In the 2002 Oscar nominated drama The Hours by Stephen Daldry, Philip Glass's triumphant score played on in sanctimonious solemnity as Julianne Moore portrayed a 1950's desperate housewife who wallows in a pool of self-pity for half-a-reel before selfishly abandoning her adoring, faithful husband and toddler son to pursue a "life worth living". While the movie doesn't side-step the consequences of her choice, there still lingers beneath it a tinge of Betty Friedan inspired soliloquy.
Fortunately, The Hours offered only a fictional account of feminism's "liberating" fruits while an article in Salon by titled, "Why I Left My Children," offers 18 short paragraphs of Rizzuto recounting her real-life decision to dismantle her family and leave her children nearly motherless. She began:
I had been awarded a grant to live in Japan for six months to interview the survivors of the atomic bomb. It was an honor that my husband had encouraged me to apply for, and we were in complete agreement, in fact he insisted, that I should go. The question was not how he and the kids would manage — he had plenty of help from a loving caretaker who had become part of our family, and from actual blood relations living down the block and flying in from halfway around the world. The wild card was me: How would I do, living in a foreign country where I did not even speak the language, living on my own for the first time ever in my 37-year-old life?
My marriage did not survive.
The question I am always asked is, “How could you leave your children?” How could you be the mother who walks away? As if my children were embedded inside me, even years after birth, and had to be surgically removed? As if I abandoned them on a desert island, amid flaming airplane debris and got into the lifeboat alone?
In a few short paragraphs, Rizzuto described how her marriage went awry in those six-months, which amounted to little more than clichéd diatribe about marital boredom and unspoken expectations as if her 20-year marriage had meant absolutely nothing. Shortly thereafter, Rizzuto went on to discuss an "epiphany" she had when her two sons, age 5 and 3, visited her in Japan. Amidst "feeding them" and "finding them a bathroom" without her husband's help, Rizzuto realized she "never wanted to be a mother".
I was afraid of being swallowed up, of being exhausted, of opening my eyes one day, 20 (or 30!) years after they were born, and realizing I had lost myself and my life was over.
Yet their father wanted a family. He begged. He promised to take care of everything; he removed every possible obstacle I could think of. He would be the primary caretaker if I would just have them.
It all makes sense now, doesn’t it? I am a cold bitch. I was never a mother in anything but name. I am probably one of those women who will be arrested for going to a nearby bar and leaving my children asleep in a house with a faulty pilot light: a house in flames.
I am a bad mother.
But that’s not true either.
My problem was not with my children, but with how we think about motherhood. About how a male full-time caretaker is a “saint,” and how a female full-time caretaker is a “mother.” It is an equation we do not question; in fact we insist on it. And we punish the very idea that there are other ways to be a mother.
Thankfully, Rizzuto did not fully abandon her children, she just divorced her husband, gave him full-custody, and moved down the street so her sons can "visit" her anytime. So she can be a "part-time" mom who shows up for the easy "let's bake cookies" moments and leaves the true parenting to the father.
In regards to her poor husband, she said, "it was not easy for him, but he has made it possible for me to define my own motherhood, and for our sons to have a life of additions, rather than subtraction, of a relative peace, rather than constant accusation."