Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Melissa Fumero on Parenting Two Under Two in the Pandemic: 'Gratitude is Something I Can Control'

Having a newborn baby while raising a toddler is challenging in the best of circumstances. Doing both during a pandemic? Even harder. But the star of Brooklyn Nine-Nine reveals how counting blessings, big and small, is getting her through these tough times.

Melissa Fumero

The year 2020 started off pretty great for Melissa Fumero. Her hit show, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, was renewed for its eighth season. She and her husband, actor David Fumero, had just celebrated their 12-year wedding anniversary. Her 4-year-old son, Enzo, finally outgrew his temper tantrums and evolved into a sweet and giggly preschooler. And on Valentine’s Day, she gave birth to her second son, Axel, who happens to be one of those babies who just grins all the time. “Sometimes, he even smiles when he’s in the middle of crying,” says the Cuban-American actress.

And then, the whole world changed. “With my first son, everyone came to visit. My mom stayed with us for three weeks, my mother-in-law for two. Our friends were over all the time, bringing us food. We had so much support,” says Fumero. “But this time, David and I were completely on our own. We’ve had to adjust to being a family of four in such an intense way. It’s been both exhausting and overwhelming.”

What’s kept her strong and hopeful throughout this year, though, has been remembering that no matter how tired, lonely, or worried she feels, she’s got a lot to be joyful about. “There’s so much that’s out of our control, but centering myself in gratitude is something I can control, and that’s helped keep me and my family happy, safe, and calm,” she says, adding, “When you have kids, that’s everything.”

During Axel’s morning nap, Fumero shared with us the things in life that make her feel the most thankful.

My Parents’ POV

They got to meet Axel before everything got crazy, but it breaks my heart that no one else in our families has. I was crying about that to my parents on FaceTime recently. My dad, who left Cuba when he was 15, said, “Well, it’s not like you’re leaving your island, never to return again.” Leave it to an immigrant parent to put things in perspective! I laugh about how quickly my dad shuts down pity parties, but it’s a good thing. When you’re first-generation, you learn to be tough from a young age. That has helped me in my career too. It’s my superpower.

A Solid Partner

I met my husband, David, on One Life to Live. I’d dated one Cuban guy before. He talked about only himself, and after that, I said, “Never again!” I thought Cuban men were just so extra. That’s why, when David tried to talk to me on the set in Spanish, I lied and told him I didn’t speak it. I gave him such attitude, but he kept asking me out. I made excuses. Finally, my friends said, “Why are you not going out with this hot guy, who is also nice and humble?” I’m so glad I listened to them. On our first date, I felt as if I were talking to someone I’d known forever. We had so much in common—our families, values, food, music. That he was Cuban turned out to be the cherry on top.

We’ve been married for a while, and it’s not always rainbows and sunshine, but we really are best friends. He has endless energy and patience. I marvel at how long he can play with our 4-year-old. And he’s a baby whisperer too. Axel will be crying, and David will swoop in, and the baby immediately starts laughing.

Big Surprises

David and I were really undecided about having kids. We had been together for 10 years and were happy. Nothing was missing. Every year, we’d have “The Baby Discussion” and always decided to put it off. But the universe was, like, “Ha, ha, ha!” After Enzo was born, I thought, “That’s it. We’re done.” Then along came Axel! I’m so grateful they were surprises, or we may never have gotten here.

Fumero family

Quick Labors

I’m envious of every woman who feels like a magical goddess during pregnancy. I didn’t. Both of mine were very hard. Back pain nearly broke me. But the births were so fast. My water broke, and four to five hours later, Enzo was in my arms. With Axel, I had one small contraction and then, six very intense minutes later, he was born. The doctor literally had to sprint from his car to the delivery room.

A New Philosophy

I thought my husband and I would be really strict parents—super-regimented, very scheduled, no screens. But Enzo did a big F-you to all of those plans! He was such a difficult baby. He never slept and had the longest, most extreme tantrums during which all three of us would be sobbing. Even my dad cried once! What I learned is that there are just so many parenting techniques out there. Some work, some don’t. Enzo didn’t really care about me “describing and honoring his feelings” during a meltdown; he still threw things in my face! Some women have those Earth Mama instincts. I don’t. I have to read every book and try a million experiments to find a solution. You have to do what works for your kid—every family is different.

"I want to be an example for my boys of a woman who does her own thing and has her own accomplishments."

“Alone Time”

Exercise has been a lifesaver these past few months. When I was pregnant, my back was so bad that I could barely walk. I lost so much strength. Now, though, Axel is 18 pounds. That’s a heavy baby! So I’m getting those Mama arms. And three days a week, David takes the kids, and I spend 60 minutes in our garage with some weights and kettlebells. It has been so good for my emotional health. I get out my frustration and anger, and when I’m finished, I feel more relaxed, centered, and present. Full disclosure: Eating baked goods and chocolate and drinking wine also make me feel better, and I look forward to doing that every night too!

My Latina Sisters

I never felt “othered” until I started working in the entertainment business. The only acting roles that I could find and audition for were hood girl, maid, or some overly sexualized woman in a nude scene. That’s why when Stephanie Beatriz [who plays Detective Rosa Diaz] and I both booked Brooklyn Nine-Nine (two Latinas on a network show!), we were terrified that one of us would get fired. So before shooting the pilot, the two of us talked privately and decided to make ourselves look as drastically different as possible: “I’ll make my hair straight, and you make yours wavy!” We really stuck together, and I’m so grateful that we did.

If Latinas want more opportunity and better representation, we have to band together like that to make it happen. A few years ago, America Ferrera and Gina Rodriguez-LoCicero got a few Latina actors together to talk about that. Since then, our group has gotten so big that we can’t keep meeting at Gina’s house. It’s been so incredibly empowering. We tell one another about opportunities, and now when we see one another at auditions, the vibe is totally different. Everyone’s like, “If I don’t get this, then I want you to get it so bad!”

Melissa Fumero with baby
Fumero is soaking up every moment with baby Axel!. MARK WILLIAMS + SARA HIRAKAWA

“The name Axel means ‘father of peace.’ Enzo means‘ruler of the house.’ My sons’ names match their vibe perfectly.”

Shaking Off the Guilt

Work has never been one of those things I feel bad about. I love what I do, and I want to be an example for my boys of a woman who does her own thing and has her own accomplishments. Still, it’s always a struggle to not feel the mom guilt. I get over it by remembering it’s not me; it’s the patriarchy. There are so many subtle things about being a woman that have been ingrained in our brains our whole lives, and recognizing that helps you remove them. We are allowed to have our own lives. One way is not better than another. You can be a strong, independent woman and a stay-at-home mom too. And as long as our children know that they’re loved and protected, they’ll be just fine.

PL's Lighting Round

Mom uniform

Sweats and tank tops all day, every day

For Thanksgiving, turkey or sides?

Sides, particularly my mom’s stuffing recipe!

Reliable kid entertainment

Enzo knows about so many animals because of the show Wild Kratts, and I’m not mad at it.

Couple time

Night swimming

My TV character Sergeant Amy Santiago and I are similar when it comes to…

Organization! I love a binder and containers.

Best baby advice

Find your tribe of like-minded moms.

Latest mami win

Surviving sleep training with baby #2—it’s never easy but always worth it.

Thanksgiving wishbone wish

That the pandemic ends and we all emerge wiser, more empathetic, and taking a lot less for granted

This article originally appeared in Parents Latina's October/November 2020 issue as “Melissa Fumero is Looking on the Bright Side.”

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