Laura Dern and Diane Ladd, HONEY, BABY, MINE: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding)

Laura Dern and Diane Ladd, HONEY, BABY, MINE: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding)

Zibby interviews Academy Award-winning actress Laura Dern and her mom, Hollywood legend Diane Ladd, about Honey, Baby, Mine, an utterly beautiful memoir of the conversations they had after Diane was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and was prescribed long walks to expand her lung capacity. Thinking she was dying, she opened up and shared intimate stories with her daughter. The two ended up discussing the most personal of topics: love, marriage, secrets, grief, resentment, and ambition. Ultimately, they prove how powerful and eye-opening it is to talk and to really listen to our loved ones.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Laura and Diane. Thank you so much for this very special episode with both of you for “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” about Honey, Baby, Mine, your beautiful book.

Laura Dern: Thank you. We’re so honored to be here.

Diane Ladd: I love the title of your show, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” because it’s true. We need to. A book can take you right out of your body. If you leave fifty miles from where you live, your energy’s supposed to relax. Reading a book is the same thing. It helps everything just detach. Then you can be more objective, I think. What do you think, Laura?

Laura: Totally. Honestly, I just said to a girlfriend that I can’t remember when I have read a book since I became a mother that wasn’t connected to work, just for pure pleasure. What’s amazing is my mom raised me on movies, but she also raised me on the love of reading. My mom is a worker. Reading for my mom was — she was getting her degree in esoteric astrology. She wanted to know about the world. She was reading about nutrition. I always talk about how mom always — which is why we have photos of our bedside tables in the book. I remember her bedside table always having five books. The books are earmarked and highlit and read over and over again. I have that with a few authors that I love so much. Other than that, the luxury of taking the time to read, being raised by an actor too, was always connected to research. If you’re lucky, you’re working on a memoir or something where you get to read more and more of the lives or in and around the time period that the people had been living. It takes up so much time. When people are like, “Oh, my god, I just grabbed a book at the airport. It was so amazing. I just got on that plane,” I’m like, I plane. I feel like I always have seven things to read just to catch up, or emails or things. Really, you’ve inspired me just as the reminder, as your show does, which is beautiful.

Zibby: A book like yours is an example of why it’s important to read. Yours is unique. There aren’t a lot of books where you are essentially transcribing the most meaningful walks of your life. How lucky that you have a record of that. It’s really a gift to you both, but to everyone who reads it. This book, it’s almost like an audiobook in paper, if you will. It’s so special. You can read just a little, and it changes your whole point of view. That’s really powerful.

Diane: Thank you.

Laura: That’s so beautiful. One thing, Mom, we loved is it was its own one-act play in our life. It had this journey. It was two people talking. If we were going to share it, we wanted it to hold not only the essence of our experience, but hopefully, the influence on others to do the same with their loved ones in their relationships. The idea that you can capture it in that way as you described is so meaningful.

Diane: We didn’t plan to write a book. It happened. I think our angels planned it for us. We just went with the flow of the river, so to speak. You want to explain it, Laura, how we got into this?

Laura: Mom went through the most brutal time of her life unknowingly, as so many Americans do, which is, she was not being notified while neighbors were spraying and neighboring farms were spraying petrochemicals and pesticides, glyphosates, Danitol, the most horrific poisons, daily even, in and around her property.

Diane: For years. For years, I didn’t know it.

Laura: You want to share, Mom, what made us wake up to why you were having all these sudden health issues?

Diane: My beautiful dog, she was a King Charles Cavalier, this doggie. She was our dog in a TV series we did together called Enlightened. The dog was part of the series. Then they thought she was getting deaf, so I took her. She had already starred in three children’s movies. Her name was Ginger. She’s a wonderful creature. She was like a little girl. She’d crawl up on the bed and put her little head right on my shoulder. She was so wonderful, wonderful. She went out one day at midnight to go to the bathroom for just a few minutes. The dew had spray in it already. It got on her paws. She just was out there a little bit. When she came back in, she had three seizures one after another. She died horribly in my arms. It was quite tragic, a horrible tragedy, but her death saved my life. She gave up her life for mine. It makes me cry to think about it. I just woke up. I’m a little tired today. Thinking about little Ginger, I’ll see her again someday. She’s going to go, “Woof, woof,” to me again someday. In the meantime, I found out what was making me sick. It had been going on for three years. I didn’t know I was getting sprayed by seven farms around me. Nobody in no agricultural commission and none of the people we pay their taxes to look out for us, their salaries, nobody told me anything. That’s not right. I ended up in the hospital with pneumonia and very, very ill. Laura, you want to tell them then what happened?

