Melissa Gilbert admits that she had a mid-life crisis after her second marriage ended.
“I had Botox, fillers, recolored my hair, and bought a Mustang convertible at the urging of the inappropriately young French dude I began dating,” she writes in her latest book, “Back to the Prairie.”
The “Little House on the Prairie” star was married to “Babylon 5” actor Bruce Boxleitner from 1995 to 2011, and they share a son named Michael.
Gilbert writes that she knew her marriage to Boxleitner was over when she broke her back and needed surgery.
“When my husband was called to bring me home, he asked if I could instead hire a car or ask a friend….Bruce’s response, or lack thereof, gave me plenty to think about during the long, slow recovery,” she writes.
She notes that she was always the caretaker in the relationship.
“I could recover without his support and compassion, but the question I suddenly asked myself was why? Why was it okay for me not be cared for? What makes me feel that I didn’t deserve to have that in my life?” she asked herself.
A family trip to Hawaii at the end of the year solidified her feelings.
During a tour of Volcanoes National Park, Gilbert reached for her husband’s hand, only to have him push it away. Watching were her two sons, Dakota and Michael, who “came up on either side of me and took my hands.”
Gilbert confesses that she “moved way too fast” after the divorce, “trying to recapture the freedom I remembered from my youth.”
“As I discovered, being a single woman in your forties in Los Angeles is a whole different league of pressure,” she shares. “And being an actress looking for work in an industry obsessed with youth ratchets that up even further.”
“I reacted as many women I encountered did: I attempted to freeze everything in place.”
While competing in “Dancing with the Stars” in 2012, Gilbert writes that she was standing out on her patio when the roof suddenly collapsed, giving her a concussion. While recovering, she took the collapse as a message from above that her life was careening out of control.
“You’re driving a Mustang convertible. Your face doesn’t move. Your boobs are too big. You’re with the wrong guy. The list went on,” she wrote.
One night Gilbert had made plans with her gay best friend to go dancing, but beforehand they went to a bar for a drink. Her friend realized he had left his phone nearby and went to retrieve it, leaving Gilbert alone at the nearly deserted bar. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted “Thirtysomething” star Timothy Busfield, with whom she had had just connected on Facebook.
The two began talking and the next morning they met for brunch. The relationship quickly grew serious: “We were two souls who had just been waiting to find each other.” The only issue was that Busfield was in LA temporarily. He had moved to his home state of Michigan following a bruising divorce.
Gilbert took this as good news and told the “West Wing” star she wanted to move.
“I can’t move my forehead — and that’s not okay,” she explained. “I have a feeling that I’m going to want to move it more in the future. I’d like to go someplace where that’s possible.”
The couple — who wed in 2013 — lived in Michigan, where Gilbert ran for Congress before bowing out due to health issues and eventually made their way to the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
But they wanted a place upstate, somewhere to unwind and relax. They finally found something in Highland Park with a house that was falling apart and crammed with furniture including a mattress where a family of mice had set up home.
The couple saw the house as being a weekend retreat, but once COVID hit they spent nearly all their time there, in a drastically pared down, much simpler way of life.
“Even without the pandemic, I think Tim and I would have found ourselves in this spot,” she writes. “Both of us were headed in this direction regardless. The blessing was that we met at the right time in our lives and took this journey together, as a couple, and as we got deeper into the lifestyle, we recognized that this was who we wanted to be.”
Ironically, the little girl who memorably played “Half Pint” in the adaptation of the Laura Ingalls Wilder classic morphed into an extremely capable farm girl.
Growing vegetables, raising hens to lay eggs, scaring away a curious bear, and getting handy with a table saw and a circular saw were just some of the skills she acquired as well as honing her considerable culinary talents.
When Gilbert turned 57 last May, she had a “spectacular day of doing nothing” and snapped a selfie that she liked.
“This is me, I thought, finally happy in my own skin,” she wrote. “No fillers or Botox, no implants, no hair color. Just me. This is happy. This is healthy. This is strong. This is rooted.”