Melissa Joan Hart is about as down to earth as celebrities come. When she picked up the phone for our interview, I could hear her kids in the background cooing and giggling. She even asked me to "hang on a sec" as she dug through her purse for a few dollars to pay for a pecan ice cream "bribe" for her son. "The usual…" she joked.
This little incident proved Hart a true ModernMom in my mind, definitely not some high-society, spoiled Hollywood mama-slash-socialite. Just hearing her voice flooded my head with memories of the "Clarissa Explains It All" days when she lounged in her bedroom waiting for her BFF Sam to climb into her second story window using a ladder perched against the house. I was reminded of her years starring in the "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" series–with her jabbering aunts and that ridiculous talking cat!
More recently the 34-year-old has been working on some "grownup" projects, you could say. She’s appeared on episodes of "Law and Order", "That ’70s Show", and has starred in the ABC Family series "Melissa and Joey" (co-starring Joey Lawrence) since 2010. In 2009 she fulfilled a childhood dream by opening a candy shop called SweetHarts (how clever!) in Sherman Oaks, California and to add to her business acumen, she owns her own production company, Hartbreak Films. No big deal or anything…
When we asked Melissa what her favorite project has been thoughout the years, she hesitated. "That’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child!" she laughed. Although she said she’s been lucky enough to be cast in roles that were all near and dear to her heart, she started answering by saying that she LOVED playing the wacky and lovable character Clarissa from "Clarissa Explains It All" back in the early ’90s. She really identified with the character, a quality I discovered is essential to Melissa as an actress. She recalled how difficult it was to be on her own and not around too many kids during the taping of the show, but she told me she made lifelong adult friends there anyway. Surprisingly, it worked out well for Melissa to have a very time-consuming activity outside of high school–she didn’t really like her hometown friends so it was a "gift" to be able to leave.
A couple years later, "Sabrina" marked the beginning of her career as an adult actor. Hart explained that she knew she was a part of something special on this cast, but wasn’t really in love with her character, a college-aged girl who tried to hide her magical powers from everyone except those closest to her. Despite this, she played Sabrina for seven seasons until 2003. "I just enjoyed this point in my life when I was single without kids," she said.
By far her favorite character, however, is the role she gets to play now–basically herself! She plays Melissa on the ABC Family series "Melissa and Joey". The show shoots far away from her family’s home in Connecticut though, and it’s hard for her to be away from her family while filming. "A mother’s instinct is to always be with her children–it’s in our DNA," she said, which is why she feels like a "terrible" mother when she has to leave. She described her family as a traveling circus, always visiting the mountains and the beach. But she eventually realized she wanted stability for her children, so she and her husband picked up and moved to the East coast in 2009. It’s a sacrifice not living close to where she works, but she loves her family and her career so she’s willing to rack up a lot of frequent flier miles!
Dancing the Night Away
Since Brooke Burke is a CEO here at ModernMom, I just had to ask Hart about her Dancing With the Stars experience. "It was really tough," she admitted. "I was shocked at how MENTAL the whole thing was…it is a game after all!" She told me of her mornings waking up at 4am to do radio shows and how draining the entire process was. "One minute I’m a mom taking my kids to karate, the next I’m on Dancing With the Stars, alone without my husband," she explained.
Melissa the Mom
Although she’s made a successful career of acting and being a savvy businesswoman, these endeavors will forever take 2nd place to the loves of her life–her husband of almost eight years, Mark Wilkerson, and their sons Mason, 5, and Braydon ("Brady"), 3. Hart’s parenting style is "laid-back," she told me, "I guess I’m just used to having kids around." As the oldest of eight children, she’s been told on numerous occasions that she acts like her first kid is really her third. But the relaxed mood in her house is how she prefers things. "Maybe I haven’t taken my kids to the emergency room a few times when I should have!" she laughed. She’s not one of those über-organized, uptight moms–"My kids’ doctor is not on speed dial!" she said. "I just don’t freak out about the little things."
Melissa told me her best piece of parenting advice came from her own mother. In the midst of a dramatic family argument over when to start feeding her oldest son solid food, "My mom said to me: ‘You’ve got great insticts, do what you need to do. You’re the mom!’" Hart embraced the advice and has lived by it ever since. "I’ve just got to do what’s right for my child," she said. "I don’t think it’s always necessary for your child to finish an entire prescription from their doctor, for example." Far from deliberately disobeying professional medical instructions, Hart simply believes that a mother should always balance everything by listening to her instincts.
Even though it’s only been five years, motherhood has been the highlight of her life and something she’s naturally good at. Just talking to Melissa and hearing little Mason and Brady squirming around in the backseat of her car, I could practically feel the happy mommy vibes exuding from her words. "The most surprising part of being a mom is how much of your past life disappears," she said. Even friendships change based on parenting skills–she gave the example that some parents don’t want to let their kids go over for a playdate if you’re the mom who lets the kids watch TV for five hours. "I think we gravitate toward parents with similarities," she said.
Share Your Breakfast
She was super excited to tell me about the Share Your Breakfast program she’s been a part of. Kellogg’s has teamed up with Action for Healthy Kids, an organization dedicated to dealing with childhood obesity and undernourishment, to provide one million breakfasts to kids who need them most. According to national statistics, one in four American kids go to school in the morning without having eaten breakfast, which is widely considered the most crucial meal of the day. "It’s not just that they don’t eat it," said Melissa, "it’s that they don’t even have it."
To help out, Hart is helping spread the word of how easy it is to support this fantastic program–all you have to do it snap a picture of your breakfast in the morning and text it with the word "Share" to 21534, or share it a at www.shareyourbreakfast.com. Each time you share a photo or description of your breakfast, Kellogg’s will donate the monetary equivalent of school breakfasts to Action for Healthy Kids. "It’s important to bring awareness; your kids might be going to school with other kids who are hungry! It’s right in front of our eyes and we don’t see it," Hart explained with a passion I could hear in her voice.
Saving the World?
Clearly, this mother of two is dedicated, which is one of the things that impressed me most about her. At the breakfast event for Kelloggs, an onlooker asked Melissa, "This is for Haiti, right?" Melissa clarified that the event was for children in the United States. Many people find it hard to believe that we have such high levels of poverty here. Not afraid at all to be real with me, she reasoned, "We’re always saving the world. Now we need to save America."