March 9, 2010
A Green Jew Mama: Q & A With Mayim Bialik
Mayim Bialik, best known for her role as Blossom in the 90’s sitcom of the same name, has since graduated from UCLA with a Ph.D. in neuroscience, is the mother of two toddler boys and the celebrity spokesperson for Holistic Moms Network. Mayim talks about her recent return to acting, holistic parenting, and Judaism, and even shares her recipes for homemade baby wipes and shampoo.
Jew Mama: You are a Jew Mama as well, and outspoken about your traditional Jewish observance as well as your holistic beliefs and practices. Have you found that these two worlds clash, or do they compliment each other?
Mayim Bialik: I was raised in a reform community, but the concept of tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) is one of the concepts I remember most strongly. I was really raised with this inherent concept that we are responsible for the planet and being kind to other people. Once I became more interested in holistic and green living as an adult, it sort of felt like a natural extension of my upbringing and my conscious decision to live a more observant Jewish lifestyle.
JM: Are there times when your holistic and Jewish views clash?
MB: Circumcision is the hotspot of my universe as a holistic green parent. On the West Coast, circumcision is really not done for the most part in a lot of holistic and green circles. It is aggressively and angrily debated and it’s something very difficult. Both of my boys received traditional circumcisions, however, as men in our tribe have for many of years. I think that is the number one thing that is in theoretical conflict with what most people in our community our doing. That is not to say that it is a philosophical conflict. And that is the thing about both my choice to live holistically as part of my global community and also my decision to appreciate the traditions of Judaism that say that when you think you are right, you are wrong.
JM: You mentioned you became holistic in your adult life.
MB: Fully holistic. I was always one of those teenagers who was an environmentalist. I started recycling when people thought I was crazy. I loved animals and stopped eating them. But did I ever think that I would make my own baby wipes solution, shampoo and granola? No. That was not what I pictured for myself.
JM: Did the process of becoming more observant as a Jew and more holistic happen simultaneously for you?
MB: My husband and I became more observant during our courtship. We dated for five years and have been married for almost seven. So, it is the last ten to twelve years of both of our lives that we started examining this aspect of both our observance and our lifestyle.
JM: You’ve recently returned to acting again. Has it been more difficult this time as an adult, a mother and an observant Jew?
MB: (Jokingly) My lifestyle is impossible. I think for any mother, no matter what kind of mother she is, to work - is hard. I’m still new in getting back to work. I’ve chosen as a Jewish woman not to wear pants for about two and a half years now. It hasn’t been a problem so far. I have not had to work on Shabbat, but I can’t say that I will never be asked to work on Shabbat. I did an independent film last year and there was work scheduled on Yom Kippur. I was extremely grateful that I was not scheduled to work that day. At this point, I think it has been more of a lucky coincidence that there hasn’t been conflict.
JM: From a holistic standpoint, has working in Hollywood gotten easier or more difficult?
MB: Holistically, it has gotten much easier, especially in L.A. I worked on Secret Life and I went to the catering truck. As a vegan, I pretty much can’t eat anything that’s out on the buffet, but they also make custom breakfasts. The guy in the truck knows that I want a vegan burrito and that is not a problem at all. It is also very common for everyone to recycle on set and there is really that kind of consciousness. There is still a lot of waste in Hollywood and a tremendous amount of materialism and consumerism, which is one of my biggest pet peeves about our culture.
JM: You are also a celebrity spokesperson for Holistic Moms Network. Can you talk about some of the beliefs and parenting styles and how you got involved with HMN?
MB: I joined Holistic Moms Network when my first son was born about four years ago. It’s a non-profit organization; like a support group, with over one hundred chapters. I joined because the kind of parenting that I was doing was not talked about at the local moms groups I tried to go to. In HMN the general scope of our parenting style was the same and we believed in a traditional style of parenting: keeping your child close to you, natural births and breastfeeding when possible and preferred, and doing research and talking about all the things that individuals may choose to do. I met an encyclopedia of people who were into gentle discipline and attachment parenting. We say you find your tribe in HMN and I really did. I have really only been the celebrity spokesperson in the last year or so.
JM: One of the practices in attachment parenting is bed sharing, otherwise known as a family bed. Since it is not the norm in our country, what do you have to say about all the negative attention it receives and the belief that it is dangerous for the child?
MB: Obviously there are restrictions and rules, and Dr. Sears (attachment parenting authority) has highlighted them specifically in all of his parenting and baby books. For those of us who bed share, as people have for all of human history, except for the last two hundred years, we know: a baby’s body temperature is regulated when you sleep next to it, there is no crib death when your baby is not in a crib and when your baby is next to you and you hear every breath and you know when something’s wrong. We have mattresses on the floor. We gave up on the idea of a big fancy high bed and have made changes to our life and our relationship by making this commitment.
JM: Most people who don’t bed share are probably wondering how you get to have ‘Mommy and Daddy time’ when you share a bed with your children?
MB: We find ‘Mommy and Daddy time’ not in the bedroom. That is the most general answer and the truth. We bought a really large television when our first son was born, because we had a feeling we wouldn’t be going out much and we were right. We have dates in the TV room, watching movies and shows that we like. That is ok with us because we decided to make it ok. I do not expect to have the same relationship with my husband after kids as I did before.
JM: For the most part, do you and your husband see eye to eye on your parenting choices?
MB: We did not always. He only recently stopped eating meat of his own accord, but he agreed that we could raise our children vegan, even when he was eating meat and dairy. There have been a lot of compromises.
JM: Is there some practice or belief that you wanted to implement where your husband just looked at you like you are weird?
MB: (jokingly) I thought he was going to divorce me when I told him I wanted to do the diaper-free “elimination communication” (toilet training practice) with my older son. He thought I was insane, which I may have been. But when our first son stopped pooping and peeing in his diaper before he was a year old, my husband became a believer.
JM: What are some of the misconceptions of holistic/attachment parenting?
MB: I think that people assume that people who practice attachment parenting are either wealthy, white, middle or upper class, sort of elitists, can afford a lot of help to be holistic, and get a lot of help or financial support from parents or their trust funds. People also assume on the other spectrum that we are really out of touch with reality and want to live off the grid. We think there should be total anarchy and that our kids can do whatever they want whenever they want. There are no boundaries. We create spoiled, manipulative, clingy, dependent children who will not be productive members of society. And those of us who choose to homeschool are creating menaces who won’t be able to be part of whatever comes next in our culture. The final assumption is that we are martyrs and like getting up on this soapbox and judging other people. Obviously, this is not true.
JM: You spend most of your time with your children. What do you enjoy doing most as an individual?
MB: There are a lot of things I enjoy doing. I enjoy hiking, exercising, cooking. I like a lot of old fashioned traditional things like cleaning the house. My husband and I watch Heroes and Lost. I really love reading and Jewish study. I’m teaching our older son piano. That’s been really enjoyable. We are a homeschooling family, so that is mainly what my days are like. I teach two home school classes in the week: a neuroscience class and a Hebrew school class for kids. Simple pleasures.
JM: Do you get a lot of “me” time?
MB: I don’t have enough me time. I am exhausted. I don’t always get to shower. I hopefully brush my teeth twice a day. I don’t always remember to take my vitamins. I don’t eat perfectly. But, I believe as a feminist that part of my power as a woman is to raise these children that have been entrusted to me. And there is much more to me than being a mom, but right now I only have this job - I can only do it right once and I am going to do my best.
JM: Passover is around the corner. Are you getting ready? What does it look like in your home: a vegan Passover?
MB: We make our own Haggadah in our family. So my husband and I are putting the finishing touches on our own Haggadah for Passover this year. It is difficult. There is nothing more difficult than being an observant vegan Ashkenazi (Jew of European decent). Pesach for a vegan looks like a lot of unhealthy food basically, meaning a lot of sweets, which is something we usually do not do. I make my own almond milk for Pesach that only lasts a couple days because it will spoil. So depending when yontif (a Jewish holiday or festival) falls, it sometimes is an almond milk-less couple days. I think the Torah was specifically leaving out quinoa for vegans. Quinoa with anything, really. It’s hard for vegans who don’t eat kitniot (“small things” - grains and legumes). Thank goodness for fruits and vegetables. I don’t know what we are going to do with the Seder plate. In past years I have had a little bit of shank bone and egg. I think we may borrow my mom’s or something.
JM: What do you say to moms with older children that say, “enjoy it, it goes by so fast?”
MB: I say, “you know what? It doesn’t feel like it is going fast. I am on duty twelve hours a day and half duty all night. I am really getting the most out of every day, I promise.”
Mayim shares her recipes for homemade baby shampoo and wipes (taken from different sources):
Baby and Kid’s Shampoo
(It’s concentrated so that you only need a couple of sprays on a wet head.)
Put water in a spray bottle.
Baby Wipes Solution:
Combine 1 cup water with 3 drops of lavender oil and 2 drops of tea tree oil.
( I used to make about 4 cups at a time and store it in a cleaned-out glass bottle that they sell fancy lemonade in at Trader Joe’s etc. Or keep it in a spray bottle or peribottle (which they give you to rinse off your nether regions when you leave the hospital!) and spray onto cloths, washcloths, or (heaven forbid!!!) paper towels. You can also soak cloths in the solution and keep them in a sealed Tupperware container.