Before reading her book “Instant Mom,” I didn’t know much about Nia Vardalos other than she wrote and starred in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and adopted a child. What her writing made me realize is that her witty, fun, awkward character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding is pretty much herself in real life. So as I began to read her new book, I was immediately sucked in by her ability to poke fun at herself and finding the joy in even the most frustrating situations.
I didn’t go out of my way to read this book. During one of our “I know we shouldn’t but we are going to anyway” trips to Barnes and Noble, I was looking in the parenting section for books on adoption. I literally could not find one book. But you know how it is at bookstores; your eyes begin to go cross because there are so many options on the shelf. But at that point in time, all I was interested in was books on adoption and was livid that I couldn’t find any, so I returned back to the parenting section, determined to try one more time to give B&N the benefit of the doubt. With a little closer observation, I came across this book and one other about adoption. Again, B&N, way to be inclusive… but I digress.
Once I found my “adoption book,” I was immediately captivated by the colorful cover, which made Nia out to be a paper doll with different mommy accessories, such as a stroller, a bottle and lipstick! It said, “Instant Mom: Instructions Not Included, Toddler Adopted Separately.”
I fell in love with her writing the minute I opened up the book and read, “I’m nervous. To be honest, I’m sweating like I’ve just accidentally bought pot cookies in a tiny foreign municipality with faint ties to the UN.” Her writing style is personal, intimate, honest, and warm. But it’s also funny and self-deprecating. It’s especially nice to see a celebrity not take herself seriously, like, at all.
Nia writes about early in her career when she was just starting out and got her break with Second City, and another break when Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks saw her one women show which My Big Fat Greek Wedding is based on. But mostly she dives into her personal life, including her marriage to Ian Gomez from the TV show Cougar Town, how they struggled through fertility treatments, and subsequently adopted their beautiful and spunky daughter Ilaria from foster care when she was just three years old.
She explores the struggles leading up to adopting, as well as what a family has to go through as a child adjusts to a new home, new parents, a new understanding of what a family is.
“The beauty of adopting a child who is older than an infant is you can get to know the child and pick a name that fits. Since we don’t know her that well, we decide not to choose a name right away. Really, at this point, I’m just trying to keep the dog alive and my fingers uneaten. But no matter how many things she throws, how many times she scratches and punches us, we already love her so much it’s ridiculous. So is bold and fierce. I admire this little creature’s courage just walking into her new home. I marvel at her volcano of anger when she realized she doesn’t actually know us. She is so small, and yet an actual person. When she sucks on a bottle and holds our fingers, she is sweet and the depth of the vulnerability in her eyes makes my knees wobbly.”
Nia also addresses anxiety and fear she has about being a mother, particularly her fear of dying and her daughter being left again without a mother.
I know it sounds cliché’, but I laughed and cried while reading this book. I would highly recommend it for anyone who is struggling with fertility, who is pursuing adoption, who is interested in the life of a celebrity like Nia, who is down-to-earth, sentimental and dorky, or anyone who just wants a fast read with an interesting narrative.
But this isn’t a book only about adoption. It’s a book about mothering a child. Every mother and mother-to-be should read this book. Nia provides wisdom throughout on what’s working (and what’s not) as she and her husband raise Ilaria. Many of her ideas are compassionate and smart, and make me think, “wow, I CAN do this mother thing, I really can!” Of course there are other stories she tells about not knowing how to be a mother, because of course, there was no manual.
Nia tells the story of when Ilaria got baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church. She was terrified of the baptismal font, which Nia writes, “to a kid looks like a warlock’s cauldron of boiling brew.” Nia has to carry Ilaria to the basin as she’s screaming, and literally dunks her in – full body – as is required (God-mother Rita Wilson and the priest helped as well). On the car ride home, Ilaria tells her mother she’s mad at her and doesn’t like it there. Her mother responds, “I know… you don’t have to go back until you’re married.” Of course she was joking. Ilaria did go back, for Greek school, for services, but every time she makes “a wiiiiiiide circle around the (the font) and away from it. She has not gone near it since.”
I love how Nia admitted she doesn’t know if she did the right thing that day during the baptism. That’s the beauty and heartache of being a parent – doing your best doesn’t mean you always know if you’re doing what’s right, but children are resilient and if you love them, listen to them, spend quality time with them… well, they may just forgive you for dunking them into a baptismal font when they’re a small child.
Nia Vardalos has given me hope in myself to continue to pursue this adoption journey, towards becoming a parent, and I now have a peace about this whole “mothering” thing that I didn’t have before. I’m ready to do this, even though I have no idea what I’ll be doing! But that is the wonder of being a parent, I suppose. I hope to soon find out.