Finally, an American mother who stopped her yammering and found a stunningly simple solution to the work-life balance problem: she left her family—her husband and three small children! And now she has written a memoir about it: Unraveled. She is Maria Housden, and while I waited for her memoir to arrive, in its plain brown amazon.com wrapper, I wondered what had made her do it. Certainly some sort of substance abuse had to be involved, a Judy Garland-like hitting of rock bottom. Or maybe the decision was triggered by a Fear of Becoming Andrea Yates self-diagnosis. Perhaps this was a serious psychotherapeutic memoir, the kind sometimes co-written with an M.D., who stands quietly in the authorial background, calm hands steadying the writer's pen, providing reassurance and possibly a medical Web site (sponsored by Oxygen? Lifetime?). I thought of Brooke Shields's Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, and Marie Osmond's Behind the Smile: My Journey Out of Postpartum Depression (co-written with Marcia Wilkie and Dr. Judith Moore)—except in this case the journey would be one that propelled the mother through the family, beyond it, and right back into single life.
Or perhaps I was imagining such hellward-spiraling narratives only because my own escapes from family have had such a random, seamy, slumming quality. I find I'm the sort of harried working mother who has difficulty scheduling in a bit of rest amid the Ptolemaically complicated interlocking gears of professional and personal life. The clock of woman is strange. You go along for four days, or sixteen, or twenty-five, in some hidden, hard-to-divine algorithmic pattern, heaping more and more little things on your already crowded plate (the playdates, the craft projects, the teeny-tiny little muffins), and then on Day 26—Saturday—the whole thing collapses, and suddenly there you are, a character straight out of Cheever, lying in a hammock from 10:00 a.m. on, swilling cosmopolitans while re-reading William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist … "A book where there are actually compelling metaphysical reasons children behave the way they do!" I recall yelling back at the house on that fateful day, which my family so cheerfully remembers.