Well before Hoda Kotb adopted daughter Haley, she knew the 13-month-old was out there waiting.
“I hadn’t met her, but I felt her,” explains the cohost of NBC’s Today. “I would scribble in my journal about how I wish, I pray, I hope that maybe one day.”
One of those notes — “I’ve loved you since forever” — became the title for her children’s book, a tribute to her little “blessing.”
“I still can’t believe I get this reality,” the Emmy winner, 53, says. “Sometimes in life you feel like you’ve had enough blessings. Not everyone gets everything and that’s OK. Sometimes you can have a great family and a cool job but you don’t get everything. You almost feel like, ‘Do I deserve this too? Am I good enough for this?’ And then it happened.”
Kotb, who parents with partner Joel Schiffman, draws Us in.
Us Weekly: What was Haley’s reaction when you read her I’ve Loved You Since Forever?
Hoda Kotb: She was totally enamored by it! Suzie Mason, who is the illustrator, is a genius and her beautiful drawings catch the eye. Haley, my one year old, is locked in! Look, by the fifth page, she’s over it, though. She’s running away. She has her moments.
Us: What are her favorite books?
HK: It’s between this and Goodnight Moon. It’s going to be a real battle at bedtime. We’ve read some of the Pete the Cats and I like old school Dr. Seuss, Cat in the Hat. She’s at that stage where she’s ripping out the pages. We have a peek-a-boo book that you’re supposed to lift up the umbrella and see the baby underneath and it’s all shredded.
Us: Would you describe yourself as a nervous mom?
HK: Sometimes. I don’t want her to fall. I want to make sure she’s chewing her food all the way. I’m a little bit of a hoverer when it comes that. But I’m also more patient. I feel one of the benefits of being a late bloomer as a mom is you’ve seen tough times in your life, so you have more tolerance. I remember Joel was out of town and Haley needed to be fed. Then the dog knocked over a picture. She’s crying, he’s barking, there’s poop on the floor, glass is broken. I was like, “I might have a breakdown.” Then I remember thinking, “I would have begged God for this.”
Us: What was the hardest part about being away from Haley while covering the Olympics in South Korea?
HK: It was the first time I’ve been away from her and the first time I’ve been away from her for that length of time. I missed feeling her, feeling her breathe on me. At nighttime, I missed feeding her and having her fall asleep, just drift off. I felt her missing from my heart.
Us: Did you pack any reminders of her with you?
HK: I brought one of her shoes, which was strapped onto my backpack. I brought a burp cloth because she holds them and they smell like her. I also brought a couple of pictures. But I also FaceTimed with her a lot. I tried to fill the hole with knowing that when I got to go home, I’d feel her again.
Us: She’s still so young but, when you are FaceTiming, does she understand that she’s talking to and seeing Mom?
HK: I think so. When she sees me, she smiles and starts laughing. I always say, “Hi nugget! Hi little girl!” It’s so crazy sometimes when there’s a moment where I see that she gets something. Before I left, I was feeling the loss and I scooped her out of her crib and carried her to the guest room. She was looking at me and I was gazing back at her. I started crying. She looked at me puzzled, like, “You’re crying. I don’t get it.” She started blowing kisses! I was sobbing. That was one minute out of my 24-hour day and it was the best minute.
Us: Does she ever watch you on TV?
HK: I’m trying not to have the TV on. She’s starting to pick up everything she hears! We’re trying to play music and have funky dance parties.
Us: What does she dance to?
HK: She loves “Despacito.” But it really doesn’t matter. She recently starting dancing to a Nationwide commercial. She’s like her mother, she’ll dance to anything! I play Top 40, James Taylor, Carole King. We sing some Jackson 5.
Us: How has parenthood changed your relationship with Joel?
HK: Our relationship is better — and I didn’t even think it could get better! There is something totally sexy about watching your man as a father. Watching how he is with Haley just makes me love him more deeply than I thought I could. She loves her dad and is always running across the room like, “Dada! Dada!” She said that before mama!
Kotb’s book I’ve Loved You Since Forever is on shelves now.
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