The media glare, a very public divorce and the relentless demands of a growing brood have been the making of Antonia Kidman.
Antonia Kidman would like to disappear. At least that's the way it first appears this morning, as she sits in a swivel chair in a sun-drenched kitchen while a hairstylist blow-dries her delicate brunette strands into a '50s-style coif.
She faces me head-on during our chat, but frequently speaks while shutting her eyes, tightly and determinedly. Eventually, she will unfurl all kinds of intimate stories – about the fears she's conquered and the stress and chaos that children bring, among other topics. But initially, when I broach such subjects, she clams up, and her smile slides from wide open and sunny to slightly tight and reined-in, like the sort a child might give when greeting an overly effusive aunt.
There are numerous reasons why Kidman, an award-winning TV-show host and producer, and now an author and on-line columnist for Essential Kids, could be feeling on guard. The past 25 years of her life have, after all, been marked by heavy media scrutiny, including non-stop comparisons to her famous sister, jealous snipes about her perpetually svelte frame, and her splashed-across-the-tabloids break-up, five years ago, with sports marketing executive Angus Hawley, after 11 years of marriage, four children, and a drug addiction (his).
But soon it becomes clear that there is an altogether new reason for Kidman to be feeling vulnerable, and therefore inclined to cocooning: she is pregnant with her sixth child, to second husband Craig Marran, with whom she already has a son, 21-month-old Nicholas.
"Oh, I feel extraordinarily lucky," says Kidman about being naturally pregnant at 42, as she unconsciously brushes a hand across her growing belly. "Like, I can't even talk about it. I think that I could jinx it, and all that sort of stuff. You only have to be in your late 30s to suddenly feel all the anxiety [about whether an unborn child is healthy] and all that stuff."
On top of that, she says, there is a lot more "pressure" on parents these days to maximise the potential of each child, in case they miss signs of genius – or derangement. "There's a lot of judgment. I do notice that I'm thinking about it, with this one. There's one of me, and one of my husband, and splitting that six ways, or five ways, is tricky. It's not the same as if we had one or two."
So – it has to be asked – why have another; indeed, enough kids to make up half a cricket team? "Um, because it's nice to have two [with Craig]," she says. "It's been such a wonderful experience with our first from birth ... It has been extraordinary."
Plus, she adds, "I grew up next to a family of four [in Greenwich, on the lower north shore of Sydney] and I don't know if that was an impact, influential, but I liked the noise and the buzz of a big family, and still do. I just like having my people around."
But as any human who's ever tried to coax a smaller human into a coat knows, it can also be mind-bendingly frustrating. Throw in, for Kidman, a shared custody arrangement of her four children with her ex-husband (with whom she has an "amicable" relationship) and a long-distance bachelor's degree, majoring in English and history, undertaken through the University of New England, and, well ...
"I get a bit down," she says quietly and evenly about her reaction to life when it becomes overwhelming. "I get a little bit flat."
Enter Kidman's second book, The Simple Things. Co-authored with Sally Collings, it is, on one level, a roll-call of strategies to streamline your life, and therefore enhance it. Picture shelf-arranging ideas and meal plans. On a far more captivating level, the book – through Kidman's revelations about the various difficulties she has endured – encourages readers to discover their untapped reserves of strength to cope with life's challenges.
Referring specifically to going through "the trauma of a divorce", Kidman writes: "I could never have predicted my life changing direction so abruptly; if I had, it would have triggered fear and denial. But it feels good to have experienced and survived change. I discovered so much about the way I wanted to live my life from that point on. It's not something I'd be keen to experience again, but knowing that I've walked through a fire and come out the other side is quite a powerful feeling."
Kidman says she learnt, for instance, not to "shut down" when a crisis hits, as she did during the last stretch of her marriage to Hawley. "Sometimes you don't realise it," she says. "You walk around with blinders on. You just spend so much time just existing, managing to exist, and getting through the day to day.
"Suddenly [after the divorce] it was like, 'I have friends.' Not that I didn't have friends before, but now I was open to them. I've learnt not to gear myself up to that level of stress again, either. And to protect myself a little bit."
Indeed, Kidman's mama-bear side comes out when I ask her if she ever worries that she will disappoint people if she adheres to one of the tips in her book - to say "no" to friends, family members or colleagues, when necessary, in order to avoid becoming buried by obligations.
"Why would I?" she snaps, staring me straight in the eye. "That's your question: do you feel like you're disappointing people? That's throwing guilt on me, isn't it?"
This is a far cry from the Antonia Kidman of old who often spoke about battling shyness and insecurity. Who told The Sun-Herald in 1995 that, "When I was younger I was absolutely scared of being compared to Nic." And who, shortly after her split from Hawley, said that she felt "panicked" over how she would provide for her children or manage the family's finances. She got over that particular hurdle by speaking, for the first time, to a financial planner, and by generally "battening down the hatches".
It's a pragmatic approach that runs throughout The Simple Things. There are, for instance, some brass-tacks financial tips - like the fact that she bought her last car with cash rather than credit – and the basics of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), a psychological practice championed by her father, Dr Antony Kidman.
CBT encourages "mindfulness" and a commitment to not create "unnecessary problems or dramas", and the latter is clearly evident in the way Kidman approaches her children's extracurricular activities: she allows them only two each, so as not to become a full-time chauffeur. And should Lucia, 14, Hamish, 11, James, 9, Sybella, 5, or, to a lesser extent, Nicholas, desire to pick up a new hobby, they have to prove that they're "hungry" enough for it before she'll slap her credit card down for an expensive piece of equipment, or lessons.
"Just because someone says, 'I want to do guitar!'" she says, faking a whiny voice, "or, 'I want to do this', I don't just go for that. No. You know, like my 11-year-old [Hamish] wants to do guitar, and I'm, 'Well, you go find a guitar teacher for me, and then when you come back with that information I'll make that call.'
"I struggle with it [saying 'no'], too," she admits. "Because then you see the parents who really do push their kids as well, and the ones who are taking them to the swimming squad five mornings a week and stuff like that, and, you know, I'm not doing that," she says with a little laugh. "I just sort of have to be comfortable with that and hope they're not going to be really, you know, angry with me when they're 30."
Posing for Sunday Life's photo shoot, Kidman carries a plate of cupcakes, a retro tea towel flung over one shoulder. She is such a vision of martinis-at-five domesticity that a stylist who's looking on comments, "It looks like something out of Desperate Housewives!"
But focusing almost completely on family – save for some periodic study for her degree – is new for Kidman, who started as an editorial assistant on Mode Brides magazine, and went on to be a researcher for Channel Nine, and then a TV presenter for Foxtel and a freelance writer on parenting issues. She dropped all of her television work when, in 2010, she moved to Singapore, where Marran's work is based.
But apart from Kidman's matchy-matchy Marni outfit and stacked high-heel shoes, her only connection to Bree – the 1950s-esque housewife played by Marcia Cross in the hit TV show, to whom the stylist is surely referring – is that, like her, she has a steely core hidden beneath a pastel-pretty exterior.
"I have found a lot of satisfaction from our family and putting a lot of effort into that. I know it's intense, I know that," she says about adding to her brood. "But I'm up for it."
'The Simple Things: Creating an Organised Home, a Happy Family and a Life Worth Living' by Antonia Kidman and Sally Collings, is published by HarperCollins.
From: Sunday Life