An Interview With Sheila Harris (My Mom)
Neil sits down for a Q&A with his one, his only, his wonderful momma
Neil Patrick Harris: Hi, Mom!
Sheila Harris: Hello!
NPH: I’ve prepared some hard-hitting questions for the Wondercade Mother’s Day Issue. I feel like we should just rip the Band-Aid off and dive right in. First question: Who’s your favorite son, me or your first child, Brian Christopher?
SH: That other guy? Well, I would certainly have to say it’s you.
NPH: Mom, this is official! It’s on record! What if Brian Chris reads this?
SH: I’ll tell him I was lying.
NPH: Oh, fair. Good.
SH: [laughs] We need to discuss who gets the clock. That’s the most pressing issue.
NPH: Why do we keep having this discussion about the clock?! For Wondercade readers: Dad was given a grandfather clock in exchange for some legal work (he’s a lawyer), and it was not in a great state. So, he…what’s the term? Fixed it up?
NPH: Yeah! He refinished his amazing grandfather clock, and it’s now in their living room. And we’re just — pardon the pun — letting the time tick by until both of you pass on and one of us gets this amazing clock. And it is going to be me. I ask for very little.
SH: I really think about this problem. And I’ve come up with solutions that would involve contests between the two of you.
NPH: What would there be a contest for?! Mom, I’m obsessed with Disney’s Haunted Mansion. I love all things Scooby-Doo and murder mystery. I have a house called the Funhouse Farm! A grandfather clock is perfect for all these places. How are we even having this conversation?!
SH: When your father and I are out of town, your brother comes over and winds the clock.
NPH: I live in New York! If I lived as far away as Brian did, then I’d come over and polish the clock!
SH: You’re right. Let’s move on then.
NPH: Next question. When you were pregnant with your second child — me — were you filled with regret? Was I one of those “What have we done?” moments?
SH: I’ll tell you something I may never have told you before: We had it planned out in our dreams that we would have one child and then, three years later, have another child. That being you.
SH: Dad was still in law school, so it was not the wisest choice to have a newborn baby in the midst of all of that. But I was so intent on getting pregnant that I stood on my head at the appropriate time to cause all the little sperms to flow in the right direction. That’s all.
[Long pause as Sheila’s video cuts out]
NPH: …Um. I am traumatized by that last statement.
SH: [talks off screen] Ron? Can you get me a plug? I’m almost out of battery. [to Neil] I thought you might be.
NPH: I threw up in my mouth a little bit, Mom. And I think it’s appropriate that your video checked out right then.
SH: Yeah, it’ll be back on in just a second.
NPH: For the record, I tried the same thing when we were trying to have Harper and Gideon. And look at us now!
SH: Ohhh! See? And now you have them! [reappears on screen]
NPH: Oh, hi! Welcome back. Next question. What advice would you give to new mothers reading Wondercade, to help raise kids that grow up to be as awesome as myself?
SH: Being serious for a moment, I would say—
NPH: Wait, did you think that was a joke question?
SH: [laughs] When they’re babies, then toddlers and then little kids, your whole life is wrapped up in them. It seems like you’re never going to get a breath of fresh air. Then the next thing you know, they’re 12 or 13. And then it’s going even faster, because they’re involved in a lot of different things. So, to the best that you can, don’t beat yourself up if you have some bad days. Treasure every minute that they’re there with you, because it goes by in a hurry.
NPH: That’s so true.
SH: Can I ask you a Mother’s Day question?
NPH: Yes, please.
SH: One time I got the impression that I, as a mother, created problems that you had to work out later in life.
NPH: I think that’s true for most everyone. But go on.
SH: Well, I just want you to know that at every juncture, I was trying to do my best. That’s about all you can ask.
