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The New York Times ^ | 3/27/05 | Ayelet Waldman

Posted on 03/30/2005 8:13:49 PM PST by paulat

March 27, 2005 MODERN LOVE Truly, Madly, Guiltily By AYELET WALDMAN

HAVE been in many mothers' groups - Mommy and Me, Gymboree, Second-Time Moms - and each time, within three minutes, the conversation invariably comes around to the topic of how often mommy feels compelled to put out. Everyone wants to be reassured that no one else is having sex either. These are women who, for the most part, are comfortable with their bodies, consider themselves sexual beings. These are women who love their husbands or partners. Still, almost none of them are having any sex.

There are agreed upon reasons for this bed death. They are exhausted. It still hurts. They are so physically available to their babies - nursing, carrying, stroking - how could they bear to be physically available to anyone else?

But the real reason for this lack of sex, or at least the most profound, is that the wife's passion has been refocused. Instead of concentrating her ardor on her husband, she concentrates it on her babies. Where once her husband was the center of her passionate universe, there is now a new sun in whose orbit she revolves. Libido, as she once knew it, is gone, and in its place is all-consuming maternal desire. There is absolute unanimity on this topic, and instant reassurance.

Except, that is, from me.

I am the only woman in Mommy and Me who seems to be, well, getting any. This could fill me with smug well-being. I could sit in the room and gloat over my wonderful marriage. I could think about how our sex life - always vital, even torrid - is more exciting and imaginative now than it was when we first met. I could check my watch to see if I have time to stop at Good Vibrations to see if they have any exciting new toys. I could even gaze pityingly at the other mothers in the group, wishing that they too could experience a love as deep as my own.

But I don't. I am far too busy worrying about what's wrong with me. Why, of all the women in the room, am I the only one who has not made the erotic transition a good mother is supposed to make? Why am I the only one incapable of placing her children at the center of her passionate universe?

WHEN my first daughter was born, my husband held her in his hands and said, "My God, she's so beautiful."

I unwrapped the baby from her blankets. She was average size, with long thin fingers and a random assortment of toes. Her eyes were close set, and she had her father's hooked nose. It looked better on him.

She looked like a newborn baby, red and scrawny, blotchy faced and mewling. I don't remember what I said to my husband. Actually I remember very little of my Percocet- and Vicodin-fogged first few days of motherhood except for someone calling and squealing, "Aren't you just completely in love?" And of course I was. Just not with my baby.

I do love her. But I'm not in love with her. Nor with her two brothers or sister. Yes, I have four children. Four children with whom I spend a good part of every day: bathing them, combing their hair, sitting with them while they do their homework, holding them while they weep their tragic tears. But I'm not in love with any of them. I am in love with my husband.

It is his face that inspires in me paroxysms of infatuated devotion. If a good mother is one who loves her child more than anyone else in the world, I am not a good mother. I am in fact a bad mother. I love my husband more than I love my children.

An example: I often engage in the parental pastime known as God Forbid. What if, God forbid, someone were to snatch one of my children? God forbid. I imagine what it would feel like to lose one or even all of them. I imagine myself consumed, destroyed by the pain. And yet, in these imaginings, there is always a future beyond the child's death. Because if I were to lose one of my children, God forbid, even if I lost all my children, God forbid, I would still have him, my husband.

But my imagination simply fails me when I try to picture a future beyond my husband's death. Of course I would have to live. I have four children, a mortgage, work to do. But I can imagine no joy without my husband.

I don't think the other mothers at Mommy and Me feel this way. I know they would be absolutely devastated if they found themselves widowed. But any one of them would sacrifice anything, including their husbands, for their children.

Can my bad motherhood be my husband's fault? Perhaps he just inspires more complete adoration than other husbands. He cooks, cleans, cares for the children at least 50 percent of the time.

If the most erotic form of foreplay to a mother of a small child is, as I've heard some women claim, loading the dishwasher or sweeping the floor, then he's a master of titillation.

He's handsome, brilliant and successful. But he can also be scatterbrained, antisocial and arrogant. He is a bad dancer, and he knows far too much about Klingon politics and the lyrics to Yes songs. All in all, he's not that much better than other men. The fault must be my own.

