'Inspired by my son': Jamila Rizvi releases picture book to help kids cope with change

Jamila Rizvi and son Rafi.
Jamila Rizvi and son Rafi.  Photo: Instagram / Jamila Rizvi

When Jamila Rizvi was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour a few years ago, she was distraught. 

As the acclaimed author, TV presenter and mum-of-one awaited her first brain surgery, she admits she wasn't coping. 

"I was in shock. I was distressed," she tells Essential Baby. "I thought the best way to deal with was to hide it away from my son, who was just a toddler at the time."

"So I used to close the doors when I was crying. I think, to an extent, I pulled back from him emotionally, because I was trying to protect both him and myself."

Turns out, that reluctance is one of her biggest regrets as a parent. 

"In hindsight, I should have let him see I was a bit scared and a bit sad," she reveals. "Little kids just want to help. They want to be part of the solution."

Even though he was so young, the Melbourne-based media personality could see her little boy, Rafi, now five, simply wanted to help and support his sick mum. 

"Whether it was stroking my arm or playing with Lego at the bottom of the bed," the Chief Executive Officer of Future Women explains. "He loved checking on me with his toy doctor's kit and telling me I was better because it made him feel like a problem solver."

'Little kids want to be part of the solution'

And that in part, helped inspire her latest project.

A beautiful picture book for families with young children to share and make sense of the changes in their lives brought about by COVID-19 and to help them feel empowered and reassured - 'I'm a Hero Too'

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"When the pandemic first arrived back in March, I was struggling to explain what was going on and how rapidly everything was changing for my then four-year-old," Rizvi tells Essential Baby. "I wanted to help him work through his grief."

"He was mourning the fact he didn't get to start Auskick like he dreamed, he missed his friends from kinder, he didn't understand why we couldn't go and see granny in Canberra. And he didn't understand why there was all this tape up around the playgrounds."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jamila Rizvi (@jamilarizvi) on

And so, Rizvi came up with a story about Arty - a superhero helping to keep the whole community safe.

A story that would help her little boy feel sadness in an age-appropriate way, but then quickly move him to a place of empowerment and feeling like he was part of the solution. 

"This has been a year of previously unsung heroes finally getting the thanks they deserve," the busy 34-year-old declares. "The most easily overlooked of which have been our children.

"So many of my friends have commented that it was their kids who've got them through, more than the other way around."

One of Rizvi's favourite things about the book, is the response she's already receiving from friends' kids. 

"The universal reaction from four and five-year-olds is lots of fist pumping in the air and yelling out 'Yeah, I do want to be a hero!', which is exactly what I was going for," she beams. "That sense of excitement energy and wanting to help - but also feeling powerful again."

After all, little kids are usually pretty keen to help the grown-ups in their life.

"My little boy has had to deal with a really big transition in his life with me being so ill - and so I think I have a good sense of what works for little kids to cope with change at a practical level," Rizvi tells Essential Baby. ​

The challenges of lockdown 2.0

The author of Not Just Lucky believes the second lockdown has taken an immense toll on families across Victoria. 

Due to her chronic illnesses, Rizvi and her husband chose to keep Rafi out of daycare since the onset of the pandemic in March. 

She describes the last seven months as a "constant state of negotiation and flux"; a precarious balancing act to keep a small person entertained with varied activities every single day and manage conflicting work priorities.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Stage 4 is boring. We’re going to the movies. What’s showing? Frozen 1 and 2 marathon. Obviously.

A post shared by Jamila Rizvi (@jamilarizvi) on

"The whole experience has given me a new found appreciation for stay-at-home parents and for kindergarten and childcare educators," she admits. "I felt like I went into the pandemic like I was a super star on Play School and I just threw everything at it - and by May, I was completely exhausted!

"The return to kinder last week has been joyful for every member of our household!"

Rizvi and her husband are not the only parents who have struggled to manage the ongoing clash of work, homeschool plus domestic duties, without access to their usual support networks and structures.

"It's been really trying. I'd even venture to say it's distressing, the longer it goes on," Rizvi reveals, adding she has felt terrible for friends unable to attend the funeral of a loved one or feeling isolated as they undergo chemotherapy for the first time.

"Everyone has a different story. The big things and the small things are hurting."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jamila Rizvi (@jamilarizvi) on

According to Rizvi, there is a real sense of "collective failure" surrounding the second lockdown in Victoria.

 "It was almost as if we made had an error, not been up to the task and not played our part for the team - which for the vast majority of Victorians is, of course, not the case."

"Looking at Instagram pages of friends in other parts of the country, it's like they are on another planet. How do you explain to a little person why their aunt from Sydney can visit grandparents but they can't?"

In her wisdom, Rizvi has also tried to hold on to some of the "benefits" of lockdown, spending more time with her beautiful boy and watching him grow and learn to play more independently. 

"Little kids are incredibly adaptable and resilient," she notes with admiration. "And for the most part, I suspect adults who could learn quite a bit from the small children in their lives."

'I'm a Hero Too', by Jamila Rizvi, is out October 20, RRP $19.99. Order here