Renaissance: An Introduction
I love the word fuck. I love its force and versatility. When I labored for thirty hours, pushed for four and a half, then had a C-section, my husband, Bill, tells me I was not shy about using my favorite expletive even with my parents and the venerable Dr. Baldwin in the room.
During the year or so that our son Lucas was preverbal, I felt little need to refrain. I used fuck liberally. A good angry "Fuck!" or a contemplative "Fuuuck..." here or there satisfied my sudden need to preserve the youth and vitality that diaper bags and nursing bras threatened.
One sunny afternoon in the tiny kitchen in our first house in Oakland, though, I was trying to stave off the stultifying tedium that came from ten hours alone with my toddler. I was going to treat myself to an old comfort: a huge bowl of Grape-Nuts with half-and-half and copious spoonfuls of sugar. The bowl slipped. Zillions of Grape-Nuts pinged against tile and appliances and hardwood. Up rose the ugliness of Lucas’s truncated nap, Bill’s phone call to say he had a dinner meeting, the fact that I hadn’t spoken to an adult all day, and the reality of six more hours until bedtime. "FUCK!!!" I yelled.
Predictably, cherubic fourteen-month-old Lucas looked up through the rain of cereal and happily echoed, "Fuck!"
From my third child this would have been funny. From my impressionable and perfect first, who now numbered fuck among the twenty-two words I kept thinking I should record in his baby book, this was dire.
All my life I had assumed that I would mother many children and I would love mothering them and I would mother them well. I had attended an empowering all-girls’ high school that convinced an entire generation of us that the hard-driving career, the sensitive husband, the well-adjusted children... all of it would be ours. Some professional or academic pursuit, I was sure, would sit politely on the back burner during the years my children were small. I would revel in self-defining and immensely fulfilling maternity, as had my mother, a successful psychotherapist who put her career on hold to raise four kids. But here I stood, bored and depressed in a Grape-Nuts-strewn kitchen. I was twenty-eight. I was earning a doctoral degree, Bill was working long corporate hours, and motherhood had me blindsided.
Fuck dropped out of my vocabulary. Hearing it in my young son’s mouth made the responsibility of parenting feel all the more weighty. I found myself profoundly jealous of the fact that Bill worked in an actual office in San Francisco with a room someone else filled with apples and cold cuts and bubbly water and Pop-Tarts. The commute he professed to dread sounded fabulous: a half-hour train ride during which he could sit down and read. During that first year of parenting I would be lonely for Bill all day, then seethe when he walked through the door because he hadn’t been the one to battle the never-napping baby or stand for eight minutes in the supermarket checkout line with milk leaking from his breasts. I never slept for more than a few hours at a stretch and became convinced that Bill’s long hours were subterfuge for the affair he was having because I had turned into such a bitch (my sage therapist mother assured me otherwise but I wasn’t above some histrionic checking-of-shirt-collars-for-lipstick). I got pregnant again just after the Grape-Nuts debacle, and even though the four-child plan I had harbored since I was tiny seemed well on-track, I felt isolated from friends, distanced from my husband, and resentful about having to read esoteric eighteenth-century French plays in the sandbox while my colleagues luxuriated in libraries.
But even as the word fuck disappeared from my vocabulary, there was never a shortage of fucking in our miserable little house hold. I love sex. I always have. For me, sex means trust and intimacy and unparalleled physical plea -sure. In the years, though, when Lucas was little and our daughter, Hannah, was born and when Xavier arrived two years later, sex became something else again. Far more crucial than any utterance of the word, the act was a desperate clinging to some semblance of a self not entirely eclipsed by maternity.
Bill and I may have been attachment parents (by force, not design), and there may have always been babies limpeted to my body or sprawled between us, but we found plenty of ways to fuck (see suggestions for Private Time in the pages ahead). We wedged intimacy into unlikely snatches of time. We did it on the closet floor when the urchins crowded us out of bed. During those dark years we discovered new positions and couples’ porn and vibrators because of how desperate the happy trio—who always wanted to be held and wouldn’t take bottles, who nursed constantly and ate pickily and never ever slept—were making us.
Sex was frequent, but fraught. A lonely me needed to create adult intimacy in a house hold subsumed by unpredictable, insatiable, nonverbal people. It was hurried or interrupted or sad. Mid-sex laughter was replaced with anxious clinging; precoital backrubs with gloomy brooding. I often cried afterward because the rest of my life felt so overwhelming.
