We grew up with Danica McKellar and her TV alter ego, Winnie Cooper, on The Wonder Years. Since then she’s shown her stuff on film and TV and demystified math with her bestselling books Math Doesn’t Suck and Kiss My Math. Her third book, Hot X: Algebra Exposed, will be on shelves in August. And now the 35-year-old Southern California
native happily anticipates the birth of her first child.
INTERVIEW BY BONNIE SIEGLER
PHOTOGRAPHS BY LISA FRANCHOT
STYLING BY DIANA L. CHAN AT FORD ARTISTS
HAIR AND MAKEUP BY CAROLINE WISEMAN
Blue or Pink?
We’re not going to find out yet. The truth is, we don’t really care one way or other. We would like to have one of each eventually, but whatever we have is what we have.
Tuning Into Her Body
I’m getting to know my body for the first time, again. I woke up this morning and my knee felt funny and who knows why. My lower back felt a little off before and now it’s fine, which is great. But my body is shifting and changing as my stomach gets bigger. It’s pushing my weight forward so everything has to adjust. I still do The Daily Dose of Dharma yoga DVD, and I also do The 10 Minute Solution to Pre-Natal Pilates. I mix and match them. And I’ve had two kinds of cravings—healthy and not so healthy. The healthy one is plain yogurt that I eat every morning—one-third of those big tubs topped with a banana and what I call “bird seed.” My mom makes that; it’s ground up nuts, flaxseed—just a good omega-3 mix. I have other cravings, but I don’t indulge them. So I’m tuning into my body all over again.
Being an Educational Advocate
I just love math and most people don’t. I noticed there were so many people, especially women, who would come up to me having recognized me from TV and say, “I heard you were a math person, why math? Oh my gosh, I could never do math!” I could just see their self-esteem crumbling; I thought that was silly, so I wanted to make math more friendly and accessible.
You don’t have to love it; you just have to know you can do it. At least these women could have the confidence to say, “I don’t love it, but I can totally handle it,” and that’s what I want to give girls. My message is: You don’t have to give up being popular, fun, or fashionable in order to be smart; they can go hand and hand. Doing math is a great way to exercise your brain; being smart is going to make you more powerful in life.
Singing Math’s Praises— and Other Songs
My husband is a composer, so he plays piano all the time and I sit there and clap telling my unborn child, “Hear me clap, hear the music.” I know music, in general, is supposed to be good for babies to hear. But I sing this one math song—“The Quadratic Formula Song” (laughs). It’s sung to “Pop Goes The Weasel.” “X equals negative B, plus or minus a square root, of B squared minus 4 A C, all over 2 A.” It’s such a cute little song. I went online once and saw a little 2 year old singing it and thought, OK, that’s going to be my child.
Reading, Then and Now
When I was little, we had a Golden Book that had all these Disney characters in one portrait on the first page. My dad used to read from it every night. We’d play this game of find Pluto or find Donald Duck. He’d read us stories and do all the voices. Those are great memories.
Right now, I’m reading a lot about parenthood. I’m reading Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding; and I’ve read her Guide to Childbirth. I’ve read The Vaccine Book from cover to cover. I’m also reading a hypnobirthing book; I have no idea if I will be able to pull that off.
Winnie vs. Danica
I actually think we’re very similar in a lot of ways. She’d probably be doing something like writing math books (laughs). She was a very wholesome, very thoughtful character who believed in giving back. I think the issues on that show dealt with universal issues that had little to do with that era. It was all about growing up and learning about yourself.
I actually believe that the reason I’m able to reach that middle-school audience so well and speak their language in my math books for girls is because I lived that time of life twice—once in my life and one time on TV. I wrote in a journal back then about my experiences on the show and in my life and they were often very similar. So, I think the universality of the show’s messages helped me solidify my own understanding of what I was going through at the time and let’s me be able to talk to girls now.
Mind & Body Connections
I probably cause most of the stress in my life. I generate things to worry about; I have a talent for that. So yoga is not only for my physical well-being but also for my emotional well-being. It’s for your mind and creativity, your emotional life, plus your body— it covers everything. I also get balanced by doing meditation. Even if I only meditate for 15 minutes, it can make a big difference.
I think of it like restarting your computer. We all multitask so much and sometimes it’s important to get in touch with who you are inside, and that can make a big difference for my husband and me.
The plan is, he will be in the room when I deliver, but he’s a little squeamish about blood, so we’ll just hope for the best!