Ellie Kemper knows the chaos and exhaustion of welcoming a second child.
“Going from one kid to two has rocked my world. I feel like I’m half-conscious,” she told HuffPost while promoting her partnership with HP’s “Get Real” campaign.
The “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” star gave birth to her second son with husband Michael Koman in September. Baby Matthew joined big brother James, who was born in 2016.
“It’s just a lot because you feel like you have everything under control and then another one arrives,” Kemper said. “I’m definitely still figuring out how to do it, but maybe you never really figure it out. I don’t know. I’m sort of wading through it right now.”
When it comes to sharing the parenting load with her husband, the actor admitted it’s difficult, but she believes in finding the right balance.
“I think you have to do what you’re best at and stop seeing it as, ‘I did this, so you have to do this,’” she explained. “I think you just have to figure out, ‘Oh I’m actually good at reading him stories’ or ‘I’m good at changing diapers’ ― although nobody wants to be good at changing diapers. And then you just embrace that part. Realize you’re a team, so if you don’t have each other, you’re really lost.”
Kemper has also embraced being a “boy mom” and living in a male-dominated household.
“I sort of love it,” she said. “My friend Tituss [Burgess] said, ‘Oh, you had to be the only girl in the house.’ And it’s sort of true. I don’t know how I would’ve dealt with another female vying for dominance in my household.”
She still has to compete for the spotlight, however. According to Kemper, 3-year-old James is a bit of a performer, though she insists she had “nothing to do with it.” The toddler especially loves Lady Gaga.
“He does a stirring rendition of ‘Shallow,’” she noted. “I’m not pushing him in any direction, but he does like to perform. Just the other night, he was performing on our rug. He announced that it was the stage, and I had to get off the stage because I happened to be standing on the rug.”
In addition to performing, James is also a fan of books. Lately, he’s been on a “Curious George” kick.
“The ‘Curious George’ books are crazy. A lot of wild stuff happens ― I’m not sure he should know about all these things,” said Kemper. “We also just got ‘George and Martha,’ which is a great children’s book I never read as a kid. The best children’s books are those that are enjoyable for parents to read as well and don’t get so tiresome. And that one’s really really funny in a wry kind of way.”
Reading is one of many screen-free activities Kemper tries to promote in her house. The HP campaign encourages families to check out the 250+ hours of printable activities on the brand’s website, which includes coloring sheets, puzzles and more.
“I’m sort of a dinosaur so I embrace the idea of returning to actual things you can make with your hands,” the comedian said, adding that she tries to limit her son’s screen time as he “gets a little hypnotized” in front of screens. “The idea is not presenting non-screen time as any sort of ordeal. It can be fun. There’s a lot of stuff you can do that doesn’t involve a screen ― puzzles, books, Mad Libs, making up songs, making up rhymes.”
This holiday season, Kemper said she looks forward to spending time with family in St. Louis and getting food from her favorite Indian restaurant, House of India.
“My family’s favorite activity around the holidays is playing ‘fictionary’ ― you look up a word in the dictionary that nobody really knows, and everybody has to come up with a definition of it,” she explained. “My cousin comes up with the most absurd definitions. It sounds corny, but putting away your phones and actually getting back to things when you’re looking people in the eye and playing together is much more fun.”
Getting to her hometown with two little ones in tow poses a challenge, but Kemper has a new appreciation for the task of traveling with a newborn.
“You realize as they get older that it’s so much easier when they’re just a few months old, and they can’t move,” the actor noted. “I basically let my older son have whatever he wants when we travel because I have to survive. So he eats a lot of sugar, which can come back to bite you, but you’ve got to give them what they want just to settle them down.”
Though it’s challenging, Kemper has found comfort in many aspects of parenthood.
“What surprised me the most about becoming a parent is how you can’t focus as much on yourself. I sort of knew that going into it ― you’ll be taking care of someone else. But it feels healthy not to think about yourself as much. That’s a nice surprise,” she said.
When she does have time for herself, Kemper likes to get a manicure, take a nice shower, go to an exercise class or run in Central Park. She said she’s been fortunate to get parenting advice from many people in her life, including work friends like Tina Fey and Jenna Fischer.
“Tina Fey told me never to use a baby wipe warmer because then your child will get used to a warm baby wipe, and you can’t always have that on standby. So I think that’s very valuable. I never use a baby wipe warmer,” Kemper recalled.
“Jenna Fischer told me about nursing ― breastfeeding versus bottles and all that stuff that people will have strong opinions about whatever you choose to do,” she added. “She said you have to do what’s right for you and your baby. I’ve taken that with me too. Every child is different. Every mom is different.”
Now that she’s a mom of two, Kemper has her own advice to share with new parents going through the chaos and confusion.
“My advice for new parents is to realize everything is a phase,” she noted. “That’s what people keep telling me, and it’s really helpful. You have to realize this is not your new permanent existence. Kids go through phases and life has stages. That helps to calm me down.”