Q&A: Woman Behind the Book

Writer and actress Julia Sweeney talks about dating, marriage, and motherhood

julia sweeney!

You might know Julia Sweeney best from her time on Saturday Night Live, but since then the funny lady’s survived cancer, written and starred in a Broadway show, and become a mom — which she says gave her a real appreciation of the world’s biggest role for women.

Her new book, If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother, hit stores yesterday. It’s about how she adopted a baby from China as a fortysomething single woman, met her husband after a stranger emailed her out of the blue, and adjusted to a world different from the one she had once imagined for herself. She calls it a “lightly comic, chatty memoir.” We call it fun and funny and honest.

We caught up with her to chat about being the mom of a tween and a lover of Brussels sprouts.

What was the hardest thing about going from TV star to minivan-driving mom? Having to do things regularly. What I mean is, not making dinner as a one-off, but night after night. Or not driving my daughter, Mulan, to a class once, but over and over. As an auntie, I dipped into parenting without the daily grind. But once I was a mother, my enthusiasm had to be consistent.

Describe your parenting style in three words. Interested available guidance.

Mulan is now 12 years old. What do you miss most about having a little girl?
Being able to dress her! I loved that part of having a little girl. I got her such cute clothes and paid a lot of attention to getting her dressed, making sure her hair was just right, that her top matched her bottoms exactly right. Now she barely lets me weigh in on clothes and hairstyles. And, worst of all, she has forbidden me from buying her clothes without her prior consent.

julia sweeney!

How do you get a surefire laugh from Mulan?
Reading Jane Austen using a totally inappropriate Cockney accent (which sounds more like a New Jersey accent when I do it!).

From early on, Mulan gave you advice (how to drive, how to behave at a science fair). What’s the best thing she has taught you? Patience. Focus. And how to see the world in a much bigger way.

You get to go back and do one thing differently. What would it be?
I would have met my husband sooner. I wouldn’t have worked so much when Mulan was younger; I would have been better with money and had more time for just hanging out. I would have not dated (although I suppose that was necessary to meet my husband, but what a time suck if it doesn’t work out). I think that’s three things. Since I’ve gone over, I’ll add a fourth: less shopping, more hanging out at the playground.

You mention in the book that the coconut mango salad and soft-shell crab in curry sauce from Jitlada in Los Angeles are musts. Give us a recommendation from your new home, Chicago.
Right now I am crazy for the Brussels sprout salad at Café Selmarie — roasted Brussels sprouts mixed with butter lettuce and asiago cheese and brown rice. Café Selmarie is in Lincoln Square, near the Old Town School of Folk Music, where we go often for concerts or to take classes. I love that part of town.

Say no to: Doing too much for people. Inevitably you will end up resenting them.

Say more to:
Reading, watching a film with no distractions, walking, yin yoga, and, most of all, family weekends with no scheduled activities!

julia sweeney!

Want to hear from another star mom? Read our interview with Julianne Moore.

Photos: Courtesy of Simon & Schuster