Posts Tagged ‘
Nia Vardalos ’
Monday, April 29th, 2013
Nia Vardalos, from My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Instant Mom, isn’t the only one talking about adoption this month. Another beautiful book just came out, Carried in our Hearts: The Gift of Adoption; Inspiring Stories of Families Created Across Continents. It’s a poignant collection of essays about everything choosing the child, making a journey to meet her and coming face-to-face for the first time. Dr. Jane Aronson, adoption expert and Worldwide Orphans Foundation, is the editor of the collection.
The publisher, Tarcher/Penguin gave me permission to excerpt one of the essays by adoptive dad Claude Knobler. Read his lovely story about a Jewish family adopting a Christian boy from Ethiopia:
“It was a lot easier before my son learned to speak English.
My wife, Mary, and I adopted Nati from Ethiopia when he was five years old. He spoke no English and we spoke only three words of Amharic, the language of most Ethiopians. When I flew with him from the orphanage in Ethiopia back to our home in Los Angeles, he was astonished not only by the airplane but by the escalator in the airport; most everything was new to him. Here are the three words of Amharic I knew. Shent, which means “pee.” Baca, which means, “enough.” Ishi, which means, “it’s okay.” Put them in any order you like and it’s still not much of a conversation.
How did we do it? How did we introduce a five-year-old boy to kindergarten, car seats, TVs, French fries, two dogs, a house, and his new brother and sister? How did we teach him English? How did we manage to communicate anything at all? It was easy.
Yes, I do remember hearing Nati demand something that sounded like “meso” from the backseat of my car. It took 10 minutes to figure out he was hungry, another ten minutes to figure out he wasn’t asking for a Mentos candy, and a full week before I found out that what he wanted was an Ethiopian stew he’d been missing. But that, all of it, was the easy part. We pantomimed for each other, and when all else failed we spoke English very loudly and slowly and hoped for the best, and more often then not, we got it. What was really hard came long after Nati learned English and what we probably should have always known: knowing the same words can be very different from speaking the same language.
Imagine cooking a meal. Or better yet, imagine you’re my grandmother and you’re cooking a meal. You’ve got some chicken, some matzo balls, maybe some carrots and vegetables. A stove, a pot, and an hour or two of cooking time and you’ve got enough chicken soup to make a nice meal. Now imagine that someone gives you a bunch of Ethiopian spices, some berbere, a bit of wot kimen, and a pound of mitmita, and then tells you to use all of them when you make tonight’s dinner. You might, if you were a very good cook, come up with something interesting. On the other hand, you certainly wouldn’t be making Grandma’s chicken soup anymore.
My new family is a lot like that imaginary meal. I like to read. My wife is a sweet, funny, kind woman who would rather endure oral surgery without Novocain than brag about any of her many accomplishments. My son Clay is verbal and witty and doesn’t like it when I say unkind things about anyone, including politicians and fictional characters. My daughter, Grace, loves to make art, take pictures, and watch bad reality TV in bed with her mom. And then there’s Nati.
Nati, who is so confident that on his first trip from Los Angeles to San Diego, when he’d been here all of six months and was all of five years old, he told me in his broken English, “No, Dad, drive the other way. It’s the other way!” Nati, who said, while talking to a hotel desk clerk in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, “English is easy! Also, I know how to dance really well!” Of course, he said that in Amharic, since he did not yet speak a single word of English, but still, he made his point. Nati, who when he’d been here one year asked if he could build a lemon-aide stand near where someone was selling their house so he could get more foot traffic. To say that Nati can be loud doesn’t do him justice. To say that he has charisma doesn’t begin to tell the story. Put it this way, I spent the first three years Nati was here searching in vain for a dial to adjust his volume. It is, I used to think, as if somehow my family and I adopted a small, black Liza Minnelli. Nati is all singing, all dancing, all the time. All. The. Time. We had been a family that sought compromise: Nati loves arguments and winning. We had been a family that valued gentle kindness: Nati loves action, noise, and excitement. We were Woody Allen and Neil Simon and generations of borscht belt humor: Nati is pratfalls, pie-in-the-face gags, and all Three Stooges rolled into one.
I knew Nati was black and that we were white. I knew he’d been Christian and that we were Jewish (surely the chicken soup metaphor tipped you off, right?). I knew that he spoke not a word of English and that we spoke only three words in his native tongue. What I did not know was that our real differences were deeper and more mysterious. My son has been my son for eight years now. I’m somewhat ashamed to have to admit that I spent the first six of those years trying very hard to force my loud, exuberant, competitive, goofy boy into becoming a quiet, neurotic Jewish kid like I’d been. I did it with the best of motives. I wanted him to be gentle. I wanted him to do well in school. I wanted all sorts of perfectly reasonable things, but in the end, what I wanted him to be was more like me.
