Momma’s Maybe

Rahna Reike Rizzuto

Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, author of "Hiroshima in the Morning."

Growing up, my mother used to say, “Momma’s baby; daddy’s maybe” as a warning of sorts for me to keep my legs closed. I got it, even as a hormone-ravaged teenager, that a man can, at anytime, on any whim, walk away. “Daddy’s maybe” was more than a question of paternity, but a more pointed question of responsibility.

See, I grew up in a single-parent home. Unfortunately, I know what the abandonment of one parent can do to the people they leave behind. My family and I developed our own coping mechanisms because of it; some good, some good and terrible. But thanks to a ton of grace and elbow grease, we’re productive and content and sane. 

Although, my brother and I had our gripes as kids (curfews and grades and expectations and stuff), these three things we knew to be true: (1) We were loved. (2) We were wanted. (3) Mommy wasn’t going anywhere.

We were raised to believe that you are responsible to the people you are responsible for. So, when I saw the story about Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, I found myself trying to understand what I believed to be unforgivable and trying not to judge behavior I abhor.

Ten years ago, Ms. Rizzuto, while on a fellowship in Japan, had an “epiphany” when her children came to visit her. She didn’t want to be a full-time mother anymore. Hell, she didn’t want children in the first place. After 20 years of marriage, she didn’t want that either. She just wanted to be…her.

I can understand that. As mothers, we all have moments when the sheer weight of mothering is crushing, like an elephant on your chest. It is enormously difficult to not let parenthood, marriage and domesticity overtake you. It’s a struggle to remember to take care of you while you take care of everyone else. In that sense, I get her because I’ve been there. But, the group hug ends there.

I’m all for self-fulfillment and finding the “U” in human, but at what point does that righteousness become self-righteous? Ms. Rizzuto seems to be worshipping at the altar of Ms. Rizzuto and I can’t applaud that kind of idiolatry. I can’t nod my head in agreement and somehow rationalize how parenting at your convenience (or part-time parenting, as she calls it) is ok. It’s not. She didn’t have an addiction or a mental disability or walking pneumonia. You know, something that would actually render her incapable. She. Just. Quit. Admittedly, I don’t have the mental breadth to fully take that in and appreciate it. I’m just not that sophisticated, I guess. Please excuse my naivety, but I’m not impressed by the ability of a mother to sacrifice her children for the sake of her ego, regardless of how eloquently her book is written (ahem, Meredith Viera). 

Ms. Rizzuto claims her children are “fine” and, for her sake, I hope they are. No child benefits from knowing they weren’t wanted. No child benefits from the whole country knowing it either. And there’s the rub. Why the book? It feels like insult to injury to me. Where is her sense of responsibility to her boys? Can’t a part-time parent, part-time care? In her case, the answer is always maybe.