As her daughter Naleigh takes her first steps and begins talking, Katherine Heigl is learning a lot too – about herself and motherhood.
“I’m a lot more strict than I thought I would be,” Heigl says, laughing, at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ball in New York.
“I really feel like discipline and manners, a good schedule, a good night sleep and a good nap are really important. I didn’t think I would be quite so like that.”
Heigl, 31, who was being honored at the event for her service to animal rescue, is also surprised to find herself getting emotional while watching a movie or TV show involving a mother-daughter relationship.
“It is so gut wrenching in a way that I could have never predicted,” she says. “You have this empathy suddenly -– this compassion for a mother going through anything complicated or difficult with a child. It’s something that I understand now –- that unbelievable drive and instinct to protect.”
Not that she’s doing it alone.
“I really could not have imagined a better father for [Naleigh]“, she says of her musician hubby Josh Kelley.
“She’s the luckiest little kid. We call him “Disneyland Dad” because as soon as he comes in it’s just fun and happiness — and she rides around the room on his shoulders.”
Adds Heigl: “He’s [also] fantastic with diapers, food, naptime, playtime – he’s got it all.”
Heigl’s mom, Nancy, concurs: “Both her and Josh are wonderful, wonderful parents,” she tells PEOPLE. “They just adore her.”
As for her granddaughter, “Naleigh has a real strong personality,” she says. “She’s really a wonderful little girl. We all squeeze her and kiss her on the cheek. She’s very round and very adorable. She’s almost edible!”
Sixteen-month-old Naleigh, meanwhile, has started to walk and talk on her own. Her first word? “It was ‘hi,’” Heigl says. “And then she would go, ‘Oh yeah!’ all the time. She would be playing with her toys and go, ‘Oh yeah!’ in that inflection. It’s genius!”
– Paul Chi