Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

Mildred Pierce: Doormat.

by Meredith O’Brien



So I’ve been watching that much-heralded HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce [1], mostly because it stars Kate Winslet and I’m a sucker for anything that has Kate Winslet in it.


I went into this Depression era dramatic series with the expectation that I’d be watching and rooting for a plucky mother of two who’d been left by her cheating husband, scratch her way to make a living to support her family in a time when there weren’t many jobs for anyone, never mind for soon-to-be-divorced thirtysomething women with children.


By the end of the second installment of the five-part series, I was thrilled to see that Mildred had found a way to transform her talent and passion for cooking and baking – before her husband left her, she’d been baking cakes and pies and selling them out of the house as a little side business – into a livelihood by opening her own chicken and waffles restaurant which she named Mildred’s. I was all set to write about this character who was busting her hump to make money, first taking a job as a waitress and then gaining the help of a business associate of her ex-husband’s (with whom she started having relations) to help open her restaurant.


But then I became utterly and completely distracted by the hideous nature of Mildred’s oldest child, Veda, even before she grew up to be the young adult portrayed by actress Evan Rachel Wood. Morgan Turner did a wonderful job of depicting the young, odious Veda as a child who was so mean spirited and nasty that she made Veruca Salt from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [2] movie look like a benevolent, selfless saint.


In the third episode of Mildred Pierce, Veda unleashed a torrent of insults at her mother, spurning the expensive wristwatch Mildred had given her for Christmas because it wasn’t the piano Veda wanted (Mildred couldn’t afford a piano at the time), demeaning her mother for being a working mother and for appearing, in Veda’s judgmental eyes, classless. Though Mildred responded angrily at first, she vowed to get Veda the piano and continued to placate the noxious creature.


The New York Times [3] called the - based on 1941 novel by James M. Cain [4] - HBO Mildred Pierce mini-series “a revision of the mother of all mother movies” as Mildred serves as “the long-suffering embodiment of maternal sacrifice.”

But wait, I thought this was supposed to be about the Mildred Pierce who walked the streets of New York City until the blisters on the back of her heels were bleeding, seeking a job that wouldn’t require her to sacrifice her dignity in order to put food on the table for her girls? Wasn’t this going to be a mini-serious about a woman who refused to be patronized and de-humanized by the insufferable would-be employer to whom she’d applied to be a housekeeper?


No, apparently, it’s about a mother who, instead of getting paid to work as someone’s servant, where the employer would demean her and treat her as a lesser being, she had her ingrate of a daughter mock her for working, for not being “cultured” and for not giving the rotten kid everything she wants exactly when she wants it. Instead of observing this 1930s drama as a historical piece, where a divorced woman struggled and prevailed, it’s almost as if Mildred Pierce is a kind of stealth, perhaps unintended allegory that’s relevant to today’s generation of helicopter parents, those who are hovering and doting on their offspring, getting their children whatever the little darlings want (like cell phones with unlimited texting, the latest Uggs, brand spankin’ new sports equipment each year, customized Zig sneakers, TVs/computers in their rooms, requiring no chores, doing the kids’ school projects for them, providing free & unlimited parental taxi service to a bazillion activities, etc.) even when the children’s behavior doesn’t warrant a reward.


How often do people complain that today’s children are so pampered and so coddled by their parents that they’ve morphed into ungrateful brats who, when they grow up, want their parents to help them handle their college professors or even help them negotiate terms with their employers? How many of today’s kids and teens see their parents as their own, personal assistants who will patiently take all the crap they dish out and constantly strive to secure their offspring’s satisfaction by asking the little cherubs what they’d like for dinner and changing the menu on the young one’s whim?


As people have complained about this bratty, mother-abusing Veda character, Mildred Pierce’s director Todd Haynes defended Veda and her mother Mildred’s appeasement of her, telling the Wall Street Journal: [5] “It’s like an unrequited love story with her daughter. [Veda has been] loved and cherished and has been exposed to culture from a young age and she’s soaked it in like a sponge. She’s completely the product of middle class aspirations of the highest order. She’s just a normal product of suburban Los Angeles, over-pampered and it makes you hate your mother for making you feel special.”


After watching the first three parts – and previews for the last two make it look like Veda just becomes even more hideous to her mother as time marches on – it’s enough of a jolt to tempt me to veer my parenting in the opposite direction of the wet noodle-spined Mildred and toward the tiger mom end of the spectrum. Though I can roar with the best of ‘em, I don’t think I quite have it in me to go full-out tiger on my kids, but pulling a Mildred and letting the kids walk all over me, that’s not at all appealing, even when it’s Kate Winslet who’s serving as the doormat.

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