Vivacious actress, author and mom Jenny McCarthy reveals how honesty and humor helped her through her biggest crisis - her son's autism
Q: You've taken an unconventional path to where you are today as an author and autism activist. Didn't you start out in nursing school?
A: You know what's funny, what I first was going to college for was for special education. Then I failed public speaking class and decided to go into nursing because I liked medicine. But then I went broke and had to leave. So it's kind of ironic that I'm speaking around the country about a special needs problem that has medical implications.
Q: Was it tough for you as a beautiful blonde to overcome stereotypes and prove your comedic abilities?
A: I knew it would be a little difficult to transition from modeling into a comedic career, but I kept focusing on the fact that I could do it. I always put in front of me what was possible. And I also put out how I needed to make that happen. I said to myself, "OK, I'm almost done modeling, now I need to catapult myself into being a comedic actress." Modeling I really utilized to pay off my debt. I was $20,000 in debt from college. Then I said, "Wouldn't it be great if I got a job at MTV? That way I could show my personality before any kind of acting happens. They could see that I'm not the stereotype." And then six months later, MTV was looking for a female host. My motto is, If anything is possible then nothing is impossible.
Q: Did that attitude help you realize that you could try writing?
A: It really did. I think we're kind of on a destined path. It's how much or how little you want to make of that path. I know I have opportunities out there. It's a matter of, do I want to take them on? And I'm a person who says, "You're right, I do!" So I said, "Well, I have a voice and an opinion and a sense of humor. I should start writing some things because people don't seem to capture my voice correctly in the comedic world. How can I create what I want and not wait for somebody to create it for me?"
Q: Your first two books - "Belly Laughs" and "Baby Laughs" - are honest, hilarious accounts of pregnancy and motherhood. Did you find that moms appreciated your message that it's OK to not be perfect?
A: Absolutely! One of the biggest things I heard was "Oh! It's human to feel that way." It's OK to hate changing diapers 30 times a day. It's OK to get aggravated when the lady next to you is telling you that her baby is so much smarter than your baby. It's OK to go through those little emotional things and you shouldn't feel bad about it. It's OK to take time for yourself. That's what I tell moms constantly.
Q: Getting your son's diagnosis of autism must have been so frightening. How did you find the strength and hope to take action?
A: When I got the diagnosis, I felt like someone kidnapped my son's soul. I definitely mourned. I let myself cry and get angry. But I never sat in the "woe is me" state for more than a day. And so I said to myself, "You either have a pity party for the rest of your life, or you get up and fight and you get your kid back." And I would close my eyes and say, "God, show me the way. Bring to me the possibilities, the avenues and doors that I need to go through." It was really hard, because not only did I want to save my son, but I didn't want anyone to know about it.
I stayed really positive. Even from day one of the diagnosis, I'd close my eyes and I'd envision Evan coming home from a date when he was 16. I'd envision Evan at his football game. I'd envision me and Evan having this great funny conversation. I always stayed positive in my future visions of him. I kept focusing on the good. And when a medical issue would backfire I would say, "OK, there is a lesson in this right now. What are they trying to show me?" Everything was a road map of why and how to get to the next place. It was just staying positive that got me through.
Q: What are some surprising things you've learned from being a mom?
A: Narcissism goes out the window. It's so not about you anymore. And I've learned about love. That invisible energy that is the most powerful thing in the world. I just had no idea what a high it is. Being a mother taught me about the most wonderful thing in the world, the only thing you can take with you when you die - love.
Q: What about your experiences as an autism activist? What's that been like?
A: It has been beyond the most fulfilling work I've done yet, because I can be authentic. And I absolutely love it.
Q: You have a knack for being silly. How do you do it and how do you recommend that people lighten up?
A: I just think that all the little problems that you think are huge don't even really exist [on a more spiritual level]. You have to kind of step out and realize, Oh! This is just a scene in this movie called Life, and I can't really take anything that seriously. I mean, I did have my son's health issues. But when my nail breaks before a hand soap commercial, I'm not going to lose my gourd. Because those things don't matter. You kind of look at the bigger scope of things and say, "Really, what is important?"
Q: What are three ways that you stay positive?
A: The first one is, I envision the future how I want it to look. Like if there's this job you want or there's a boyfriend that you like and he's not calling you back so you don't know what to do. Visualize a positive future event. Second, don't fight the negative emotion when you have it. The more you try to fight it, the more it's going be there. If you accept the negative emotion, it has no power then. You're able to get back to the positive place much easier. And last, don't take life too seriously!