Laura: Then the lung specialist took me aside, but five feet from my mom, so she could see him talking to me. He said, “Be gentle with your mother. She has three to six months at most.” I said, “What are we doing? What is the prognosis? What is the plan?” He clearly established there was a diagnosis of a lung disease based on scarring of the lungs from environmental exposure. It’s happening every day to so many people. There’s no medicine for it. There’s no cure. Well, supposedly. Unless you fight as hard as Mom does. The one thing that he offered me was, “If you can get her walking to expand her lung capacity, that might help.” We began the journey of walking.

Diane: I’m not a big fan of walking. I’d rather dance. Laura had to really entice me to do these walks. We started walking a little bit more every day. I remember — I’ve told this before. One day, my shoelace came untied. I look down, and she was tying my shoelace. I said, “Oh, honey, you don’t have to do that.” She looked up at me with her big, beautiful blue eyes and said, “Why not, Mom? You tied my shoelace when I was little. fair play. It’s my time to help tie your shoelace.” I just couldn’t get over it. I wasn’t going to say I was too lazy to walk then or after that.

Laura: Given that Mom, being an amazing actor but also someone who has the love of story, I knew it could keep her going and keep her distracted, frankly, to just start sharing stories. What happened was we realized how little we had spoken about in either the mundane spaces or the deepest and most painful memories, and so we explored all of it as an archive for her grandkids. As you say, Mom, you thought you were dying.

Diane: I thought I was dying. This is four years ago. Instead of dying, I starred in two movies, did a TV series. I wrote a book thanks to inspiration, walking, faith. You can almost do anything you believe in in life as long as it’s not something that hurts somebody else. If it doesn’t happen for you — I believe in dreams and fighting for those dreams. Never give up. Never. I also believe that sometimes maybe the universe has a different path for you. There’s lessons that we have to learn along the way, for sure, just like our children go to school and learn lessons. Life is a school. Unfortunately, it seems like very few people are graduating. It seems like I lived, and the more I’m glad I did. Here I am. We didn’t plan to write a book. It was her agent that said, “I think you guys have a book.” We said, “We don’t have a book.” I am a writer. Laura’s a writer. Then when we decided, five publishers wanted the book. After that, we spent over a year and a half. We had 420 pages once we translated. We had to edit it and make sure that the communication would reach others. Since we are communicators, the book is about communicating. Nobody’s asking each other the questions today.

The book is not a Hollywood book. The book is about life, about people. Yes, we share the art of our work the same way if we were lawyers or doctors or planted roses or whatever. We talk to you about our work. We love the work. I’m not always a fan of the business, but I love my work, the gifts. We share that. We talk about experiences, the same experiences that all of us human beings have. Parents lie to their kids. They don’t tell them the truth. Because they want to be loved and adored, you don’t tell your kid all the truths. Then your child doesn’t tell you all the truths because they want to be loved and adored. Then when the mother or father go on, they say, oh, I wish I’d have asked my mom that. I hear it all the time. I wish I asked my Daddy. The book is for fathers and sons, for brothers and sisters, friends. People, talk to each other. You don’t have to agree with each other. Stop feeling like somebody’s beat you to death because they don’t agree with you. Laura and I disagree a lot in the book. We may have an argument . We still disagree. What do we say, Laura?

Laura: I was right.

Diane: I was right. You’re wrong. Tell everybody who read the book to vote. Tell me if you think I’m right. It’s okay. We still don’t agree, but that’s okay.