Sex—I understood only later—was how I was maintaining the sanity other new mothers were preserving with an indulgent soak in the tub or an afternoon jog or a monthly girls’ night out. In my diverse "New Moms Group" there was the occasional allusion to the toll our infants were taking on our marriages. Any mention of sex, though, amounted to how totally horrible the idea sounded. Instead of telling them that Bill and I were having plenty of (desperate) sex, I told those moms that it was reassuring to imagine—when wakened by my infant for the third time in the night—that one of them was awake as well, changing a diaper or soothing a baby around the corner. These were women who understood the immensity of the transition to maternity. They were supportive and empathetic and wise, but countless new-mothering concerns meant that sex was never a subject of real discussion.
I would have to wait five years to finally dwell on the issues that were never aired with my New Moms. In May 2005, Xavier turned two and stopped breast-feeding. He and Lucas and Hannah all still slept in our bedroom (crazy, I know), but they had actually begun to sleep through the night. My eldest child was attending kindergarten five days a week! I got an IUD. I got a real hairstyle. Bill and I took a trip to Las Vegas that marked the beginning of what we deemed "The Renaissance." (This was my rebirth because, of course, it was I who most needed revival. Bill is an exceptionally devoted and playful father, but was never mired in the trenches as completely as I was.) Renewal meant tattooing Bill’s initials into my lower back, planning a trip for two to Paris, committing myself to an occasional glass of wine with my husband, and hosting a series of erotic dance classes in my living room.
By this point—the kids being two, four, and six—we had moved across the San Francisco Bay. While I stayed in touch with the sympathetic New Moms who had seen me through those trying early years in Oakland, I had the uncommon good luck to fall in with a gang of candid elementary school mothers who were more than happy to let conversation stray from toddler sleep tactics and potty training. With somber nodding we acknowledged the way young kids taxed our marriages only to zip past this reality to compare notes on lingerie (or not), on vibrators, on the sex benefits of laser hair removal, on our favorite brands of lubricants, and how to manage sex in the afternoon with ever-more-cognizant children racing around the house.
Consciously and judiciously, at a point when my kindergartener, preschooler, and toddler were all the more vulnerable to its influence, I injected fuck right back into my parlance. Not to say that I was shouting "motherfucker!" when someone couldn’t get his car seat buckled or her shoes tied. Bill and I weren’t having sex in front of the kids or taking up smoking or proposing orgies with their classmates’ parents. But we made decisions such as to not censor our favorite music just because the gorgeous chorus is "This is fucked up, fucked up." We’ve gotten into the excellent habit of feeding the little guys first then having our own fireside dinner in the living room. I love that when the "new me" misses the freeway exit and slips up by muttering "shit" much to my children’s narc-ish glee, I explain that swearing is my adult prerogative, and I think they understand. I love that slipping fuck into a conversation with an engaging kindergarten mom I’m just getting to know heightens some kind of intimacy and hints to this woman that there’s more to me than a classroom volunteer and lunch packer. Most of all, I love the fact that this renaissance has meant surpassing my old self, Bill and I having sex now that’s more interesting and frequent and satisfying than it was prekids.
As "fuck" made its way back into my life, I became more and more fixated on the idea of sex as a central aspect of marriage and an important, if slighted, facet of mothers’ lives. While my fellow elementary school moms and I were discussing and evaluating and laughing about all manner of sex stuff, I wondered if other women were having these conversations. I started asking new friends and old about masturbation and pornography and privacy strategies. From dinner party polls and select playground conversations, I found that nearly everyone I approached was eager to share what I had come to think of as true tales of sex after kids (it was Bill—leave it to my Bill—who came up with "Hump").
What Hump offers is a chronicle of the renaissance my fellow moms and I have undergone. But not only that. More than a record of one community’s antics, Hump encompasses an array of parents’ experiences. In "I Touch Myself " you’ll become privy to many women’s views on masturbation (which dovetails nicely with the practical advice in "Secrets of the Magic Wand"). "Snip!" explores vasectomy, while "Snap!" focuses on the failure of birth control that results in inadvertent pregnancies—one met with dismay, another with joy, one eliciting elation, another abortion. In "These Are Our Bodies?! These Are Ourselves?!" you’ll witness one woman’s hilarious exploration of the baffling geography of the vag, while "Plea sure Party" sees a dozen women venture into the extraordinary world of sex toys. With its range of true stories, Hump seeks to provoke thought, to encourage conversations (or laughter, or intimacy) within marriages, and to offer a depiction of reality that will speak to myriad mothers and fathers. Most fundamentally, though, Hump seeks to sympathize, convince, and inspire.
