Mom's Movie Classics, Or How To Make Sure Your Kids Never Fake Sick
Last month I watched Funny Girl for the first time. At least, I think it was the first time.
I must have seen it as a child. My mom was a big Barbra Streisand fan, and we watched all of her specials and several of her movies as children. She had the “My Name is Barbra” and “Color Me Barbra” CDs in her minivan at all times, and whenever my dad and brothers weren’t around, we’d put them on and sing along. It ran in the family: my grandfather carried the biography Streisand around with him like a security blanket, and even my most conservative uncle, who hated everything about her politics, named one of his children after a Barbra song.
It also seemed like the right time to watch Funny Girl. I’d been doing a lot of reading about early twentieth century Jewish and Yiddish culture — though, to be fair, that’s a pet subject of mine. (A few days ago I told Anna “I’ve been reading a book about Yiddish socialists,” and she said “You’re always reading a book about Yiddish socialists.”) I’ve also been watching catching up on Impeachment, and I find Beanie Feldstein totally adorable and can’t wait to see her in Funny Girl on Broadway, but I felt like I should watch the original first. (Also, did any other Beanie fans catch the Jodi Foster-esque look on her face in that interview when Kelly Ripa says she’d “also had a girl crush on Barbra Streisand” and she had to stop herself from clarifying that it was’t a girl crush, but a crush crush?)
But also I got my booster shot last month, and I felt awful. I feel extremely grateful and fortunate to have qualified for the booster and to have received it, but I had some bad muscle pains after receiving the second shot, and I got them again the third time around. Everything ached. There wasn’t much for me to do but cuddle up on the couch with whichever cat of mine was feeling generous, down some Tylenol, and watch old musicals. It was time to watch Funny Girl.
I was technically carrying on a family tradition. Every time we were sick, my mother would put on an old movie, often a musical. For me, this was one of the perks of being sick: who even cared that I was throwing up or running a fever of 103 when I could watch a Vincente Minnelli movie? Old movies were my mother’s passion, and they became mine, too. When my second grade teacher asked us to write down what our favorite movie was for a class assignment, I wrote down Help!, the Richard Lester Beatles movie. Not even A Hard Day’s Night, but Help! I remember excitedly telling my preschool boyfriend Alex about the 1930s movie Alexander’s Ragtime Band, and insisting he watch old movie musicals with me when he came over for a playdate. Fortunately, Alex also grew up to be a decidedly non-hetero movie snob, and even at five he knew a lot about music, so he loved them, too.
I took comfort in those movies, but it turns out that actually wasn’t my mother’s intention. A few years ago one of my brothers asked me, “Do you remember how Mom used to force us to watch old movies with her when we were sick?”
“‘Force us?’” I repeated.
“Yeah,” he said. “She used to do that so we wouldn’t be tempted to fake sick. She would bore us with old movies. Man, I hated that.”
“You hated it?” I said. “I loved it! I loved those movies!”
“I guess it backfired with you,” my brother laughed.
I guess so. If I’d been any less of a goody-two-shoes I might have actually been tempted to fake sick just so I could watch an Audrey Hepburn marathon. (Another one of my brothers, Jon, also loved it: he told me recently that his favorite movie as a kid was The Parallax View, because it was always on AMC when he was sick. I also watched that for the first time a few weeks ago, and wow, that is not a movie I would let an elementary schooler watch.)
Still, my tastes aside, my mother had a lot of tricks up her sleeve. She was tough and crafty, and she also became a parent before child-rearing was particularly child-centered. We always knew it was our mom’s world, and we were living in it. But I don’t think I realized to what extent she was always one step ahead of us until I was an adult. Take the time I was six and suddenly curious about what she did after we went to sleep.
“I want to stay up late tonight!” I told her.
“OK,” she said. I was dumbfounded. I had not expected her to say yes. When the time came, my brothers went off to bed, Anna was put to bed in her crib, and I sat at the eat-in kitchen table, and waited for the magic to happen.
But there was no magic. My father was nodding off in front of the local news, and my mother was sitting across from me, half-listening to the weather report, and doodling on the front page of the L.A. Times with a Bic pen. She wasn’t even doing the crossword! I didn’t know what I had been expecting — extra desserts, maybe, playing board or card games, watching movies, but it wasn’t this. This was almost as boring as accompanying her to the bank, and every kid knows exactly how dull that is. I think I gave it about ten minutes before I gave up and went to bed.
I only realized as an adult that she had been putting on a performance. I don’t think my mom ever actually was that dull. She always had a tremendous amount of energy and always found something interesting to do. When my brothers and I were allowed to stay up late with her on holidays or vacations, there were extra desserts and board and card games and movies. That night, she had purposely pretended to be far more boring than she actually was, so I wouldn’t be tempted to stay up late again.
The weekend I got my booster would also have been my mother’s sixty-eighth birthday. There really was no better way to honor her that day, I suppose, than to take care of my health, and watch a classic movie about a funny Jewish woman. And the best way to honor her every day, I suppose, is to keep telling stories about her and all the brilliant things she did. Every time I tell my friends with kids about my mother’s sick day method, they always laugh and say “I’m going to have to try that!” And I hope they do.
…I kind of hope they don’t try her sex talk method, though, which was taking us on an annual car trip to the mountains, then locking herself in the minivan with us and talking at us about sex while we were a captive audience. That was just awkward for all involved.
Fake BBC Show of the Week: That Botts Boy!
Stuff I Did Recently: I talked about my Valley Girl upbringing and dialect on The Vocal Fries! I also sent Andrew and Anna on Scary Stories to Tell on the Pod a very creepy story I heard about a murderess in a Chester County, Pennsylvania inn!