Three words for you: celebrity adoption book.
Usually I run like crazy from this sort of thing. I mean, as adoptive parents, we've already had our share of inane comparisons to a certain megawatt celebrity couple (yes, because that's why we chose adoption to build our family - we thought it was trendy. Sheesh.)
But Nia Vardalos's book seemed promising. First, because I adore My Big Fat Greek Wedding (you know you do too). Second, because the blurb mentioned her struggles with fertility. And third, because she chose a route that is somewhat unusual for a celebrity - foster adoption.
And remarkably, Instant Mom does not disappoint. Sure, there's the requisite name-dropping, but it's done with a light touch - you get the sense that Vardalos isn't so much wanting her readers to be bowled over by her celebrity friends as she is proud of her very cool support network. And yes, she's got help in raising her daughter and keeping up her home. But really, like any one of us would pass up the chance to have someone mop our kitchen floor? I sure wouldn't!
What works so well about this memoir is Vardalos's authenticity. She is unsparing in her honesty, about her feelings as she struggles to balance fame with her desire to be a mom, about her emotional ups and downs during fertility treatments, and then about her search for the right method to motherhood. She tells of a harrowing experience at the fertility clinic that finally convinced her and husband Ian Gomez to look into adoption. And she states forthrightly that though foster adoption worked for them, it isn't the strategy for everyone.
I also love her description of the early days with her daughter. Vardalos relates that, though she and her husband adored their little girl right away, it was clear that the feeling wasn't 100% mutual. Though their daughter wants to bond with them, she's also scared - so there's plenty of acting out and testing limits, all of which Vardalos and Gomez negotiate their way around with common sense and a healthy dose of humor (plus some help from Nia's mom). She describes the feeling of wanting it all to appear perfect, when in reality no one's getting much sleep and everyone is adjusting to this new arrangement, including the family dog. And she talks about that sensation of not being able to fully take a deep breath until their adoption is finalized -- the fear that something, anything, will interrupt the joy her family is experiencing at last.
So many adoption stories end with the placement. It's the perfect "happily ever after", isn't it? And we all want to think there's nothing but sunshine and Skittles after the social workers leave. But Vardalos dares to go further, and talk about what it's like to parent a hurt and fearful child, when you're not completely sure what you're doing -- and truly, who ever is? She's frank about the big issues, like sleep, which is a huge issue right at first. (She and Gomez switch off sleeping in their daughter's room, and inch by inch they ease her to a full night on her own. Sound familiar?) This is reality, and even though the parents are celebrities, they're living the experience we all know well, of bonding with a child whose story extends so far beyond the walls of your home, and whose presence in your life may be a dream come true, but isn't always 100% camera-ready.
This was a quick read, and a worthwhile one, not just because I became an instant mom myself when my son was handed over to me in Addis Ababa, but also because I know the feelings Vardalos describes. I've lived them, and they've been terrifying and glorious. There's fear here, and uncertainty, but delight and laughter too -- and at the end of the day, instant or not, that's what family truly is.
Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos, published by HarperCollins
Sample: "By the way, the only term I disagree with some on is 'adoptive mom.' Why the qualifying adjective? Why not just 'mom'? I've been introduced on talk shows as 'adoptive mom Nia Vardalos.' Um, once you've wiped a butt, you're a mom."