I am trying to remember those first days and weeks after giving birth. I know that my sexual longing for my husband took a while to return. I recall not wanting to make love. I did not even want to cuddle. At times I felt that if my husband's hand were to accidentally brush against my breast while reaching for the saltshaker, I would saw it off with the butter knife.

Even now I am not always in the mood. By the time the children go to bed, I am as drained as any mother who has spent her day working, car pooling, building Lego castles and shopping for the precisely correct soccer cleat. I am also a compulsive reader. Put together fatigue and bookwormishness, and you could have a situation in which nobody ever gets any. Except that when I catch a glimpse of my husband from the corner of my eye - his smooth, round shoulders, his bright-blue eyes through the magnification of his reading glasses - I fold over the page of my novel.

Sometimes I think I am alone in this obsession with my spouse. Sometimes I think my husband does not feel as I do. He loves the children the way a mother is supposed to. He has put them at the center of his world. But he is a man and thus possesses a strong libido. Having found something to usurp me as the sun of his universe does not mean he wants to make love to me any less.

And yet, he says I am wrong. He says he loves me as I love him. Every so often we escape from the children for a few days. We talk about our love, about how much we love each other's bodies and brains, about the things that make us happy in our marriage.

During the course of these meandering and exhilarating conversations, we touch each other, we start to make love, we stop.

And afterward my husband will say that we, he and I, are the core of what he cherishes, that the children are satellites, beloved but tangential.

He seems entirely unperturbed by loving me like this. Loving me more than his children does not bother him. It does not make him feel like a bad father. He does not feel that loving me more than he loves them is a kind of infidelity.

And neither, I suppose, should I. I should not use that wretched phrase "bad mother." At the very least, I should allow that, if nothing else, I am good enough. I do know this: When I look around the room at the other mothers in the group, I know that I would not change places with any of them.

I wish some learned sociologist would publish a definitive study of marriages where the parents are desperately, ardently in love, where the parents love each other even more than they love the children. It would be wonderful if it could be established, once and for all, that the children of these marriages are more successful, happier, live longer and have healthier lives than children whose mothers focus their desires and passions on them.

BUT even in the likely event that this study is not forthcoming, even in the event that I face a day of reckoning in which my children, God forbid, become heroin addicts or, God forbid, are unable to form decent attachments and wander from one miserable and unsatisfying relationship to another, or, God forbid, other things too awful even to imagine befall them, I cannot regret that when I look at my husband I still feel the same quickening of desire that I felt 12 years ago when I saw him for the first time, standing in the lobby of my apartment building, a bouquet of purple irises in his hands.

And if my children resent having been moons rather than the sun? If they berate me for not having loved them enough? If they call me a bad mother?

I will tell them that I wish for them a love like I have for their father. I will tell them that they are my children, and they deserve both to love and be loved like that. I will tell them to settle for nothing less than what they saw when they looked at me, looking at him.

Ayelet Waldman is the author of the novel "Daughter's Keeper." This essay is adapted from "Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race and Themselves" to be published by HarperCollins next month.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy | Search | Corrections | RSS | Help | Back to Top

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous
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1 posted on 03/30/2005 8:13:49 PM PST by paulat
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To: paulat
The NY Times has evidently decided to become a somewhat more stilted version of Redbook Magazine.

This can only be considered an improvement.

2 posted on 03/30/2005 8:16:38 PM PST by Interesting Times (ABCNNBCBS -- yesterday's news.)
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Comment #3 Removed by Moderator

To: paulat

I had a mother like that!

4 posted on 03/30/2005 8:21:10 PM PST by BellStar ("A human being, not a vegetable, is slowly dying")
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To: Great Prophet Zarquon

Folks always tell me "Mommy is the sun." Cuz if Momma ain't happy... no "soup" for you!

5 posted on 03/30/2005 8:22:46 PM PST by BradyLS (DO NOT FEED THE BEARS!)
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To: paulat

The "paper of record," folks.....

