Monday, March 5, 2012

"Now don't tell me you'd rather have a nice cup of tea than an orgasm"

Well, er, actually, that's a really difficult question, I think. I mean, how could you possibly compare such different things? And anyway, of COURSE I wouldn't rather have a nice cup of tea than an orgasm. I mean, I can't possibly make a meaningful comparison. Well, not unless I had more details about the precise brand of tea.

But it seems I am missing the point, because this statement is made during a high-octane presentation on YOUR RELATIONSHIP AND MARRIAGE. There are whiteboards (decorated with love-hearts) and handouts and everything. Even homework (don't ask). I am a bit confused, because I thought I was just coming to a toddler group, recommended by a friend. And I was really looking forward to it, because it was going to be a NORMAL MUM morning, doing the stuff that other mums do, chatting and drinking tea in a church hall whilst our children run riot. Instead here I am listening to a relationships seminar. Run by a woman with six kids. (Can't escape a slight disquiet at a woman who decided to have six children being regarded as a good source of advice). To make it worse, we were given a tiny cup of tea on arrival which I hardly drank. Now it is sitting in front of me, cold. I don't want to drink it, but I can't go and get another one until the seminar is over. I don't know whether I prefer tea or orgasms, but I damn well prefer a nice cuppa to an unexpected seminar about relationships.

This isn't really a relationships seminar. It's about sex. Good heavens, is this what New Zealand mothers discuss at their toddler groups? Maybe I'm a repressed Brit but back home conversation tended to centre on other issues, like the weather, the general uselessness of men, and the weather again. But here it is sex, and frequent sex at that. Sex, we are told, is what a man wants, he can only think of one thing whereas we women can multi-task, we can think about the laundry whilst making love. (Can we? I've never tried. Maybe I am weird. I have never, ever, ever been tempted to think about the laundry during sex. I just don't find washing machines that exciting). But now we have children to look after we are tired, and not in the mood enough. So we need to schedule sex, she explains. "We schedule the dentist, why not sex?" Er, because if I show up unexpectedly with an open mouth the dentist will refuse to see me, whereas...

Is this what NORMAL MUMS get up to? I think. In these three years or so of appointments, therapy, school action plans, have I missed out on the fact that we are all supposed to be pre-planning, scheduling sex into our calendars? The thought makes me feel slightly nauseous. "Darling, make sure you are home early on Monday, after rugby practice and the school sausage sizzle we're scheduled to sizzle a little sausage of our own...what do you mean, you might not be in the mood for action? We've had this scheduled on our calendar since September."

The woman goes on talking. There are things we need to put in place, she tells us. Locks on the parental bedroom door. (No, not theirs). I try to imagine what would happen if our children were to lock ourselves in our bedroom. No, better not. Lots of candles, to create a romantic mood. No, can't have that, risk of fire and pyromaniac tendencies, mustn't have matches around, and it's a wooden house. Perfume. No, not a good idea, sensory issues, smell of perfume will probably disturb he children. A romantic film. These become significantly less magical when you are interrupted every ten or fifteen minutes by a sleepless child. Oh dear. I hope she's wrong that these are things you NEED for an active sex life, because by her standards we won't be having any couple time for another twenty years.

And then I am heartened by remembering how much things have improved, because only a year ago we couldn't even share a bedroom, because in our small three-bedroomed Yorkshire house it was not safe for the chirlden to share a room. So my husband slept downstairs on the sofa, with the baby beside him in a travel cot. At a multi-agency meeting for ways to support our family, these issues were seriously discussed. I counted the number of health and educational professionals present. Eighteen. That was eighteen people in the room whilst we discussed our lack of a marital bed. "Yes, it's great contraceptively," I joked halfway through the meeting. Cue a lot of professionals trying not to snigger, because they were supposed to be being sympathetic and supportive.

What that era taught me though - and apologies if this is too much detail, sharing the intimate details of your family sleeping arrangements with eighteen strangers does warp your sense of what is appropriate to share - is that really, it is the love between you and your husband that matters most, the sense of togetherness. The other stuff, of course it is wonderful and meaningful, when possible. But sometimes it isn't, with the best will in the world, because you are both too tired or sleeping in separate rooms or because your kids keep wandering into your bedroom and you know it would be unsafe to put a lock on the door. Of course sex is important to a marriage, and I am glad that the time of enforced separation is over. Being a couple again is great. But I kind of dislike the idea that marriage is like a recipe, with the precise ingredients to be added according to a pat formula. These things are very personal, and there is no template. I am also uncomfortable with telling a group of exhausted young mothers - OK, they don't have SN kids, but let's face it, all parenting is exhausting - that they need to focus on becoming sexier. Some of those women there today may indeed have needed a reminder to wear sexy lingerie and make themselves more attractive to their husbands. But others, I would suspect, needed to be told to go home and get some sleep. A lock on the bedroom door might be useful in some cases, but mainly to keep out the husband.

