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Hausfrau muthah-zine: Riding the roller coaster of passion that is parenting

An interview with Nicole Chaison
from Portland (Maine), USA

by Elke Zobl

November 2004


Can you tell me first of all a little bit about yourself? How old are you, where are you originally from and where do you reside now?

I'm going to be 38 in December. This I cannot believe. In my mind I am 16, although my uterus would tell a different story. I still get zits. Only now I get zits on top of wrinkles, which is confusing and maddening, but ultimately humbling.

I grew up outside Hartford, Connecticut, in a commuter town called Vernon. Its claim to fame was that it was about half way between Boston and New York City. I now live in Portland, Maine, which is excellent.

What do you do besides your zine?

I love to be at the ocean. Sometimes I read, knit, and cook.

I'm also frequently found picking up and organizing other people's stuff.

And I homeschool my two kids, George, age 7, and Isadora, age 3.

 

For how long have you been running your zine now? Are you the only editor or is there a team?

I will have been doing Hausfrau muthah-zine for two years this spring.

What made you decide to start this project? How did you come up with the idea and the name?

Here's the explanation, which I lifted right off the back cover of the zine:



Hausfrau was born because I wanted to make a zine for gals with kids and it all came together when my friend Grace--who is, among other things, a mother of two children--told me about the time her mother-in-law said the following about a friend who was putting her energy into raising her children: "She was an intellectual and a really gifted writer, but now she's just a hausfrau."
Oof!
What was that about? Was the comment a personal dis to Grace, who herself is a gifted writer but spends most of her time catering to the needs of two children under five? Or was it a manifestation of the mother-in-law's own fear of insignificance in her struggle for identity? Or was it a shrewd reflection of the way we belittle mothers in our society, no matter which path we choose? It doesn't matter, because whatever the answer is--and I suspect it's a combination of all of the above-it just plain sucks. It sucks because it implies that by making the sacrifices demanded of motherhood, the friend simultaneously lost her intellect and her gift for writing. What a brazen, insulting leap in logic! It doesn't make any sense! And yet, we walk around with this sentiment nestled snugly in our consciousness.
Being a hausfrau has come to mean something despicable in our culture. It's something shameful, something less-than. I consulted my American Heritage Dictionary, and it said this: a housewife, from the German, haus (house) + frau (wife), used as a courtesy title before a surname or professional title of a married woman. Seems straight-forward enough. So how did it come to be that calling someone a hausfrau sinks her to the status of a piece of doo-doo?
The fact remains: Grace's mother-in-law is herself a woman who raised two kids in the 60s and 70s without a husband. And she had to give up her career as a college professor to do it. Surely, she must have experienced the daily rollercoaster of passion (complete adoration of your offspring one instant, abject hatred the next), the exhausting drudgery (here, let's put that snow boot on again, little one, so we can then struggle into your hat, mittens, and coat and then get your brother ready in the same fashion so that we can then trudge out to the car and nearly kill ourselves on the ice in the driveway while I wrassle you into your car seats and then drive to the grocery store where I will attempt to make mindful food choices for my family while you pull items off the shelves and scream for your sippy cup, which of course I have left in the car), and the daily conundrums (should I let my one-year old happily eat those crayons there for a moment-it does say non-toxic on the box, after all--so that I can attend to my five-year old's hysteria for having gotten a poop smear on his Red Power Ranger costume?).
So how could Grace's mother-in-law have said such a thing? Thought such a thing of a fellow hausfrau? How could she forget that every single minute of a hausfrau's day is a tangled web of intense thought and emotion? How could she belittle someone else's experience as less important or meaningful or deep than her own?
I think it's because there is a hausfrau amnesia-some magical mind-eraser that blots out the struggles we experience on a daily basis. I believe it's the only way we can get out of bed in the morning and do it all over again. It's also why our species survives. But those struggles are precisely what we need to keep in mind, because our voices are lost when we don't tell the stories that make up our days.
Hausfrau is about those stories. It's about that rollercoaster I'm on every day. It's not going to last forever, I know it, but this is the way my life is right now. And this is how I'm trying to cope.

What do you hope to accomplish by making and distributing your zine?

Hausfrau's tag line is "Motherhood's a lonely walk. Let's take it together." So I guess I'm hoping that it will make another mama or daddy feel less alone.

 

What topics do you discuss most often in your zine?

I describe it as the "roller coaster of passion that is parenting."

Which role(s) did (and do) zines and zine making (and reading) play for you as you became a mother?

Zines have become an absolute lifeline for me. I came late to the zine world, in 1999, when my son George was two. Before that, I was completely freaked by the enormity of motherhood…and I felt all alone. When I first picked up Hip Mama and then Ariel Gore's book The Mother Trip, it was like a cerebral orgasm. And then I started reading Ayun Halliday's East Village Inky and laughed and laughed. And then I felt so much better and the dust cleared, and I thought: Oh, I can write about all this stuff! Now, I read every mama zine I can get my hands on.

Do you feel part of a (local/national/international?) zine community or network?

The Mamaphonic (http://siprelle.com/mamaphonic) community, which is an on-line forum for artist/musician/writer mamas, has been really supportive.

I feel that there is a boom of mama zines in the USA right now. Why do you think this is?

I think we're feeling the energy of millions of mamas who are connecting and laughing and breathing huge sighs of relief. Mamas like me! Finally!

In contrast, my mother only got to go to her shrink, who gave her a valium prescription.

When I look at all the different mama zines which are currently out there - from punk to alternative to radical mama zines to feminist parenting to feminist homeschooling -- I wonder if women have enough of the stereotypical image of mothers in mainstream magazines and that the image of motherhood has changed in the last years (or decade) in the US. Do you think it has, or is it just because zines recently started talking about alternative views of motherhood? How do you regard the role of zines in relation to mainstream magazines, in particular magazines on mothering?

The mainstream image might have changed-from June Cleaver to supermom-but it's still just a big steaming pile of advertising-driven bullshit. Zines are different because they are personal-the person is important, not the behemoth corporation--and therefore, zines allow a genuine connection to happen between the reader and the zine maker. It is in that genuine connection and subsequent rejection of product-oriented meaninglessness that an important social and political movement is taking place. Wow. I sound like a college professor.

 

Do you define yourself as a feminist? What are the most pressing issues you are confronted with in daily life (as a woman/mother/feminist/…)?

I do consider myself a feminist, though for me, the struggle is often internal. I spend my time feeling and coping with opposing forces: my desire to be alone and my desire to be with my children, my need to express myself honestly and creatively and my fear of doing so, loving the world and hating it.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Hausfrau muthah-zine is available for $12 for a year's subscription (3 issues per year) or $4 per each back issue. I can be reached at:

Nicole Chaison
Hausfrau muthah-zine
P.O. Box 10383
Portland, ME 04104
nchaison [AT] gwi.net

Many thanks for the interview!

 


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