And this is where I get to the happy ending. This is where I say that I’ve come to love my son for exactly who he is. This is where I say that I’ve stopped looking for the volume switch to quiet Nati down, that I’ve come to appreciate the great multicultural mix that is my family. And there are days, more and more of them, where that’s exactly true. There are days when I want nothing more than to enjoy all the laughter that Nati brings to our family. There are days when we are perfect just as we are. But it’s also true that eating chicken soup with berbere takes a lifetime of practice. My family is as big as the globe, Ethiopian and American both, and I will, I suspect, spend the rest of my life coming to terms with what all that means.
Nati learned English very quickly. He was fluent before he’d been here a year. But then, it’s easy for a father and son to speak the same words. It’s learning to hear and understand them all that really takes practice.
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adoption, Carried in Our Hearts, Claude Knobler, Dr. Jane Aronson, Ethiopia, Ethiopian adoption, Instant Mom, Nia Vardalos | Categories:
Guest Blogs, Memoirs, Mom Must Read, Must Read, Parenting Advice
Wednesday, April 10th, 2013
I love my job! I was invited to sit down with actress and screenwriter Nia Vardalos–the writer and actress from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She was so friendly and gracious and nice. She hugged me when we said hello. Then we sat down in New York City to talk about her amazing new book, Instant Mom.
With her trademark wit and warmth, she detailed her journey from Hollywood success to infertility and eventually adoption through the foster care system. She talked candidly to me about her 10 IVF treatments, the day her daughter arrived, how she does it all and what she’s working on next (a new movie!).
Here’s the scoop from our chat:
KK: Did you really have just a few days before your daughter arrived at your house?
NV: I had 14 hours.We got the call (from foster care) at 11:30 p.m., and she was there the next morning. Ian (Ian Gomez from Cougar Town) went that morning and got everything and by late afternoon, she was there. She was almost 3 years old.
KK: You write that the transition was hard for her–can you tell me about that?
NV: Even though her brain and body were not formed, her emotions fully were. She came with a full set of personality and pain and feelings of betrayal. My biggest job now (Ilaria is 8) is that she knows that she was not abandoned. Two people who did not stay together chose to do the right thing and place her in foster care, and that’s a good thing.
KK: You unveiled yourself, in a way, for My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But you unveil yourself in a different way for this book.
NV: Tula is obviously an extension of me, but that screenplay is mostly made up. But the base is from my real marriage–my husband (Ian Gomez) got baptized. But this book, it’s all real. We’ve already gotten calls about making this a movie. It’s already started. But I think it makes a better book because the words are exactly how I want to describe it. So once again, I’m just staying in the moment. I’m not thinking about it. I’m just trying to get through the interviews without crying.
KK: You went through so many hard years. How did you keep going after 10 IVFs?
NV: The years of infertility… I felt so alone. My advice is not to stop what you’re doing. Instead, I think that each person knows when it’s time to keep going. And there are so many successful IVF stories.You know when you’re in a relationship with a bad boyfriend? You take it and take it and take it. Until one day you sit down and tell your girlfriend, and you hear it for the first time, that’s how I felt when I sat down with the adoption facilitator. When I said what I’d been through, that’s when I realized it. That’s when I also knew the best thing I could do is take some time off and process it. That’s the best thing I did that led me to my daughter.
KK: Did the press ask you nosey baby questions?
NV: Constantly and just when you least expect it. One guy I remember saying to me at a party, ‘Yeah, my wife and I were just talking, now that you got skinny, there’s no that you’re going to get fat with a baby. You’re going to hire some kid to have it, huh?’ His wife went on to say crazy things, too. I would’ve traded all the success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding for the simple chance to have a baby. It was a terrible time to go through it. Now, I wouldn’t trade one minute of it because it led me to my real daughter. I’m at peace with it, and that’s why I can talk about it without crying.
KK: Did Ilaria read this book?
NV: I don’t think she’s going to read this book until she’s about 16 or so. Because there are adult topics in it. From the infertility to the victim crying in my front yard.
KK: Was it hard to write about the horrifying attack you experienced in your front yard?
NV: Women have this thing where we feel like we can’t exhale because then the other shoe will drop. That is a fact, whenever you think, ‘Now I’m done,’ something else happens. That’s why I kept this part in. If anyone was going to exhale, it would be me after the adoption was finalized. And then that peacefulness was taken away from me by a selfish stranger. It happened very soon after the adoption was finalized. I kept it in because people need to carry pepper spray and look behind them when they’re on the street.
KK: Tell me about your lovely babysitter, Anna.