NPH: Mom, I love you so unconditionally. And now that I’m a parent myself, with amazing 12-year-olds who look at me and David as if everything we’re doing is inept and embarrassing…I’m sure they will be traumatized when they’re older. I think it’s impossible to be a parent whose adult kids approve of everything that they did. That’s part of the deal! And I think some of the things that you did that I’ve questioned are the same traits that make me, as an adult, try to be a better person.
SH: I hope so, honey. You know…as proud as we are of you, for all of your accomplishments — which are just beyond what I can even state — the proudest I am is when I see you with not-famous people. With just people from the audience. You take time with them, you’re courteous to them, you’re never hasty or rude. I guess, conceitedly, I hope that comes from your background. You’re just a wonderful person, and I love you so much.
NPH: I love you, too. It would have been remarkably easy, being raised as a teenager in Hollywood, to assume that that’s the way life is supposed to be, and that’s the way one is supposed to be treated. But I think that you and Dad were remarkable in your ability to make sure that my values and my sense of self and truth were grounded in a New Mexico, Scott-Harris reality. And I’m deeply appreciative of it.
SH: When we made that decision to go with you and make a home near the studio for Doogie, we just wanted you to have every chance to have a foundation underneath you. It was worth every bit of whatever sacrifice there was.
NPH: And I think from that you must have learned a fair amount about like, cinematography and filmmaking and stuff yourself. Right?
NPH: So…given that, how can you not frame yourself in the center of the screen on this Zoom?
SH: [laughs, adjusts camera] I keep looking over at myself and I’m trying to figure out if I can make myself look good, and it’s not working for me.
NPH: [laughs] You look amazing! Are there any bucket list mother’s wishes that you have yet to fulfill in your life?
SH: I would like a great-grandchild. I think I could make it long enough to get one of those.
NPH: A great-grandchild. Are you besmirching my kids, and Brian’s?
SH: They’re always great! And they’re always grand!
NPH: What’s the difference between being a mother and a grandmother?
SH: Well, being a grandmother means you get every single drop of the goodness, and none of the bad stuff. I don’t know if great-grandchildren will be as good as grandchildren, because we’ll be older, and not as able to crawl on the floor with them and all that kind of great stuff. We’ll see.
NPH: But you and the great-grandkids will all be able to crap in diapers and drool. What advice would you like to give me that you’ve been needing to tell me?
SH: You want that to be public…? I guess you could take it out if you don’t like it. Observing you as your mom, I would say this: I think a lot of times you take on the responsibility for everyone’s happiness around you. Especially your family’s. And when they’re not happy, you feel like you need to fix that. So, I would say let go of that a little bit. It might be easier for you to live your life without that responsibility.
NPH: It makes perfect sense. And I would say that we both share that same quality.
SH: That’s why I know about it! Only in recent years has Dad been allowed to get angry. [laughs]
NPH: You know, I’m turning 50 soon. Given that I am almost 50, and this is the Mother’s Day interview…does that make you feel really, really old?
SH: Not at all. Your brother’s 53.
NPH: Yeah, but he looks it.
SH: [laughs] When you get to a certain age, it’s just delicious to be old. Because people don’t pay any attention to you. You don’t have to be in the rat race. You can just stay at home, in your new recliner, and watch Jeopardy!
NPH: I feel like as I get older my sense of FOMO — fear of missing out — is lessened. I’d rather read a book or do something for myself than go to a party or the club, or whatever it might be. Okay, one last question: I’m finding that now my knees are starting to hurt, and I wear readers. I’m guessing that’s genetic. Will you take responsibility for these problems?
SH: And you might end up having cataracts! But I had Lasik surgery and here I am at 76 years old with no glasses at all.
NPH: Mom, I never would have imagined when I started this interview that we would have talked about everything from sperm inside your body to cataract surgery. So, I feel like we’ve run the gamut.
SH: We’ve covered it all.
NPH: Happy Mother’s Day.
SH: Thank you, honey. I love you so much. Now we have to figure out how to unplug from this.
NPH: Yeah. Hopefully you can find the button on your screen that says “end.” I love you.
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