He got to the part we all loved, turned to our daughter...and she made the "ehr" sound with him. We all laughed and her eyes danced with delight.
—Nia Vardalos, author
Currently on a cross-country book tour for her New York Times bestseller Instant Mom, these days Nia Vardalos, the Academy Award nominated actress/screenwriter of My Big Fat Greek Wedding savours the time when she can be home for her daughter's bedtime.
SCENE wanted to know about one of the first books Vardalos chose to read to her daughter:
I became a mom in a unique way. Our daughter was almost three years old when we met via American Foster Care social workers. My husband Ian and I stared down at this little creature and instinctively knew our sole job was to make her feel safe in her new home.
Right away bedtime involved a storybook. She would crouch on the edge of the bed, peering at the colorful images in the many books our friends and family had immediately brought over.
Because she did not speak very much, we encouraged her to say the words with us. But she would not.
Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (Putnam)
She did love to turn the pages of Good Night, Gorilla
and enjoyed the silliness of the story when all the zoo animals escape and sneak into the zoo keeper's bedroom. When we got to the part when they're discovered, Ian and I would do an exaggerated "ehr?!" sound which would make her smile.
Again, we encouraged her to make the surprised "ehr" sound along with us. She wouldn't. I realized our daughter needed to control this new parenting situation she found herself in.
We could see she understood our words. She could say a few words, but for the most part she would not communicate. Her eyes were downcast, she was withdrawn, she didn't sleep. With one eye on us at all times, she needed to suss us out.
One night, as we read the book aloud, she quietly leaned in, then into Ian's lap. I marveled as my husband kept his tone even, continuing to read. He got to the part we all loved, turned to our daughter...and she made the "ehr" sound with him. We all laughed and her eyes danced with delight.
Although Ilaria is eight years old now, last night as she read her Bad Kitty
and Diary of a Wimpy Kid
books to US at bedtime, my eye wandered to Goodnight Gorilla
, still on her bookshelf.
It is a wistful reminder of those unsure and chaotic first months and of how we transitioned a preschool-aged child into her new home: with humor and patience... and words.
Related: CBC host Ismaila Alfa remembers book his mom read to him.