Rereading My Childhood — The Baby-Sitters Club #26: Claudia and the Sad Good-bye
I never knew my grandfathers, but I knew both of my grandmothers. They lived with my family at different times and helped raise my sister and me. My maternal grandmother watched Star Trek: The Next Generation every Saturday at five, and that was my first exposure to science fiction, sparking a lifelong devotion to space ships and androids. My paternal grandmother ran off to Arizona with her boyfriend, showing me that even at the ripe old age of 80, life can still be a romantic adventure.
They have both died now, and they have been dead for more than ten years at the time of this essay. The pain has lessened, but I still think about them whenever I watch Geordi La Forge spout some jargon just science-y enough to sound correct without any actual science involved, or whenever I wonder if there’s still enough time in my life to travel around the world.
It’s time for Claudia to say goodbye to Mimi in The Baby-Sitters Club #26: Claudia and the Sad Good-bye, and if that’s too much of a spoiler, then you should be angry at the title, not me, and, frankly, death is easier when you’re prepared, which is something I learned with the death of my father, which is for another essay. For now, the inevitable death of our favorite Stoneybrook grandmother is our focus. And, if it’s not obvious, this one is a little sad.
Claudia starts the novel firmly cementing Mimi has a positive influence in Claudia’s life. Mimi is still dealing with the effects of the stroke she suffered in #7: Claudia and Mean Janine. Claudia has been helping her, but it seems like Mimi is getting worse. During the first BSC meeting of the book, Mallory remarks that Mimi yelled at her for taking Mimi shopping at a place that makes Mimi wait to use the dressing rooms. The problem is that Mallory has never taken Mimi shopping. It’s not looking great for the matriarch of the Kishi household.
Anyway, the BSC gets a phone call from the Addisons, who have two children: Sean and Corrie. They’re not looking for baby-sitting services, exactly, but they are looking for an art teacher for Corrie. Of course, Claudia jumps at the opportunity. Claudia has a great idea, even though those are usually reserved for Kristy:
“Maybe I could start a little art class. Like on Saturdays in our basement. Gabbie and Myriah Perkins love art projects. So does Jamie Newton. That would be fun. And good experience for me, in case I ever want to be an art teacher.”
“And,” said Kristy slowly, “it would show people that our club can do more than just baby-sit. I think it would be good for business.”
“I’d need some help, though,” I said slowly. “I don’t know if I could manage a class alone.”
“If you hold the class on Saturdays, I could help you,” spoke up Mary Anne. “We’ll split the money sixty-forty, since you’ll be in charge.”
I’m surprised Mary Anne didn’t say that slowly.
Later, during the Kishis’ dinner (after Janine’s college class entitled “Advances and Trends in Computerized Biopsychiatry,” which is nothing), Mimi passes out and the family rushes her to the hospital.
After a long series of tests, the doctors send her home, but it doesn’t seem like Mimi has recovered. Claudia becomes frustrated with Mimi and they have a brief argument. Claudia leaves in tears.
At the next art class, the kids mess around with watercolors as Marilyn and Carolyn mess with Jamie Newton. After all the kids have been picked up, Corrie’s parents are very late. So late that Corrie is the only one whose painting is dry when her parents finally arrive.
There’s another art class, but this one doesn’t go smoothly. Mimi comes downstairs during the lesson and collapses in front of the children. Claudia retrieves her parents while Mary Anne and Corrie distract the children and get them ready to go home early. Unfortunately, Corrie sees Mimi on the stretcher and cries, and her mother is forty-five minutes late.
Once again, the hospital is not great. They can’t get painkillers for Mimi. That is strange because every time I’ve been to the hospital, they are quick with the pain meds even if I wasn’t in any pain — just general throwing up and dizziness. Luckily, Mimi seems to get better as Claudia stays with her in the hospital. Eventually, the doctors discharge her.
After a few days, Claudia wakes up in the middle of the night and hears her parents talking. Mimi passed away while Claudia was asleep. Everything becomes hectic. Calling the relatives falls to Claudia’s parents, and people come over all day to offer their condolences. Claudia and Janine have a heart-to-heart. Claudia calls Stacey, who cries. Then Claudia calls Kristy, who doesn’t cry, thankfully, and Kristy offers to cancel the meeting. Claudia insists that they don’t cancel the meeting. They sit in silence. Janine even sits in on the meeting because she doesn’t want to be alone.
Claudia still wants to participate in club activities, even though Kristy let her opt out. The girls get pizza and share memories about Mimi, including the first time Mimi had pizza. The family had dressed up to eat at a Japanese restaurant and Mimi wore a traditional kimono. When they arrived at the restaurant, it was closed, so they ended up at a pizza joint.
“And everyone stared,” I said, “because Mimi looked like she was on her way to a costume party, but we ordered two pies anyway, and Mimi ate one slice very bravely.”
“And,” said Kristy, “as we were finally leaving that awful place where everyone had been staring at us, Mimi turned around, faced the people in the restaurant, and announced, “[sic]Best Japanese food I have ever eaten!”[sic]
Us club members were hysterical. Jessi even dropped a whole slice of pizza on the floor.
I don’t get it. Claudia calls an important garment a costume and Stoneybrook is racist? Like, people in Connecticut have never seen a kimono? I saw one in a store right next to the My Hero Academia enamel pins — it’s not that uncommon. And I’m sure pizza exists in Tokyo. If I was able to get pizza in a little mall in a village in the Philippines in 1996, I’m certain there’s some pizza joint in Akihabara in 1989. I don’t get why it’s funny that Stoneybrook is so devoid of culture that a kimono is perplexing to the locals. Or maybe Martin has some strange ideas about Japanese culture. Either way, the optics here are not great.
And speaking of strange cultural gymnastics, Mimi’s funeral is the next day and she’s buried. Not cremated, which is the custom for Japanese people. The whole funeral is, dare I say, white. White church. White customs. White people. There’s nothing remotely Japanese in the whole ceremony. It could be that Mimi converted, but I’m just not sure and this is not addressed in the text.
For the next few days, the kids at school don’t talk to Claudia, because everyone is up in everyone else’s business and the whole town seems to know about Mimi’s passing. Ashley Wyeth makes an appearance and she’s just as pleasant and warm as ever. That was sarcasm.
Claudia is thankful when the weekend comes and it’s time for her art lesson. The kids are making puppets and Corrie is making Nancy Drew. She wants to give it to her mother. Marilyn and Carolyn tell a dumb joke about twins named Trouble and Shut Up and that one is so old it went to college for fifty bucks a semester and now thinks everyone younger than it is entitled. After class, Claudia gets a call from Corrie’s mother.
“Well, the thing is, I’ve been held up doing my errands.” (She did sound like she was calling from a pay phone on the street.) “My bracelet won’t be ready at the jewelry store for another half an hour, and the man at the laundry is running late, too.” (What a tragedy, I thought.) “So, I was wondering if you’d keep Corrie for another hour or so, dear. I’ll pay you whatever the rate is for an unexpected call like this.”
Charge her an exorbitant fee like the landlord of a modestly-sized apartment! You got bracelet money, you got peak pricing money, lady!
Claudia and Corrie make sandwiches and talk to Janine. When Corrie’s mother finally shows up, Corrie gives the Nancy Drew puppet to Claudia.
The Kishis go through Mimi’s things. It turns out that Mimi wrote her obituary before she passed. Claudia talks about her anger toward Mimi for dying, the doctors for not doing enough to save Mimi, and herself for fighting with Mimi toward the end.
In art class, the students learn about collages and make their own. After class, Mrs. Addison is on time! Holy crap, drop the balloons! Cue the “Macarena!” Release the Al Gore!
