Mayim Bialik, 38, is part neuroscientist, part actress, part superhero and 100% Jewish Renaissance woman. Known for her starring role on the CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory,” she’s been nominated for Emmy and Screen Actors Guild awards. What fans may not know is that her experience as a neurobiologist is not limited to TV; she earned a doctorate from University of California, Los Angeles after majoring in neuroscience with a minor in Jewish studies and Hebrew. Bialik was also a leader at UCLA Hillel.
This wonder woman grew up in Southern California. At 12 she played sassy, cigarette-smoking younger CC Bloom, Bette Midler’s character in the 1988 movie “Beaches,” then landed a starring role in the popular ’90s sitcom “Blossom.” She’s written two books, is the mother of two children, writes for the Jewish parenting blog Kveller and takes being a role model for young girls very seriously. The Forward’s Dorri Olds caught up with Bialik to talk about her acting, tzniut [Jewish laws of modesty] and her work to empower young girls.
Dorri Olds: Can you tell me about your new book?
Mayim Bialik: It’s a cookbook, “Mayim’s Vegan Table: More than 100 Great-Tasting and Healthy Recipes From My Family to Yours,” which actually started with me sharing recipes on the Jewish blog that I write for, titled Kveller. I wrote the book with Dr. Jay Gordon, a pediatric nutritionist. It’s basically the 100 recipes that I make most often for my kids.
Alicia Silverstone has a new book out and I wonder why it is selling.
For starters, it has a impossible to remember title, the sort that only Fiona Apple can get away with: “The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning.”
Second, in spite of, or maybe because of, the “kind” in the title, this book will only make its readers feel like crap.
One of our most famous endurance breastfeeders, if not the most famous endurance breastfeeder, Mayim Bialik, has decided to retire the boob. Her 4-year-old son Fred has officially weaned.
Fred isn’t going to nurse on his way down the wedding aisle or at his high school graduation. I didn’t need to break him of a “habit” and teach him “who’s in charge.” I didn’t need to set boundaries you thought I should have set when I didn’t want to set them.
Because we did it: Fred weaned.
As you might imagine, Mayim got a lot of criticism for being a strict devotee of attachment parenting, family co-sleeping and allowing her children to self-wean and all. When she titled her book on the subject “Beyond the Sling,” she really wasn’t kidding.
Moms are everywhere these days: The Tigers, The French, The Sling Aficionados and Ecological Purists. It seems like there is nothing as endlessly fascinating or controversial as the decisions women make about raising their kids. I wish — wish! — I could have written “men and women make” in the last sentence, but mums the word on dads these days.
Motherhood is so compelling that it has turned into a marketable skill, particularly for floundering celebrities who see motherhood as a last ditch effort to hold onto the spotlight. And, according to the New York Times style section, it works. For stars like Jessica Simpson, Tori Spelling, Bethenny Frankel and “Snooki” “parenthood has become a viable Plan B.” “Being a celebrity mom has more business opportunities than ever before,” Peter Grossman, the photo editor of Us Weekly, told the Times. “Now, it’s not just about selling your baby pics. It’s starting a clothing line or endorsing a stroller. The value of a celebrity mom has never been higher.”
The Times story outlines all the various celebs that have taken this route, but fails to acknowledge the larger societal fascination, or obsession, with motherhood and child-rearing that is behind the rise of the “momprenuer.”
I don’t know why mothering is of such interest right now, but I do know that it isn’t good for moms, no matter which “side” of the various debates they fall. All the chatter — breastfeeding until age 3 vs. formula, lavishly praising your kids for their efforts vs. pushing them harder, epidurals vs. “natural” birth — only serves to convince all of us that these are the most important decisions in the world, and that one false move will mess up us or our kids, possibly forever.
Ultimately, most moms aren’t as doctrinaire as attachment disciple Mayim Bialik or tough-love queen Amy Chua. Few of us have the time or stamina to see any of these “parenting styles” out to their fullest.
So what do we get from these debates? Stress. Insecurities. Competitiveness. Oh, and distraction!
Like “Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik, I am an observant Jew, and had my first child while completing my Ph.D. (Mine was in experimental psychology; the actress’ was in neuroscience.) And like Bialik, I endorse and practice many aspects of ‘attachment parenting’: breastfeeding and late weaning, baby-wearing (using a sling), bed-sharing and positive discipline. So I thought I’d be a big fan of her new parenting book, “Beyond the Sling.”
