We know her as Blossom, that spunky adolescent on that eponymous sitcom. But since the series ended in 1995, Mayim Bialik, now 33, has truly blossomed. She's earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA, married her college sweetheart, taken on more acting roles, and had two sons. It was that latter development that led her to be the spokesperson for Holistic Moms Network, a nonprofit promoting mothering practices she already espoused: a vegetarian diet, elimination communication, Waldorf-inspired education, a mostly media-free environment, bedsharing, slings instead of strollers, and homemade hygiene products. When I interviewed her for Sierra magazine over the phone, it was over happy background noises made by kids and cats.
Q: So you're ramping up your acting career again?
A: Yeah, I guess I am. I was on the path to being a research professor. I just found that it wasn't going to be compatible to be away from my children all day.
Q: Many child actors seem to grow up into Hollywood's materialism. What was your path to going the other way?
A: I come from a very poor background. My grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe, so I always identified with a modest lifestyle. My mom is hip, trendy, and loves shopping, but maybe I inherited the spirit of my great-grandmother and shtetl living. Even when I was 11, I always felt out of sorts getting dressed up. But I enjoyed performing and pretending and felt very comfortable on stage. I never thought I'd become famous. I just enjoyed making people laugh. I'm an old-fashioned performer. I like to sing, I like to dance, I like to have a script and make it come to life.
Q: Why is it important for you to be an environmentally conscious mom?
A: I feel a strong personal responsibility as a member of the planet to live this way. For me, it's worth the effort, time, and research to make it work. We have a collective responsibility for the planet that I'm going to leave to my kids and their kids.
Q: What are the most important elements involved in green mothering?
A: Gentle discipline. Not hitting, not yelling, being a compassionate parent to your child's needs. Raising sensitive, happy, secure children is the best gift we can give.
Q: How do you raise kids holistically when their friends are eating junk food?
A: I think when you're with your child, a lot of these issues aren't as scary. I know what they're eating and I know what they're doing. Their friends' parents understand their vegetarian and no-TV needs. I give them age-appropriate messages. It's just like most parents don't allow alcohol or cigarettes. I tell them that everyone does things differently and that's OK. It's very important to us to raise nonjudgmental children who don't go finger-wagging. When they're driving themselves around, they're going to make their own decisions, but fast food isn't something I'm gonna facilitate. Still, at some point they"re going to make their own decisions. You give your children wings so they can fly.
Q: Cloth or disposable diapers, and why?
A: Cloth when we're out. At home, we use elimination communication, which is used in many places of the world. When I first learned about it I thought I was the craziest thing I've ever heard. But it's being talked about a lot more. It's a diaper-free movement that's based on the fact that children give signals. It's a really profound level of communicating with your child. My second son was dry by 11 months. It's more potty-training the adult than the kid. And it's not for everyone, that's for sure. You need to be with your child all the time to learn the signals. My husband was so skeptical but he became a believer very quickly.
Q: There are those who would say that having kids at all is bad for the planet. How do you view that choice?
A: I do understand that statement. At two kids, we're at replacement level. My husband and I never considered not having children. Coming from a traditional Jewish family, it was in line with our religion to create a physical representation of ourselves.
Q: You're highly involved in L.A.'s Jewish community. How does (or doesn't) Judaism coincide with green living?
A: I was raised in Reform Judaism, which is very focused on tikkun olam [a Jewish belief that individuals have a responsibility to, as the phrase translates, "repair the world"], so that was a huge part of my consciousness as a kid. So now as an adult, we clean up trash when we go to the beach and so on. There's a traditional Jewish concept that every single thing we do does matter.
Q: Your name means "water," right?
A: Yes, in Hebrew, and I think that spirit got passed on in my name. I feel very close to the water.
Q: The word "holistic" has a '70s feel. Why revive it?
A: When people hear "green," they think mostly of the environment. "Holistic" evokes more about the way we care for our bodies, it's more of a personal-health philosophy that encompasses medicine, cleaning products, and so on. It's a more descriptive word of some of the personal impacts.
Q: Is it easy or difficult to live a sustainable lifestyle in Southern California?
A: There are a lot of contradictions in Southern California. On one hand, we're on the West Coast so we have the liberal element. In parenting circles, though, I find it very competitive and judgmental. People are only accepting about what they like, and there's a lot of variability in that. Southern California is so trend-driven and green is very in, but some of us who want to take it further are still seen as out there. Much as I feel that the green bar has been lowered, there's still a ways to go in terms of tolerance and understanding the full scope of choices people make.
Q: Have you seen efforts to green the entertainment industry?
A: Yeah. Blossom ended when I was 19. Things are a lot different now. Recycling is a standard part of everyone's vocabulary, which is significant because of the amount of scripts. The beauty products used aren't tested on animals and are gentler on the environment. Green practices are becoming a much more accepted line of conversation. I don't wear leather and that's something easier to address now.
Q: A lot of people perceive this type of parenting to be reserved for the privileged class. Could you be a holistic parent if you weren't a celebrity?
A: Most holistic parents are stay-at-home moms but are not by any means living a life of luxury. These kinds of decisions about parenting really come down to what you feel is important. I don't know of any other actors who are doing this. I'm hoping that maybe just by me being honest, I'm going to make people feel like this is not something to be ashamed of. I don't feel at all that most of the things we do, whether bedsharing or home-schooling, make my life easier. It's labor-intensive. I know people all over this country who'd rather live in a less expensive house and work at home to be able to be their children's primary caregiver. I happen to not live an extravagant lifestyle at all. I don't have a nanny or babysitter. It's us.
Follow Avital Binshtock on Twitter: www.twitter.com/avitalb