I had the opportunity to sit down and read an advanced copy of Nia Vardalos’s book, Instant Mom, before interviewing her about her book, daughter, movies and writing.
Yes, I was both enamored and nervous by the experience of a writer’s, and former foster kid’s dream. I remained as cool as I could until the end of my prepared questionnaire, when she turned the tables on me. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did talking with her.
I loved the book. I am a former foster kid. It really needed to be out there.
Thank you Danielle. I am terrified that it is getting out there. I love meeting kids like you that are living completely fulfilled lives. This stigma has got to be erased now.
Agreed. When did you feel the need to be a mom?
I have felt that need from the time I got married. It’s a quiet voice that got louder and louder as each attempt was unsuccessful. The analogy of the sound of the fan over your stove that is whirring in your ear and driving you nuts, that you don’t even realize its there until you turn it off. That’s what it was like when I found my daughter.
Before you got married, you told Ian that you wanted to adopt. Why?
It is a strange thing that I have often encountered with parents, who have adopted, that they had said it early on that they were going to adopt. I don’t think it’s some mystical calling. It’s larger than us, and I knew it from the minute I met my daughter. My first thought was, “ Oh, I found you.”
How has your relationship changed since meeting your daughter?
At the beginning, it was fantastic. She called me Mommy very quickly. Then once she came to live with us, that transition was challenging. So daunting. I realized that this is not a book about adoption; this is a book about how all mothers feel at the beginning. You are so overwhelmed. You’re so afraid. My mom just very calmly said, “All moms feel this way.” It was so calming. Those little few words made me go-okay. And now, all my daughter and I do is laugh. It’s a great relationship. It’s positive and we are open about her history. I acknowledge her DNA so that she understands that it is a graft that formed for our family. You don’t try to envelop the child in any way that cuts off their past.
If you knew about the fos-adopt route ten years ago, would you have gone through less IVF treatments?
Yes, I would have. I know myself. I am so stubborn that I think that I would have still had to see it through for the knowledge that it brought me. The feeling of just saying, ‘this is when I am done.’ So I don’t discourage anyone who says, ‘ I am going to do it. I know there are children out there but I want to have my own biological child.’ I say ‘That is your God-given right.’ Don’t try it. Do it. I offer this information as an option. For people who say, ‘No way am I putting my body through IVF.’ Or ‘No way am I doing an adoption, or trying to go overseas.’
When did you have time to write the book while being a mom? Because I know it was done in real time and present tense. Did you write as you went through the experiences, or did you go back?
That is an excellent question. I kept a tiny lined journal. I would write little moments like not sleeping 20 minutes. Things like that because I wanted to tell her story one day. I thought it would be good for her to know for when did I start to trust you? When did I let you kiss me? Just like with My Big Fat Greek Wedding, we would be out at a party and someone would say, ‘ I hear you are a mom now. Where did you get the baby from? I would say, ‘Actually she’s not a baby, ‘ and I started to tell the story. Within 10 minutes there would be 20 women standing around me weeping. I can’t be the person telling my stories while making people weepy I thought so I started to talk to my agent. She was new at my agency and she said, “Hey, you have become a mom under unconvential means, I think this might be a book. Let’s take it out and see. “ I said, No way.’ I am way to private. And when my daughter started school, I realize in that moment as she was walking away that is such a full circle. So that’s when I decided to get brave and sit down and write. Just compile all the notes. It took me a year. I don’t think I’ve ever cried more, but it was cathartic.
It really showed in the way you presented it. It was like we were having coffee as you told it. Thank you. It made it a very readable story, and emotional too.
I’m glad to hear it. I toyed with making it funny because it is what I’m known for. But I just thought it would do it a disservice to the truth. So, I decided to be honest with my daughter, and just tell her the truth. It’s quite liberating to say, ‘ Hey this happened.’
Do you have any advice for moms who want to write their own story? Or other mother writers who want to start a blog or book or something?
Yes, I do say this all the time when I teach screenwriting.’ Don’t look at the whole, just look at it one word at a time. If you set up trying to write a screenplay or a book, it’s so overwhelming you might stop.’ It would be like saying I’m going to run a marathon; as opposed to I’m going to walk around the block.
It’s almost like a scene.
Exactly! It’s like a scene at a time. It’s actually how I wrote My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I took all the stories and put them together into one story at a time, then threaded them together in the span of the year.
That is great advice.
Yes it’s simple, and I do think that women are natural storytellers. I think that we are all communicators. We have the ability to write, way more than we think we can.
What is the take-away for potential parents to know about the fos-adopt programs? The resources at the back of the book are great.
Sometimes people think you have to be heroic to do something, to take on more than you can handle. That’s why I wanted to talk about the parents I have met.
Everything that is offered to you I think should come to all parents.
A reader, Kathy, asks, “What do you think is the difference between growing up in Winnipeg and raising your daughter in LA?”
It’s a very big difference, and that’s why we are so strict with toys, treats and things like that. We are appalled by the entitled attitude of a lot of Los Angeles people. I remember being in Neiman Marcus in the children’s department. My daughter was in the corner playing with the display that they have set up, probably wrecking it. A woman was returning an item and didn’t have a receipt, she was reaming out the clerk in front of her own nine-year-old daughter. It was so disgusting to me that this was happening, I had to step in.’ I just have to say this is a terrible life lesson that you are teaching your daughter right now. Please, can you watch your language?’ The customer huffed out of there. By the way, I have that pepper spray on my keychain I always carry around. The shop clerk looked down and saw that and said ‘ Can I borrow that?’
I worked in retail for over 15 years. I would have loved more customers like you.
Well thank you. It’s the Winnipeg, and for me, it’s the Canadian way. We are taught manners. The whole time I was growing up I never heard my mother tell anybody off. She always dealt with situations with diplomacy.
Love of your mom, that’s what got me. Yes, my mom died when I was 10. Anytime I hear daughters appreciate moms, especially when you become a mom, just makes my heart swell. She is such an amazing mom, grandma to your girl.
Thank you. The Core, my group of friends, surrounds me; we all have that appreciation of our parents. Recently, they told me, “Tell your friends, thanks for spending time with the old fogies.’ Mom, you are fascinating. We love having you around. We have such appreciation, every day, especially at this age. Every day with our parents is a gift.
Question from Twitter. You may have already seen the tweet.
Anthony Field from The Wiggles would like to know, “ Do you know how good My Big Fat Greek Wedding is?”
Wait a minute; Anthony from The Wiggles, and I Retweteed that?
Oh my, I love it! Oh, I am so excited. Ok. First of all, love The Wiggles.
They are amazing. We got to meet them.
So tell him, the appreciation and admiration is mutual. Do you know how great The Wiggles are?
I know I have to wrap up as time is moving on. I would like to get personal. A few years ago when you joined Twitter, you and I chatted a few times. I sent my children’s book to you for your daughter called, Harley.
That’s it Danielle. I knew it. I knew it was you! I love your book. Ok. Now, I remember.
I still have the kind thank you note that you wrote me back. You hand wrote a note. How cool are you?
How cool are you to send me your book. Yes, I remember everything. Wow, that’s a blur of time too.
I wanted to write it for my kids. I did not care for a publisher to change anything, so we did it our way.
Which I loved, I think I said that. I think I referenced your book to somebody who was talking about doing a blog with pictures, and I said someone sent me a book with pictures of her cat for her kid. This is crazy. I have it. It’s still in my daughter’s room. We have it. We love it.
I am blushing.
I am so glad we reconnected.
Thank you Nia and Harper Collins for the book and this opportunity.