Month: January 2015

I am not ready to build a coffin for my libido .

So, this post from the website Scary Mommy has recently gone viral:

The Five Types of Sex Parents with Young Kids Have

When it passed through my news feed in Facebook, I clicked.

I clicked because I’m a sucker for funny listicles, and because I hoped to be mildly entertained. I clicked because I hoped that I might see something of myself reflected there. I clicked because, let’s face it, as the mother of two young kids I can only come up with three types of sex, and so I was hoping to find some inspiration.

But this post did not inspire me. What it did was bum me out by repeatedly suggesting that, to mothers of young children, sex is rarely more than an unpleasant chore.

For instance, in item #2 on the list, Half Sex, the author describes a scenario wherein one half of the couple discovers, mid-intercourse, that he is the only one enjoying himself.

This is usually the man, who later, in a paroxysm of bitterness and resentment, stays up until the wee hours Google stalking his hot high school ex-girlfriend who used to “really like making [him] happy.”

Ouch. Am I the only one who isn’t laughing yet?

Item # 5 on the list, Birthday Sex, is introduced this way:

Obviously, I am referring to the guy’s birthday here, because often, the mother of small children would like her birthday present to be a signed (in blood) and notarized contract stating that no sex will be asked for during the entire month preceding her birthday.

Not only am I still not laughing, but I am flummoxed, tired, and disappointed. In the end, this list turns out to not so much be about how parents are having sex, but about all of the ways that mothers are avoiding sex, or not enjoying sex, or getting burned by husbands.

[Side note: At the end of this post, there’s a link to another post by a different author called 5 Ways to Please Your Man! (Or, Not). This one presents a list of hypothetical scenarios where a wife goes to great lengths to initiate a sexual encounter with her husband, and they all end in the wife’s humiliation. In one scenario her husband responds to her advances by pointing out that she has spinach in her teeth. In another, her son makes fun of her ass.]

Maybe, as lesbian, I shouldn’t even be responding to these posts. Maybe they really do speak to universal truths that have nothing to do with me. Who am I to argue with 190K likes on Facebook?

But something is nagging at me. It’s this narrative of the wife who struggles (and fails) to keep up with her husband’s sex drive after having children. She’s no longer desirable to herself or her partner. Every attempt at intimacy ends with her as the butt of a joke.

Why is this the only story I see represented? For every woman out there who eschews sex after motherhood, I’m sure there’s a woman who wants more sex than she’s getting, and also a woman who’s more or less happily aligned with her partner. We mothers, we’re not all sexless fools, furiously trying to distract our partners from their adolescent fantasies.

bellyIt’s true for me that motherhood  has changed my relationship to sex. I live in a different body than I did seven years ago, before I had ever been pregnant. It’s a body that has been stretched beyond its former limits, a body shaped by the daily demands my kids place on it. My arms are toned from years of lifting toddlers. My belly sags. On any given day my breasts grow and shrink, lift and drop from the practical work of lactation. And it’s true that most nights, more than anything, I just want to reclaim my own body, to spread out across the bed alone and sleep.

But motherhood has also freed me of some of the cultural myths I’ve learned about sex. I no longer have to close my eyes and pretend to be perfect. Sex is no longer the Very Serious Thing it once was. It’s okay if I haven’t showered since yesterday morning, or if I’m fatter than I was two weeks ago, if there’s spinach in my teeth, or if I can hear Barney songs playing in the background.

None of that matters, because my body is still capable of pleasure. And isn’t that the point? Sex isn’t just for the young and the firm. Sex is also for the aging, the broken, the sagging, for those of us tethered to earth by this thing we call a body. We might as well use it for as long as it lasts.

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Broken Time

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The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali, 1931

Of all of the clocks in my life right now, not a single one tells the right time.

To begin with, there’s the giant wall clock in my office at work. Up until last week, it was off by an hour plus some minutes. Daylight savings time had ended, but I still hadn’t gotten around to changing it. Often, when a student or colleague visited my office, they would glance up at the clock on their way out. “Is that the right time?” they always asked, alarmed. “No,” I got used to saying. It was a little funny to watch the momentary panic rise up in them and fade. It’s always disturbing to think you’ve lost your grasp of time.

Earlier this week the clock’s battery died, and now my office time is permanently 9:43. It turns out to be a surprisingly useful time, since I teach at 10 am. If I look up at the clock it conveys urgency—class is starting soon!—while at the same time it’s reassuring—I still have eighteen minutes to prepare. All morning now, I work away as if I have eighteen minutes left.

il_340x270.631451604_gfxxThere is another wall clock in the classroom where I teach, and on the first day, it was stuck at 8:20. The class has continued for two full weeks, and every day the time has been wrong in a new way. On Tuesday it was exactly an hour behind, and on Wednesday it was five minutes ahead. To cope, I’ve been checking my iPhone every so often, which I worry makes me look unprofessional, like a texting professor. Correcting the problem would require me to remember to submit a work order from my office so that a worker could arrive during off hours with a ladder and new batteries. I find myself brooding over what this means, that even in a lecture hall full of computers and cell phones the marking of time still requires maintenance; we still feel the need to look up towards the ceiling and see time marked, accurately, on the round face of an analog clock.

At my house we have two kitchen clocks and they are both ten minutes fast, because Kellie insists this practice helps her be on time. I’ve lived with these kitchen clocks this way for about twelve years, and I’m still doing subtraction every time I glance at them. Subtracting ten isn’t hard to do, but still, the action makes it seem like time is imprecise. In the world of our kitchen, I live in the illusion that I’m always late, or that I always have an extra ten minutes.