Laura: Also, what we got to is that the book is not there to be an archived reminder that people have to forgive. For many families, that is not a possibility, and it’s appropriate that it’s not a possibility. People have to find their own boundaries and their own healing sometimes despite family. If you are in relationships where you are safe to share your feelings and someone can give you a listening ear, even if you’re not going to get to forgiveness or agreeing, you can accept knowing the other person. I have a — I haven’t told you about it yet. I just got a text from a friend who just read the book, Mom, who’s an amazing woman. I was worried about sending it to her because her mom had passed quite recently. She wrote me. She said, “I want to thank you because I was holding onto a lot of resentment. I found out some secrets after my mom passed. They’ve been really weighing on me, very, very hurtful things. When I listened to you and your mom talking about the guilt or the shame of parenting and not wanting to give your child room to say, ‘Hey, that hurt,’ something opened up in me. I realized how much shame my mom was holding onto if she hadn’t been able to share these things with me. It made me soften toward my mother. I’ve had so much healing without her here.” That really touched me. As I’ve told Mom, it’s been impactful for my children as siblings. They’ve been saying they’ve been asking each other more questions and checking in with each other differently. I hope that all ages reach out in their relationships, whatever they are, to check in. Someone said to me the other day, “I don’t know how to admit this. I don’t know what it is about the world or my life, but I’m feeling really anxious these days.” I just started laughing so hard. I was like, “What human being on the planet in the last few years has not basically developed generalized anxiety?” Of every age. There’s too much. If we don’t tell each other, we think we’re the only ones feeling like this. Hopefully, it can inspire in a lot of different kinds of relationships.

Diane: I was telling Zibby while waiting for you — we were chatting a little bit. I just told her that I had said to you that if we could get one person talking to someone they love to whom they weren’t talking before and at least trying to listen, not just with your ear, but with the heart of your heart, I said we’ve done something to help this old planet of ours. We’ve already had a couple responses that reached out. It’s just been wonderful to know that someone else is listening and then developed the ability to listen to a loved one. That makes all of it worthwhile. If I hadn’t gone through being sprayed and almost died, this book would not have gotten written. I guess the angels wanted us to write it. Sometimes we don’t know why our life takes a curve way off the path. We think, why? What are you doing, God? Why? What’s happening? Why me? What? There are reasons for things. If you’re just a little patient, sometimes you find out why.

Zibby: Thank you for all of that. I think one of the most beautiful parts of the book was how over the course of the walks you could see the two of you having the barriers come down a little bit and sharing more and more and getting past some of the more, not superficial, but into the real depth of your relationship and how each of you felt in similar situations, the backstory. I think people can be very quick to assume they know what other people are thinking and feeling, even people close to us. Then when you really ask and take the time to think about it, it really pays off. Also, how the two of you, over the course of the walks, got to a place where you could process all of that unprocessed grief and connection and things that just weren’t talked about, to me, I was crying by the time I got to that, and especially, Diane, when you said that maybe that’s why your lungs hurt, because you were holding in so much grief. It was just wearing away at your lungs. I could cry just even saying it out loud. It was so beautiful.

Diane: Women do hold grief. The breasts, for example, symbolize — men hold it too. The kidneys is a symbol of grief unreleased in the organs in our body. The breasts, particularly for women, is where women hold in a lot of grief. Sometimes it’s hard to let it go because we’re sensitive. We give milk to our babies, and love. Our breasts are so close to the heart. It’s true that we do hold in grief. I love that book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. He was a friend of mine. We talked. He talked a lot about, women just want to talk it out. We need to get it out. We need a sisterhood, someone. We don’t want them to fix it. Just listen. Let us talk, talk, talk, please. Men are wonderful. They want to fix it. We don’t want to fix it. We just want to be heard. We’ll fix it if you let us talk about it long enough. I think that Laura and I did fix it through our talks, things that we didn’t realize. I didn’t realize there were things I didn’t know about my own daughter. Having raised her, I thought I knew it all. Well, I don’t know it all. Laura, you realized how many things you hadn’t asked me. That was interesting.

