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If Hoda Kotb had written the story of her life, she never would have predicted her leading man breezing in just ahead of her 50th birthday, but TODAY's star wouldn't have it any other way.
While it'd be hard to encapsulate all the traits that make Hoda Kotb so darn likable, we'd know what would top our list.
It's a little practice TODAY's beloved co-anchor squeezes in shortly after her 3 a.m. alarm rouses her awake. "First thing in the morning, I try to scribble in a journal real quick, literally for 10 minutes or less," she noted to Chico's Inside Chic in 2016. Lest she lose track of all the blessings in her life, "I write three things I'm grateful for and one great thing that happened in the last 24 hours."
That tidbit needn't be something grand. "For example, I had a meaningful conversation with a stranger on the street," she noted. "Or I'm running in the park and I'm about to stop, when an old guy throws his fists up and yells, 'Keep going, keep going.' You go, 'Oh my God, yes, I'm going to keep going.'" A solid metaphor for her life, if we ever did hear one, BTW.
A ritual so simple, it helps her bounce back from any of life's unpleasantness. "That way, you start thinking about the positive," she reasoned. "You start looking for the good things in the course of your day."
And when it comes to big picture stuff, she needn't look all that hard.
There are her girls, of course, 3-year-old Haley Joy and 16-month-old Hope Catherine overhauling every inch of her life in the best possible way. And there's the career she painstakingly put together, the broadcast journalist moving from markets in Greenville, Miss., to Moline, Ill., swallowing rejections from some 27 news directors en route to landing at NBC News in 1998.
And then there's Joel Schiffman, the financier who swept in during the waning years of her fifth decade and showed her that life's next big blessing can be waiting around any corner.
So, really, does the 56-year-old even need a birthday wish today?
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"If someone had said to me when I was a little girl, 'Hey Hoda, guess what your life is going to be like: When you're 49 or 50, you're going to meet the guy you're going to fall in love with, and you're going to have children at 55 and 56,' I would have been like, 'What?'" she reflected to People in December, mere days after accepting Schiffman's beach proposal in Mexico. "It just shows you, the perfect life for you, and this is for me, is exactly as it comes."
The brief marriage to tennis coach Burzis Kanga in her 40s, the subsequent two-year relationship with lawyer Jay Blumenkopf, even the heartbreaking battle with breast cancer that she once worried had robbed her of the chance to have children, were all part of her personal journey. "Everything may look out of order, and it kind of feels it a little bit," she allowed to People, "but it is all right on time."
It's a truth that coalesced fully for her earlier this year as she sat with Schiffman after their girls had gone to bed, she shared on E!'s Pop of the Morning in January: "And I thought, 'Man, if anyone has blessings that they wonder like, when are they coming? If anyone does…your time is coming, you just don't know when.'"
For Kotb it was at a 2013 industry event she'd just as soon have skipped. "You know how you don't feel like it because it's raining and icky and why not just watch a Law and Order re-run and stay home and eat potato chips?" she reasoned to HuffPost Live the following year.
Except her ever-growing popularity as one half of Kathie Lee & Hoda meant that she was supposed to deliver a speech that night to "a bunch of Wall Street guys," as she put it on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen in 2015 and "they were bored." Afterwards, she was autographing books for the investment bankers' aunts and grandmothers when Schiffman came into view, "He was next in line and he goes, 'Can you sign this?' And I said, 'Who should I write it to?' And he said, 'How about to me?'"
Suddenly her interest was piqued, joked Kotb, imitating her noticeable shift, "I said, 'How 'bout to you?'" Now in full journalist mode, "I asked someone from the place, 'Will you find out his situation?'" she recalled, noting she hadn't spied a wedding ring. "And she said she was on it. And then she emailed him and he emailed me and asked me out on a date."
Their romance two years in at that point, she was finally ready to share all about the mystery suitor previously known only as Boots. "It can get wrecked," she reasoned to Andy Cohen about dating in a world where you're expected to spill on morning squabbles to millions of viewers, so she decided to keep it to herself, only coming clean once it was "so solid." She remained, of course, deeply grateful that she's not the type of person to bail on a responsibility, the night that felt like an annoying commitment leading her to "the best guy."
Which, he was. A graduate of UCLA and Penn's Wharton School, the head of intermediary distribution at Schroder Investment Management, Schiffman is the kind of guy who sends a "just thinking of you text" each morning, timing it so the sweet missive pops onto Kotb's phone as she begins her day at work. "Right when I'm sitting down," she told Closer Weekly in 2015, "I get a text that says, 'I miss you,' 'I love you.' It's sweet."