And, indeed, there is much that drew me to her book. For example, I like the idea of being part of a community of parents struggling with how not to bribe their kids. But there are also aspects of “Beyond the Sling” that pushed me away.
Bialik explains in her book that she achieves her high-touch, high-attention parenting without the nannies or babysitters or personal chefs that you might expect from a TV star. But the author seems oblivious to the fact that her version of attachment parenting requires families to forgo a second income and to have either one parent who works a flexible schedule (like her husband did when their children were young) or outside help. And she bypasses altogether the reality of single parenthood.
Some not-so-endearing news from our favorite Jewish fashion designers: Marc Jacobs tells Vogue that he hasn’t spoken to his mother in over 20 years (my mom launches a re-unification campaign if we don’t speak for two days), and Donna Karan gets in trouble for her new ad campaign set in Haiti. Hat tip to Jezebel.
Jewish mother Jill Zarin may have dealt with her share of divas on the “Real Housewives of New York,” but she still wasn’t prepared for Queen Bee Barbra Streisand. Radar reports that shortly after Zarin posted a video online of Streisand performing at a recent benefit for the Israeli Defense Forces, she was contacted by Streisand’s lawyers to take down immediately. “Someone from Barbra Streisand’s company just called my store to tell me to take down my YouTube video or they will sue me. Is that nuts? Sorry guys. I took it down!” Zarin wrote.
The Jewish Women’s Repertory Company, which produces work with all-female casts for the Los Angeles Orthodox community, is out with a new show, “Me and My Girl.” As The Los Angeles Times notes, this is one play where the actresses get the good parts.
Oh, Blossom. I hate to be critical of one of my favorite actresses who is an “out Jew” to boot, but your recent article in the online Jewish parenting publication Kveller, just raised too many alarm bells for me not to comment here. In the article, titled “I Breastfeed my Toddler, Got a Problem With It?” actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik writes about exclusively breastfeeding her 2½ year old son. He eats no solid food.
Yes, it’s an uncomfortable image. When our first babies were newborns, some friends and I took a post-partum exercise class, and we exchanged stunned looks when, at the end of class, the instructor’s preschooler came in, plopped down in her lap and lifted her shirt to nurse. But I live in the Park Slope area, a Brooklyn neighborhood where attachment parenting is so much the norm that family beds are conventional and people bring their babies with them into bars. So being unconventional isn’t the issue. It’s two other things that Bialik wrote that give me pause.
Her 2 ½ year old son isn’t yet verbal, she writes, unable even to ask in a basic way to nurse (he indicates interest in sign language), but Bialik doesn’t offer any explanation for his lack of speech. She also writes, “I have not slept more than 4 hours in almost 6 years.” She continues, “My son, however, is healthy, happy, and independent, and I see no reason to wean him.”
• Whoa! Guess who’s a regular mikveh-goer? “Blossom” star and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik. Makes sense: Her name means “water” in Hebrew. Read Jewcy’s recent Q&A with her here.
• A class action lawsuit was filed last week against Myriad Genetics. Myriad holds the patent to the breast and ovarian cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 — most prevalent in Ashkenazi Jewish women. Companies other than Myriad are precluded from testing for gene, thus making it impossible for women to seek a second opinion.
• Obama’s budget gets a mixed reaction National Council of Jewish Women. The organization approves of the defunding of abstinence-only education programs, but disapproves of the restrictions on federally funded abortions that the budget keeps in place.
• Jezebel weighs in on Rabbi Avi Weiss’s new training program for Orthodox women who want to become spiritual leaders.
• Youngstown State University in Ohio is has put out a call for academic papers for its March 2010 conference “The Jewish Woman and her Body.” The conference “will explore real and imagined constructions of the Jewish woman and her body,” according to Jewess.
• The mother of an accused Ecstasy smuggler suggests in this newspaper advertisement that by wearing skirts at least “four inches past the knee,” a sheytl that does not attract attention and shoes that do not make noise, women can help spring her son from the Japanese prison where he’s being held. Of the advertisement, blogger Elana Sztokman writes: “The very idea that a woman’s appearance (or now the SOUND of a woman’s body) can be construed as the cause of a person’s suffering is so sick.”
• Patti Stanger, the star of Bravo’s “The Millionaire Matchmaker” discusses her bias against curly hair, telling Los Angeles’s Jewish Journal, “If you want to keep it curly, go to Israel.”
A clip from her recent debate with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach can be seen below: