postaweek

Everyday Superpowers (and Superlimitations)

Do you know that feeling of being overtaken by a wave? One moment you’re happily body surfing, watching with curiosity as a wave takes shape and approaches, and the next moment—wham!—you’re underwater, being dragged across the sand by the current. You’re not in any real danger—the water is about two feet deep—but you are sore, and also: embarrassed. You stand up and look around to see if anybody saw that. You wade a little deeper and try to see if it’s possible to discreetly tug at your bathing suit and rinse some of the sand from your craw.

Dear Reader, that’s exactly what the second half of April has felt like. Here’s my best attempt to break it down.

  1. I caught a cold and tried to ignore it. We had a lot going on (see #2) and so I told myself this illness would take care of itself. I continued to eat cheese, drink wine, to miss hours of sleep, to live as if I were feeling fine. And when, after a full week of this, the cold turned into asthma and irrepressible coughing, I just bumped up the dose on my inhalers, and waited for the meds to kick in. But that didn’t work either. Gradually, over the course of the second week, my asthma got worse, not better. I woke every morning coughing and gasping for air. The inhalers took the edge off, but they didn’t pull me out of illness. It turned out I needed a doctor, and Prednisone, and rest.
  1. Kellie and I found a spacious mid-century house priced at the very upper edge of our price range. We’ve been on the fence about buying a house for years. We both want more space—we want things like a big room where the kids can mess everything up and be crazy loud and we can close the door—but the thought of a bigger mortgage makes us both tremble in our boots a little bit. We kept making decisions and then doubting those decisions; we took turns staying up all night; I spent an hour on the phone with a mortgage broker, and hours at the kitchen table with a pen and scrap paper and a calculator. Kellie and I kept calling each other at random moments during the workday to re-discuss the finer points until finally we decided to GO FOR IT!—and then, once again, we second-guessed ourselves. After hours of further discussion, we made an offer, and were amazed at how peaceful we finally felt. We went to sleep imagining our family spreading out in a house with two floors.

 And then the next day we learned that we’d been outbid.

  1. I had an essay go live that I was excited to share with the world—and within an hour of its release, I just wanted to hide beneath my covers. The essay was about the exhaustive decision-making process I went through with Kellie when deciding to have our first child. (See similar decision-making process as represented in #2 above. This is how we roll.) For a couple to negotiate different views on having kids struck me as a normal phenomenon, and it just plain never occurred to me that someone would read about that experience and judge me.

But twenty minutes after my essay went live, a commenter accused me of being emotionally abusive to Kellie, of coercing her into having a child. A whole thread of comments followed debating my character—was I totally reprehensible, or just a little bit manipulative? This was the real sneaker wave of April. I hadn’t predicted this reaction, nor could I have anticipated how totally raw and exposed a bunch of online commenters would make me feel.

To make things worse, the website where the essay appeared was set up to email me a notification every time someone commented. Throughout the day, I’d check my email and my heart would race each time I saw a comment notification. I held my breath and clicked on it, wondering what awful conclusions the most recent readers had drawn about me. It felt kind of like this:

Film: Repulsion, 1965

Film: Repulsion, 1965

  1. Two days after the comments fiasco unfolded, my car started rattling. It began a half a block away from my house as I was preparing to drop off my kids and continue on to work. Though the rattling was undeniable, I tried for a moment to pretend it wasn’t happening. I asked myself if maybe I could possibly just keep driving to work?

The answer was no. Within the next half block, the rattling got progressively worse, and I parked on the side of the road to investigate. Was my car about to explode? Or maybe it was something simple—was my muffler dragging on the ground? No, but my front right tire was completely flat.

Kellie had forgotten her cell phone that day, so I was on my own. I left the car where I parked it and walked the kids a mile to the bus terminal downtown. This involved alternately corralling Stump and carrying him against his will.

Later that evening, Kellie replaced the flat tire and as she lowered the body of the car back down over the brand new wheel, it slowly became clear to us that the spare was flat too. I filled it with my bike pump and drove it directly to Les Schwab—which had closed. I left it to sit and deflate overnight.

  1. When I came home the next day from picking up my car with brand new front tires, this had happened:

gutter

Actually, this one just turned out to be a cosmic joke. When Kellie came home, she fixed it in twenty minutes.

 While all of this has been going on, Stump has been cultivating a superhero alter-ego. He’s reached that stage in life where he wants to be—needs to be—a superhero all of the time. He wants to wear armbands day and night, and won’t take them off for the bath. He wants to wear a cape over his t-shirt. To Stump, this isn’t about wearing a costume; he’s claiming his personal style.

superheroIn the midst of a sleepless night last week (see #2 & #3) I realized that this was exactly the way that I needed to see myself, that even though I’d hit a point where I felt tired and wounded and embarrassed and tired again, I needed to put on my armbands, put a cape on over my work clothes, cultivate my everyday superpowers, and surrender to my superlimitations. It was two in the morning at that point, and as I lay there I took stock:

Superpower: My body can heal itself.

Superlimitation: I actually have to slow down and help it.

Superpower: I am capable of radical oversharing. Lately, the more I write, the more it seems like this craft is about discovering the most revealing, vulnerable thing that I am capable of saying and then saying it.

Superlimitation: I am completely unable to control or even predict how that writing will be received.

Superpower-limitation: I’m the only one who can save me. On the morning of my flat tire, I called Kellie’s work office to tell her about the problem. “I can’t get a hold of her until the afternoon,” he co-worker explained. “That’s fine,” I told him. “I made it to work already.” “Oh, so you don’t need rescuing?” he clarified. When I got off the phone, I realized how badly I’d wanted rescuing all week. I wanted someone to make my asthma go away, to get rid of those critical commenters, to wave a magic wand and give me a new house that suited all our family needs without a mortgage. But at the end of the day, it’s just me in my sweaty human clothes lifting my fists to the sky like Superman, trying to up-up-and-away myself.

The Beekeeper’s Wife

My partner Kellie keeps bees—a lot of them. Actually, she does more than keep them. She catches swarms, she cuts colonies out of walls and re-homes them into hives, and sometimes, when she gets a call about some honeybees living in a tree that the owner wants to cut down, Kellie drives on over with a chain saw, and comes home with four feet of the trunk—a ready-made beehive complete with a well-established colony.

Log Hive We’ve got three of these trunk-hives on our property, and I’ve often tried to convince Kellie that she could sell one or two of them for big money—I mean, who wouldn’t want their own bee log? Of course, there’s no way to maintain the trunk-dwelling colonies. You can’t put on a bee-suit, break into the hive and see how they’re doing. You just have to let them do their thing. Then, when a colony dies, they leave behind a ready-made honey-smelling home for the next swarm that comes along.

Spring has come early in Olympia and for the last two weeks, whenever the sun comes out, Kellie’s phone starts ringing. People call because they have swarm in their yard, or they want to borrow a frame of comb, or they can’t tell if their queen is laying.

I’ve learned about bees by osmosis, from hearing Kellie on the phone and watching her suit up and go to work, but I’ve never handled the bees. Someone’s got to watch the kids, and even on the days when Kellie is capturing a swarm in our neighborhood, I have my hands full trying to keep Stump from running into the middle of the action. Over the years, my knowledge has expanded but my competence is limited.

This is why, last Friday afternoon, Kellie surprised me with her request. She had called me at work to let me know that she had a couple of swarm calls in a neighboring town and wouldn’t be home until after dinner. “When you get home will you look around the backyard?” she asked me. “One of my hives is fixing to swarm.”

“Sure,” I said. Checking is easy. I’ve come to love the thrum and excitement of a swarm as they depart their former home, followed by their steady silence once they’ve clustered on a branch. “But what do you want me to do if that happens?” I was expecting that she would explain to me where the nearest bait box was, but she had a different idea. “Catch them,” she said, like it was the simplest thing in the world.

I was as flattered by Kellie’s faith in me as I was bewildered by the suggestion that I would intuitively know how to guide a swarm of honeybees into a nuc box, and that I could do so with a toddler at my side.

Frame of BeesAs it turned out, there was no swarm that afternoon, but her suggestion haunted me through the weekend, and every so often I asked her a question to clarify what she had envisioned for me.

“So you really think I could do that?” I asked her.

And later: “You mean I wouldn’t even need a bee suit?”

And later: “I don’t get it. I would just shake the branch and the bees would magically settle in the nuc?”
“Yes,” she said, “or you can always scoop them out with your hands.”

I kept thinking about an interview I’d read with Ann Patchett many years ago about her novel The Magician’s Assistant. She explained that her impulse for writing this book came from her observation that spouses gradually acquired the skills of their partners. Over time, we take on traits of the person we’ve married. We can channel them, imitate them, become them.

I remembered this on Monday, when temperatures reached 72 degrees—swarm weather. I came home with Stump at lunchtime and put him down for a nap. The evening before, one of Kellie’s colonies had swarmed and gathered high in a fir tree, way up at the edge of our line of vision. She couldn’t catch it, but she’d been keeping an eye on the cluster, hoping the scout bees might discover one of her baited boxes. When I called her from home that afternoon, she asked me to go outside and see if they had moved.

I could no longer make out the cluster, but I could see dozens of bees darting around the same tree. “They’re going nuts up there,” I told her. “Is that the same swarm or a new one?”

“Can’t say,” she said, and instructed me to look in all the nucs to see if they had settled into one of those. I reported back that they were empty. I was disappointed. I so badly wanted to be the one keeping things under control.

Log Swarm

Thousands of bees in flight. Can you see them?

Ten minutes later, as Stump still slept, I got curious and went outside again, but before I could make it to the back of the yard, I was distracted by a loud, insistent buzz. They were right outside the gate, thousands of bees darting through the light. Though I know that swarms aren’t angry, I find their motion and noise—which carries the volume of a thousand unified intentions—intimidating. I called Kellie again. “You’ve got a situation,” I told her. I cautiously opened the gate and stepped to the edge of the action. “They’re outside that log hive by the road.”

I was preparing myself to follow her instructions, to step into the role that she had imagined for me, the role where I wasn’t a bystander, but an apprentice, a fellow beekeeper. “What should I do?” I asked.

“Are they flying toward the log, or away from the log?”

“Toward it–Oh!” i said realizing that this particular log-hive had been empty for a while. Are they making a home?”

“You tell me. Are they going inside?”

“They are!” I said. I couldn’t believe it. “It’s that swarm from the tree? They’re moving in? I don’t have to do anything?”

Twenty minutes later, when Stump woke up from his nap, I took him outside to verify. The bees had settled into their new home and now just a few of them buzzed back and forth from the entrance. I was half relieved that the bees hadn’t required my assistance, half disappointed that I’d been denied my chance to rise to the occasion.

bees in hand

Bees in the hand.

Later that same afternoon, after discovering yet another swarm in our cherry tree, I placed Stump on my hip and watched as Kellie tenderly scooped a handful of bees into the nuc box. Though dozens of annoyed bees darted past her face, the ones on her hand crawled quietly into the new home she had prepared for them. After repeating this three times, she climbed down the four-foot ladder, took off her gloves, and trusted that the rest of the colony would follow.

Now that I’ve seen how it’s done, next time, I swear, I’ll be ready.

NPR, Gay Marriage, & The Years of Crying in My Car

These days, when I listen to NPR on my commute to and from work, I’m not usually crying. In fact, I’m barely listening. Some days I’m trying to listen but I’ve got a kid or two hounding me for snacks, or trying to get me to listen to an endless monologue on Minecraft. Other days when I’m particularly preoccupied, I catch myself not listening at all. I realize I’ve had no idea what anyone has been saying for at least five minutes, and I push the button on my console and note the relief that silence brings.

But on my Friday morning commute last week, this interview with Billy Bean cut through all of the static in my brain. Billy Bean was a Major League Baseball player in the nineties who came out as gay four years after retiring. In the interview, he tells the story of losing his partner to AIDS, and then opening the baseball season the next day. Because he was closeted, no one on his team knew anything about his loss.

Bean has recently been hired as Major League Baseball’s LGBT ambassador. Can we pause for a moment and let that sink in, because still, four days later, I’m still experiencing cognitive dissonance. Major League Baseball has hired an LGBT ambassador. What world am I living in?

I choked up at several moments in the interview, and was reminded that during the years when the push for same-sex marriage was gathering momentum, I was often listening to NPR and crying in my car. The tears seemed to bubble spontaneously from a mysterious underground source. One moment I’d be vaguely happy while listening to a report about the Marriage Equality Act in New York State, and the next moment there’d be an interview with some lesbian couple in their seventies and I’d be pulling into the parking lot, having to take a few minutes to sit there and wipe the snot from my nose. I’m not sure it would be accurate to say I was crying for joy, though I certainly wasn’t crying out of sadness.

I remember leaving work one afternoon and starting my car while Melissa Block was mid-interview with Dan Savage discussing the It Gets Better Project. I listened along, happy and dry-eyed until the interview was over and Melissa Block read his bio. “Columnist Dan Savage along with his husband Terry Miller created the It Gets Better Project.” It was the word husband than got me. I cried so hard I shuddered. Dan Savage lives about 65 miles away from me and at the time of the interview gay marriage was still illegal in our state. So it startled me to hear a major news outlet refer to Terry Miller as his “husband” as if it were a normal, legitimate, everyday thing.

Sometimes, I guess, we don’t know how much something aches until we attend to it. When I was a child I noticed that when I had an accident—if I fell hard on my butt, or bonked my head—I wouldn’t cry at first. “Are you okay?” another kid might ask me. I’d nod that I was fine as the tears gathered in my eyes. It was like the pain didn’t happen until it was noticed.

In the nineties and early aughts as I was coming of age, gay marriage struck me as a hypothetical goal at the end of a long road. Having my partnerships go unrecognized was an inequality that I expected to live with for the rest of my life. But apparently I had more feelings about it than I ever knew. Each instance of crying in my car—and there were dozens—was a letting go of an ache I never realized I carried.

At the end of his NPR interview, Billy Bean talks about walking through the Major League Clubhouse for the first time as his “whole self,” a self where he can be known as Major League player and a gay man. The phrase whole self makes me think about how we fragment our identities, and how at first, perhaps, that fragmentation creates a sense of numbness more than pain. When we are finally whole or at least engaged in the act of healing, of fusing the selves we’ve separated, that’s when all the pain comes rushing to the wound. Sometimes the healing hurts more than the rupture.

Spring is right here.

flowerdeathLast week it rained and rained and rained. In the pauses between the rains, the robins sang. That was the first sign that spring had come.

This week the weather alternated between cold and warm, sunny and gray. Each morning before seven I looked out my window to see a brightening streak of blue cutting through the dark sky.

I remember now what it means to leave for a walk at five in the evening and not have to brace myself for darkness or outfit myself with reflective gear and flashing lights. I remember what it means to watch the sky change as I walk instead of tightening my hood in defense of pelting rain.

I remember now that nourishment isn’t just about eating stuff that tastes good, but also eating foods that offer nutrients, things that are green, orange, and red—things that crunch.

I remember now that what it means to move through my day with a small fire inside of me, to experience the day as a landscape to explore rather than a checklist to complete.

This morning the sky cleared and I brought my sons on a hike to the water’s edge. Along the trail, Smoke entertained me with theories about how trees had fallen (thieves with chainsaws), and Stump stopped at every puddle and called it the beach. For nearly an hour, no one whined. The forest cleared, and we arrived at the beach in time to witness a surprise: dozens of sailboats gliding across the bay.

boatsI was surprised to realize that, for the moment, I was doing the exact thing I wanted to be doing, meaning I didn’t wish I was in Hawaii instead, or writing instead, or watching TV, or sitting in a hot tub. I just wanted to be there, on the beach, watching the sailboats while Smoke collected rocks and Stump hit water with a stick.

Beach2Of course in the moment of noticing that I was content where I was, I realized how often the opposite is true, how easy it is to long for elsewhere.

I think of my family members in New England and imagine the snow piled up past their windowsills. I imagine them trapped inside winter, tiny little shoots of green sleeping under snow banks.

I don’t envy my New England friends, but I want to be there on the day that winter begins to melt, that first day you step outside and can actually hear the water dripping, can sense that the snow has begun its return back to the source.

Come Monday morning, in my dark cave of an office, I’ll be feeling like those sleeping greens, craving elsewhere, wishing for light.

She’s Not My Mother

bigstock-sperm-going-for-the-egg-38755240The fertility clinic waiting room was not what I expected. I had imagined leather couches, warm lighting, and potted plants—the kind of décor that might suggest to clients that the thousands of dollars they were spending was being directed, at least in part, to their own care and comfort.

Instead, I opened the door to find two rows of uncomfortable chairs, outdated wall paper, and fake plants that frayed at the edges. The reception desk was empty, but Kellie and I weren’t alone. A woman in a long dress and bonnet stood watching her two boys play in the corner while her husband, dressed like his sons in a collared shirt, pants, and suspenders, sat reading a magazine with one leg crossed over the other. I recognized them as Mennonites; I’d seen other Mennonite families before, not at the downtown library or at the local drug store, but always, remarkably enough, at Costco, walking through the aisles with a passel of children, filling their cart with rotisserie chickens and boxes of cereal. I tried not to stare in Costco just as I tried not to stare now. It was hard for me to understand that someone with two sons already would pursue medical intervention for infertility. Two kids seemed like plenty to me. If you found that a third child didn’t come easily, wouldn’t you just call your family complete?

Neither the husband, nor the wife, nor either of the sons made eye contact with us, but surely we had crossed their periphery and they had questions about us as well.

Kellie sat anxiously, her face hidden behind long hair and a brimmed stocking cap.  Normally, she moved through the world with ease. Just a week earlier she’d amazed me when she met me for happy hour at a bar that I normally frequented without her. It was the kind of place where the waitresses are notoriously grumpy—it’s part of the décor, and you tip them extra to apologize for being a customer. That day the waitress and I had a typical curt exchange, but when Kellie arrived she greeted the waitress by name. “Hey there Anne,” she said, sliding into the booth.

“How you doing?” the waitress responded. It was the first time I’d seen her face bear any expression other than a scowl. They bantered for a moment before Kellie ordered a beer.

“You know her?” I asked Kellie, awestruck.

“Not really,” she said. “We’ve just both been around for a while.”

It would never occur to Kellie to fear a grumpy waitress. It was a rare situation, like being in this clinic, that made Kellie feel she had to hide.

Eventually, a nurse called my name and led us down a corridor to deposit us in a room with a giant desk. “Dr. Lu will see you in a moment,” she explained. “And then you’ll consult with Dr. Norman.”

We sat in silence for several more minutes. Kellie marked time by tapping her foot. I examined my nails, and pushed at my cuticles.

Dr. Lu entered through a door at the back of the room and we rose to shake his hand. He was a middle-aged Korean man, broad-shouldered and lean.

“Who’s this?” he asked, nodding at Kellie. “Your mother?”

My heart dropped. “My partner,” I corrected, and watched his face to see if his error registered, but his expression did not change.

“Ok, fine,” he said, and looked at me. “You carry?”

“Yes.”

He took out his clipboard. “How old are you?” he asked.

“Twenty-eight.”

“How many times have you been pregnant?”

“Zero. None.”

“Are you sure?”

Kellie and I exchanged panicked glances. In my mind, the worst case scenario hadn’t been this dramatic. I’d imagined an office that felt like the real-world incarnation of all of those brochures and websites I’d looked at. I imagined doctors who were welcoming, who smiled at us and treated us like regular patients, but quietly signaled they were less than comfortable. I imagined they might avoid making eye contact with Kellie, but I never imagined they’d ask if she was my mother, or question my very definitive answers about my body’s own history.

“I’m certain,” I told Dr. Lu.

He kept rattling off questions, his eyes fixed on his clipboard, and I kept answering them; my entire body was tense as if I were waiting for the right moment to flee. I could feel the same tension in Kellie’s body. It was like we were one animal.

The questions ended. If there was one thing I could credit Dr. Lu for, it was that he didn’t waste any time with small talk. “Dr. Norman will come soon,” he informed us while rising with his clipboard. This left Kellie and me alone in the office once again.

“I want to walk out of here,” she said.

“Do you think we should?” I asked. I wanted to support Kellie in her reaction to our treatment so far. I told her that if she wanted to leave right now, I would follow. But I felt trapped. This was the one fertility clinic in our town. The fact that there were two larger cities within sixty miles of us, that they might easily welcome us, didn’t occur to me. This place had a file for me. They were already storing our sperm. I didn’t want to wait another month. And besides that, I couldn’t imagine walking out mid-appointment. What would we tell the receptionist? What would the Mennonites think? I straightened my back in the chair, and told myself it didn’t really matter where or how we conceived our baby. Sure, this clinic sucked. But did this process really have to be magical? In my mind, I willed Kellie to cool down.

“Maybe this next doctor will be better,” I said.

“Maybe,” she said, with no trace of hope in her voice.

Dr. Norman entered the room in his white lab coat and shiny brown loafers. He introduced himself with a soft voice; his hand, when I shook it, was dry and cold. He resembled Mr. Rogers, only taller, stooped, and aloof. He did seem like an improvement on Dr. Lu, if only because he wasn’t barking questions at me, and because he seemed to understand our situation.

“So,” he said, looking over the clipboard that Dr. Lu must have handed to him backstage, “we want to have a baby, and we’ve agreed that the younger one of you will carry.”

Kellie and I nodded. He looked up. “I’m going to write in your chart ‘Male Factor Infertility.’” Kellie and I laughed together, assuming he was making a joke to break the discomfort, but Dr. Norman returned his gaze to the desk and proceeded to write down exactly that.

Months later, I would remember this moment and understand it from a new angle. Dr. Norman wasn’t being funny; he simply had no protocol for lesbians. He was preparing to administer a medical treatment and, even though we were paying out of pocket, we needed a diagnosis. Apparently, it wasn’t standard practice to simply scrawl out: Lesbians.

We left that day with instructions to call their office at the first sign of ovulation. During the car ride home, Kellie and I barely spoke. Instead we looked straight ahead at the road, the crosswalks, the traffic lights; we replayed the uncomfortable moments on a loop in our minds, privately, as if by not speaking them aloud we could erase them.

The above scene marks the launch of a new feature on this blog: Memoir Mondays. Once a month I’ll be sharing a scene from my memoir-in-progress.

Some types of sex that parents of young kids might actually be having

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d follow on a post from two weeks ago where I responded to a viral post on Scary Mommy about parents and sex. My complaint about this post was that it was so incredibly depressing; central to many of the “types of sex” was the implication that the wife wasn’t an especially happy participant, that after becoming parents men continue to want sex and women occasionally comply.

And so, just for fun, I’ve tried to construct something that resembles what I was hoping for when I clicked on that link in the first place.

  1. TV Sex:

Don’t think too hard about the fact that this is probably what your own parents were doing while you were watching Saturday morning cartoons on NBC every single week. In the era of Netflix, you’ve got a range of choices, but you’ve got to get it right. Barney, for instance, will no longer work since your older child has decided it’s condescending. Dinosaur Train would be a safer bet, except that when Dr. Scott the Paleontologist appears between segments the toddler often starts wandering the house and calling for you. Right now Blue’s Clues is the safest bet because it holds your toddler’s attention and inspires a fond nostalgia in your older child. You have exactly twenty-three minutes. Go.

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  1. Empty House Sex:

This is often prearranged, though it might happen twice in a year that you spontaneously discover that both of your children are gone and you are home. Just the novelty of that is enough to turn you on. You have a window of that that allows for some preparation. Brush your teeth beforehand or maybe even take a shower because, you know, you want this to be really special. Lie in bed for at least ten minutes afterwards and pretend together that you never had children. Feel slightly guilty about that as you get dressed and prepare to welcome them home.

  1. Middle-of-the-night Sex:

Roll over to spoon in the middle of the night and discover that your partner is also awake. Kiss passionately, both of you surprised that this is actually happening. Ruin the moment a little by wondering at what point the baby will wake up because you’re pretty sure he will. Continue on anyway. Try to be silent. Laugh together at how obvious and silly the squeaking bed sounds when you are keeping other noises to a minimum.

  1. Discussion Sex:

In between kisses ask: Did you remember to call in that refill? and, Did my W-2 forms ever come in the mail? Feel a little embarrassed when your partner points out that these questions aren’t enhancing the mood. You actually are enjoying this, it’s just that life’s daily tasks flood in and recede like a tide. Fight the urge to ask about that weird stain that appeared on the carpet last week, or if we need to buy diapers next time we go to Costco. Return the kiss instead.

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.

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

 

When Your Pen Takes Over Your New Year’s Resolution

I asked myself the question: What’s the most important thing that I can focus on this year?, and I thought that I already knew the answer. I thought that my New Year’s Resolution would look like a pared-down version of my daily to-do list:

Write every day.

Exercise more.

But I was writing with a pen and paper, which is a little dangerous because sometimes my hand takes control of the prompt, and ignores what my brain has been planning to say all along, and instead of the sentence “I need to find time to write, if not every day, then as much as possible,” my hand wrote:

The most important thing I can do is to experience joy in my body, and bear witness to joy when people close to me experience it.

Shit. Why did my hand write that? I thought that writing every day was a challenging priority, but making room for JOY in my body and my life? That might require me to become a different person, one who can write joy in capital letters without wincing. One who can relax for for more than ten minutes without listing my to-do list in my head, without feeling like my body is tightening around me.

At the moment, it feels kind of like standing in the middle of a forest with no trail, only a compass and a destination. And I don’t really know how to use a compass. But I may know enough to orient myself. I know enough to start.

I’ll start, when I remember, by taking breaths, by imagining my lungs, my belly, my capillaries opening and making room for for this somewhat foreign and suspicious feeling.

I’ll start, when I remember, by slowing down and searching for whatever small joy might be found in the task I’m doing. The feeling of my fingers stretching across the keyboard, the one perfect sentence in the paper I’m grading, the moment halfway through a class I’m teaching when I notice (sometimes) that things are going well.

This sounds like work to me.

I’ll start, when I remember, by engaging more deeply with Stump and his world, by letting him run through the house in his diaper, by mirroring his happy dance when his brother comes home or when I offer him a piece of chocolate.

I’ll start, when I remember, by saying Yes instead of Later to Smoke’s bids for more time and attention. Yes, let’s open your science kit Now, and Yes, you can pour all of the colored sugar on top of the cookies.

I’ll start, when I remember, by holding the word between my fingers and coming to know it. Such a small word for something so sweeping and grand, (joy, joy, joy).

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