7.22.2011

Co-Sleeping And Intimacy

Recently, I had the pleasure to speak with Hallie Cotnam on CBC Ontario Today on the subject of co-sleeping and intimacy. The piece was produced in response to this article by Erica Jong in the New York Times, where she states, among other things, that women are hiding from their men in an ‘orgy of multiple maternity’ and ‘man-distancing slings.’


I suppose Erica Jong has done a lot of good things for women and the notion of a woman’s sexual freedom, but she’s never really represented my brand of feminism. She certainly wasn’t representing me when she said that the older generation (presumably, hers) discovered free sex, and that the younger generation (presumably, ours) are rebelling by fetishising motherhood and monogamy.

Her point, it seems, is that women these days are choosing motherhood and monogamy over sexual pleasure and freedom, and that the two are incompatible. She rallies that there can be no room for intimacy in a bed full of children, and indeed, that we have sterilized the notion of sexuality back to a 1950s ideal, after her generation worked so hard to turn us all into sluts.

My first reaction to the article, as I mentioned to Ms Cotnam in an earlier conversation, was that Ms Jong was simply on the defensive. She states early on that her own daughter is living and parenting in a very different way than she herself parented. Ms Jong patronizingly calls it rebellion, but I think a more accurate analysis would be that, in the mirror held up in front of her, Ms Jong sees her philosophies and values being rejected by her daughter, which smacks of disapproval of her own parenting skills. In other words, Erica Jong is afraid her daughter doesn’t think she was a very good mother, as evidenced by the 180 degree difference in their parenting styles. I'm not saying that this is indeed the case, but I know that if my kids do everything differently than I did, I might feel a little rejected.

I completely get it. When Jong had her babies, as when my own mother had hers, formula was new to the market and hailed as a feminist breakthrough. Mothers had the freedom to be away from their babies for as long as they wanted to be, now that they were not tethered to them by their breasts. It seems that Jong is angry that our generation is ‘undoing’ everything she did for us, as evidenced in statements vilifying women who ‘breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him.’ Gee, Erica, how forward-thinking.

What she fails to accept is the simple reality that times have changed. Instead of lashing out at all of us ungrateful puritans, she could instead enjoy the notion that her (gag) trailblazing led us to a place of choice, where we are all comfortable to make our own.

As for the question of whether one can be intimate with their partner while they co-sleep, I am almost insulted by Jong’s lack of imagination. Sex, only in a bed, only at night? C’mon Erica, is that what your generation fought for?

Then again, Ms Jong does speak from a place of expert experience – she’s on her fourth husband; I’m still on my first.

***

7.06.2011

House, Sold. Heart, Heavy.

We signed our names, shook hands, congratulated each other and then, after a whirlwind 4 weeks of prepping and packing, storing and staging, it was done. Our house was sold.

Our house was sold.

A wave of exhaustion washed over me but it was quickly displaced by a rising tide of emotion. Our house was sold, to a nice young couple with a small daughter – exactly who we expected to sell our house to. They were excited, elated, relieved, and I couldn’t help but be taken back to the night that the young couple elated, excited and relieved that this house was now theirs, was us.

A little more than seven years ago, we were the young couple moving into this house. We were the young couple mere weeks away from beginning the task of populating the empty rooms with the pregnancy of our first daughter. We were the ones looking at each other in a slight state of shock and proclaiming to each other, The house is ours!

We’re not leaving our house because we no longer want it. Yes, we’re trading in our lifestyle, our city, our habits and priorities for something that we feel will now fit our family better, but it’s not because of the house. This house, our house, still feels right. The walls have been painted and the counters cleared for showings and sale, but as soon as I turn away from the quiet of uncluttered surfaces, I still know the house as ours. My children’s footfalls echo through the rooms and despite my best efforts at keeping hands and home free of grime, errant fingerprints reveal themselves on refrigerator doors and window panes.

And I am still tucking my children into their beds, in the only rooms they have known, and when I lay down at night it is still in our house, in our bed, in our room, the room my daughter was born in.

As I straightened the never-straight rug in front of our bed before a final showing yesterday, I saw my midwife kneeling on it, saw my sister sitting attentively behind her, saw my husband at the edge of the bed, saw my keening body as I brought my daughter into the world. This, our room, the world.

I’m ready to leave my life in Toronto, my job, my proximity to friends and family, but as I closed the door last night, exhausted, I was assaulted by the realization that I will also leave our house. We get to bring our things with us, the too-many books and clocks and chests and flotsam and jetsam of seven years of accumulated living, but I will be leaving behind this place. This place where we have laughed and fought and grieved and celebrated and watched and listened. This place where I gave birth to my first baby.

And how can I do this? How can I leave the only home my children have known; the hydrangea planted over soil rich with my first daughter’s buried placenta; the tree in the front yard, planted there after the birth of my second daughter; the divet in the wall of their bedroom, made by the repetitive motion of a rocking chair, heavy with the weight of mother and baby, gliding back into the same spot over and over and over.

How can I leave this house, already being emptied of belongings but still so full of our lives?

We have made our choice, we have signed our papers and we have so very much to look forward to. But even as I tell my children tales of what’s to come, I am already filing away tales of Where We Used To Live to tell later, when the limits of a child’s memory have been exceeded and appetite for personal fable realized. I’ll tell them stories of wobbly babies running down the hallway as though it were a racetrack, and older sisters convincing younger sisters to hide in dark and crowded closets. I’ll tell how one was born in the very bed we slept in and how one was supposed to be, but was always a monkey and had plans of her own.

***

I can’t sleep, my daughter told me last night, after everybody had left and the house was still. I keep thinking about the little girl.

What little girl? I asked as I smoothed her hair back from her face.
The little girl that’s going to sleep in my room.
Don’t worry, I assured her, she doesn’t sleep here until you’re all cozy in your new room. She won’t be here when you are.
Oh, that’s good, my daughter replied. Because you know my sister likes to crawl into bed with me, and there wouldn’t be room for another girl here too.

Having assuaged her concerns, I ventured a question. Will you let your sister sleep in your bed in the new house?
Of course, mum, said my eldest. She’s still my sister. We’re not leaving her here; we’re just leaving the room here.

I kissed her goodnight and walked out of her room, a room that she so willingly bestowed to a stranger, so long as she could still have her sister. I filed our exchange away, another tale to tell her later, and went downstairs to call our family with the good news.


***