November 3, 2010 at 4:37 pm , by Sonia Harmon
She may just be the most relatable character on TV. As Frankie Heck on the ABC hit show, The Middle, Patricia Heaton spends her days juggling three kids, a full-time job, and a sweet-but-not-always-helpful hubbie. The show is set in Orson, Indiana. Ironic, given that Heaton herself grew up in the Midwest (Ohio), has four boys of her own, and is a self-admitted workaholic. We talked to Heaton about her own life in the middle, as well as her participation in CNN’s heroes tribute this Thanksgiving.
Is it fun revisiting your family roots, by doing a show set in the Midwest?
I’m thrilled! I don’t think there’s been a show that’s represented my “peeps” since Rosanne, where it’s just hard-working middle class people. If you are a mom with kids and you’re trying to work outside the home–as most moms are–it’s hard to juggle everything regardless of where you are socioeconomically. Everyone struggles with trying to be there for their family and their spouse, while bringing in money. The writers are all from the Midwest, too. A lot of the episodes get us all talking about what we did when we grew up.
Does that inspire ideas for future story lines?
Actually, we recently did an episode about a foreign exchange student that was inspired by my life. I got an email from my son’s school saying they needed host families for some Japanese foreign exchange students and I really wanted to do it because when I was a kid we had exchange students visit our neighborhood and it was so exciting. My sons were like, “We’re going to have a stranger living in our house for 10 days? No way!” But I thought it was going to be great and of course, I just got a very quiet teenager from Japan, who stared at us for 10 days. I even brought him to the set—which I could tell he was excited about—but his face never changed! And I thought, “Can you imagine if the Heck family had a foreign exchange student come and visit them?” So we recently aired that episode, which people just went crazy for, I got all kinds of emails about it.
How do you balance work and being a wife and a mom to four boys?
I normally work about 12 hours a day. I have to be at work by 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning and then get home at about 7:00 at night. But the boys go to school pretty early, and I can see all their school and homework schedules online while I’m at work so I check in with them when I come home. The key is, you always have to be checking in with the balance, but you can’t burden yourself with the idea that everything has to be perfect. It’s not whether you have the perfect dinner on the table or that you’re always manicured and you look fabulous, but that there’s a sense of love and togetherness in your house. And you need to keep a sense of humor about everything; that’s key because stuff goes wrong everyday despite all your best laid plans.
I imagine that there’s a lot of laughter in your home.
Of course, because I’m in comedy and we love it, and we also watch a lot of comedies together. And we like to see who can be the funniest. When somebody makes a good joke, everybody really appreciates it. We’re all like, “Ehhh, that’s a good one! John did a good one.” Yeah, so that’s really important.
What do you like to do for yourself when you manage to get some down time?
I try to go to the gym, which I kind of loathe, but I know it makes me feel better. I am a little bit of a workaholic. I watched that Joan Rivers documentary, A Piece of Work, and she’s a huge workaholic and I recognized a little bit of myself in there—that I have to be productive every minute. As a mom you can easily get into that mode because there’s always something you could be doing: there’s always a drawer that needs organizing or something the kids need from school. But I am trying to work on relaxing a little bit more—to just give myself that hour to go outside with a book and sit there with a cup of coffee.
You were one of the judges for this year’s CNN heroes tribute, which honors everyday people changing the world and airs on Thanksgiving. How hard was it to narrow it down to 10 nominees?
It’s so hard to choose. There’s a woman who helps women getting out of prison; she helps get them set up and finds out what they need so they can get back on their feet. There’s also a wonderful man in Africa who invented a small solar powered lantern so that the villagers won’t have to use these smoky lanterns that can be really bad for your lungs. There are people doing so many wonderful, diverse things and there’s so much need in the world that it was hard to pick, but all the nominees are very deserving. I’m so excited CNN is bringing attention to these people because a lot of them don’t have a lot of money or a huge organization behind them. Mother Theresa really said it best when she said, “Do small things with great love.”
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