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Comic Relief: Nia Vardalos quickly realized that parenting doesn’t come with instructions

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Please excuse the “quips and tales” coming now. The truth is, most people think their own kids are charming in the same way everyone secretly loves their own feet no matter how Jurassic their toes are. I am only including these stories for this discussion of nature versus nurture.

A bonus in raising a child you don’t have a biological tie to is you will never saddle them with watching their every move and declaring their musical talent as “that’s from your dad’s side; his old Auntie Beulah played pianola.” Or their bad penmanship as “well, there’s Grandpa Frank’s meat paws once again.”

Also, when someone says, “Your daughter is beautiful,” you don’t have to murmur modestly. You can just boomingly and boisterously concur at the gorgeousness that is your kid and even point out her perfect bow mouth and tiny fairy ears, ’til that person backs away slowly.

The benefit in raising the child you got to adopt is you just get to watch them unfold and become who they are. In this first year with us, Ilaria is unfolding with ease and grace. She is doing really well, and, interestingly, she is still continuing to adapt to her environment.

I got to have my first Mother’s Day and it was a disaster of course. Because for years I didn’t want to even venture out of the house on that day, Ian had made a celebratory brunch reservation at a fancy-pants place. But we were seated way too close to an older persnickety couple who gave us the stink-eye when Ilaria banged on the table with her spoon. I couldn’t even look at them when she spilled an entire glass of milk and it cascaded like a flowing albino river across our table and theirs. When Ian reached for the milk glass, he spilled all our beverages, and I tried to help but instead flung their basket of bread on their laps and the floor. Ian and I locked eyes. Ah, perfect. Our mouths twitch.

Because the more awkward the situation, the more we want to laugh. Here’s the thing we then noticed: Ilaria saw us smiling at the maladroit mishap, and she was grinning too.

Father’s Day wasn’t much better – a trip tothe beach involved our dog Manny peeing right onto a stranger’s blanket. Again, Ilaria saw Ian and me laughing. I wondered if we should be admonishing Manny and steering him away, but c’mon, he’s a dog. Plus it’s funny. It was extra awkward because the person whose blanket he’d peed on had been uptight since we’d all arrived like the loudest and clumsiest band of street musician grifters complete with a Tupperware of aromatic feta cheese. We couldn’t help laughing. But we worry more grown-up parents would hide subversive reactions from their daughter.

Should we be doing that? I am still trying to fully grasp that I’m the one in charge here. Today after the park, I’m making lunch when I notice a dark spot inside my daughter’s ear. I peer in . . . and come face-to-face with a disgusting, wiggling tick. Without hesitating, I grab tweezers and as I pull it out, think, Yuck, this is what a mom should do. Oh riiiight, I’m a mom.

I’m just not completely comfortable yet. Maybe nerds never feel like they belong anywhere.

Conversely, I am in awe of how confident my daughter is. For a crafts project, we make a dog costume using brown leggings and cut-out white felt polka dots. Ilaria wears it every day.

I mean every day. We’re walking to the drugstore when a brash boy gets right in her face on the sidewalk and goads, “Why are you wearing that?” and she looks him dead in the eye and laughs. “I don’t know.” She stares him down . . . until he sheepishly admits, “It’s cool.”

One time I happened to meet a man who told me he’d once sat behind us on a plane trip from Los Angeles to New York. Even though this man was being complimentary on how I speak to my daughter respectfully, empowering her with choices, he was revealing he had eavesdropped on us for the entire plane trip. I’ll admit if I was sitting behind Steven Tyler and his kids, I’d absolutely lean an ear against that seat and listen in too. Curiosity is just human.

By the way, years ago my mom Doreen gave me some of her always-astute advice (in our family, we’ve named these nuggets “Doreenies”). Way before people even had phones with cameras my mom once told me: “Always conduct yourself as if a video camera is on you at all times.”

Judicious advice. Other Doreenies include: “Just put some lipstick on and you’ll feel better.” And “There’s no better feeling of confidence than the one that comes with having a black tie dress in your closet and a moussaka in your freezer.”


Winnipeg’s Nia Vardalos is the Academy Award nominated screenwriter of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and has made several films, including the upcoming Helicopter Mom. Proceeds from New York Times Bestseller Instant Mom are donated to adoption groups chosen by her daughter.

From the book Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos. ©2013 by Nia Vardalos. Reprinted by permission of HarperOne, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

a man carrying two children

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