With their partnership they'd struck the perfect balance between comfort, Kotb calling it "one of the most natural relationships I've ever been in," and that all-important passionate spark. As she told People, "He's a guy that gives me butterflies again at 50-years-old."
Particularly when he dropped those all-important three little words.
"I remember him saying it to me," she recently reflected on TODAY. "And after he said it, I remember just sitting there because I wanted to feel it for a minute." Taking in the moment as the joy washed over her, "He goes, 'Don't leave me hanging out here in the abyss,'" she continued. "And I told him I loved him, too, but I remember thinking to be the first person to say it is risky and that takes guts. And it's easy to be the one who says, 'I love you, too,' and I will always admire him because he has guts."
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And a heart every bit as giving as hers. Because few moments have left the Oklahoma native more riddled with nerves than when she broached the subject of children with Schiffman, already the dad to a grown daughter.
"I was afraid to even say it out loud, because then it felt so real," she recalled to People after Haley's 2017 arrival. After she revealed that she'd like to adopt a baby with him, "I said, 'Think about it for a day or a week or whatever.'" His response left her floored—and confident she'd found the perfect partner. "He said, 'I don't need a day. Let's get this journey going,'" she said. "At that point I blubbered like a baby. It was like the dam burst."
In fall of 2016—as she and Schiffman were moving into their first apartment together—she started the application process. "They said, 'We can't make any promises. We wish you good luck,'" she told E! News. That's when she turned to her trusty journal, jotting down the same words over and over. "Every night I scribbled, 'Please God, if you can…'"
In the four years since she made that plea the focus of her daily habit, it's been answered twice over with Hope arriving last April to join Valentine's Day baby Haley.
And Kotb hasn't ruled out bringing another child into the fold: "I was scribbling in my journal and I was asking myself that question," she said during a January stop on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. "And I wrote in there, 'I'm wondering if we should." And then I wrote, 'Do we have enough love?' and I wrote, 'Yes.' And I said, 'Do we have enough time?' And I wrote, 'Yes.' And I said, 'Would our family be more enhanced?' I wrote, 'Yes.' So, I was thinking maybe the answer is yes."
Diving back into the world of matrimony, however, was never quite as important. In fact, after her first go-round, Kotb had all but ruled it out—though things change when the love of your life breezes in. "I've gone down that road once, so I would've normally said, 'Definitely not,'" she admitted to E! News in 2016, "so the fact that I'm saying, 'I don't know' is saying something."
Her answer was upgraded to a maybe by 2018—"I feel like there's not a rush other than we're old, and we probably, if we're going to do it, we might as well do it," she shared with DeGeneres, "but I think it's fun like this"—and than an unequivocal yes by the time he knelt in the sand during their seaside dinner in Mexico last November.
"I was eating the churros," she recalled on TODAY, having spilled her news by telling her coanchors, "A friend of ours asked me to let you guys in on a secret. Well, I'll give you her initials. Her initials are Hoda Kotb and she's engaged!"
And now that she had the ring and a willing dress shopper in mom Sameha Kotb—"If I'm wearing a good outfit, she picked it," the bride-to-be shared on Pop of the Morning—they might as well do the darn thing.
It'll be "sooner rather than later because we think, 'Why are we waiting?" she shared on TODAY with Hoda and Jenna in December. "We're already getting it together. We just want to do it."
One potential plan, she continued, involved ditching the coordinated bridesmaids and other unnecessary extras and bringing their favorites to the Mexican resort where he'd proposed: "Lots of margaritas and Mexican food. Keep the tequila on tap! But, we haven't thought about it too much, nothing we do is about bells and whistles in that way. If he said let's do it right now, I would. All I want it to be is fun and happy and everybody to feel easy breezy."
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Which is just a touch harder in the times of COVID-19.
By June, with their destination affair already put together, it became increasingly clear that they would, in fact, have to wait. "We were kind of holding out to see what could happen but the destination that we were going to is turning into one of the hot spots so it looks like we may have to postpone," she revealed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. "We're kind of bummed about that because the place we were going was like our favorite place on Earth. We love it there."
And while she'd like to say the trappings of her romance aren't as important as the bond itself—"I know we should say, 'Who cares, it doesn't matter'"—she'd be lying if she insisted it wasn't a blow. "We waited a long time," she said, "so I sure hope we get to have it."
Should she require a pick-me-up, though (outside of the Mykonos bachelorette bash proposed by E!'s own Justin Sylvester), she need only consult her trusty notebook of gratitudes. Or simply look across her New York City penthouse to her favorite quarantine buddy.
"I'm with the best person on Earth. I know a thousand times over," she told DeGeneres of what she's learned the past few months. "Being cooped up, you know right away if you chose right and I know I did."
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