Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Broken Homemakers

By Margaret Renkl

July 14, 1997:  Domestic goddesses are taking a beating in the media these days. Every time I stand in line at the grocery store, for example, or sit in a pediatrician's waiting room, the tabloid headlines assault me. Against my will I find myself fascinated that Kathie Lee Gifford's husband, Frank, has evidently cheated on her in a particularly humiliating public way and that Martha Stewart's unauthorized biographer has written a book about her that, by contrast, makes Mike Tyson's treatment of Evander Holyfield seem like a love nibble. Everywhere I go, the smoke from the witch-burning gets in my eyes.

I don't know very much about either one of the women who stand accused of falsified domestic perfection. I've never once seen a television show featuring Martha Stewart or read one of her magazines or books. To my knowledge, I've never eaten a dish prepared from one of her recipes, not in a restaurant or at another woman's house. I am not, in other words, a Martha Stewart acolyte. In fact, until Just Desserts, the new Martha biography, came out, I would go so far as to call myself a Martha agnostic: I didn't entirely deny that she exists and exerts a powerful force on the world I live in; I just didn't see much undeniable evidence of her deity. I've always gotten along fine without her, and you will find no pine-cone-and-driftwood monuments to her in my home.

I gather that fans were startled to learn that Martha Stewart is materialistic and self-promoting, that she drove her husband and daughter crazy with her quest for domestic perfection, that her employees are afraid of her. But how surprising is it, really, to discover that someone who has made herself rich and famous merely by telling people how to do brunch could possibly be self-promoting? All you have to do is look at a picture of her perfectly coifed self standing in her perfectly arranged, flower-bedecked, color-coordinated "family" room to know that Martha would not encourage pillow fights and cocoa spills and slumber parties. So perfect Martha is a perfect jerk to live and work with. Golly. Who would have guessed?

Unlike Martha Stewart, Kathie Lee Gifford committed no domestic crimes herself, other than being excessively pleased with her own good fortune. I first discovered Kathie Lee while I was on maternity leave with my first son. I made the mistake of turning on the television during one mid-morning feeding. I wanted my newborn to eat enough to last another couple of hours before getting hungry again--and since a two-hour nap for him meant the opportunity for a two-hour nap for me, I was determined to do anything necessary to fill his little stomach up. When foot-ticklings and top-of-the-lung renditions of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" and even the roar of the vacuum cleaner failed to do the trick one day, I turned on the TV. There I met Kathie Lee Gifford for the first and only time in my life.

It's true I was sleep-deprived. Since I hadn't owned a television throughout college and graduate school, I had entirely lost the knack for tolerating TV's inanity. But on this mid-morning I was very lonely, I did not know a single adult who was home during the day, and I deeply missed all the friends I'd left behind at work when the baby came along. So when I turned on the television and discovered a woman who was being paid a good deal of money to wear high-gloss lipstick, drink coffee with a man who was not her husband, and tell cute stories about her own adorable kid and his nigh-perfect father, I wasn't entirely sure what to make of the experience.

On the one hand, it seemed to me, this woman was not exactly a poster girl for intelligent motherhood. But on the other hand, I thought, maybe this is what motherhood does to a person. Is it any crime, really, to think your children are precious and your husband is a hero? Is it wrong to feel blessed by your own good fortune? If television executives are willing to pay enormous sums of money to such a person, and television audiences are willing to accord her celebrity status, then she is blessed by good fortune, indeed. Though I've never watched that show again, I say more power to her.

For the crime of having an easy gig, Kathie Lee Gifford is being burned at the stake by disgruntled mothers whose own lives aren't quite so perfect. "She deserves what she gets," one woman said to another at the park swings the other day. "After shoving her perfect life down our throats for years, she deserves what she gets."

"You're right," the other mother agreed. "If I was Frank, I would have found waking up with a hangover and the clap a real relief after facing all that perkiness first thing in the morning."

The children in the swings were too young to ask what the clap is, and I didn't have the nerve to ask why those women, who hate Kathie Lee Gifford enough to be thrilled when her husband turns out to be a cheat, didn't simply change the channel when her show came on. But I wonder: Would they really like her better if she came on television every morning and, with her shining lips, told everyone what bickering brats her kids are? If she mentioned, between sips of coffee, that she and Frank had quarreled the night before because he accused her of thinking fellatio was the name of an Italian opera singer?

God knows I'm no fan of domestic goddesses. As far as I'm concerned, watching a television show featuring the remarks of rich people drinking coffee is about as interesting as scouring the family toilet, and it's not nearly so useful. To me a house is just a place to live in and not an ongoing work of art. In my house we try to keep the TV off except for videos, and the closest thing to a found-object, decorative-arts centerpiece here is a dust bunny the size of Dolly Parton's wig. (It wafts up and down my hall when the air-conditioner compressor kicks on.) Still, I feel a little sorry for Kathie Lee Gifford and Martha Stewart. In the tiny little pantheon of family life, it seems to me, we all have feet of clay.

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