While holed up in our homes with nothing to do, and dizzyingly empty hours to fill, some took to perfecting the dark art of the elusive sourdough loaf. Others learned to knit, or honed their artisanal craft mixology skills. Mindy Kaling, always the overachiever, went one further. She secretly had a baby, son Spencer, during the summer as a single mom, and six weeks after his birth shot the cover of Vogue India.
It would be reductive to call Kaling superhuman, even though she seems to be. She’s funny and gracious and self-effacing and makes the whole single-parenting thing look not just manageable, but easy (for the record, it’s not). Granted, she’s open about having ample help, and the financial resources to pay for it. But raising two kids under three does leave some gaping holes on her to-do list.
To wit: She’s doing a Zoom interview against a “stupid white backdrop” while facing a writer sitting in front of a resplendent Christmas tree. Kaling, let’s recall, pioneered the “Wreath Witherspoon,” a Christmas wreath adorned with pictures Reese Witherspoon, on her show The Mindy Project in 2014 that went on to become a social media sensation. So when it comes to the holidays, she’s not here to play. “Now that I see you with your tree, I’m like, dammit, I need to get my tree,” says Kaling.
The mom of two talks to Fatherly about sibling rivalry, juggling multiple roles, and why she opts to travel light these days.
It’s so great to see you again. How’s motherhood the second time around?
Motherhood is great. No one told me that when you have a second kid, it’s not like adding like a 100 percent more kid. It’s like adding five kids. It’s just cause I’m doing it by myself, I think I’m noticing it a little bit more. I’m doing both together, but it’s been great. He’s still so little that he doesn’t have a lot of personality traits yet, but it’s so it’s been fun. The pandemic gets really monotonous. So having a kid right in the middle of it, to spice it up a little, that was fun.
Katherine is 2. How is she dealing with having a sibling?
She was excited about him at the beginning. She was so game for him. And then slowly as he’s gotten bigger and he is taking up more space and emotional energy, she’s like, ‘No.’ She has this one scam that she runs. If I’m holding him or feeding him, she’ll very sweetly say, ‘Can I hold him?’ And I’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, of course.’ And so she’ll hold him and then she’ll put him down and be like, ‘Let’s go play.’ So he’s just wriggling on the sofa and she thinks that we can just leave him alone and he’ll be fine. So that’s her new scam. She’s very crafty.
And you had him in secret. Which is pretty incredible. Did you prep hard for his arrival or just go with the flow?
The first time I read everything and then once I had a kid, I couldn’t remember anything. I had no retention. So for the second one, I was like, eh, it’ll be fine. This is such a privilege, obviously, that I have, and not everybody has — I just feel like I have my OB who is going to tell me what to do. And I just show up at the hospital.
I did that thing where I over-packed (the first time), I brought like two giant suitcases with me. It pissed me off when I had to pack up at the hospital and had to leave. So now this time I was such a light traveler. I had a JanSport backpack. I didn’t do a lot of prep this time around.
I know you have a partnership with Walgreens, which seems particularly timely given that we’re living through a pandemic.
I consider partnerships with lots of different places, but this one is uniquely suited for me and my needs because I’m a hypochondriac. So I have every cough and cold medicine. I need diapers. I need toys for my older kid. So for me to just be able to like order it, then go 30 minutes later and a nice teenager in a mask brings it out for me is the absolute best. I have made friends with my Walgreens person. Her name is Cheryl.
I don’t know if you’ve heard this or felt this, but with my first kid, I was such a hypochondriac. Everything had to be so perfectly pristine for her. And then this one…because of the pandemic, I will say we have such a small pod and my dad is in his 70s and my stepmom’s in her 70s. So when I’m not in the house, when it’s just not my own germs, it’s two masks, gloves, that kind of thing.
And you also found time to release a new book, Nothing Like I Imagined. What inspired it?
When I had my own show, it was great because I felt like I can get to express — even if they’re not my opinions — I get to talk about the topics of the world and I actually get to be on camera saying all of them. I’m so happy with where we ended the show. I’ve just had these years now where I’m writing stuff for young people. I have my show, Never Have I Ever, I have my other show The Sex Lives of College Girls that is coming on next year. And I just felt like there wasn’t n real avenue or outlet for me to talk about the things that I’m interested in, observations about what it’s like to be a single mom or to try to date at 40. So I just needed to write these essays. This past book was only like seven essays. It wasn’t a full book.
Speaking of books, my all-time favorite one to read to my kid was B.J. Novak’s The Book with no Pictures.
That’s a great one. He’s my daughter’s godfather. And he’s like, ‘When is she going to get old enough that she can read it?’ I think she’s a little bit too little for it now.
You wrote a book. You’re promoting Walgreens. You’re running two shows. You have two kids under two. How are you still sane and not curled up in a ball in a closet somewhere?
I have someone who takes care of my kid, I have an assistant who helps me through my day. So I really just have great people that are helping me do everything. Also, not having to travel anywhere. At the beginning, I tried to look all cute for my Zooms. And now, I look like trash — I don’t care at this point. At the beginning, I tried to bring it. And now I know if they’ve seen me in the same Kurt Cobain T-shirt four days in a row and that’s fine. I’ve given myself a lot of slack over the pandemic. I’ve just decided I’m not going to beat myself up about stuff.
I know your son is way too little to be aware of what’s going on, but how do you give your daughter a sense of normalcy right now?
She does her school on Zoom. The number of people that she sees has been dwindling — as our extended friends have people who have COVID in their lives. The truth is, there is no way I’ve been able to establish anything normal for her. And my hope is just that she is a kid with a good sense of humor and who seems really resilient. And this is just an unstable time.
So the only thing I can do is be like, ‘Mom is always going to be there to read stories with you, push you on our swing in our backyard.’ And hope that she doesn’t get tired of just me, but it’ll be interesting after the pandemic to see what the effect it has had on children. I’m hoping that it doesn’t make her more scared to do things. My kid was supposed to start her toddler preschool thing. And so she was not able to.