UK, I know the value of sleep and, by extension, sleeping in. I’m pretty sure that anyone whose alarm clock went off at 2:45 every day for as long as mine did would not ever class themselves as a morning person!

As presenter of Dateline on SBS, my schedule these days is much more chilled, as the show airs weekly. On days I’m not filming, I may MC events or be working on my book, so there are not really any concrete wake-up times.

I’m separated, so sometimes I’ll have my little boy Izzy with me and other times I won’t. On the mornings he’s not with me, I check emails, scan the news and make a cup of coffee.  On the days he’s with me, I give him an absolutely massive snuggle as soon as I wake up. Then, I check emails, scan the news and make a cup of coffee.

BREAKFAST

I’m quite sporadic with what and when I consume, but I start each day with good intentions. To that end, I always have breakfast. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to eating, so I almost always have porridge made with water and Splenda. Sometimes I’ll chuck some berries on top or some natural apple sauce and cinnamon, but that’s only if I’m feeling really wild and crazy!

If Izzy is with me, we always sit down and eat breakfast together. I think that’s really important because, by that time, it tends to have been about 10 hours since we last talked and I’ll be having severe withdrawals from not hearing that wee voice!

BATH vs SHOWER

I’m a shower person purely because there’s no bath in my bathroom. It’s a shame, though. There’s nothing better than coming home on a cold, rainy, windy Melbourne day and sinking into the tub with a good book and a glass of wine!

If the planet was in better shape, I’d take ages in the shower, but I’m very conscious of water wastage. I always shower in the morning. I’m not awake or functioning until I do. I’ll shower again right after the gym, which is normally either around lunchtime or early evening.

Izzy is pretty good about letting me get on with whatever I need to do in the bathroom, though he does occasionally decide something needs my urgent attention as soon as my head’s covered in shampoo!

GETTING DRESSED

Living in Melbourne, my sartorial choices are based pretty much solely on what the weather is doing. I tend to have one of two (diametrically opposed) styles: hip hop or über glam. The former always involves my beloved Timberland boots (cue much derision from my mates on how trapped in the 90s I am!)

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I do have a weakness for little floaty mini dresses, too. I used to be a lot heavier than I am now – 30 kilos heavier – so I love wearing things I couldn’t before. My weight loss means I also adore shopping for clothes these days, whereas before it was just this miserable chore. I can spend days now researching a frock or a skirt online and never get bored of it.

When I’m at home by myself, just vegging on the sofa, I’ll divest myself ASAP of the day’s attire, and go for either a big fluffy dressing gown or an old rock T-shirt and knickers. Hey, it’s not like I have to impress anyone!

WORK

Dateline airs live on Tuesday nights, so I fly to Sydney at about noon to shoot the show and usually fly back to Melbourne the next day, though sometimes I hang out in Sydney till Thursday before picking up Izzy from day care.

Once I arrive at the office, I get an update on the stories running on the show that night, read and edit the intros and outros, watch each of the stories, then it’s the first of several trips to hair and make-up. We shoot a program promo in the studio at about 3pm before I have a bit of downtime. This is the first occasion I’ve ever had my own office, so I get a bit of a kick out of shutting the door as I catch up on any news I may have missed. The self-imposed solitude doesn’t tend to last long, though. I’m a very social person and need to feel that I’m constantly in the thick of things, especially in a bustling newsroom.

I love my job at Dateline. I’m given immense freedom to work on any stories I want to and pretty much have editorial carte blanche when it comes to what I say on air. To have that trust from my bosses and colleagues is a true privilege.

At about 6pm, all the Dateliners have dinner together. We get on tremendously; no small feat in an industry known more for its relentless backstabbing than genuine affection or camaraderie.

After dinner, it’s back to make-up ahead of our rehearsal, followed by a last make-up and hair check before getting into the outfit that’s been chosen for me by our wardrobe department. Then, three, two, one… live to the nation!

FOOD AT WORK

I always bring fruit in with me as that’s my go-to snack but, as I mentioned, I’m a picky eater. Occasionally, I’ll have had something in the Virgin lounge on the way to Sydney but, it’s worth waiting for whatever is ordered for dinner at the office.

EXERCISE

Before I lost 30 kilos, I’d spent years being overweight and under-active. The mere thought of entering a gym filled me with paroxysms of fear and dread. Now, I can’t imagine not training at least five days a week.

I love running, weights and cross-fit, but kickboxing is my absolute favourite. Of course, some days life gets in the way and I don’t make it to the gym, but I get all fidgety on those occasions and feel very out of sorts.

