"Poor, poor pitiful me,
poor, poor pitiful me...
Woe, woe is me."
- Warren Zevon
She's baaack! Like it or not, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto is still compulsively trying to get us to understand why she upped and left her husband and two young children years ago. She's so obsessed with justifying herself that she's written many articles, a book and appeared on TV talk shows trying to do the job. Apparently it's not working. Apparently, whatever demons shout "Bad Mommy!" inside her head cannot be exorcised in the ways she's tried.
But she keeps trying, to the detriment of all of us. This time she recruits her own mother to the task even though her mom is deceased and therefore can't take part in the Great Work of saving her daughter from the consequences of her own choices.
The title of this latest article
is "The Pain Behind My Mother's Flawless Facade." (Salon.com
, 5/5/11). The lead-in breathlessly tells us "She was a housewife so perfect I thought I could never live up to her example. Then I realized how she had suffered."
Wow. That's intriguing. Pain and suffering; how better to entice a reader? What will she reveal? Her father's mad ex-wife in the attic a la Jane Eyre
? Murder? International crime? I could hardly wait.
But Rizutto doesn't deliver. Too much of her rather long piece is - surprise, surprise - a rehash of her own decision to leave her husband and kids and how she now lives down the street from them, sees them every day, etc., so her original abandonment is really OK, you see.
And a lot of it is about her memories of her mother who was a stay-at-home mother to Rizutto and her siblings. To hear her tell it, Rizutto's mom sounds like a really good one.
My mother was always there. She was a 1950s housewife, living in the '60s and '70s. Whatever my siblings and I needed, she gave: hand-sewn prom dresses; homemade Christmas ornaments; she pulled up a stool and offered step-by-step advice (through the locked bathroom door I refused to open for, oh, an hour) about how to insert my first tampon. When I confessed to her, as a child, that I had stolen candy bars from a local store, she helped me believe life could go on and be righted, and it was that safety, that lying together in my bed, that ensured I would never steal anything again. When I was 15, and broke my arm falling off a runaway horse, careening straight downhill behind my house in the rain, I didn't cry -- it didn't even hurt -- until I laid eyes on my mother.
She was also the mother my friends wanted advice from; many of them didn't have their own parents handy since they were away at boarding school, but she was more than a convenient replacement. She never judged anyone, no matter what they admitted to her. Despite the fact that I had two siblings and a father, I believed that her life was, entirely and exclusively, devoted to me.
She sounds like a great mother - energetic, loving, understanding, resourceful, patient. Rizutto thought so and so even did her friends.
And when Rizutto grew up and considered having children, her mother encouraged her to do it.
My mother also seemed to be imparting a coded wisdom when she counseled me to have kids: "I would hate to see you miss out," she often told me.
We've now completed about 80% of the article, so where's the pain and suffering? Where's the excitement, the titillation?
Well, her mother never told Rizutto about any pain or suffering; her father did.
She struggled, he told me.
As a young bride and mother, barely 20 when I was born, she wanted to see the world, but instead she found herself suffocating in the roles of mother, wife, sister, daughter. Our nuclear family moved to New England, where it got worse: There were many winter days when she gave up trying to leave the house entirely because as soon as she finally got three toddlers into their snow clothes, one of us would have to pee. She spent her days alone with us, and even ate with us alone because my father had to supervise the dining room at the boarding school where he taught. She tried, and failed, and kept trying to find herself; my father recounted a litany of her attempts: correspondence course, school plays, ceramics, weaving... Nothing helped, until we were finally all in school and she began writing for the local newspaper.
That's it? That's the pain? The suffering? Yep, that's it.
What Rizutto describes is what's doubtless felt by every parent at one time or another, particularly stay-at-home parents. As much as they love their children, there comes a time - many times - when piles of dirty laundry and spilled milk and peanut butter and jelly smeared on the kitchen table have no appeal. And yes, when you're a stay-at-home, there are times that that can seem to be all there is - dirty diapers from here to the horizon.
But here's a secret; that's not suffering. It's just one of the many sometimes difficult, onerous things adults - all adults - deal with. For adults, life is not a matter of always doing what you want to do when you want to do it. You have commitments to other people and to things that are long-term. And when things get rough or just dull, adults know that this too will pass.
Having a husband who supports you and the kids is not suffering. Neither is having healthy children who grow into healthy, productive adults. Having to stay inside on snowy days is not suffering.
And let's not forget, although Rizutto apparently has, that her mother never described childrearing as suffering. Was it a bed of roses? Probably not. But just reading her description of her mother, it's impossible not to see a woman who brought real love to the task of raising her children. Again, even Rizutto's friends felt that. No one who's terribly unhappy gives that kind of love.
It's sad that Rizutto recruits her deceased mother to her defense of what her mom would never have done - abandon her family. But Rizutto is on a mission to absolve herself of her guilt about her decision, and nothing will dissuade her. And if that means distorting the reality of her mother's life, so be it. If it means distorting the meaning of suffering, then Rizutto's equal to that task too.
The larger picture is the attack on motherhood as a snare and a delusion that so many have preached for so long. For decades now, we've been told that motherhood is stultifying drudgery, but women don't seem to be getting the picture. They still sign up for the motherhood program by the millions every year, much to the distress of those who claim that women only want to have careers.
So there will, I fear, always be a market for works like Rizutto's. Anything, regardless of how dubious, that paints motherhood as loathsome, will be welcomed in a certain quarter.
Fortunately, most women know better. Rahna Reiko Rizutto's mother certainly did.