Digital_clock_changing_numbersThe bedroom alarm clock, a classic faux-wood box with glowing red digits, is also ten minutes fast. In the bedroom, it must be said, loose time bothers me less. What drives me crazy about the bedroom clock is that Kellie often sets it face down so that the glowing red digits don’t keep her awake. When the face is down, I wake up and look around in darkness, unmoored, unsure if I’ve been asleep for seven hours or twenty minutes.

My internal clock is also broken. Stump has broken it, many times and in many ways. Most recently, he has broken me by refusing to sleep past 5:30. Some mornings he wakes at 4:50; other mornings he makes it to 5:10. (Subtract ten minutes from these times. I’m looking at the bedroom clock.) My body likes to rise at seven, but after two weeks of early rising, I jolt awake now at 5:05. I wonder, will this be the morning that Stump sleeps until six? I try not to stir, for he is next to me in the bed. I can’t help it. I move an arm. He wakes. The pattern continues.

I remind myself that time passes in larger swaths too. When this pattern began, I told myself it would last a few days, maybe a week. Now I tell myself that even if it lasts months it’s still temporary, a blip in my life that I may barely remember at the end of this year.

And, once it’s forgotten, once I am rested, the whole thing will be erased from time, more or less.

Embraced by the Curve of the Earth

Apparently yesterday was one of those days where I had to lash out at two of the people I love the most.

Stump had woken me at 4:50 am for the fifth morning in the row. It’s my punishment for night weaning him. He sleeps beautifully now until 4 a.m., but he just can’t forgive me yet for the last three hours. He wakes a four and coos in my ear “Nursey time? Nursey time?”

“No nursey time,” I whisper, and he cries for a while, and dozes for a while, and then wakes himself up so that he can ask again. “Nursey-time?”

Sometime around 5, I give up and we sit and eat our breakfast with the kitchen light on, the world pitch black outside our windows. At 5 Stump and I are both awake, silent, too tense to return to sleep, but too weary to function as our best selves.

At 7, Smoke rose, curled up on the couch, complained that he was cold and didn’t know what he wanted for breakfast. After minutes of negotiation he settled on an English muffin, and I fried an egg for myself.

While I stood over the pan staring off into space, Stump reached to the counter and tugged on the edge of the open egg carton. It fell to the floor. Every egg tumbled out and broke on the floor.

An hour later, once I finally had lunches packed, bags packed, and all of the bodies dressed, Smoke decided he was “too weared out” to go to school. “You’re going,” I told him. “You can stay home all weekend but today is a school day.” I told him to put on his shoes and meet me at the car.

Usually that works. Usually, the sight of me loading Stump into his car seat is enough to convince Smoke that our departure is imminent. But this time, when I came inside, he was lying on the floor feigning fatigue. And I lost it. “Oh My God,” I said. “I Can’t Believe You.” My voice held all of the crankiness of five days of lost sleep, and all of the rage of having lost control of my life, along with eleven freshly-laid winter eggs. By the time Smoke made it to the car, he was in tears.

Later in the day, it was Kellie’s turn. We had wriggled out of our Friday afternoon obligations to celebrate my birthday, one day late. As we drove to the Olympus Women’s Spa in Tacoma, I fought against my angst. I wanted to want to sit in a hot tub, and I had been looking forward to this outing for weeks, but what I really needed was sleep. And I had work to do. Piles of it. When would it get done? “Do you want to turn around?” she asked. “Don’t even ask me that!” I snapped. If my goal was to make our drive to Tacoma as unpleasant as possible, then I did an admirable job.

Later, after Kellie and I had paid our thirty-dollar entry fee, once I found myself lying on a heated salt floor in a cotton robe and a pink cotton shower cap, once the tension inside me started to uncoil a bit, I remembered that it was my birthday and stifled a laugh. Of course I was threaded with angst, itchy like a healing wound stitched too tight. That’s what birthdays always are for me. An extra celebration once the holidays have ended, one that no one is quite up for. A measuring stick for where my life is abundant, where it is scarce. In the past few years, I’ve tried to cope with birthday angst by celebrating sideways, by spreading out treats over the course of days, rather than focusing on a single day. And I like my birthday, too. I like cupcakes and flowers and Facebook greetings, it’s just that angst is an undeniable part of the thing.

Thorns“Embraced by the Curve of the Earth,” was the title of a blog post I was meaning to write all week and never got to because every evening, once the kids had gone to bed, all I could do was blankly stare at Facebook and tell myself to either write or go to sleep. Instead, I just kept scrolling. The post wasn’t going to be about my birthday. It was going to be about my trip to Whidbey Island with my sister, and I was going to describe, among other things, these two moments.

1. Waking up at eight-thirty in the morning, when the sky was already bright and grey. Noting the feeling of having slept for eight continuous hours. Making tea while my sister slept in the next room and no one pulled on my shirt saying “nursey time”, and no one asked me to carry him from the couch to the kitchen table because his legs were “weared out”. As I settled with my tea, a bald eagle flew right by my window. And I couldn’t remember the last time silence had been so rich or so magic.

2. At the end of that same day, my sister and I went for a two-hour walk along the side of the island. The clouds kept changing, making windows of light and dark. At one point, nearly halfway through, we reached a special spot where it seemed that the earth was a cradle and we were held there in its center. By the time we returned to the car, it was night.

Sometimes I remind myself that time isn’t linear, though I may experience it that way, and so even though I’ve reached the end of a tight and angst-y week, even though my nerves may feel stretched and brittle like an old rubber band, I am still living that moment where the eagle flies across my periphery, and I am still standing in that spot where the earth looks extra round. Because if anything is true, it’s this: every moment, every day, I am embraced by the curve of the earth. Curve1