by Lauren Young
Nancy Travis was having “a classic mommy morning” when I spoke to her by telephone early one morning a few weeks ago. The co-star of The Bill Engvall Show , which started its second season on TBS on June 12, was trying to figure out who would watch Ben, her 10-year-old son, while she went to work. “I’m sitting here waiting for the carpool mom to pick up my younger son, Jeremy, who is six,” said Travis, who seemed unfazed by the chaos.
A game plan was already emerging—her housekeeper would be coming in that morning, so she could keep an eye on the boy for a few hours. But things were destined to get more complicated in the afternoon after her younger son finished school and needed to go to baseball practice, which required the afternoon sitter to shuttle both kids to the field. “This is everyday craziness,” said Travis, 46, with a sigh. “It’s never easy.”
Her television persona, a cheekier version of June Cleaver, doesn’t have to deal with the same juggle. Susan Pearson is a stay-at-home mom in Denver with three kids who has been married for 18 years. In an early episode, Susan needs a little extra spending money, so she decides to sell homemade muffins. When her business becomes a success, her husband Bill Pearson, who is a family counselor, struggles to pick up the slack at home.
In real life, Rob Fried, who is Travis’s husband, is right there in the trenches. “Rob and I are a lot more collaborative than my own father was with my mom. Part of that who my husband is, and part of that is the times we live in,” Travis says.
As a result, Nancy Travis often questions whether Susan Pearson is politically correct. “I’m constantly battling within myself to put my own views into show. But Susan is the kind of mom the show’s writers want her to be,” Travis says. Actually, Susan is closer in genetic makeup to Travis’s own mother, who was a stay-at-home mom. “Dad traveled a lot. Mom was the one that raised us,” Travis says.
Born in New York, Travis grew up in a suburban Boston , attended public schools, and played outside a lot as a kid. “Part of me wants that nostalgic thing for my kids,” Travis says. “I drive my husband crazy.” Travis and her family live the Los Angeles area, so her suburban fantasy has morphed into a quest for a vacation home. Travis loves to spend time online looking at real estate. Most recently, she had her eye on a farm in
When she was younger, Travis had ambitions of performing in movies every year. She imagined that she would be able to pack her family up and take them from exotic location to exotic location. But that was just a fantasy. “When you finally have kids, you realize they want stability, and they don’t want a surrogate. They want you. Therein, lies the struggle of juggling your family and work,” she says.
Thankfully, television can be a good gig for a working mom. Her sitcom schedule is “as easy as it gets,” she says. So easy in fact that Travis is typically the one to drop her two sons off at school, and then she heads to work around 10 a.m. Most days, she is done by 3:30 p.m., although she puts in a longer day when the show is taped before a live audience.
The Bill Engvall Show focuses on what it takes to be a parent in today’s world. It takes a humorous approach to everyday family issues like allowance controversies, driver’s licenses, cell phone contracts, and even parking tickets. And then there is romance: The Pearsons try to keep the spark alive in their marriage. That’s something Travis can relate to in her off-screen life. “In any marriage it takes effort,” Travis says. “You’ve got make time for each other every day.”
In addition to being a wife, being an older mom is tough, too. For one thing, she’s at the point in her life where she isn’t sleeping much. (Blame those pesky hormones.) And without sleep, she can be grumpy. “Sleep loss doesn’t make me the most patient parent,” Travis says. Being a mature woman also means that there are fewer gigs for her to pursue. “People say there are roles for women in film, but I don’t see that as being true,” Travis says. When the show is on hiatus—last year she had an eight-month break—she fills up her schedule recording audio books, “Other than that, I enjoy having that time with my family, knowing that I have a job to return to,” she says.
While Travis, 46, has been working steadily as an actress since she had kids, she sometimes feels the pull to stay at home. “Until you have kids, you don’t realize how much you want to be with them,” she says. But she loves her career, and she thinks she is doing a pretty good job of balancing work with family. “If I had to do it all over again, I do it the same way. I have zero regrets,” Travis says.