Since I debuted The Cradle Chronicles in August of last year, it has proven to be a fantastic communication tool. Aside from allowing me a much-needed creative outlet, and serving as a journal that my daughter can enjoy reading years from now, blogging has given me a unique opportunity to reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a while. It has become a forum where I can interview some of my celebrity peers, and relate to them on a brand new level… motherhood! These ladies never cease to amaze me with their ability to juggle work, marriage, and children. Not to mention, they somehow pull it off with style and finesse. I imagine I can say the same about many of you who are reading this as well. It’s downright impressive! Since I am still fairly new to parenting, I am greatly inspired by those of you who have been in the throes of motherhood for years already. I know many of you hit the daily grind with aplomb: getting your kids off to school, tackling hours at the office, then coming home to whip up dinner and assist with homework. And you do so with poise and grace, which is incredibly laudable in my book! This brings me to…
I’ve known Melissa Joan Hart for decades, and talk about style and finesse; she has it in spades! She is the epitome of a mom who maintains everything flawlessly. (She might not agree with that assessment, but that’s how I perceive it and I’m sticking to it!) As a bit of background, Melissa and I are both byproducts of an East Coast upbringing. We met at auditions in New York City during the 80’s, and we’ve always been supportive of one another in our endeavors. We were part of a fairly elite group of child actors who worked consistently back then, which I believe formed an intangible link between us. It seemed there was a much smaller circle of us in those days and, for the most part, everyone knew everyone. I was friendly with most of the girls I lost roles to, which I happened to find reassuring. If I didn’t get a part I was aching for, there was satisfaction in knowing someone I respected had gotten it instead. That camaraderie instilled a very deep-rooted sense of community for me, and I’ve been incredibly happy to witness some of those folks continue their success. Melissa is, without question, one of the chief examples. While we’ve lost touch on and off over the years, I’m always delighted to catch up with her; her positive energy is infectious. We’ve run into each other on many occasions, even randomly spotting one another at a museum in Venice, Italy. We also experienced a Middle East adventure together quite a few years ago, while participating in a USO Tour. That trip may have fused our bond above all else. That said, though those experiences were a window into Melissa’s life, they occurred during our pre-mommy days. It’s neat to reflect on the evolution we’ve both gone through since then, and I’m excited to have some insight into how she handles it all.
I have the utmost respect for Melissa’s career path, as she has carved a niche for herself. In advance of the interview, I suppose I could lay her resume out for you, pointing to her notable roles on Clarissa Explains It All, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, and her newest endeavor, Melissa & Joey. But I think her career speaks for itself. Instead, I’d like to focus on a role I find equally notable: that of wife and mother. Melissa successfully tackles show business while simultaneously nurturing her husband and children… Now that’s a true success story! I’ll let her interview tell you the rest.
JENNA: You and I have both been acting since we were very young. I’m always thrilled, and perhaps a bit relieved, to see one of my peers make a smooth transition from “child star” into adult actor, without the drama generally associated with it. Not to mention, I have the utmost respect for your simultaneous shift into devoted spouse and parent! (You are working with my former Blossom costar, Joey Lawrence, and I’m happy to say the same can be said for him.) What helped you through those difficult adolescent years? What got you beyond the hurdles, without succumbing to the stereotype?
MELISSA: I think it’s impossible to point out one thing that helped me keep my head on during those strange years. Being a teen is tough enough without the added pressure of a full time job, in front of a very judgmental world. But if I have to give credit to one thing it would be my mommy. She taught me to be careful with myself and others. I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility for my family and my career, and I think that was another helpful trait.
JENNA: As a child actor starring in a television series, you had to juggle school, a social life, and work. As an adult, you have a marriage and motherhood to contend with. Was/is one significantly harder than the other?
MELISSA:I found school to be extremely difficult while working. Sabrina was a breeze compared to Clarissa (probably because I wasn’t traveling from my family in New York to my work in Orlando), mainly because I didn’t have to run to the school trailer between scenes. The combination of school and work made for a ton of memorization and brainwork. Most teens don’t want to deal with that when they could be worrying about make-out sessions and prom dates. Now on Melissa and Joey, it is very difficult to balance my young boys with a hectic work schedule. Once again, it involves traveling across the country. But I have the perspective now to know this show won’t last forever. I need to make sacrifices to carve out time for my family, and I can’t do everything I want, or sometimes need to do, for my career. My kids will grow up and I don’t want to miss that. Hopefully work will be there when they are grown.
JENNA: With your husband‘s success in the music industry, and your accomplished TV & film career, your boys are surrounded by artistic influence. If my memory serves me correctly, most of your siblings are involved in the entertainment industry as well. Would you encourage your children to get into show business? What would your advice be for them?
MELISSA: I am definitely going to push them to find other interests, while also encouraging the arts. Mason recently tasted a bit of the Hollywood bug when, in our church’s Christmas pageant, he had a solo in We Three Kings. He was glowing in the praise he received from the congregation afterwards. While I was incredibly proud of him, I got a little fearful when he started to get that creepy smile after his umpteenth compliment. I’m pushing for architect or hockey player these days for mason and Brady. They can act after college if they still want.
JENNA: You recently had your third son, Tucker. I imagine you’re quite the busy bee these days since you are also starring in, and producing, Melissa & Joey. How do you balance everything so gracefully?
MELISSA: My iCal on my iPhone keeps me organized, but I also have to pick a priority everyday. Right now my main job is feeding and bonding with Tucker, and making sure the other boys don’t feel neglected. At the end of November, most of my priorities outside of the boys were getting back into a workout routine and finishing the manuscript of my memoir Melissa Explains it All. January will be spending time with our East Coast friends and making plans to move the family back to LA for the rest of the school year, to work on season 3 of Melissa and Joey. But some days, the priority is Mason’s hockey game. Some days it’s working on Brady’s school activity, and some days it’s going to the movies with Mark. Some days it’s a press day in NYC for a project I’m working on. It’s really a different day every day. It’s never a boring day in our household.
JENNA: How difficult was it to work around your pregnancy, from a storyline standpoint? Similarly, most folks don’t realize the amount of energy it takes to be funny for hours on end… Were there days when you were too nauseous or exhausted to be “on?”
MELISSA: I was so blessed to have 2012 off from our show to be pregnant. I was expecting to work from January until May, but ended up not having to shoot, so I could just enjoy my boys and my East Coast life, and not have to hide anything for work. I let it all hang out.
JENNA: You are the oldest child in a large family. Did that incite early parenting desires? Did you always anticipate having a big family? And on that same note, is your family still growing? (Don’t you just love when people ask if you want more kids when you’ve JUST given birth to the last one?
MELISSA: Yes, it’s always hilarious when people immediately ask what comes next after a giant milestone. Wedding night question is, “When will you get pregnant?” and it doesn’t stop until you’re 45, I think. I’m the oldest of 8 kids, and I always wanted a big family, but honestly didn’t know if I could possibly ask for a solid marriage and healthy kids on top of the wonderful career I’ve been blessed with. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world!
JENNA: I read that Dancing with the Stars helped you to lose the baby weight after your second pregnancy. Since most women don’t have a built-in outlet such as that one available, what can you recommend for your fellow working moms?
MELISSA: I actually lost the weight when I had the pressure of being on the cover of People magazine in a bikini earlier that year. But dancing helped, for sure. Moms need to remember it is 75% what you eat, and only a quarter working out, to lose or maintain weight. The most effective and simple way to lose weight is to slowly and realistically start making changes in your diet so that you make a lifestyle change and don’t crash diet. That way, you don’t have to starve yourself or suffer the yoyo. My favorite way to change things up is to find a delicious protein shake for breakfast and add some fiber to it. When I do that for dinner a few nights a week too, I really see a difference.
JENNA: You are currently writing your memoir, Melissa Explains It All. What sort of sneak preview can you give us? Is it namely about your childhood and career experiences, or can we also expect some stories from your adventures in motherhood?
MELISSA: It’s stories from my life: everything from my childhood audition scene to my embarrassing mommy-tales. It’s about the people that impacted my life in positive ways, like Calista Flockhart, and in massive ways like my mother. It helps answer the question I get everyday, “How did you end up so normal?”
JENNA: You and your mom partnered up to form your company, Hartbreak films. I’ve always admired your initiative and acute business acumen. I also appreciate your ability to create your own work. How long ago did you start the company, what encouraged you to do so, and how do you choose the projects to pursue?
MELISSA: We started Hartbreak in 1994, when we realized I was only being offered roles that my mom found inappropriate for my Clarissa audience. Together, we produced Sabrina and Melissa and Joey, as well as numerous TV movies and a feature film in 2010 called Nine Dead. We’ve had a lot of fun and success being in control of our own projects.
JENNA: You recently moved to Connecticut with your family. Since I grew up there, I’m very partial to it! That said, what made you and your husband decide to move across the country from the town you are currently filming in? I suspect there’s some element of culture shock, given the spectrum of life in Los Angeles vs. life in Connecticut. How is everyone settling in?
MELISSA: Mark is from Alabama and I’m from Long Island, but have lived all over the place, so I adapt easily to any place. We wanted a place to raise our boys with great schools and a ”community feel,” and we have found that in Connecticut. Even with the recent unimaginable tragedy in your hometown of Newtown, the schools remain the safest and some of the best in the country. We have made incredible friends and have amazing neighbors. We wouldn’t trade it for anything!
JENNA: With three boys, I can only imagine the woeful tales of testosterone in your household! Would you mind sharing a favorite funny anecdote or two, so we can commiserate?
MELISSA: The older boys love to point out that I am the only girl in the house. They are fascinated with their private parts these days, and I have to constantly remind them to get their hands out of their pants in public and at home. I don’t remember my mom ever yelling, “Get your hands out of your pants.” I constantly ask them if they have to pee, or if they are just checking to see that it’s still there. They usually answer that they are just checking.
JENNA: What is the most important thing being a mom has taught you?
MELISSA: Time is precious.
A huge thanks to Melissa for taking time out of her busy schedule to catch up with an old friend. You are a class act, and I admire you!
Until next time… Peace, Love, and Dirty Diapers,
Jenna von Oy
PS. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter! And if you haven’t yet checked out last week’s post, ”Laughter Is The Best Medicine,” scroll down and read about my zany doctor’s visit!