Sunday, April 24, 2005

THIS WEEK IN PARENTAL OUTRAGE...

Writer, columnist (former mommmy-blogger) Ayelet Waldman was on Oprah last Wed, responding to a minor shit storm she's caused with a recent essay excerpted from an upcoming book on motherhood.

The gist of Waldman's argument is that too many new mothers transfer their romantic passions from their partners and instead, onto their children. For Waldman, this is a concern because it explains bed death between new parents and more profoundly, in her own words, results in a situation, "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."

Understand - I don't actually disagree with Waldman's central points especially since she's not stating anything particularly original. Fathers the world over, since time immemorial, have already figured out that more baby = less sex and that parenthood can (but doesn't always will) empty the sexual energy between a couple and redirect their attention onto the children. Moreover, I'll defend Waldman against all those outraged parents who'll try to call her a bad mom for speaking her mind on this topic.

All this said, Waldman's essay annoys the hell out of me.

First of all, while I appreciate the core of her argument, everything surrounding it is, at times, laughably overstated. The most obvious example is her "God Forbid" scenario where she weighs two scenarios, i.e. "God forbid one of my children ever die" vs. "God forbid my husband should die." Waldman declares that while the first would be devestating, the latter would be even worse, thereby confirming, to Waldman, that she does indeed love her husband more than her kids.

Pardon my french, but c'mon...gimme a fucking break. How can anyone accurately predict the qualitative difference in grief they would feel between the death of a spouse vs. child? Asking me whether Sam or L's premature death would affect me more is like asking if I'd rather lose an arm or a leg. I can't make that call and thankfully, I don't have to. More to the point, for most parents, I would have to think that they don't have a hierarchy of love between spouse and children, but rather, it's degrees of difference. I love Sam and L fiercely but I don't confuse the sexual/romantic affections I have for Sam with the parental adoration I feel towards L. I don't know why Waldman couldn't just state that point simpler without having to raise this ridiculous "God forbid" scenario.

Second of all, Waldman really needs to dial back the sanctimonious tone she uses throughout her essay. One of the most egregious moments comes early on, when Waldman writes,
    "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?
Um...saying that "I could gloat about how glorious my life is...but I won't" is gloating, ok? Casually mentioning that you and Michael Chabon are currently enjoying Nina Hartley's Guide to Spanking is rubbing everyone's nose in your "torrid" sex life and this, i.e. "I am far too busy worry about what's with me," is such an obviously transparent attempt at false modesty.

Most of all, I think Waldman overstates her point unnecessarily. As I noted before, I think most parents can understand and appreciate her basic argument but rather than focus on the simple observation that spousal and parental love is and should be different, Waldman keeps repeating herself with a string of increasingly outrageous statements and rhetorical flourishes. She practically seems to taunt her own kids at the end by repeatedly stating (for the umpteenth time) that she loves her husband more than them. Ok, we got the point three pages ago, why are you still harping on this? The merits of Waldman's arguments aside, it's just bad writing.

This seems so reflective of the parental advice industry - a bunch of egomaniacs running around shoveling sanctimonious bullshit. Believe me, blogging isn't that much better either, but at least I'm not admitting, "I browbeat the fine editors of [Salon] into letting me have a column," which translates to me as, "no one thought I should be given a platform for my views until I nagged them into giving me one."


The shame of this is that Waldman, as I've stressed throughout, has some important points to make, especially in explaining some of the roots of parental bed death (something that I'm all too keenly aware of right now). In thinking about how Sam and I have drastically curtailed our love life with one another, there are many obvious culprits and you've heard it all before: we're both tired, we don't have time, the baby shares our bedroom so we don't have privacy, etc. One additional thought came to the mind though: I think one of the things we enjoyed about sex B.C. (before child) was the relative lack of concern over unintended consequences. Sex was about intimacy, pleasure, all the good things.

Then we got pregnant with L. Surprise!

I wonder if both Sam and I are subconsciously wary of resuming our sex life because we now are reminded that sex also equals procreation which, while rewarding in its own way, douses the enjoyment of "sex without concern" with a shower of chilly water. Of course, it hasn't even been three months yet so maybe this is just a momentary blip - I'm not trying to obsesss about it. At least it beats being married in Japan, where apparently, bed death isn't caused by kids...it's caused by marriage. Doh!

Posted by P.L. at 8:15 AM

1 Comments

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