Laura: Thank you for bringing up the depth of sharing that the book goes into in terms of unexamined grief with a loved one, especially for my parents’ generation, who, when going through heartbreak and grief and loss, there was no grief counseling set up, easily accessible, find a therapist online. You didn’t know what to do or where to turn or that you could talk about it. My parents, in the financial situation they were in as working actors to pay the rent, had to go right back to work. There was, as you say, Mom, no time to pull down the shades and shut life out. As profound as it was to the share hardest of things, even our seemingly surface, silly conversations about likes and dislikes — what’s your favorite food? What’s your favorite color? They brought us to such palpable awareness at how little we ask, including — I’m an actor raised by an actor mother, and I had never asked my mom, what’s the first movie you ever saw? Who was the artist that made you want to do this from this tiny town in Mississippi? Were your parents supportive? How did I not think of talking about those things with my mom? I didn’t. Nor my father. I just sort of accepted the stories I was told as a kid instead of digging deeper. Also, how absurd.

I remember once, an elderly couple at a restaurant we had met, my kids’ father and I — we were traveling for his work. My daughter was asking all kinds of questions. What books do you like to read? What’s your favorite movie? Who’s your favorite actor? The gentleman said, “What a precocious child. Children should be seen and not heard.” I was like, boy, didn’t that line always get us into so much trouble and toxicity. We got into this great argument. Then he admitted that he’d said it because he was always embarrassed that his mother told him he was a talker and that that wasn’t respectful. What was incredible was — also, I did it sort of laughing. “Oh, here we go. We all know that one,” as opposed to, “Don’t say that to my kid,” or whatever. We all discovered all this language that has stopped us from asking the questions. We didn’t just get here culturally all not asking each other. There’s a reason we didn’t. You’re the child. I’m the parent. All this absurdity that stopped us from deeply knowing each other and creating pattern for our children in their lives of asking the questions, of being fearless, of being boundaryless in that way.

Diane: Also, Laura, in the difficulty of trying to survive that people are going through today, sometimes there’s no time to cry. There’s no time to laugh. We can’t allow that to happen to the human family. We have to reach out with a hug and our heart for each other because we are a family. We are humanity. We forget this. Parents forget. You want your child to stand on your shoulders in the hopes that they can see further than we have so that we keep evolving and growing. If the child sees further than you have, then someday, this old human race might really become humane. That’s the goal that we’re after, our humanness and not go backwards. There’s always two steps forward, a step backward. The step backward the past three years has been really rough for a lot of people. Now we need to be kinder to each other. We need to stop judging each other so harshly. That’s outdated, just like, boys don’t cry. To hold stuff in, to stuff themselves up and not shed a tear is ridiculous. That’s all outdated. You don’t judge a book by its cover. You don’t know after that cover if it’s not a book you like or a wonderful book on those pages inside.

By the way, our book is a very good book to give your mother for Mother’s Day because it’s a book of love within the pages of searching, a book of hope within the pages of searching. Laura, tell them about the end. You’ve got to ask questions. Listen, I’m going to have to say goodbye to you guys because — I have a beautiful little dog. Her name is Abby. She’s a Havanese. I have two doggies. They’re going to have a lot of dogs in heaven. At eighty-seven, I have a lot of dogs in heaven. When I go to the other side, I’m going to hear a lot of good old, “Woof, woof, woof,” with love greeting me. My little doggie, we found out yesterday, she’s sick. Say a little prayer for Abby. I have to take her back to the vet right now. I just wish you all fulfillment of destiny with so much joy and so much love, for your highest good, all of your readers out there, listeners. I say readers because you say we should read a book. God bless you. You guys keep talking. Forgive me for having to leave early, but I got to go little Abby. I love you guys. I love you.

Laura: That’s so sweet.

Zibby: She’s so sweet, oh, my gosh.