NV: She’s our babysitter, and Carmen became our housekeeper. They come about two or three hours a day about three or four days a week. I acknowledge it because I don’t like when actresses pretend they do it all on their own. Come on, you don’t make your own pesto, your chef did! So I’m just saying out loud, the whole ‘Can we have it all?’ Well, sure–with some help.
KK: What do you think is the one message you want to get out overall?
NV: The thing that touched me the most was the kindness and compassion of women. The mothers I met at the park who had children the same age as mine and saw the dismayed and confused look in my eyes as a new mom of a 3-year-old were so comforting and welcoming for me. They never dug for secrets, but they were curious and kind. That’s how I realized by the end of the book that we’re all Instant Moms. None of us are prepared for this. The uniqueness of my story is that I had an almost 3-year-old child furious at us that she was living with us on Day 2 and sleeping only on two-minute increments.
KK: I heard you’re donating the profits for this book.
NV: The money will go directly to people trying to adopt or people who need help to defray the costs. I found an orphanage in another country, I met the man who runs it, and I’m going to give them some money. That’s what we decided. We’re going to just share the proceeds.
KK: What are you working on now?
NV: As soon as I finished Instant Mom, I was proofing it, recording the audiobook, and then I started writing a script for Paramount. Then I flew to New York City to film an episode of SVU. Ian was off from Cougar Town, so he told me to get out. I came for 10 days. I went back to Los Angeles and turned in the script. It’s for Paramount, and it’s called Leftovers. It’s an anti-romantic comedy romantic comedy. I’m trying to fill the large dearth of films out there for men and women who are single and are happy about it. It’s about all of the myths we’ve been fed, and are they for us or not? Usually not. If everything goes according to schedule, it would be out in about a year. I’m starring in it and producing.
KK: You’re super busy!
NV: I always wonder, does something have to give. And I think, ‘Yeah, a little bit.’ So what if I gained six pounds, let it go. Who cares? If I didn’t return that mom’s text about a playdate, that’s okay. I think I just allowed myself to be much more fallible than I did before. The only thing I won’t do, is I won’t hand in a script late. I am on time!
Nia is very easy to love, and I wish her much success with her new book and movie. Check out Instant Mom. It’s great for anyone who has been through infertility–or knows someone who has.
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adoption, foster care, Ian Gomez, infertility, Instant Mom, IVF, Leftovers, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nia Vardalos | Categories:
Celebrity Books, Mom Must Read, Must Read, Parenting Advice, Q&A With Authors
Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013
Today, April 2, is a big day for new releases. I wanted to let you know about some cool stuff that just came out and wish the following awesome authors Happy Book Birthday! Really, these are all great reads, and I have reviews and author Q&As coming up on some of them.
Just this morning, I got to meet Nia Vardalos, the writer and star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She’s got a sad, helpful and funny new book out about her journey through adoption. I’ll write up my interview on Instant Mom this week. I love her–and her warm and honest book made me adore her all the more.
And Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery? She’s been all over the talk shows this week–and she’s an amazing person. Props also to my friend Christina Baker Kline who wrote Orphan Train, an Audible and Target pick of the month. Want to laugh? Check out STFU, Parents. You must do so right now.
Happy Book Birthday to:
by Nia Vardalos
The gist: Nia goes through 10 IVFs, and then finally her daughter comes to her through adoption.
Carry On, Warrior
by Glennon Doyle Melton
The gist: An extension of her candid, truthful blog that everyone I know adores.
by Christina Baker Kline
The gist: Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by luck or chance. Word on the street: This book is lovely.
Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir of How I Got Pregnant, Lost Myself and Got My Cool Back in the New Jersey Suburbs
by Tracy Beckerman
The gist: This popular writer tells how she lost her mojo and got it back as a mom in the suburbs–Beckerman is a blast to read.
STFU, Parents: A Guide to the Jaw-Dropping, Self-Indulgent and Occasionally Rage-Inducing World of Parent Overshare
by Blair Koenig
The gist: You will laugh out loud at the ludicrous mommy and daddy bragging in this book that’s based on Blair’s popular website.
The Yummy Mummy Kitchen
by Marina Dello
The gist: Stock up on some beautiful, tasty and kid-friendly recipes from this well-known food blogger.
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Blair Koenig, Carry On Warrior, Christina Baker Kline, Glennon Doyle Melton, Instant Mom, Lost in Suburbia, Marina Dello, Momastery, Nia Vardalos, Orphan Train, STFU Parents, The Yummy Mummy Kitchen, Tracy Beckerman | Categories:
Best Of Lists, Best Sellers, Celebrity Books, Cookbooks, Fiction, Memoirs, Mom Must Read, Mommy Bloggers, Must Read, Popular Books