6 posted on 03/30/2005 8:24:55 PM PST by Dan from Michigan ("Mama, take this judgeship off of Greer, he can't use it, anymore")
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To: BellStar

That's why I posted this with no comment...just wanted to know what the effects are....

7 posted on 03/30/2005 8:25:25 PM PST by paulat
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To: BradyLS

I'm a guy..who cares how mommy feels. Get me another beer, would you, babe?

8 posted on 03/30/2005 8:26:43 PM PST by steve8714
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To: paulat
Hay... my father died in 2002 mom lives with me full time.
I would not have it any other way but I did have an issue or two growing up.
9 posted on 03/30/2005 8:29:00 PM PST by BellStar ("A human being, not a vegetable, is slowly dying")
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To: Interesting Times


My first thought is, it's one thing to think these things, but another to write them all down. Yet I read them, so wonder what that says.

Starting to miss John Kerry...

10 posted on 03/30/2005 8:30:50 PM PST by campfollower (We need a leader, not a weathervane.... and we have one!)
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To: paulat

This seems to be yet another in an endless series of NYT articles written by spoiled women-with-kids.

Didn't Maureen Dowd (she of the NYT) recently whine about the lack of female op-ed writers? Instead of complaining, perhaps she should persuade her female writer friends to stop writing narcissistic, angst-ridden cr*p such as this. Then maybe they'd be taken seriously.

11 posted on 03/30/2005 8:33:33 PM PST by LibFreeOrDie (L'chaim!)
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To: paulat
Hmmm. I guess I'm more like the woman's husband. I love my daughter just as much as my wife and feel much more responsibility for her, but that doesn't have a darn thing to do with my libido. I still want to get laid regularly and that wouldn't change regardless of how many children I was caring for.

I suppose it's different for women though. As a man I look at sex as something natural that you do. It's like hunger. If you haven't eaten for awhile you get hungry. Then you eat and you're OK for a few more hours. For women though sex seems to be more of an emotional sign of affection and the need for it is not determined by the length of the interval between couplings.

12 posted on 03/30/2005 8:34:57 PM PST by elmer fudd
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To: paulat

On the article..what's the problem with adoring both your children and your husband? When the children are young and one is very busy..I do believe in a weekend getaway now and then if takes effort and it is worth it..The children are better off with parents who love each other and work together..I would not dream of having to choose either or in a loving relationship.

13 posted on 03/30/2005 8:35:02 PM PST by MEG33 (GOD BLESS OUR ARMED FORCES)
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To: BellStar

Me too. Still do.

14 posted on 03/30/2005 8:36:07 PM PST by cinnathepoet (Directly, I am going to Caesar's funeral)
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To: elmer fudd
As a man I look at sex as something natural that you do. It's like hunger. If you haven't eaten for awhile you get hungry. Then you eat and you're OK for a few more hours.

...geez...never thought I'd agree on this topic with someone named "Elmer Fudd"....I'm a straight woman...but I feel like Bugs in a Carmen Miranda get-up....

15 posted on 03/30/2005 8:39:21 PM PST by paulat
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To: LibFreeOrDie
narcissistic, angst-ridden cr*p

That is too nail on the head funny!

16 posted on 03/30/2005 8:40:09 PM PST by BellStar ("A human being, not a vegetable, is slowly dying")
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To: paulat

I guess if you got married for the sole purpose of having kids, then you're going to find fault with this article.

17 posted on 03/30/2005 8:40:54 PM PST by dbwz (2A Sister)
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To: paulat
There seems to be alot of women with the same opinion. Husband first, children second..etc. Some women even feel if they lose a child they would (over time) would be able to go on, but if they lost their husband they wouldnt. Im not married (engaged) and havent tried to have children yet. But I have heard this before and studies have been done.
18 posted on 03/30/2005 8:41:43 PM PST by duck duck goose
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To: paulat

I don't blame Ken for leaving this stuck-up bitch.

19 posted on 03/30/2005 8:42:40 PM PST by Old Professer (As darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good; innocence is blind.)
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To: paulat
He's obviously cheating on her.
20 posted on 03/30/2005 8:48:30 PM PST by Pukin Dog (Sans Reproache)
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