“Hi,” replied Mrs. Addison. “I’m sorry I’m so early. My husband’s waiting in the car.” (She turned and gave a little wave toward a blue Camaro parked crookedly in our driveway, as if the Addisons were in a big hurry.) “I forgot to tell Corrie this morning that we have tickets to the ice show in Stamford. I mean, tickets for Sean and Corrie. They’ll meet a baby-sitter there, and then Mr. Addison and I can enjoy an afternoon to ourselves.”
Finally, it’s time for Claudia to confront Mrs. Addison.
“Did you know that Corrie is always the last one to leave my house after class is over? And that she’s always the first to arrive?”
Mrs. Addison checked her watch impatiently and glanced over her shoulder at the car waiting in our driveway.
“I love having Corrie around,” I went on. “She’s a terrific kid. But, well, she feels pretty bad about being left here . . . left here longer than any of the other children, I mean.”
“Did you notice,” I started to ask, “that Corrie hasn’t brought home any of her art projects?”
“I think,” I began (and oh, my lord, I hoped I wasn’t butting in where I didn’t belong), “that Corrie is a little bit mad at you and Mr. Addison.” (What an understatement.) “She wants to please you, but she gets angry and scared when she feels like,” (I tried to think of a nice way to say that Corrie felt her parents didn’t care about her), “like . . . sometimes other things are more important to you and Mr. Addison than she is.”
Mrs. Addison cries and says she’ll do better. I doubt it. Boomers will show contrition and the second it inconveniences them or they forget, things go back to the way they were before. Or they get mad at the possibility of being wrong and take it out on the teenager at Jack in the Box.
I hope the Addisons are saving some of that ice show money because Sean and Corrie are going to need a lot of therapy when they grow up. Honestly, these people shouldn’t have had kids. Not every couple is equipped, prepared, or ready for a tiny dependent human and the sooner people realize that the sooner we can focus on something more important like devastating climate change or Christmas toy shortages because apparently, those two things are equivalent in the eyes of capitalism. I’m just kidding. Capitalism only cares about consumerism and not the very ground we live on. Unless that ground has resources for consumption. But I digress.
Claudia is finally ready to confront her feelings about Mimi, and she does it in the best way for herself. She makes a collage featuring cut-outs from magazines that signify Mimi in some way or another — teacups for their “special tea,” needlework, a Japanese woman holding a Japanese baby. I’m assuming they are holding Goku figurines, sushi, and a flag, otherwise, how would Claudia know they’re Japanese.
Meanwhile, the kids in the art class have a special project they’ve been working on — another collage for Mimi. With all these collages, the Kishi house is overrun with them, and they display them in Mimi’s old room.
Losing a loved one is hard and I think Martin made the concept accessible to a younger audience. Mimi knew she was dying, and it’s implied that she just “let go.” That adds an undertone that death isn’t something sudden, even if it may seem like that to the loved ones. Death is something to be confronted.
Claudia’s human response of anger and a need to return to normal is true to the character and a different narrative. It contrasts with Mary Anne and Stacey, both of whom have the expected emotional response of sadness. It shows that there are several possible emotions surrounding death besides despair and that each reaction is valid.
However, I think there’s a real lack of cultural sensitivity in this book. Why wasn’t Mimi cremated? What was so funny about the restaurant scene? I saw a bunch of racists. Also, I don’t see much of Mimi within the funeral or the stories about her. They felt like stories that could be told about anyone — not just Mimi.
Maybe that was on purpose. Death is universal. Losing a loved one is universal. This last year, we’ve all had to confront loss and death in an unprecedented way. Maybe my criticisms that the book lacks specificity are shrouded in my recent contemplation of death, funeral rites, and if a memorial should be made for the dead, or should be made for the living. These are personal questions with no definite answers that are dependent on societal norms, cultural backgrounds, and personal tastes. They probably shouldn’t be explored in a silly essay that has a joke about the 1996 Democratic Convention in it.
For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.