September 30, 2002 12:00 PM

Driving around L.A. with her four young sons in her dusty Honda minivan, Patricia Heaton heard, from somewhere in the back, the words “Mom, you stink!”

“It was my 3-year-old,” she says. “He wasn’t mad. He was just trying it out.” It is that kind of understanding that informs Heaton’s two-time Emmy-winning role as the long-suffering wife of sportswriter Ray Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS’s top-rated sitcom. And it is the juggling of her two lives—as mom and as TV star—that serves as the subject of Motherhood & Hollywood: How to Get a Job Like Mine, Heaton’s first book. “Because even though I’m a working actor, I still think the hardest job in the world is being a mom. This book is sort of a housewife’s rant.”

Heaton’s own childhood began idyllically in the Cleveland suburb of Bay Village, as the fourth of five kids of Chuck Heaton, now 84, an award-winning sportswriter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Pat, a homemaker and social activist. Then in 1971 Heaton’s mother died at the age of 46 of an aneurysm. “I was 12,” says Heaton. “I came home from school for lunch, and she was gone. And, of course, it was the worst thing you can imagine.”

Despite that heartbreak, Heaton soldiered on. Since second grade, she had made a name for herself at St. Raphael’s Catholic grade school by belting out tunes from Barbra Streisand’s My Name Is Barbra album. In 1980, after graduating from Ohio State as a theater major, she made the move to New York City, where for eight years she toiled as an aspiring Broadway actress (Don’t Get God Started), shoe model (size 6), investment firm proofreader (Morgan Stanley) and copy clerk at a national magazine (full disclosure: it was PEOPLE). Then in 1989 she moved to L.A., marrying British actor-producer David Hunt a year later. In 1995 she landed Raymond.

Since then, Heaton, 44, and Hunt, 48, “have done a lot of reorganizing of our lives to keep things from falling apart,” she says. “Now we all [sons Sam, 9, John, 7, Joe, 5, and Danny, 3] sit down to dinner every night at 5:30, and we don’t answer the phone after 5.”

In the following exclusive excerpt, Heaton dishes just as candidly about the work involved in keeping up her glamorous Hollywood front.

Did I ever imagine there would come a day when I hated trying on evening gowns? I guess I never imagined evening gowns as a part of my daily existence. But I used to love dress-up. My mom had one silky, satiny bathrobe that I loved to put on, after which I would pretend I was a captive princess on a pirate ship—well, that’s another book.

Cut to Los Angeles, 2000. My stylist Ricci (as in “Ricky,” but the L.A. version) and I are standing in front of two racks of designer misogyny. These gowns are all samples that have gone down a runway in New York or Paris on a model 25 years younger, 2 feet taller and 50 lbs. lighter than me. And I’m the 5’2″ runt with four C-sections and too many years of nursing who’s supposed to select one of these outfits to appear [at the Emmy Awards] in front of millions of people. Thank you very much.

Now I know there are such things as girdles and Wonderbras to give a gal a bit of help, but since all these gowns are strapless, backless, cut down to here, slit up to there, sheer Lycra stretch-cling fabric, the only camouflage is possibly Band-Aids over your nipples, that is if you can find Band-Aids big enough to go over those babies since they nursed those ungrateful little…well, hell, it really doesn’t matter because your nipples are actually pointing south, and if you just tape them down around your waist you’ll have that nice flat-chested look that’s so popular with the young people today. Hi, Gwyneth!

The other way to go is to pick the big beaded thing that looks like it came straight from last year’s DAR convention. These gowns weigh about a thousand pounds, but they allow for an entire team of architects to erect scaffolding under there.

The really sick thing about the Emmys is that they are scheduled early in September, just after I’ve come back from four months of vacation. Vacation meaning “I’m off to England to eat my way through the British countryside with my husband, Lord Bangers and Stout for Breakfast!” There’s the 10 lbs. the camera adds, plus the 10 lbs. that the strawberries with clotted cream added, plus the ballast created by the double-stuffed Oreos dipped in peanut butter (completely worth it, by the way), plus beer. Thus, the Zone diet.

For six weeks I hang in there. I have no bread. No cereal, no rice, no nothin’. Didn’t lose a pound.

Now it probably would have helped if I had exercised a bit. At my age, hard, long hours of gut-wrenching exercise works; that or plastic surgery. Which is what I opt for. Yep, under the knife for no good reason other than sheer, unadulterated vanity. That stomach had to go. It wasn’t even a stomach anymore, really. It was more like a big old wrinkly suede bag hanging down. Not to mention the ridge of scar tissue from the four C-sections. When I tried to suck it in, it just got more wrinkly, like one of those cute Chinese dogs with the folds around their necks except without the cute.

So off to my new best friend, the plastic surgeon, Dr. Hackensack. Not only does Hackensack do a bang-up job, I get to stay in a recovery center for three days and take Percocet, Valium and Ambien all at the same time. That’s right! Who knew? It was as if cutting me open, creating a new belly button and scraping out seven years of scar tissue never happened!

Would I have gone through all this if I wasn’t an actress, if I didn’t have a huge awards show to attend? Hard to say. I’ve been pretty vain-slash-insecure all my life, so maybe plastic surgery was always in my future. Well, the future is here!

The next hurdle is the shoes. And the jewelry. And the bag, and the wrap, and the hair and makeup. Does all this sound shallow?

It takes about three hours to put the whole thing together on the day. Glamorous? Perhaps. But since the Emmys happen on a Sunday, that morning consists of rounding up all my reluctant boys for church, sitting through my Sunday school class daydreaming about winning, hauling everyone home, getting them lunch, then sitting in my dining room in my bathrobe in front of the big picture window (better light) while makeup artist Brett tries to do something with the front of my head. They’re not called makeup artists for nothing.

Did I mention my husband in all of this? Yes, he’s actually around and actually has to look presentable, and after all the bow-tie trauma he ends up miserably holding my handbag in the background while the paparazzi shoot me. I sometimes think he wishes they would. Or him. Fairy-tale Hollywood couple, right? [Actually] I think my husband, Dave, and I have a better than average chance (at least in Hollywood) of having a lasting marriage. We fight a lot, we don’t have much in common, and we each have habits that drive the other person totally, nerve-nakedly insane. [In Hollywood] you’ll read story after story about instant attraction, hugely romantic gestures, great sex. That’s when I give the relationship anywhere from three months to three years to fall apart.

Which brings us to—the Red Carpet. For all my complaining, it’s a pretty heady experience. The minute you step out of your limo, your name is announced and hordes of fans start screaming. If you’re lucky.

Unlucky is when you arrive at the same time as Julia Roberts, and then you might as well be wearing your Catholic school uniform for all the attention people will be paying you. But eventually someone will notice you are there, and then you get to be queen for a day (or a few minutes).

The awards themselves are like a different world altogether. I find myself constantly on edge as I sit in my seat, fighting a huge emotional battle—trying not to care, trying not to look like I care, trying to be okay with the fact that I care way too much. All this with a camera on me. Now, there’s acting!

Raymond is a regular loser at these things, so there is some resignation on our parts. We’re the uncool lunch table at Hollywood High School.

In 2000, the impossible happened. I won the Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy. All I can say is that every single person on this planet should have the experience once in their life—it is the most fabulous, wonderful, exciting, outrageously phenomenal feeling in the whole universe, even if it is completely meaningless. Only my children’s births were more exciting (and I’m sticking that in here only because otherwise I’ll look shallow—I don’t even remember my kids being born).

And then, let’s throw in Cher as my presenter! Cher! Me, getting the highest honor in my field of work from CHER! My bubble was burst almost immediately. No, not because I still had to get up with the kids the next morning at 7 a.m. and feed them breakfast and dress them and drive them to school—not that. No, it was at the Emmy party after the awards, when an agent from my agency was introduced to me and, after hearing my name, said, “And what do you do?”

You see, right there, that’s proof of God’s existence—or His twisted sense of humor. Because the really important things in life are your family and friends. And what will people say about you at your funeral—that you won an Emmy, or that you were a good person, kind and generous? I hope it’s the latter. And the fact that I recently commissioned an Emmy-shaped coffin just eliminates the need for anyone to bring it up.

One of the special perks that go along with lucking into a role on a Top-10-rated television show is that you become fresh meat and fair game for the tabloids.

Unfortunately, my first appearance in a tabloid ended up being a “Don’t” in one of their fashion pages. According to this tabloid’s fashion “expert,” I had made the unforgivable mistake of not wearing stockings—I mean, who calls them stockings anymore?

The next time I made the papers, it wasn’t about me. It was just about my breasts. The article included a “renowned” plastic surgeon commenting on the photos, pointing out that the right breast was higher than the left breast, indicating some surgical work. Now, this is not to say that I never had any work done on my two little friends. However, I had stuff removed, not added. See, after nursing four boys in rapid succession, my poor breasts were two empty flesh sacks plaintively whap-whap-whapping against my chest on my morning jog. Ricci is a magician, but not a miracle worker. The day he held up a turtleneck muumuu for me, insisting that the comeback of the “Maude” look was just around the corner and that I could be the first one to get in on it, was the day I knew it was time for the knife.

Ultimately, it’s a no-win situation with these papers. If I complain, it only makes the allegations seem more authentic. If I sue, it costs a fortune.

I figure there’s only one way to go: confess. Confess to everything. I did it. And if I haven’t done it, I will.

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