Global wanderer, free spirit, urban hippy… there are a lot of appropriate titles to give Claire Alexander-Johnston, but none more fitting, or important, than the title of mother. After welcoming her third child, baby girl Zephyr Ocean, in September 2016, her hilarious musings on motherhood have taken on new levels of honesty on Instagram, with everything from the good, the bad and the ugly chronicled in her form of “visual diary” to one day pass on to her children, including boys Atlas, aged 5, and Sochi, aged 4...
“I literally just do it [Instagram] for the love and the community. I’m a sucker for that stuff. I love to lighten the mood. I love to write. I love being wildly irreverent, but also super grateful to have stuff written down for the kids when they’re older. My brain may go, but at least they’ll have Instagram, haha!” We caught up with the Byron-based mama to get a more in-depth look at life behind the squares, how she approaches social-media with the kids, why she left Bali, and how she keeps the magic alive with her husband of seven years, Rich (hint: try not to divorce each other until after the postpartum hormones have settled down!) Photography: Bridget Wood | Words: Marisa Remond
Sum up motherhood in three words?
Loud. Beautiful. Messy.
Can you tell us about your childhood?
We grew up in a tall skinny Victorian terrace house in south-east London. Despite it having six bedrooms, my three sisters and I all shared a room for my whole childhood. Every other room had lodgers in. Sometimes a whole family would lodge in one room. I don’t think anyone really paid rent. My parents just had a completely ‘open door’ policy. Dinner was at 6 pm every night and everyone was welcome. My mum always made a HUGE pot of something, and everyone would be crammed around our kitchen table. We grew up with a lot of colourful characters coming through our home. Our house was known for “tea and toast”. Day or night, anyone who was in need, the kettle was always on, and toast was fresh out the toaster. I come from a long line of ‘feeders’.
Tell us about how you met your husband?
LONG story short. I was a broke 18-year-old backpacker who had just landed in Australia. He offered me a job. I had never met anyone like him before, he seemed so ‘worldly’. He introduced me to yoga, and sushi, and this whole intoxicating world of travel and adventure. Even 14 years later he still sets me on fire.
What was it like living in Bali – what are some of the challenges expats face living there?
I love Bali. We called it home for 11+ years. I raised both my baby boys there. But as they got older (and I fell pregnant with my third) I realised that Bali, for all its magic and beauty, had become incredibly overcrowded. We had to drink all of our water out of plastic bottles. The surf was crowded. The traffic was being absurd. I felt like it was time to bring my boys back to Australia where there was more space. Bali taught me so much. But Australia is absolutely our home now and some days, I can’t even believe I get to live here.
And what was the best part of living in Bali? Do you ever miss life in Bali?
Of course! So much! I still miss the freedom in Bali. The people. The smells, and the spirits! I think I miss my motorbike most of all. Piling all the kids on and taking off into the mountains. There is no feeling in the world that beats having all my babies holding onto me, wind at my back, as I ride into the sunset. I guess out of context it seems crazy and irresponsible! I don’t know how else to explain it. I’ll carry those memories with me forever.
Describe life in Byron Bay…
They say that once you’ve lived in Bali, it’s so hard to assimilate back, you can really only go to Byron. Byron Bay is like Bali in many ways- the alternative lifestyle, the faux hippies (and the proper legit ones too! Haha), spirituality, being a bit rogue and alternative….but, you know, a nice, sanitised version!
How do you tackle social media with kids – are you conscious of being on your phone in front of them?
I take huge breaks. Like, a week or two. It’s terrible for “the algorithm”, and means that I drop off of people’s feed all the time. And growth and engagement suffers blah blah blah. But honestly, I couldn’t care less. My mental health (and that of my children too) is SO MUCH more important than keeping up with Instagram. I write at night when they’re asleep. During nap times or in the car. I rarely have my phone out in front of them. This is a really hard, conscious effort that I’ve made over the years. It’s not easy! I LOVE following interesting accounts and connecting with people. It’s utterly addictive! But that’s why I now have to give myself time at the end of the day, so I don’t accidentally fall down an Instagram-stalking-hole in the supermarket shop.
You’ve got a huge following on Instagram – did you make a conscious effort to try and grow your following? How would you describe your tone on Instagram?