Yes, I think, I am actually quite uncomfortable with the patriarchal subtext here. We were told at the beginning that men wanted sex and women wanted affection, but the seminar has focused almost exclusively on providing the former. If anything, sex is demeaned in this paradigm, reduced to the status of a household chore. "Remember not to give in to the temptation to hand your husband a child to look after when he gets home," we are exhorted, "It's easy to do but he's not there to help you. You need to be grateful that he hasn't stayed at work and gone to the pub." Jeepers, I think, my poor husband. There I was thinking that children were the responsibility of both parents, and that giving me a hand when he got home was part of the ongoing deal. In short, it feels like the sort of seminar that Christian men would like their Christian wives to attend, rather than what these women actually need. To stop myself looking too glum and Angry-Feminist, I look around to see what my youngest is up to. He's taking this seminar very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he has refused to go to the creche with everyone else. Instead he is stacking the toddler chairs up in the corner. He does this with great care, getting very irritated if anyone tries to stop it. Then he takes one chair, comes and sits beside me. Very sweet. But he bangs his head on the corner of the table with a loud thunk.

"Oh no!" the speaker breaks off her talk. "Is he all right?"

"Yes, fine," I say without checking. He is Teflon Toddler, you see, sensory issues, he's hyposensitive, which means he doesn't feel pain very much. So unless I can see blood I don't worry.

She looks doubtful. Then he does it again. "He's fine," I say casually. I could have explained, I guess, but I didn't want to interrupt the session. She returns to her talk with a worried look, as if planning next week's session "How To Respond Appropriately To a Toddler Head Injury." Sigh. Public Parent FAIL. And I don't fancy a rigid schedule for sex. Maybe I should just go back to the ASD support group scene. I am clearly not very good at being a Normal Mother.


  1. Oh how I laughed!!! Brilliant! I actually tried to run a normal mothers playgroup when James was about 2, (way before a diagnosis) and had to admit defeat when he attacked the other kids and went arouund stealing all the other kids food...........
    As for calendarising sex, well, I think I'll stick to spontaneity when the time is right!!!!! Great blog, truly, cheered by sick self up no end xxxxx

  2. Good I am glad it's not just me! LOL at your toddler group disaster. I got told off at an NCT toddler group because my eldest kept putting hte playdough in his mouth "He should have grown out of it by now." He was know what, I still have to watch him with playdough!

  3. Hahaha. The only one I have attend in many years was the one the HV forced me to attend- talk about sore thumb: it was for first time and vulnerable mothers. As a Mum of 4 I may as well have ahd 'freak' tattooed on my forehead! Everyone knew there was something up, the opposite of dignity and confidentiality.

    But your experience sounds so much worse- painful indeed!

    But- 18 professionals? Wow! Don;t think that many even exist here! Bas has been identified as having a definite SLD and is under PAed for ASD dx now- and we still don't qualify for SW.

  4. I can't believe how unsupported you are, Peachy. It makes me rant and rage.
    I dunno, any chance of Mark getting a job in NZ? (Although I guess some of yours might fail the medical: worth a shot though, I know someone who emigrated with a child with DS, they were let in cos they are builders I think and ChCh needs them at the moment)

  5. No one every asks me to talk about sex anymore - but I do get offered a lot of tea (usually in very silly tiny cups). Loved reading this - thanks Kerry.

  6. Oh I LOVE the idea of calenderising sex. Let me see, I think that with enough time to catch up on sleep, and factoring in the visits to sleep with mummy and daddy, I reckon I can easily put this down for April. 2017. Done.

    Wow I feel so much better now that's out the way.

  7. Northern FeministMarch 6, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    A sweeping generalisation, but I've definitely noticed a lot of the "good little wife" approach over here...

  8. Yes, I do think gender roles are subtly different here. I notice on TV that the ads are much more blokey.

  9. "Remember not to give in to the temptation to hand your husband a child to look after when he gets home... It's easy to do but he's not there to help you. You need to be grateful that he hasn't stayed at work and gone to the pub."

    Please tell me that she didn't actually say that! The 1950's called and want their views back...

    I don't see much of the 'good little wife' thing in NZ, but obviously it is a function of who you mix with. In the toddler groups that I go to (in Auckland) about 20% of the parents are dads, which compares to 0% in the toddler groups that I went to in London. I do agree that ads are more blokey but I am not sure that this translates into a less balanced society. My husband likes beer and sport but it doesn't mean that he considers me his good little wifey, if that makes sense?

    I was going to trot out the female PM/Chief Justice/Governor General/CEO of the the largest firm, but now that only 1 of those 4 are female it doesn't quite have the same gravity. Still, for me, genuine gender equality (with the exception of your bizarre sex councillor) is one of the main things I like about NZ.

  10. That's encouraging, Rodent. I do definitely notice more dads at the toddler groups (this one being an obvious exception!) I think in a lot of very evo churches you will get this line pushed, UK as well: you wouldn't get it in the liberal parishes though. I am not completely attuned yet to the NZ religious "scene" so can't tell how mainstream it is.
    I would bloody love to live in a society of genuine gender equality, let's hope you are right :-) !

  11. And yes, she did actually say that. It's all true...