Meet Later Mom: Dani Klein Modisett

daniheadshotNAME: Dani Klein Modisett
AGE: 52
RESIDENCE: Atwater Village, Los Angeles, CA
CHILDRENS NAMES/AGES: Gabriel 12, Gideon 8

As I recently told a group of 400 organizations from around the country gathered to hear 200 authors pitch their books for a chance to come to their town and speak, all of my work has a simple message. I take sad things, and make them funny. Which is why my most recent book is about marriage. Ba dum bum. Of course I was kidding, I love marriage, I couldn’t have just spent three years researching and writing about it if I didn’t. But reflecting back on my work for the past 20 years, “Take My Spouse, Please” is the most recent bead added on to a string of projects that take life’s biggest challenges and bring people together to the tell the truth about them so we can laugh together.My whole professional raison d’être, for lack of a better expression, is to create community through laughter so we all feel a little less alone in our struggles.

I started out as an actor, back when we were still called actresses! I worked on Broadway briefly, and then took a class in Stand Up at UCLA. Very soon after I started working on the road. I then wrote two comedy shows, one with a partner that was called “Two Thin,” an educational show about anorexia and bulimia and another called “The Move,” a solo show with puppets about giving up my apartment in NYC for good to move to LA to be with my husband, harder than I thought since it was the apartment I was living in when I cared for my father before he died. Fast forward 10 years after I took that class at UCLA and I started teaching it. Then I had my first baby, was landlocked at home with an infant and felt alone and isolated so I created a live storytelling show called “Afterbirth…stories you won’t read in a parenting magazine.” It toured major U.S. cities and was published as an anthology in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press. A few years ago, when the kids were old enough to not accidentally kill themselves, I had the space in my brain to look across and see my husband again. I thought, “‘Til death do you part, that could be a really long time.” We were in a difficult place, and I wanted to laugh more in our marriage like we used to. I went looking for a book for how to do this more. I couldn’t find this book, so I wrote it.   Visit

What was your road to parenthood like?  I came to the parenting party very late. Before I met my husband, I used to say it wasn’t like I was dying to have a child.  I was just afraid of dying without ever having one. Then I was lucky enough to get pregnant and meet my first son. Talk about mind-blowing. The person I thought I was before giving birth was blown up the minute I saw this baby.

danibookIs there one project in your career thus far that you are most proud of, and why?  Although I loved writing and producing the “Afterbirth…” series and book, the new book “Take My Spouse, Please” is the project that makes me most proud. Not only because it was a truly comprehensive and challenging, but because it had a genuine effect on how I relate to my husband. I learned so much important and valuable information about how to be married successfully by interviewing all these happy couples, some of whom had been through some very difficult disappointments, and they could sit across from me and laugh about these experiences together. Absolutely inspiring. Plus any time, and it’s only happened a handful of times in my life, where you have an idea, and through determination and hard work it becomes a tangible thing that moves people, I find this truly thrilling.   I hope they will feel less alone in the very normal struggles of living with other people, some of whom you may have birthed. To have hope that, with a little self-awareness, effort and levity, change and happiness are possible.

Do you consider yourself a role model for women?  That’s a tall order for anyone, but I do think if you struggle with believing in yourself, or setting goals and realizing them, especially when you’re certain you won’t be able to, then yes, please let me be your role model. You can do it, whatever it is. You just have to ask yourself how badly you want it. I was terrified of the void that would be left in my life when my second son was starting kindergarten. It was my fear of his bus pulling away, and me left standing on the corner with no where to go that motivated me to write a 45 page book proposal in the three months before that date and go out and sell it. Fear can be a wonderful catalyst to change, if it doesn’t paralyze you.

How does being a mom influence your work? Probably in more ways than I can articulate. Clearly it was the grist of “Afterbirth…” But being a mother was also the inspiration for “Take My Spouse, Please,” because I wanted my children to grow up in a happy, loving household, which was not where my marriage was around our 10 year anniversary. It could easily be argued that my love of my children drove me to create a happier home which forced me to get creative about how to improve my marriage, which made me think about the need for more laughter in the house. This aspiration is what made me think about taking what I know as a comedian and seeing how it can be applied to my home life.

daniMASTERkidsDo you think it’s tough for women to balance parenting, a personal life and professional pursuits?  Why would you ask me this? Simply because my children had a bag of peanuts and two cheese sticks for lunch as we drove to an interview with a magazine I was late for? Which was somehow scheduled minutes before my older boy’s annual check up, which gave us 15 minutes to get crosstown to swim team practice where his swimsuit may or may not have been dry from the previous day? All this to say, I THINK IT’S VERY TOUGH. I have been fortunate to work my own schedule for most of the 12 years I have been a mother, but this spring, I took a short gig as a producer where I had to go to an office. What a true awakening for me of what more traditional working mothers are up against. The worst was the “2nd Grade Mommy Lunch,” at school the same day that all of the out of town exec’s of this company were in for a planning meeting. I snuck out at 11:30am, my heart pounding, raced up to school, had a smiley face cupcake with my son, and sped back to the office by 1:00pm to eat chicken salad and set fundraising goals. It became crystal clear to me in a short time that trying to do a job, and mommy-ing as effectively as I need to in order to feel good about myself was nearly impossible. Oh, and forget about being a wife too. Or cleaning the house. Most important lesson? Lighten up on everyone including yourself, and never lose your sense of humor. Which means keep everything in perspective, and understand that you, meaning me of course, are never going to be perfect.