Sympathize because making sex a priority in a house hold with children is really difficult. This is the motivation behind the "Arguments Against" chapters interspersed throughout the book. "Arguments Against" present the varied and detailed reasons—I’m sure you can come up with an easy half-dozen in about thirty seconds—why sex is not desirable or convenient or appealing while parenting young children. A few of my darkest mothering moments are writ large in Hump. Because this collection is not meant to suggest a facile Make-Sex-a-Priority-and-Life-Will-Be-Fabulous sort of maxim. "Back in the Saddle," "Utility Drawer," "Talk to Me, Babies"... practically every story in this collection illustrates the daunting realities of life with young children. Some of what follows is pretty ugly. But few parents would refute that raising children is the most challenging endeavor each of us has undertaken. While acknowledging these difficulties, Hump argues that making sex a priority can ease the very real struggles parents face.
Not just sympathize with these struggles but present convincing arguments that sex should be a priority because parents at the turn of the millennium are experiencing many new and conflicting pressures. We find ourselves— I’m thinking mostly of mothers here—divided on the central issue of staying-at-home versus pursuing careers. Women have been allowed revolutionary access to education and professional advancement, but we were sold a bill of goods in the experiment that sought to conjoin ambitious professionalism with dedicated mothering. Atop this central stressor, today’s parents both at home and in the office are fed overwhelming amounts of contradictory and alarmist information specifying how to raise the smartest, sanest, happiest, healthiest, safest kids. Furthermore—as if maintaining a career and upholding the "cult of the child" weren’t enough—mothers are suddenly also expected to wear thong-style underwear and identify with the women in Sex and the City. We’ve heard of MILF’s and Desperate House wives and suburban pole-dancing classes, all of which suggest that women should be professional and maternal and overtly sexual. This new iteration of the timeless mother-virgin-whore conundrum can amount to odd pressure, a put-upon feeling that mothers need to consider not only the latest glass-ceiling perspective and day-care repercussions, not only Reviving Ophelia and Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Lives of Boys, but also strip-tease courses.
The fact is that Hump—while conceding the difficulties and contradictions in this—actually does encourage the striptease classes, or something like them (see "Kinderotics"). My suggestion is that parents should embrace this latest trend, the mother as sexual being, instead of the "cult of the child," the divisive mommy wars, and those endless overprogrammed afternoons. Hump seeks to convince mothers that a good romp now and again is a healthy way to sidestep stressful imperatives with an act that can be self-affirming, stress reducing, and intimacy enhancing. Hump encourages parents to choose sex over emptying the dishwasher or watching SportsCenter or reading the "Seven Signs that Your Child Loves You" that babycenter.com just popped into your inbox. Because a good romp now and again makes you feel good. And it makes your partner feel good. What Hump argues is that sex should be right there at the top of the list of ways to indulge and renew. Of course, each parent needs to choose sex on his or her own terms and in ways that are comfortable and self-inspired, but these pages suggest that more emphasis on a satisfying sex life needs to be a priority.
Hump seeks to sympathize and convince and inspire because sex is important. Volatile and messy and sometimes inconvenient, yes—but honestly, how many human undertakings are so foundational? How many acts have the potential to feel so incredibly good? Parents are busy. Life with kids is busy. But if providing your children a model of a well-functioning marriage is one of the most important things a parent can do, and if having better and more frequent sex with your spouse will lead to a stronger marriage, then your kids won’t hold it against you when you forego Candy Land for an adult foray to the bedroom (on top of the fact that most children aren’t averse to the stick-the-kids-in-front-of-the-TV privacy strategy that so many parents successfully employ). With practical advice and more than a few steamy passages, this volume provides inspiration for more and better sex.
Because the sentiment undergirding each true story in Hump is that you really ought to toss this book aside. My hope is that a certain point in a given paragraph will move you to dog-ear a page or splay the collection facedown. You might grab (or purchase) a vibrator. You might view some porn (for the first time?) or sidle up to your spouse and make a dash for the bedroom. Quick!—before the toddler’s up from the nap or the kids are back from school. Read on. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
Excerpted from Hump by Kimberly Ford
Copyright © 2008 by Kimberly Ford
Published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Griffin
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher