What does an Emmy-award winning, primetime television sensation have in common with Travelingmom readers?
Mariska Hargitay, who portrays the strong-minded and persistent Detective Olivia Benson on NBC’s hit show Law & Order SVU , is an accomplished actress and mother to beautiful and busy 16 month old, August. Like many other working moms, there are times when her job requires her to travel.
As Travelingmom™ sat down with Mariska it became apparent that this traveling mom considers it a true privilege to be a mother, and that family is the number one priority in her life. Interacting with other moms she meets during her travels is a source of strength, knowledge, and comfort for this dynamic woman. At this point in her life, Mariska cannot imagine traveling anywhere without August and she and husband Peter coordinate their work schedules to make sure the family can be together.
Mariska Hargitay kicks off Travelingmom’s brand new series of celebrity mom interviews with answers to some in-depth questions about how she balances travel, career and motherhood.
TMOM: How do you guys deal with traveling? Is there something specific you two do? Are there rules?
MARISKA: Rules? Peter and I are never apart for longer than two weeks.
TMOM: That’s one!
MARISKA: That’s the number one rule. And we coordinate our work schedules so we’re always together. Peter just got his show [Cashmere Mafia], which shoots in NY…if the production was going to shoot out of town, he probably wouldn’t have done it just because we don’t want to separate the family and be apart from the baby.
TMOM: Have you traveled without August yet?
MARISKA: No, not yet! A few hours apart is pretty much all we can handle.
TMOM: So what do you do when you have to travel for work?
MARISKA: I bring August; wherever I go, he goes. He’s been traveling since he was six weeks old. He’s racked up some serious Frequent Flyer Miles.
TMOM: What are some of the unique challenges flying commercially?
MARISKA: The challenges have just begun. When August was a young baby, everything was so easy…All I did was either nurse him or give him bottles on take off and landing. The rest of the time he was content sleeping on my lap.
TMOM: And now that he’s mobile?
MARISKA: It’s not pretty. From the second we board, he wants to explore. We were recently on a nightmare flight from LA to New York. Because of extreme turbulence, the captain had the fasten seatbelt light on for almost the entire flight. I didn’t know what to do. August was just miserable and did not understand why he couldn’t get up. He’s such a curious and social little guy. I think he was going stir crazy sitting in a chair. That was hard. He cried a lot. I did, too.
TMOM: What got you through the flight? Was there a toy or remedy you’d recommend?
MARISKA: Anything! Everything! We let him play with the earphones, and anything else we could get our hands on. So many times we pack all of these toys that should keep his attention, but in most cases he’s more interested in the stuff that he’s not supposed to play with like computers, pencils, cell phones, etc. Thank God for the reading lights in between the seats, our very kind and patient fellow passengers AND gracious flight attendants.
MARISKA: I can’t say that I have any great secret. I try to find new ways to make him laugh, and of course I’m sure people next to me are thinking, “This woman’s a freak.” As a mom, I’ll do anything and have gone to great lengths to entertain my child. I’ve done more imitations of a monkey than I care to admit.
TMOM: Do you find it difficult when all eyes are on you on an airplane? Especially now being a mother?
MARISKA: As soon as we had a kid, we became so compassionate toward other people. You go from being that person who would get annoyed at the sound of a crying baby, hoping it would just go to sleep, to the one who is completely empathic toward the parents, hoping the baby is okay and wondering if there is anything you can do to help. Now, we’re all in the same boat. We’re on the same team, which is one of my favorite things about becoming a parent. I feel like I’m in the club now.
TMOM: How do you juggle celebrity with being August’s mom?
MARISKA: I pride myself on being August’s mom. I think having a baby – especially one that’s happy – levels the playing field. Regardless of our careers, when it comes to being parents, we share the same profession. We are all in it together. I am always so grateful for all the moms I meet that are willing to share information. No matter how fancy our job or what people project onto you, all of a sudden you’re just a mommy and I love that.
TMOM: So let’s talk a little bit about hotels.
MARISKA: I always go to the same hotels when I can. And I love it because everyone knows me and now the whole hotel knows August. They always have toys for him, a crib, a changing table, everything. The entire staff is so great. I am a creature of habit and I love routine, so going to the same places is important to me. I like that feeling of safety, family, and familiarity.
TMOM: Do they baby proof the room for you?
MARISKA: Yes, one of the things I request is that they remove the normal glass table (or any low tables with sharp edges) from the room and replace it with a cushioned ottoman. My pediatrician told me that most toddler head injuries are caused by bumping into tables or tripping and falling onto them.
TMOM: Do you travel with a nanny?
MARISKA: Sometimes. Since I usually travel for work, when Peter can’t come, I need the extra set of hands. I think that is one of my greatest luxuries. I’m always in awe when I see Moms, especially Moms with multiple children, doing it all by themselves. They are the heroes, the superstars. When I grow up I want to be just like them.
TMOM: What are your must haves?
MARISKA: What aren’t my must haves. Packing’s not my strength, so I always bring way too much stuff. Too many clothes, toys, sleepers, blankets… too much of everything (I guess that’s what happens when you’re a first time Mom). Even packing his diapers takes a lot of room, a whole suitcase! And of course I have to color coordinate. She laughs. The stroller, the formula, all the bottles, all the toys, the rain jackets, the just in case.
TMOM: Are you a big ‘just in case’ person?
MARISKA: Absolutely! We bring the medicines that you would need, just in case. Since teething has been the newest challenge, I’ll try to bring a lot of safe things he can bite on. Rattles, teething toys, little cell phones, etc.
TMOM: Do you ship ahead or do you literally bring it with you? From one mom to another… here’s a tip. Bring one bag. Anything beyond that, stick it in a box and FedEx it 2 days before. You can confirm before you
leave if it arrived and then relax. It’s just so much easier.
MARISKA: That’s the ticket. I’m going to do that on my next trip!
TMOM: When do you think that you guys will feel comfortable traveling without August?
MARISKA: Thankfully we haven’t had to think about that yet. I want to go to back to Africa, but we will wait until he’s old enough to enjoy it, too. I think because I work 14 hours a day and my schedule is so crazy, we just want to enjoy every moment with him. There’s really nothing better than August.
TMOM: Do you think having August has changed your work?
MARISKA: Completely! August has changed everything! You know, I think because I became a mom later in life, everything in life means more. Every day is deeper and richer and more soulful. Life is more sacred with him. Therefore, work is so much more now because I understand and value everything a little bit more.
TMOM: Was waiting the right thing for you?
MARISKA: I believe that God has His timing. I think things happen when they’re meant to happen and you have to trust that. Without a doubt, along with Peter, August is the greatest thing that has happened to me. There really are no words for the emotions and the highs that I feel. I’ve never experienced anything like this before.
Mariska Hargitay is the daughter of 50’s screen idol, Jayne Mansfield, and former Mr. Universe, Mickey Hargitay. She has been acting since her teens and received her first big break on the hit series ER. She then went on to star in Law and Order: SVU where she continues to thrive in her craft. In 2002, Mariska started The Joyful Heart Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to helping victims of sexual assault heal—mind, body, and spirit. Shop at Mariska’s online store, www.joyfulheartfoundation.org for gifts that give back.