Answers to your questions
Kelly Denley, author of Almost Perfect, spent some time answering a few of the Huggies Reading Group questions in October 2008. Below is a transcript of the Q & A session.
You’re an inspiration on so many levels and have put so many things into perspective for me – How has Cameron adjusted to the family bonding that took place in his absence. I feel that would only further alienate him when trying to re-settle back in at home, was that the case?
Thank you for putting pen to paper and telling your story.
Casey (cajary – huggies forum member)
Author’s answer :
It was hard i think for all of us when Cam came back home. I still don’t think Cam has really adjusted to the changes in the family to be honest, but he’s learned to accept and live with them. I’m sure Cam did feel alienated, but we felt alienated from him also. He had changed so much, was so different from the Cam we knew. He had lived with people who had lost their faith in the world for too long and a lot of their ideas and attitudes had made their way into his head.
We argued alot in the early days, he felt i was over protective, i wanted him to understand that it was my home and if i wanted to be protective in my home then that was my right as a mother! There were times when i was still afraid of him and his aggression, times when i wondered if he was just using us or if he truly wanted to make a go of things. I doubted myself constantly, Rob and i fought alot about Cam and his influence on the other children and as a result i found myself turning into a bit of a control freak. Over all it really wasn’t going all that well.
Funnily enough, It was the book that helped us bridge the gap though. I was still in the editing process when Cam came home and one night i sat with him and went over the parts that dealt with his leaving home. He sat in silence and listened and then i read the ending of the book, the night we all slept together in the one room. After that we talked and somehow we bridged that gap that had been there for so long. That old saying about time healing wounds is true, Cam has been home for almost a year, the bridge is still under construction, we still have differences of opinion… especially where the kids are concerned. But at least he now realises that its my choice not his how they are raised.
We still play ‘I remember’, but if Cam is home or comes home while we are talking, we just adjust the time scale a bit and we remember the good times before Cam left. It’s not easy, i don’t think it ever will be where Cam is concerned, but we’re trying to making it work, and that’s all we can do.
Its been a while since the trip now, has the family slipped back in the same mindset and routine since before the trip or are the changes the trip bought still noticeable and affecting the children’s day to day lives? I would love to know if the trip did change your family for good, or just for a little while. I think your story is so important and I’m glad you told it.
I think we’ll always feel the effects of the trip, not always in big noticable ways, but in the little things. It’s given me a never ending source of analogies to use when my kids have problems too! When Taylor says the bins are too heavy to take out… i just remind him of the heavy boxes he used to lift out of the trailer and ask him where his muscles have gone! If Britt tells me she’s bored, i ask her what she did in Exmouth when she was bored and she goes for a walk or picks up a book. It’s become a bit of a joke now when the kids hear me say… ‘do you remember when…’ and proceed to turn it into some great life lesson! We’ve had some difficulties since getting home… it hasn’t been all songs around the campfire if you know what i mean… with eight kids i don’t think it ever will be! Some of those difficulties came pretty close to tearing us apart also. But I don’t think you can do what we did and not feel it for the rest of your life. It sounds a little cliched i know, but I think that as the kids get older they will come to appreciate even more that time we had away. We are closer, hard to explain how, it’s not like Britt and i are best friends… good grief no! But we have a mutual understanding about life, we have different dreams, goals and ideas but we both have this knowledge…so hard to explain. It’s not just Britt either, it’s all the kids, but if i’m really honest, its the older ones who really feel it. Taylor, Britt, Scott and to an extent Caitlin… its just a knowledge of what we’ve done. Scott came to me a few months after getting home, he thanked me for what we’d done. He told me a few things i hadn’t known, shed some light on a few things i did know but hadn’t understood and then told me that if we hadn’t gone away when we did, he wouldn’t be with us anymore. He had already made that decision before we decided to go away. If we spend the rest of our lives paying for that trip financially… (which we probably will) i won’t care. If none of the changes we made stick… if i put on all my weight again, if i never run that darn marathon, if Britt suddenly starts screaming at the sight of a frog again…if we all lose our memories and forget the whole thirteen months… it won’t matter, because it was worth it. We are all changed, in some way, and we’ll never be the people we were before again.
I can’t imagine how difficult studying for Uni, while travelling and being a super-mum to 8 kids would have been! Have you still kept up with your photography?
Ahhh… good question!!! Unfortunately time writing and home schooling has made it almost impossible to pursue this dream of late. I’m hoping that by early next year i’ll have had time to put together the photo’s i took on the trip, a few i’ve done since returning home and some from before in a series based on the original concept. I’d love to have made it on campus next year too, but again, until i can get my kids organised that’s on hold for a while longer. Britt has really become a natural with the camera though. Like most teens she’s never without one, but she really has a natural eye, alot of what i had to be taught, she seems to know instinctively and some of her fashion pics are just brilliant. I’ve had so much fun helping her with the processes that its just about sated my cravings for creativity… and kept my hand in it! There’s really just so much more to learn, so i guess that’s the next step!
You mentioned briefly in the book that you had an ectopic pregnancy while you were away – how did that affect you? You could have been a mother of 9!
Just to avoid confusion… not an ectopic preg, a burst cyst and then a panic stricken moment thinking that the burst cyst might have laid way… for another pregnancy! To answer the question though, call me completely crazy but even now i wonder how it would be to have another baby in the house… when i realised it was just my thoroughly over burdened body not coping that caused my ‘symptoms’ and not a pregnancy it just made me more determined to get my act together. I needed to fix my outside so that my insides would work better… if you know what i mean! My health was a joke, i’d always been strong and relatively fit even despite my size but I guess the physical strain of tent raising every few days showed the reality. Once i got over the wishing i had been pregnant (I know, completely crazy right?) I tried to channel that energy into getting myself right, both body and mind. But if i had become a mother of nine… just another blessing I guess, because if you asked me if i had my time over again which one of my children i’d have stopped at… it would have been the last one I was priveliged enough to have given birth to.
Your photo inside the book looks amazing! Have you managed to keep all the weight off since you returned? And let me know any tips! You look fabulous!
Why thank you! Okay time to be honest hey? I put on about 8 kilo over winter… i went through a baking phase… but i still run, i still plan on running a marathon one of these days. The next challenge I guess! With the weather warming up i’m back into salads again, and i’ve told the kids no more yummy fresh bread or pizza until next winter (i just can’t resist it!) and i want to lose those 8 that i gained back. I’ve stayed the same weight for almost a year and a half now, so hopefully that means those rotten fat cells that remember how fat they once were for a whole year have lost their memories! Best tip i picked up, write down what you eat for a week and then add the calories… it’s easy to pretend that peanut butter wasn’t on the bread, or that the sugar in your coffee didn’t have any calories… but add them up and it soon becomes obvious. Be honest and want it for yourself. That’s the only way to lose weight. You’ve got to do it for yourself.
Out of all the places you visited – do you have a favourite destination?
Tracie K. QLD
Too many! Let’s be fair about it though. Australia is a big place (understatement of the year!) and each state has their own wonderful places. So for QLD, it would have to be… Inskip Point (near Rainbow Beach) but if it hadn’t rained for two weeks, the trees up at Springbrook were incredible. For NSW… my home state? camping is too expensive here so we didn’t see alot of it! I love the central coast though the bushland there is incredible. Victoria, the Mornington Peninsula… talk about blue water! South Australia… Little Dip Conservation Park and the coastal region all around there… wow! WA… it’s bigger so down south Cape Le Grande, awe inspiring, and up north.. without question (probably my fav in Australia) Karajini National Park… unbelievable, like nothing i’ve ever experienced. NT The Olga’s but i’m pretty sure if we’d had a four wheel drive… it would be a harder choice than that!
How is Cam coping with Aspergers now? Is it something that can heal as a child gets older? I really felt his pain missing out on your big family adventure. Has he read your book or is that a ‘NO GO ZONE’?
Dee in Byron
Cam is only just coming to terms with having Aspergers, and funnily enough because he’s accepting it, he’s coping better with the problems it causes him. The biggest problem Cam faces is being able to empathise and understand other peoples viewpoints. He’s learned certain ways of dealing with situations, but they are learned behaviours, and learned from people who’ve had very different lives, which is why he’s having a bit of trouble finding his niche at home. Time does help though, most Aspergers kids find life gets a little easier as they grow up, simply because you spend enough time in the world and you pick up how and how not to behave. It doesn’t mean they don’t have Aspergers anymore, it just means they cope better with the world. For the other part of your question, check a few questions back and hopefully i’ve answered it well enough!
The people you met on your travels must have been surprised to end up in a novel. Do you stay in touch with many?
Most of the people we met on the trip and became friendly with knew about the book, so hopefully they figured they might be featured! We changed most of the names though, just in case they didn’t want to be. I really hope those people we haven’t kept in contact with have read my book and realise how much they meant to us. A few we still have contact with, just random emails, as most are so far away. The kids still have a fair bit of contact with the friends they made at Exmouth… they still ask if we can go their for a holiday!
You took some amazing photos on your sabbatical! The one’s of the girls painted was my fave!! Are you going to turn back to art after writing a novel? Or will there be a second installment?
Art will always be my time out, every so often i get these creative urges that if i don’t sate, i get really stressed and frustrated. Rob always seems to know when I’m getting this way as he sends me off to my study to draw or play the piano! I’d love to be able to do both art and writing, and hopefully there will be a next instalment in the near future. Life has been somewhat interesting after returning home!
With 8 kids you must have some tricks and car games up your sleeve after travelling around the country on how to keep them quiet and interested in the trip. Any you could share?
Jessie – Cowra
I’ll let you in on a secret! When we first started the trip, i had Paige, Mad and Sher in the Getz with me and Rob had the older kids with him. Somewhere between Rainbow Beach and Townsville i pulled over on the side of the road and told Rob if we didn’t swap kids i’d go mad! My excuse was that the Getz echoed with their little girl voices and after two or three hours driving it wasn’t pretty anymore. He worked out that if we put a sheet in the back seat of the Tarago the girls could make a tent and play games to their hearts content. The windows being down helped drown out their voices, and we were all happy! That’s the honest truth, and hopefully you don’t think i’m an ogre for it… hehe Seriously though, after a few weeks of travel, the kids grew used to the long distances. Living in the outdoors, no television, shops or constant colour and movement, i guess our patience increased… don’t know if that makes sense or not? Even the big trips, the first full day of driving across the Nullarbor, i don’t remember the children complaining much at all. I think hot and thirsty came up a few times, but most of the time they all just talked amongst themselves and the older kids either talked to us or read. I don’t think they’d be like that now, but because our lives had become so simplified, driving for hours wasn’t really the big deal it would be if we’d just turned off the playstation and jumped in the car for a trip to Port MacQuarie tomorrow. Best tip i can give though, turn off the tv a little more often in the weeks leading up to a big trip, get the kids used to a little silence, learn how to talk and play games (we did quite a few word games traveling through WA). And if that fails… my mum always swore by a roll of sticky tape!
You said in another answer that you were hoping to run a marathon. Are any of the kids keen runners too? Do you go running together and motivate one another? I have a ten year who is keen (and faster than me) and he definitely helps me.
I have three that love running (not including me). Britt gets out with me a couple of nights a week and Mad and Sher were coming to a running club with me before winter but… brrrrr, we wimped out over the colder months as it was a 6:30am start! We’ll get back to it soon though, no more cold so no more excuses! They definitely keep me going though, Britt has sprinting down pat, i’m more for endurance though. When i run with Britt i wind up getting home ready to throw up! She has really improved my times though so i can’t complain that much. Biggest problem i have is that Britt and i can’t stop talking when we’re out so we wind up walking!
Any plans for more children or is that enough?
Fluffy Bunny Shoes
Good grief are you mad woman! Eight is enough!!!! Just kidding, i’ve often wondered if i made the right choice having my tubes done… sometimes i miss having a baby around, but then Kate comes over with the triplets (who are absolutely gorgeous little bundles of two year old energy now) and i remember the nappies, the demands, the sleep deprivation and i’m really glad i made that choice! Having eight kids is wonderful, having had eight bablies to love and cuddle and nurture was a blessing… but no, no more babies for me! Because eventually they turn into teenagers and sleep deprivation returns!
Did you husband end up getting his own Accountancy Practice in the end? Has he also had a happy ending?
Sadly no, he has a tax practice that runs sporadically from home through the June- September months, but he’s still in the taxi, trying to make ends meet for us. He struggles valiantly on in the belief that things will get better and hoping that next year will be the one in which business will pick up enough for him to leave the taxi behind and that’s all he can do right now. It hasn’t been easy for him since returning home, and if we had our time over again i’d probably have forced him to go to Townsville on his own until we got new tenants and then joined him. But who knows if that would have turned out any better? At least here we have our family around us, and their love and support. Your question has hit right at home though, If i had one wish for my family now, it would be that Rob could get out of the taxi and be home in the evenings. It’s been alot harder on him than me since we got back as he doesn’t see the younger kids through the week as they are at school when he wakes and leaves for work and asleep when he gets home. One day it will get better though… that’s all we can hope for and believe and that will get us though the here and now.
Hi Kelly, i have just finished reading your book and would love to know how all your family are coping with being back in the real world so to speak? I also find myself wondering about Cam and how he is doing?
The real world is horrible!!!! We’ve actually put our house up for sale twice since returning home, with the intent to just up and move to one of those tiny little beach side towns we visited… doesn’t matter which one, just any of them would do! But life isn’t like that, and we’ve slowly come to the understanding that we were incredibly lucky to have had the chance we had. That helps us cope with the ‘real world’ day to day i guess. I don’t think there is a day that goes by that i don’t wish we could be ‘out there’ again, feeling the wind in our hair, the excitement and promise of a new backyard to explore, the quiet at night with just the whispering of the kids in the background. I guess the transition was the hardest, the first few months back were terrible, feeling as though we were being torn apart as work, school, friends etc all clamoured for attention. But we’ve made it work, and things seem to be going okay (this week!). Seriously though, i’m still in the throes of teen parenting, and will be for some time yet as Paige is only six, and every day brings a new challenge. But i’m pretty sure i’m up for whatever life throws at me now! As for Cam, he’s doing okay, he has his ups and downs like all of us. He’s working full time, is paying his debts, is putting some money into savings… i still wash his clothes, but he cleans his room more often than any of the other kids do! We still have issues to work through, most of them rising from where he’s lived and the attitudes he’s brought home with him from the shelters, but we’re getting there. I think he’s happy, sometimes i worry, sometimes i’m still nervous when he’s angry about things, but i think he’s happy to be home. We’re happy he’s home and I think that makes a big difference to him.
How did your family feel about their lives being put into a book? I truly enjoyed the book, thankyou for sharing your adventures with us all. You are a total inspiration, on so many levels.
A mixture of the casual ’I’m too cool to consider that’ and ‘oh my gosh that so embarrassing!’ their reactions have been so funny really. What was even funnier was our extended families reactions! MIL thought i’d been too hard on Rob, my Mum thought i’d been too easy on him, Rob thought he’d gotten off lightly! Britt was horrified i told every one she was scared of fish, and Caitlin told complete strangers that her mother was a famous author… I guess in a word.. we all found it just a little bit surreal!
Do you have any plans for another book, whether it be fiction or non-fiction. I very much enjoyed your writing style.
One day i’ll try my hand at fiction… i have a few stories in my head i’d love to tell, but for the now i’m concentrating on a next instalment to Almost Perfect. I figure i’ve got at least another twelve years of ridiculous antics to turn into prose with this dysfunctional family so hopefully my publisher will see it that way too!