“Robert didn’t want me to talk to you.”
“I understand, Mrs. DeVries, and I really appreciate you taking the time.”
“I don’t know what I can tell you that you don’t already know. And you seem to know a lot.”
“I don’t, really. I have puzzle pieces, tiny pieces, but I’m not trying to just piece history together here. I want to know who Joy really is.”
“Ha. I don’t think you came to the right place then, dear.”
“Or at least, who she was when she was young, before she disappeared on you.”
“I never wanted her to get into acting. Especially not as a child. Child actors have a terrible time of things… This is one time I don’t like to be right.”
“When you’re comfortable, why don’t you tell me what she was like when she was little? Before the fame.”
“Oh, she was a damn handful, that girl. I never had any other kids, so I suppose I don’t have a good frame of reference, but I used to babysit most of the neighborhood from my teens well into motherhood and never once did I have a child in my care that needed as much care as my little Joy. She was the sweetest thing when she was in the mood for it, but just exhausting most of the time. As a baby she didn’t want to be put down. Ever.
You know, they say that attachment parenting results in very independent children? It’s trendy to wear your babies everywhere, sleep with them? With Joy I didn’t have a choice. From birth, she was attached to me, and it was well into her toddler years before I could get her to sleep alone. Once she started talking, she became more physically independent, but constantly needed to be conversing. At very loud volumes. She was so cute. If I was busy cooking, I’d just nod and say ‘yes, dear, very nice,’ and she’d scrunch up her little face and scream ‘don’t just say YES!’ It was frustrating at the time, but now looking back, how intuitive she was. She knew when I was just trying to wave her off, and when I was really listening. Smart cookie.
When she hit about three, that was when the drama started. Big, giant tantrums, over the tiniest little thing, and then when I was at my wit’s end with her carrying on, she’d just stop, as if flipping a switch. She was pretending, gauging my reactions. It was almost creepy, in a way. That she could mimic these massive emotions so easily and then turn it off so quickly. Used to drive Robert crazy. He’d go nuts, send her to her room and then stomp angrily around the house for hours afterwards. If I’m being honest, he was just as big of a drama queen as she was back then.”
“So she wasn’t close with her father?”
“That’s… well. Not in the general sense. He was a good dad, when he was paying attention. But if he wasn’t… if he was doing something else, he was very focused and ignored everything else going on around him. So you can imagine what a nuisance a very talkative, extroverted little girl would be to someone like that. I think I spoiled her extra on the days when she’d get upset over that… I felt bad that she just wanted him to engage with her and he was too wrapped up in a TV show or something. I was exhausted, taking care of both of them, but I wanted her to have a happy life.”
“Is that how she ended up acting?”
“[sigh] Yes. She wanted to do it so badly. One of her friends in Kindergarten had an audition for a commercial, and it was all she could talk about. ’Mommy, I want to be on TV, Mia gets to be on TV, why can’t I be on TV, mommy mommy pleeeease let me be on TV!’ Robert ignored it. I tried to ask him for his input, but he claimed it wasn’t his decision. I read up on the industry as much as I could and I didn’t like what I saw, but she wanted to do it so badly… eventually I gave in. And she got the cereal commercial.”
“Was she excited?”
“Over the moon. And then everything was acting, all the time. Her teachers were constantly calling home because she was so disruptive in class, constantly acting out, putting on impromptu shows, ugh, it was hell. But she was so happy. When we got the call for Bonky Wonky, I got her a private tutor so she wouldn’t have to be in that school anymore.”
“Did she enjoy Bonky Wonky?”
“For a while. At the beginning she was learning so much. Mark had a great team that was so good with the kids, and they did great work giving them pointers and classes outside of shooting. She was learning a lot, a lot that she’s carried into Joy Daisy, I think.”
“You said, ‘for a while’ though, did she stop enjoying it at some point during that four years?”
“I… I don’t know. This is where it gets difficult. She was a challenging child, yes, but very driven in what she wanted to do. Bonky Wonky gave her lots of skills, and she quickly focused all of her energy into acting. Her grades weren’t very good, but she was passing enough to keep Robert happy. He didn’t like to be involved with her work at all, but as long as she was still passing school he kept out of it. Not like she had a lot of school work, being so young, but she was a lot more focused on the show than math or spelling.
But about two years in, she just… withdrew. Her performance didn’t falter, and she still seemed to want to go and work, but at home she was different. At the time I just figured she was growing up, getting older, not so energetic all the time, but looking back, I think I was in denial that something was wrong. I didn’t want to admit that I’d maybe made a mistake in letting her get into the industry at such a young age.”
“What do you think happened?”
“I don’t know. There were lots of kids on that show, and she never talked about them. It’s weird to think that she spent so much time there, and never mentioned making friends. I wonder if there were personal issues, bullying, maybe? I didn’t see them interacting much unless they were shooting, so I can’t be sure. It’s possible that’s what was going on. I just… I carry the guilt to this day at not being perceptive enough… not being there enough. I rag on Robert for being so ignorant of our child and then I let that happen to her, without even noticing it until it was too late.”
“Is that why you pulled her from Bonky Wonky?”
“I didn’t, actually, she aged out, they said. I suppose eight years old was the top of their limit, and even though they enjoyed having her there—so they said—she was too old to continue being on it. She was such a tiny thing, I think she could have easily stayed on for a few more years, but that was it.”
“But she didn’t pursue anything else until Joy Daisy.”
“She wanted to. I got away with telling her there were just no auditions for a long time. She was young enough that she wasn’t out there searching on her own. By the time she hit her teen years, though, she caught on to the fact that I just wasn’t looking. By then our relationship wasn’t the best anyway. She was a good girl, stayed out of trouble, passable grades… but still so withdrawn. She didn’t talk to me other than the bare necessities. Dinners were quiet. I tried to make conversation, but Robert didn’t engage either so Joy just endured until she was done eating and then go to her room.
She blew up at me once, accused me of keeping her from her dreams, and I reacted badly, I know. I told her when she was out on her own she could do what she wanted, but if she was living with me she had to do what I said. It wasn’t my finest moment. And it backfired when she left at sixteen. My baby, not even an adult yet, taking off into the world on her own. Because I… because I…”
“It’s okay, I’m sorry, Mrs. DeVries, take your time.”
“I just… it’s a rock and a hard place. I wanted her to be happy, I really did, but I was so afraid of doing the wrong thing. Maybe I should have let her keep doing auditions, keep acting. I know I should have been more involved with her. Could I have gotten her to open up to me more, had been more engaged in her life, been her friend? I tried to do what I thought was best, but I don’t know what was best.
We’re all just flapping around not knowing what to do, just trying desperately to keep these tiny humans alive that we’ve birthed, let alone trying to take care of their emotional and mental health so they can be functional adults. I can’t look back and say I did everything I could for her. But if I could go back in time, I don’t know what would have been the right choice. Does anyone really know what’s best for their child?”