Mommy Dearest

Mommie_Dearest-300x195

by Lindsay Gallagher on 08/9/2011

When I was ten years old I suffered from my first bout of insomnia.  I was a mess, up all night crying because I couldn’t fall asleep.  I would watch the lights across the backyards go dark one after the other, like a countdown, till I was the last person in Park Slope still awake.  Needless to say, this was a major drag for my mother, who worked late in her studio downstairs, and for my brother, whose room was down the hall.

“Maybe you should read before bed,” my exasperated mother suggested.

“There’s one book I’m really interested in, but it’s too hard – would you read it to me?”

“Okay.  What is it?”

“Mommy Dearest.”

I was thrilled when she let me run out to the Community Book Store.  I had been dying to read that book, but the small print in the fat glossy red paperback was too daunting.  So my mother sat next to my bed every night for several weeks and read Mommy Dearest to me aloud.

Oh Joan, you were such a bitch!  The most atrocious mother of them all!

30 years later, I still think of that book often.  Of course, I cannot stand wire hangers.  Who could after that?  But they don’t make me see red.  My “wire hangers” are snack wrappers, which I find strewn across the floor, or wedged in between the cushions of the sofa in front of the TV.  The worst are the sticky ones from “granola” bars or ice-cream.

“I said: “No snack wrappers!!!!!!!”

Another moment in the book (and the movie) that I am often reminded of is the scene when the kids awaken Joan from her “beauty sleep” the morning of her audition for Mildred Pierce.

(Here I must segue briefly:  Joan, you may have been a terrible mother, but you sure nailed that roll.  What in the world were they thinking when they remade it with poor Kate Winslet, in New York, of all the ridiculous places to shoot a movie about Glendale.  Kate, how could you let them turn you into such a frump?   And writers, you even ruined Veda, the evilest villainess of all time.  As far as I’m concerned, the only redeeming thing in that HBO remake was Guy Pearce’s ass.)

Anyway, in Mommy Dearest, the kids are playing on her sprawling Beverly Hills lawn when Joan throws open her bedroom shutters, face covered in night cream, and unleashes a fiery tirade.  It’s scary and terrible, the kids were only laughing and having fun, but I’m still an insomniac, so as much as I hate to say it, I can kind of relate.

“Mommy?  Are you awake?”  Tess said the other morning, grabbing my lower arm.

“I am now.”

I admit my tone was not nice.  I didn’t say:  “Oh honey, climb in with me and cuddle.”

In my defense, I was up with those children for years without complaint.  But they were too young to remember, so those selfless late nights won’t make it into their memoirs.  Bummer.

“Why did you wake me?” I asked Tess, checking the time, realizing that I’d been robbed of a precious half-hour.  Thirty minutes!   How could you??  I thought.  No, I don’t have a big audition at the studio, but I also don’t have a driver or a nanny or a live-in maid.  The puppy woke me up twice.  I had to sit with her in the back yard at 3am.  And daddy is in Chicago!  “It’s just, I’m a better mother when I get a good night’s sleep.”

“I’m sorry, mommy.”

I’m sorry too.  I wish I was nicer.  At least I’m not as bad as Joan:

JOAN

(seething)

What did you say?

CHRISTINA

(stifled hatred)

I said, “I’m sorry, Mommy Dearest.”

About Lindsay Jamieson

Author of Beautiful Girl, mother of 2, wife of cinematographer, former dancer, snowboarder -- recovered bulimic.
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