And, if so, how do you achieve balance?  I make a lot of lists, and I am very communicative with my boys. They are old enough now that I can say, “I have an important meeting, so I will not be able to pick you up from practice today.” But I also make it very clear at work that if there is something at school that is a once in a lifetime event, like a graduation or a performance, I have to be there. Also, my little one has asthma, so if he can’t breathe, all bets are off at work. So far, so good. I also work after everyone goes to sleep. That’s the good and bad news about our e-mail tethered lives now. And the fact that I am a writer, I can work at home at any hour. I will tell people, “Look I may not get it done before 5, but you will have it when you wake up in the morning.”

What do you see as the positives and challenges of having a child at age 35 or over? The best part is I am not thinking I should have done something else with my life first, or that I somehow truncated my career development or the number of men I went out with. I had a very full life before I had children. Also, because I used IVF to have my second child, every time I look at him I think, “ Holy sh*t, you almost didn’t make it here.” I am so grateful for both my boys, I know how lucky I was to be able to have them. The downside is, I’m not that fun. I can get bored literally to tears playing kid games, and I have never pranced around the house in a tutu pretending I am Tinkerbell. Although there’s no guarantee I would have done this at 25 either.

danikidsWhat do your kids think of your work?  They mostly love it. They come with me to book signings, and the older one loves reading my articles now. I think they are genuinely proud. Naturally, some days they wish I’d get off my computer more quickly. They also don’t like it when I am disappointed by work, which is inevitable in any business. My son will rub my arm and say, “It’s okay, Momma.” Like I said, I’m blessed.

Has anything about being a mother surprised you? If so, what?  What has surprised me, moreso at the beginning, is how much I love my children. I remember sitting in an interview at Comedy Central the week before I was due, in a pencil skirt, more like an apostrophe skirt, and heels, like one of the those Sandra Boynton Hippos, and the female executive across the table from me looking stupefied. “When are you due?” she asked solemnly. “Next week,” I answered, “but it’s not like I’m not going to work. I’ll be back up in a few weeks.” She looked at me with half-pity and half compassion, “Uh, huh. Why don’t you have your agent call us back in a few months. I think you’re going to want to spend some time with your baby.” I left there so mad! How dare she presume to know how I’ll feel. Until I saw my baby, burst in to tears and thought, I’m never leaving this child. Ever.Recently, it surprises me how infuriated I get when the boys fight with each other. But also how we are able to have a lot of tension about something and then end up laughing together 10 minutes later.

daniMASTERsonWhat do you love the most about it, and what is the most challenging?  What I love most about being a mother is that I have these little people who I can tell not to waste their time worrying about certain things like what people think of them or say about them, unless it’s constructive criticism, and that I get to see them be affectionate with each other. It also makes me happy to teach them about kindness and generosity of spirit and faith. I wasn’t given many of these messages growing up. The most challenging aspect of parenting for me is wanting to give my children everything they want, the best schools and camps and trips and simply not being able to afford to. Sobering, but true. And also when they fight, I feel compelled to shut it down because it is as disturbing to my eyes and ears as chimps throwing their feces at each other.

What do you most want to teach your kids?  That there is enough to go around. To work hard and not rely on “talent,” to get what they want in life. And to risk loving people deeply.

What have you learned from them thus far?  To lighten up, to be more patient, and how much I am capable of loving. And how to use Instagram.

daniMASTERhusbandWhere do you turn for support as a mom?  I have wonderful girlfriends for many years I can tell the truth to. Some with children, some without. And my husband. I always go to my husband first, but I sometimes I exhaust him. He doesn’t tend to be as emotional as me, no surprise!

How important is it to connect with mom peers? Obviously, I feel this is so important that I created an entire show around the idea of bringing parents together to share the truth about how insanely demanding it can be, and find ways to laugh about it. Having a few people where you can speak honestly about the lows and the highs is key for a sense of well-being. I can’t emphasize the need for “good times” friends enough. I feel like we always define our friendships by who is there for us when we’re down and out, but it is just as important to have friends who are able to celebrate your successes and those of your children!

How do you think an organization like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner can be helpful to later moms and families?  I love anything that creates community for parents. Motherhood Later has a clear angle of being for those of us who aren’t kids ourselves, and we share some of the specific challenges of that. For instance, having older parents ourselves that also need caring for while we are raising toddlers. It’s a lot.

What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a parent, particularly if they’re 35 or older? Keep yourself physically active and healthy so you can be your most energetic for the long haul. Get sleep when you can, not only when you’re supposed to. A 20 minute nap can be a godsend.

Do you recall anything from your own upbringing that really stuck with you that you’d like to pass on to your kids or other parents?  Tough question because I made a very strong choice to leave my family of origin. They were highly focused on wealth and what other people had, and I wanted nothing to do with this way of thinking for myself and my children. But, they also taught me to work hard and the importance of getting a good education, and for that I am grateful. Interestingly, my mother is much more loving and affectionate with my children than she was with me. I hear this from other people too. My father died almost 20 years ago. He never met my husband or my children. I really don’t know what he would have told me about parenting, but I do know he loved me and thought I could do anything with my life. So that’s the message I give my children too.

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