I’m a terrible ‘Instragram person’. I don’t “work it” at all. I don’t sell anything or try and boost engagement. It all changes all the time anyway, and I’m happy in my little road with my people. I literally just do it for the love and the community. I’m a sucker for that stuff. I love to lighten the mood. I love to write. I love being wildly irrelevant, but also super grateful to have stuff written down for the kids when they’re older. My brain may go, but at least they’ll have Instagram haha!
What parts of Instagram give you personal fulfilment?
The mothers, my online friends, the advice, the support, the encouragement, the comments. The pretty pictures that push me to go out there and embrace life.
What are your general rules for documenting your family life on social media?
Everyone sets their own boundaries. But for me personally? No crying shots (put your phone down and cuddle them.) Looking into their eyes when I take a picture, not at the screen (this takes practice.). And no bribery for smiles (unless we’re at a wedding or something important, and then THEY CAN HAVE IT ALL FOR JUST A MOMENT STANDING STILL!) haha.
What do you remember about the early days launching TripADeal? And do you still work on the business with your husband?
My husband and his best friend started TripADeal out of a tiny laundry room in our rental in Bali. I was working as a nanny in Sydney to pay the bills. We were living day-to-day. Doing whatever it took. Even when Sochi was born just four years ago, it was still very much hand-to-mouth. Those days were all about seeking out the simple pleasures, and trying not to divorce each other in the stress of it all! Nowadays he still works crazy hours and I mostly hold the fort at home. But like all self-employed couples, there is a fair amount of work/homelife crossover.
How do you make travelling with kids easier?
Travelling with babies is always going to be a total mixed bag because their demands are constantly changing and you have to pack for every eventuality. But age certainly makes it easier haha. Three years and upwards is a dream! Before that… let’s call it “an experience”. Pack ALL the essentials oils and keep a change of clothes, wipes and a natural hand sanitizer close at hand!
What’s your approach to health and well being with kids – what’s your overall philosophy?
Natural plant based medicine wherever possible ()and not being afraid to use my intuition, research things for myself….and admit when it’s time to consult a professional ha!). Plant-based diet for the most part. No screen time at all during the week. Lots of time spent barefoot outdoors, even in the rain. I never care if they come in wet and covered in dirt.
What’s your approach to discipline/guiding kids?
I guess I’m pretty strict. I give them their freedom, but I also don’t want to raise entitled brats. So it’s kind of a bit of both. Boundaries (in regards to manners, kindness and food) and freedom in expression and play.
How do you approach sibling fighting (if they fight at all?!)
Oh, they fight HEAPS! They are siblings – they are constantly brawling. I let most of it go. Until there’s blood. I’ll normally weigh in when there’s blood.
How has the jump from 2 to 3 kids been? Has it been a big change?
I found 1-2 a really hard jump. But maybe because Mr 2 was such hard work as a baby and we were massively struggling financially at the time. But 2-3 has been a pleasant surprise. I mean, I literally never have time to do anything other than run around after them. And I’m absolute shocking at replying to emails. But I guess I signed up for that having three kids in four years!
How do you manage not feeling exhausted – how do you approach your own health and well being?
Regular detoxes, magnesium baths, gin and a ton of awesome girlfriends who I can moan/laugh/cry with on the daily.
Beauty tips? What kind of products do you use?
A good face scrub. Night cream. And daytime tinted moisturiser. Nothing with any junk in. I always scrutinise the labels and if I can’t understand it (even after googling) then I don’t buy it. Natural everything. URGH, I’m such a “natural living” bore! (#sorrynotsorry!) Haha.
Next travel destination?
INDIA! I really really want to go back to India but this time with the kids.
Favourite place/s to go in Byron with kids?
Late arvos at The Top Park (opposite the Beach Hotel). So much going on. Buskers, drumming circles, birds, the ocean. Hot chips and coconut waters on a big rug watching the sunset.
What’s the secret to a good marriage after kids?
You will hate each other for a year or so post-partum. Everything he does is annoying. Sex is a chore. This is a totally normal response to having small children! Bitch about it to your girlfriends when you need a vent. Then go home and try and not divorce each other until the hormones have settled down!
What are 8 things you’re loving right now?
Getting the kids to walk barefoot on my back. Sisters And The Sea bath salts. Fulfilling a lifelong dream and FINALLY learning the piano with The Hoffman Academy online. Bobbi Brown eyebrow pencils. All interiors everything from Jumbled Online. Keeping my pelvic floor from packing it in with The Body Method. Books by Sarah Dyer Illustrator. Bonds undies forever.