On the dedication page of Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding makes a point of thanking her mother for not being like Bridget’s. As a writer, that makes me chuckle. It feels like a defensive move, like she’s saying Please Mum don’t be angry she’s not like you even if she does talk just like you do and have your fashion sense, this isn’t what I really think of you…
That little snippet, which most readers probably pass over on their way to page one, really got me thinking about Mrs. Jones, especially because I’ve read Bridget Jones’s Diary at least once before and have seen the movie countless times (including once this week, to remind myself of the similarities and differences between movie and book). I love Gemma Jones’s portrayal in the movie, though naturally she and her story line are quite a bit simpler in the movie than they are in the book. In the book, Mrs. Jones’s plot arc reaches great heights of absurdity and involves a lot more sex and deception. A novel from her perspective would actually be hilarious, I think. But then, I’m always drawn to the less sympathetic characters in any fiction. And maybe it’s funnier when we have to fill in the blanks of what Mrs. Jones has been up to with her various lovers and her newfound TV celebrity and her incarceration for real estate fraud. Because, given the format of the diary as novel, we only get to see what Bridget thinks about anything, and we only get to know what she knows. I think that’s the magic of the format: unlike the movie, the real revelation of the novel is not (for me, anyway) that Mark Darcy has feelings for her or that she’s grown up in any way, but when she starts to hear what other people think of her. Their opinions of her are in stark contrast to what she thinks of herself, and it makes you wonder what it would be like to see her from the outside–a perspective that the movie later provides.
But back to Mrs. Jones.
Not much is consistent in her story line between the movie and the book, but there’s one line she repeats verbatim, and each time it hits Bridget with full force: “Honestly, darling, having children isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Given the chance again, I’m not sure I’d have any.” Not exactly what anyone wants to hear from their mother. Proof that Mrs. Jones is completely selfish and oblivious to other people’s feelings. Worst mother ever.
The thing is, I can see myself feeling that way. If I’m honest, I sometimes feel that way now. Granted, I’m in the middle of a difficult phase: my 14-month-old is made of cling wrap and refuses to stop nursing, stop night waking, or even nap for a reasonable amount of time each day. My almost-four-year-old has been potty training for going on two years now and though he’s made progress, he just won’t or can’t give in to the process; on top of that, his developmental delays and autistic features make him a difficult person to read or anticipate, since he will parrot phrases and behaviors whether he understands them or not. Plus, his sensory seeking behaviors make him incredibly difficult: headbutting, letting the dog endlessly lick his face, shouting whenever he perceives an echo, shouting for no reason whatsoever, shaking his head and running in circles, tackling people (including his little sister), holding flashlights up to his eyeballs, etc. So I get upset sometimes. Really upset. Frustrated beyond belief, if I’m honest. Right now, for example, he’s up in his room screaming and doing his best to wake up his sister because I can’t magically make his father appear and read him a story (Daddy is out of town on business). And he cannot or will not understand why it’s difficult to go to sleep sometimes, or that I cannot control the whole universe. And when he gets tired and cranky he gets into these loops where his brain is obviously repeating on itself and he’s clearly completely without reason, even more than your average three-year-old. And there’s nothing I can do to make him stop. And go ahead, judge me as the worst parent in the world, I don’t care. I used to. Now, I just want the screaming to stop. And I won’t go up there and try to reason with him anymore because I don’t want to start screaming, too. Thankfully, the girl is a solid sleeper (when she wants to be). She slept through the fireworks on New Year’s Eve; I can only hope she’ll keep sleeping through this.
Anyway, at this point in my life, I completely agree with the notion that having children isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. For me, it isn’t. Partly, I think I don’t have the patience for it. Partly, I’m too selfish. Partly, I was dealt a completely unexpected hand. More than that: I thought we were playing poker and it turned out we were playing bridge. And I don’t know how to play bridge, literally or figuratively.
But back to Mrs. Jones.
She is, as she says in both book and movie, in the winter of her life and she has “nothing to show for it”. Not an enviable position but certainly not an uncommon one. And having children, especially for her generation, can be a big part of that. Mostly, she laments her career and sex life. With that in mind, she promptly leaves her husband for a Portuguese “friend” (and at least one other “friend”–she never opens up to Bridget on that front and Bridget doesn’t ask) and somehow manages to begin a career as a talk show host despite her years of inexperience (the movie connects those dots more expertly than the book, what with her boyfriend hiring her for a much less important role). All this leaves Bridget not only feeling hurt but jealous as well, since her mom somehow swoops in after years off both the romantic and job markets and masters both with unbelievable ease.
In fact, “unbelievable” might be the best word for most of what Mrs. Jones does. She adds a lot of comedy to the book and provides an extra pity point for Bridget’s low self-esteem. Telling her daughter that she would have preferred she’d never been born is in many ways a literary trope. Fielding just needed Bridget to have another reason to get down on herself; part of me doubts she put much thought into the type of person who would feel this way and be thoughtless enough to express the feeling to her child. But if she did, I think she’d realize that Mrs. Jones might feel that way in the moment, but like most mothers, she would never actually wish her child away. She wishes she had a career, a more adventurous life, something more than a plate of mini-gherkins on toothpicks to call her own. Having kids can be awful, rotten, numbing–as many bad adjectives as you can throw at it–and yes, like any choice in life, once you open that door, most of the other doors close. But there’s always the child or the children. You’d never want to get rid of them. There’s always something wonderful, some kernel of love tying you to them even in your darkest moments. There are cases where this love doesn’t prevail, but for most mothers, it is there. Because even when your kid is a mess, screaming over nothing, and refusing to sleep, when you feel like you’ve tried everything and it isn’t working, when you wish you could go back to the beginning and go through a different door, there is something inside that pulls you away from your computer, makes you sit down with your child, wait for the crying to stop, pet his hair, read a story, rearrange every stuffed animal he owns so they’re in the perfect position, let him put on his pirate hat, say goodnight to all his trucks, turn on his nightlight with the swirling stars, lie down next to him, and stay all night if that’s what it takes for him to sleep.