The housewife’s collapse

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Shannon Drury knows that not only bridges collapse – people do, too.

I am an at-home parent. That’s how I identify, purposefully avoiding the popular, gender-coded acronym SAHM that implies all stay-at-home moms are the same. I’m not. Another label I created is The Radical Housewife, a moniker that seemed pretty funny when I set up a MySpace page. I’m just that kind of post-hipster, Gen-X irony-laden spouse and parent who wants to reclaim “housewife” from the June Cleavers and Barbara Bushes of American history.

Why the distinction? Why deem it necessary to create a goofball label at all? Not simply to declare my leftist leanings to the world, surely. No, my choice to differentiate myself runs deeper than my political beliefs-it’s about the long-suppressed secret of full-time motherhood.

Housewifery really sucks.

But it sucks no more or less than any other job, when evaluated critically. Kissing ass can be as soul draining as wiping ass, but the white-collar worker doing the former lacks the suffocating aura of love and devotion and all-consuming cultural sacrifice of the latter. Back when I slung lattes for a living, I didn’t have the world’s expectations upon me. I wasn’t molding the future, I wasn’t anyone’s savior, I wasn’t anyone’s model of goodness and purity. I made coffee people liked. People liked it enough to buy more. The corporate coffee gods rewarded me in turn. You don’t need a radical outlook to miss the simplicity of those capitalist days.

At times, I do like my job. At times I even love it. But lately, I hate it. I suppose this admission is as radical an action as any.

Strip housewifery of its pink aprons and banana bread scent and it’s a job like any other, with aggravation and burnout and depression or worse. And when we housewives finally implode, it can be spectacular.

It’s not too much of a stretch to call moms the neglected infrastructure of our society, taken for granted each and every day. My children certainly careen over me with abandon, caring little of the wear and tear they exact. Whining demands are like rust, intractable demands are hairline cracks, bellows of “I hate you!” are deep shudders. A child’s special needs diagnosis turns into a fracture that’s harder and harder to repair. But it’s supposed to be that way, isn’t it? We’re built to withstand the strain, right? Maybe. Some bridges and moms are built tougher than others. Unlike highway bridges, however, moms aren’t subjected to yearly inspections, no matter how flawed. How would anyone know if I were structurally deficient if I didn’t tell them so? And I’m not going to. It seems even radicals cling to outmoded ideals of motherly perfection, in spite of themselves.

Is it any wonder, then, that the horrific Aug. 1 bridge collapse affected everyone so deeply, and me so viscerally? To me, the fall was a tragedy not only for the people lost and for the survivors whose lives where irrevocably shaken, but for my entire city, and by extension, me. How else to explain the constant tears and the intense, almost physical discomfort at seeing my city on the front page of the New York Times?

I recoiled in disgust watching Matt Lauer’s handsome mug reporting from the riverbank. What in hell was he doing here? When the nation’s First Housewife and her husband flew in to witness the rubble for themselves, I’d finally had it. Get away! I shouted at the television. Leave us alone! We don’t need you! This was wrong, utterly wrong. This was not supposed to happen here. The despair twisting in my gut felt familiar, as it was the same churn I experienced only a week or so before, when my own mother told me, “You are falling apart from stress and you need help.”

How did I reply to her? To the woman over whom I ran roughshod in my own way, so many years ago? Get away! Leave me alone! Some things never change. Until they have to.

For when we are unsupported, we will fall. Cracks and fractures happen; they are part of life and as such are easy to ignore. If only our deeply held myths were as vulnerable. For if a mother weren’t held up so high and trod upon so often, all the while supporting the desperate hopes of so many, maybe her collapse wouldn’t be so unavoidable. And maybe, just maybe, if a wounded community can accept the scrutiny of the entire world, one mom can too.

That would be radical.

Shannon Drury is a self-described radical housewife. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.