CHILDREN AND WORK

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Izzy loves what I do. I was with him the first time he recognised me on TV. It was when I was at CNN anchoring my talk show (which was pre-recorded.) He was really little at the time, not even two yet. He went up to the screen and started stroking my face and saying, “Mama” while sucking on his dummy, Maggie Simpson-style. I hope I never forget that image.

Of course, like any parent, all I want for Izzy in his own career is happiness. If his chosen path comes with untold riches and power as well, brilliant!

EVENINGS

Izzy is going through that infuriating stage where he refuses to eat anything other than a standard few things: fish & chips, ham sandwich, fish & chips. Oh and fish & chips.

He’s allowed it once a week and has no idea that fish can actually be fried. On my watch, it’s grilled all the way.

I do cook for him, but cooking’s always going to be work in progress for me. I can’t stand cooking. I find it intensely stressful and just not enjoyable in the slightest, plus my repertoire is truly pathetic!

Whatever is on the menu; however, we always eat together. It was the same with my parents when I was growing up and it’s the best time to bond and re-group at the end of the day.

After dinner, Izzy has a shower. I usually YouTube something for him on my laptop, like The Wiggles so he has a sing-along distraction. That way, he doesn’t notice he’s getting clean at the same time as practicing his vocal skills.

When he’s out of the shower, it’s brush teeth, story (often one I make up), a song (he likes it when I do “Time After Time”), poem (always Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”), prayers, a huge cuddle and he’s out.

As for me, I’ll flop on the sofa and find the worst TV possible; something like My Crazy Obsession, Celebrity Ghost Stories, or Snog, Marry, Avoid. Just perfect.

HELP

My former partner and I moved back to Australia in 2012 from Hong Kong, which is where I spent 35 years. In Asia, it is basically unheard of to go without at least one domestic helper. Mostly, they live with you and often become part of the family. I am a product of that type of upbringing and, until coming back to Australia, so was Izzy. Because of that history, it would never occur to me to feel guilty over paid help. As a working, single mother, there are plenty of other places for me to place my guilt!

When we first arrived in Melbourne, figuring out how to manage without that assistance on tap involved quite some coordination, but Izzy’s grandparents, cousins, aunt and uncle on his Dad’s side live here, so it’s falling into place.

BEDTIME

I can sleep any time, anywhere, no matter what’s going on in my head or out the window. My problem is staying awake! Izzy’s dad used to liken me to those dolls that you sit up and their eyes open; lie them down and the eyes close.

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I’m also an extremely deep sleeper, so if you do manage to wake me up, it had better be important!

I get about 10 hours a night in dreamland, though if I didn’t set an alarm, I think I’d present a significant challenge to Rip Van Winkle!

There’s nothing better than a nap in the sun after a major gym session, as well.

Mmmm. Bliss.

TIME MANAGEMENT

I am quite possibly the last person who can ever speak with authority on time management! When I was at boarding school in the UK, I used to sleep with my tights on and make sure my shirt was already buttoned and positioned inside my jumper at the end of my bed, so I could just reach down in the morning and chuck it on while still under the duvet.

In preparation for Izzy starting school, I’m going to have to print off a stack of “please excuse Izzy’s lateness…” notes and stick one in his bag every day along with his ham sandwich. Or with his fish & chips. Poor little guy.

Anjali Rao is a multi-award-winning television journalist and chat show host who has spent 17 years in the top tiers of broadcast news, current affairs and entertainment. Anjali is the host of Dateline, Australia’s longest-running international current affairs program, shown on SBS TV and online worldwide. The show provides stories for Australians about life beyond Australia’s shores.

Born to an Indian father and Australian mother, Anjali was raised in Hong Kong, educated in the U.K, but is now based in Australia.

Although more familiar to television audiences, Anjali recently spent time co-hosting Sydney radio station 2UE 954 with Ian ‘Dicko’ Dickson on the News Talk morning show (9am - 12noon weekdays) presenting the latest in news, entertainment and talk-back. She has also frequently appeared as a panel member and guest host on Network Ten’s The Project.

Keep reading our Mum vs Life series here:

Sally Obermeder: "It's a tough balancing act as a parent"

Meshel Laurie "My children are just starting to resent my work

Jackie O "My daughter loves to pretend that she works too"

Amanda Kellar "I have help and I choose not to feel guilty"

Mrs Woog: "I live my life in chaos

Lindy Klim "Two of my kids are fantastic eaters but my son is shocking"

Rebecca Judd "Gone are the days when I wear heels"

Lisa Williams "How I teach my son not to be afraid"

Miki Field "When Anthony is home, it is a little more chaotic"

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