Laura: It’s an amazing journey. Every step of this process has been, I may not have her. Every single step. I may not have her, so try to prolong her life. Let’s get talking. Let’s get her walking. I may not have her. Let’s archive your stories for your grandkids. I may not have her. Purpose matters. Purpose has been mind-blowing to witness in my eighty-seven-year-old mother who will never retire, who loves her art just like my father. As actors, there’s time when you’re not working, so what’s the purpose? This has given her purpose, purpose to be healthier, to be stronger, then to make it a book, then to share with other people, now to do press where we’re sharing with other people. Hopefully, it touches other people. Every day, there’s purpose. If we can do anything for our elders, our parents, our grandparents, our friends, our neighbor down the street — as we all saw doing COVID, we all need purpose. I say this to any children and teenagers who can hear us talking and sharing or that we can remind that teenagers are locked in their rooms locked to social media, and they’ve lost purpose. They’re in a purpose of comparison that’s based on false narrative that’s presented to the world to build a brand. There’s not truth in that. All of us of every age, if you’re eleven, if you’re eighty, you need the purpose, to help other people, to get talking. When my kids were in second grade, our school program was, the second graders had a senior buddy. We went to an assisted living home, and they saw their buddy every week. It was such an incredible program I wish all schools had because those were such beautiful relationships. You saw how the kids felt empowered. They were doing something special. These elderly people, some of them who don’t have relatives who are able to visit, it was really touching. That’s been an amazing thing to watch. Now it’s just a continual blessing that my mom’s still here and we’re able to talk about the book together.

Zibby: It was great in the book how you could see her resistance even to the walking and how as each chapter went on, the walking became more second nature. She wasn’t fighting you as much. As soon as you said, “Let’s go back to the stories. Let’s go back to acting,” she would light up. You could just see it on the page. Yes, finding whatever it is that gets our own relatives as excited to talk — sometimes people just want the chance to talk about themselves and their lives and feel like people care.

Laura: Exactly. When we’re younger, sometimes it’s like, I’ve heard this story. I don’t want to do this. This is not comfortable. They’re not going to see how wrong they were to A, B, or C. Also, when there’s a family crisis or a health crisis, all that stuff floats away. It’s just amazing that we don’t let it float away in everyday life, the horrific divide more than ever in this country, all the things all of us have fought hoping would never be something our children would even be aware of, racism, gender bias, all of it. That it’s here in such devastating ways and nobody’s talking, geopolitically, all of it, there’s a lot to learn from what seems simple.

Zibby: Yes. I love your questions at the end. I feel like the two of you should brand some walking cards. You can give it to people with some of your questions.

Laura: That’s such a sweet idea.

Zibby: Nobody does that. There’s “conversation at dinner” cards, but people should go on walks. Maybe you log your walks. I don’t know. I think you have a real opportunity to take these walks and, even if it’s every so often and even if it’s just a few questions, really motivate people to do it. It’s so important.

Laura: That’s so beautiful. Thank you for that. I know I’ve received empowering advice cards. In my relationship to loving Cheryl Strayed and her writing, would open up to a story in Tiny Beautiful Things and just come back to something that became a touchstone; obviously, sacred poetry. The idea of prompts, which is what we wanted in the back of the book, having them as cards, I love that idea. That would be so cool.

Zibby: You can take that and run with it.

Laura: Yes, okay. Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thank you to your mom and you. I really was so emotional reading this book and going through the whole journey. Then at the end, seeing the one picture of the two of you from behind walking in Santa Monia, oh, my gosh. Thank you. It was very moving.

Laura: Thank you. Thank you for your amazing show. Thank you for inspiring us and making us believe there’s a space to give ourselves in all areas of life. I had my daughter do yoga with me early this morning. She’s graduating high school in only a couple of weeks. She was like, “I don’t have time. I don’t have time. I’ve got to go to school. Then the school play tonight.” I was like, “You have to carve out the time for yourself,” and just realizing I was not going to. I did it because I wanted her to learn that we should. Since she’s graduating in a couple weeks, I’ve got two weeks to imprint some —

Zibby: — Teach balance.

Laura: It’s gorgeous that you’re reminding all of us. Thank you so much for your support and wisdom.

Zibby: Of course. You too. Thank you. Take care.

Laura: Take care. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.

Laura Dern and Diane Ladd, HONEY, BABY, MINE: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding)

HONEY, BABY, MINE: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding) by Laura Dern and Diane Ladd

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