Patti Davis Honors Mothers Of Famous Daughters

Women are always daughters. They may or may not become wives, professionals or mothers, but they are always somebody's daughter and wondering what their mother might think of them. On this weekend before Mother's Day, we talk with Patti Davis, daughter of former first lady Nancy Reagan. Host Scott Simon talks with Davis, who's new book is The Lives Our Mothers Leave Us: Prominent Women Discuss the Complex, Humorous, and Ultimately Loving Relationships They Have with Their Mothers.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Scott Simon.

Women are always daughters. They may or may not become wives, professionals or mothers, but they're always somebody's daughter, wondering what their mother might think of them.

Patti Davis, who had a pretty famous mother and father in Ronald and Nancy Reagan, has written a book in which many women, including Anna Quindlen, Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg and Anne Rice, try to tell the story of the relationship that shifts, twists and changes, with their mothers.

The book is called "The Lives Our Mothers Leave Us." And on this weekend before Mothers Day, we welcome Patti Davis, who's written seven books, including her autobiography and a couple of novels. She's at member station KCRW in Santa Monica.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. PATTI DAVIS (Author): Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Near as I can figure, all of the daughters that talk about their mothers in your book seem to be a bit north of 40.

Ms. DAVIS: Yeah, that was deliberate.

SIMON: Okay. Whats the reason for that?

Ms. DAVIS: Well, if you're ever going to get the depth of your parental relationships, particularly your relationship with your mother, there's just something about that age. It's sort of, I've equated it to kind of, to going to an art gallery and standing back from a painting so that you can see it better.

You know, I think that is something with age and wisdom that you come to, that you can't change your history, so you have two choices; you can either make the best of it and understand how you came to be the person who you are, in all of the good ways, either because of your mother or despite what your mother did, or however.

You know, I mean if I could choose one word to encapsulate this whole book, it would be acceptance. Every single woman, no matter what their story was with their mother, had come to a place of acceptance.

SIMON: You take a bite of the apple of the Judy Garland story...

Ms. DAVIS: Yeah.

SIMON: ...by talking not to the obvious suspect - Liza Minnelli - but Lorna Luft. Being Judy Garland's daughter has to be tough, under any circumstances.

Ms. DAVIS: Yeah.

SIMON: We're talking about a woman who was a legend, not only in show business but obviously in the circles of spiraling into spiraling - well, just spiraling downwards, between drugs and drinking, meeting the wrong men. Several suicide attempts, if Im not mistaken.

Lorna was, you write, at one point she was kind of assigned to dole out her mother's pills.

Ms. DAVIS: Well, not only dole them out; empty out the capsules and fill them with sugar. And she was like 10, 11 years old. And Lorna was told that if her mother ever did overdose, she was not to call the paramedics, she was not to call the police. She was to call the manager. And she was 17 when her mother died.

And at the funeral there were thousands of people (unintelligible) Lorna found herself comforting other people. And I completely related to that because I found myself, when my father died, doing the same thing.

SIMON: In our family, we used to have a picture up on the refrigerator of my wife when she was like a five-year-old girl. And one of our daughters, then three, said who's that? And I said thats mama when she was just a couple of years older than you. And our daughter said, where are you?

Ms. DAVIS: Yeah.

SIMON: Because as far as she's concerned, we've always been together, just waiting for our daughters to come around. Do we need to remind ourselves our parents - our mothers specifically were fully formed people before we ever got here?

Ms. DAVIS: Yes. And I think that was, especially the deeper I got into the book, all of these women had - every one of them had already investigated their mother's past, except Whoopi Goldberg, which...

SIMON: She didnt know how old her mother is.

Ms. DAVIS: She doesnt know anything about her mother's past. And I said, I dont understand, why? And she said she just feels like it doesnt matter. What matter is, you know, her life with us and her as our mother - Whoopi and her brother. And her own story doesnt matter.

But it was very profound cause I was late into the book by the time I - pretty late by the time I interviewed Whoopi. And so I was very aware of how important it is to understand how your mother grew up and what influenced her, and what she brought to the task of mothering.

SIMON: Let me ask you about Julianna Margulies, because she grew up with a mother who was, I think it's safe to say, just not into being mom.

Ms. DAVIS: Well, she - her mother had her at a rather young age. She and her husband were really children of the '60s. They, you know, they wanted to travel around and be hippies. And she had three girls and, you know, loved them, but she was always moving around. She'd take them to Germany. She'd take them here, she was always changing her mind.

And then when Juliana was already a pretty successful actress and she was back staying at her mothers house while she was doing a play back East, and she lay down on the couch and she was taking a nap and she woke up and she saw her mother standing at the ironing board, singing. And she went, What are you doing? And her mother holds up this bottle of spray starch or whatever it was and said, Have you tried this? Its fantastic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DAVIS: And Juliana said, Who are you? And she said, you know, she said, I was so young when I had you girls and I loved you, you know, desperately but I really wasnt ready to be a mother. And I'm ready to be a mother now. And went back to her ironing and her singing.

SIMON: Hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: May I ask, hows your mother doing?

Ms. DAVIS: Shes doing well. You know, shes 88 and shes had some falls and -but she's well. I mean she gets around.

SIMON: And I make bold to ask this, just because obviously youve written about it in the book. How are you and your mother doing?

Ms. DAVIS: We're doing well. You know, if youve had a challenging relationship with your mother, and certainly I have, I think then acceptance is really -really has to be a lifeline. And you know, I was aware recently that I, I kind of thought, well, you know, I've done so much work on this, on processing my history and my relationship with my mother that shes really, you know, shes just stopped trying to push my buttons. But then I kind of backed up a little bit more and really looked at our exchanges and I thought, no, shes actually trying really hard to push my buttons.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DAVIS: It's just that my buttons are not that accessible anymore, you know? You know, my part of the equation has changed, right?

SIMON: Well, maybe thats growing up.

Ms. DAVIS: It is growing up. Because the truth of the matter is, the older we get, we dont need to give our mothers that much power over us. We really can grow up.

SIMON: Patti Davis, her new book, The Lives Our Mothers Leave Us. She joined us from KCRW in Santa Monica.

Thanks so much.

Ms. DAVIS: Thank you.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.