body

Soft Resolutions

At the end of December, I thought about giving up some of the things I love. My jeans were tight again and I was feeling burnt out on overindulgence. This happens every year. The holidays arrive and there are cookies everywhere. My days are loose, and so I drink extra coffee. By evening, my mind is still spinning from caffeine and so I drink a glass of wine to settle down. And then I eat more cookies. While I eat, I ask myself if I even really want them, or if I’m just eating them because it seems like I should want them. The idea of January 1 with its clean slate and healthy mandate starts to sound like a relief from all of this rigorous consumption.

I thought maybe I’d give up bread, and cheese.

I thought maybe I’d give up wine, and coffee.

I thought maybe I’d exercise six days a week.

And then I changed my mind. On December 30, I fed my sourdough starter and made dinner rolls. I ate them warm with butter and a bowl of potato leek soup and I thought: this is not a practice that needs to end. Making bread is an all-day process that grounds me. Unlike the cookies, it brings me genuine comfort. I wondered what would happen if I made my resolutions softer and more playful, advisory rather than punitive. I wanted them to feel like a friendly bird on my shoulder, not a drill sergeant.

I decided I wouldn’t give up anything, but instead I’d focus on guidelines, that I would see how my body felt if coffee and alcohol became things I only drank two days of the week. I decided that if there was a window in my day where I could make it to the gym, then I would. And I decided to start cooking a pot of brown rice every few days so that I would eat more whole grains, less bread.

So far, it’s felt a little magic, living with these soft resolutions. I made it to the gym four times this week. Each time I go, I step on the treadmill and tell myself I don’t have to stay very long. But the first ten minutes pass quickly, and when I check my stats I see that I’ve already run nearly a mile. I give my permission to press the stop button whenever I want, and something about that permission makes me want to keep going. I bump up the speed and the resistance. I run until my eyelids sweat. I come home and eat my brown rice and my salad. I ask myself if that’s really what I want for dinner, and for now the answer is yes, although I often follow up with ice cream for dessert.

It is January 17 as I write this, and I do not feel deprived or punished. I also know that this won’t last forever, that eventually the treadmill will lose its novelty, as will brown rice and salad. But that’s the thing about my soft resolutions. I won’t let them turn into failures. I will only keep them as long as they serve me.

 

 

 

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.

Better than Band-aids: some things that made infertility suck a little less

Last week I wrote about my struggle to get pregnant with my first son. During those two years, I heard all kinds of advice and remarks that were generally unhelpful—unhelpful in the way that I’m sure I am when close friends are going through some kind of personal turmoil that I have no experience with. I may listen and nod, but when it comes time for me to say something, I come up short. I say the equivalent of “Just relax and it will happen,” or, “Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.” But this week I want to point a bright ray of sunlight on the few things that helped me during that time.

1. After about six months of trying to conceive, I sat cross-legged on a friend’s couch, explaining how I had assumed I’d be pregnant on the first or second try. She looked me in the eye and said, “Well, you know, you’re still one of the most fertile people I know.” I carried that sentence around with me for the next year and half like a stone in my pocket. Infertility had made me feel broken, but my friend’s statement helped me see the larger picture, to understand that fertility might mean more than making babies, that my person still had value.

2.  A counselor once told me, at the end of our session: “Seek as much pleasure as you can.” In some ways, this statement might not be so different from the ubiquitous advice, “Relax!”, but I found it far more helpful. To me, “Relax!” was an admonition; it implied that I was doing it all wrong. But “Seek pleasure” was instructive. It didn’t promise a baby, but it reminded me that in the meantime I could enjoy myself. It helped me sleep more, eat better, and listen to the whisper inside of me that told me what I craved.

3. In the spirit of seeking pleasure, I stopped spending a fortune on acupuncture (which I did not enjoy) and instead sought out a massage therapist. During our first session, she asked what I wanted to work on, and I told her I’d been trying to conceive for over a year. She looked at me with empathy and revealed, “It took me three years to get pregnant.” And suddenly, just like that, I felt hopeful again.

4. This last one is impossible, but it would have solved everything. One day, when my first son was two, we were on a walk together and I realized: if I could have a photograph of this moment, and if I could time travel back two years, I would have had so much patience. If I could have seen a single photo of my son, there would have been no dread or urgency to my waiting. They say that faith is knowing without proof, and apparently I’m incapable of that, which is what made those years painful. If the future me could have provided the past me with proof, I’m certain those two years would have felt like twenty-four months instead of an impossible eon.

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