Things were popping at the Jonathan’s Place’s “A Chance To Soar” luncheon fundraiser on Tuesday, April 29, at Brook Hollow. Yes, there were kites hovering overhead and on tables in the ballroom, but the activity at ground level was pretty darn impressive. It should have been, since the ballroom was filled to capacity.
Before the program got underway, it was obvious that there was a Dallas Cowboys influence. Perhaps it was because former Cowboy DeMarcus Ware was to be honored for his support of the program. It was back in 2008 that DeMarcus and his former wife adopted Marley after three failed pregnancies. DeMarcus had been involved with Jonathan’s Place since 2006, but it was in 2010 that he increased his involvement with the organization that “provides a safe, loving home and specialized services to children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected.”
Despite his being signed in March to play for the Denver Broncos, DeMarcus is still a Dallas favorite among fans and players. Why, his former teammate Bradie James even attended the luncheon because as presenting sponsor Mohr Partners Bob Mohr quoted Bradie, “I have his [DeMarcus’] back.”
(Little did anyone know that Bradie one week later would sign a one-day contract with the Dallas Cowboys, so the 33-year-old linebacker could retire as a Cowboy.)
Even the front-row-center table was Cowboy-ish with Platinum Underwriters Marianne and Roger Staubach.
Event Co-Chairs Pam Busbee and Stephanie Phillips even managed to have former Dallas Cowboys spiritual guide Dr. John Tolson provide the invocation.
Following lunch (mesclun greens topped with spicy pecan chicken breast, dried cherries and apricots and balsamic dressing; toasted ciabatta bread with goat cheese and cheesecake flan) and a welcome by Jonathan’s Place CEO Allicia Frye, it was time for keynote speaker Nia Vardalos to take over.
Like DeMarcus, her life had been changed dramatically thanks to the adoption of a child. But before she told about her years of frustration in trying to give birth and additional years of waiting for the opportunity to adopt a child of neglect, she shared stories about her family and the days and years of getting “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” produced.
It was obvious that immediately everyone in the room had gone Greek. Like Julia Reed and Diana Nyad, Nia had the ability to make a love connection with everyone in the room thanks to humorous tales and heart-wrenching memories of adopting her daughter Ilaria in 2008, the same year that Marley entered DeMarcus’s life. But unlike DeMarcus’ adopting a baby, Nia’s daughter was three years old and had been living in foster care since birth.
She told of the slow steps that she and husband Ian Gomez took in helping their daughter adjust to a stable life. Ilaria would only sleep 20 seconds at a time, wake up, check her surroundings and then sleep another 20 seconds. A cot was placed for Nia to sleep within reach of Ilaria. The sleeping period turned into a minute, then three minutes. The child eventually learned to trust her parents and six months later the cot was slowly moved by Ilaria farther and farther away until it was finally out of the room.
She didn’t like being hugged or coddled, so the trio went through a process called “baking”, where they would pretend to break an egg over their dog and massage pretend sugar and flour over him. By doing this, their fingers would naturally interact. Then they would roll him across the bed into the pretend oven and when “he came out,” we would kiss him as a way of eating him. “He, of course, loved it.” Then they “baked” mommy, so she would have the same type of non-threatening interaction and feel in control of the situation. Eventually, they progressed to “baking” Ilaria. “Within three weeks, she was walking up to us on a whim and kissing us. Within three months, she was sitting in our laps. And within six months, she started pre-school.”
Ah, but then came the “pre-school call, you know when the phone rings and your hair goes white.” The teacher said, “I’m not sure if this would bother you to know, but your daughter asked all the kids to gather all the babies today and bake them.”
But there were also the giggle moments of the two adults learning to be parents. For instance, when they learned that Ilaria was theirs and arriving in hours, Ian went to the grocery and returned with a teething ring and a steak.
As Nia recalled that first night when Ilaria started crying, “My job was to make her safe, and I didn’t know how. So guess what happened? The next day my Mom came. My Mom arrived with a suitcase of the typical grandma wear — you know, three shirts and two pairs of pants, and the other suitcase was filled with food. I asked her how she had time to bake all of this. She said, ‘Last night!’ And then everything got better. I had been chasing my daughter around with food trying to get her eat. My Mom did what every mother knows how to do — just cook. When they smell it, they’ll eat it. ”
If you weren’t able to attend the luncheon, you can read about Nia’s motherhood in her book “Instant Mom.” And by the way, all proceeds of the books will benefit organizations like Jonathan’s Place.