"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sex And The Stay-at-Home Mom

In the Fifties when most women were housewives, and the term ‘stay-at-home mom’ had no relevance whatsoever, extramarital sex was no less common than it is today in a much more liberated and tolerant world.  It was simply done much more discreetly. In small towns of cultural homogeneity and income equality, liaisons with milkmen, plumbers, and carpenters were simply sexual encounters, not the cross-cultural, mixed-race, and ethnically diverse relationships they are today. Women let these men into their homes and into their beds without thinking twice about class or background.

They had nothing in common with famous fictional characters like Miss Julie, the heiress of an aristocratic fortune, but attracted to the valet of the the estate. She plays sexual games of dominance and submission, tempting and testing his virility and independence; but upbringing, status, class, and history destroy her and neuter him. 

The women of New Brighton had no such conflicts.  They simply slipped under the covers for a brief interlude with the carpenter and a break from vacuuming, cooking, and changing diapers.  

American women today stay home with determination and purpose. They have sacrificed promising careers on K Street for the responsibilities of hearth and home; and they wash and scrub, join cooperative playgroups, prepare organic baby food of quince and sea oats, read challenging nap time stories, visit museums and art galleries, and arrange get-togethers with other homemaker moms of the neighborhood as dutifully as they would at making partner at Rothstein, Baker, and Marks.  Child-rearing must be thought of as a profession, otherwise it will be just boring and tedious.

Only a few of these women stay the course and remain responsible and concerned throughout the childhoods of their offspring.  For most the work is most definitely not as challenging, interesting, and rewarding as Mergers and Acquisitions, prosecution, or defense. A dirty diaper is a dirty diaper, and no matter how many exotic ingredients go into baby food, it is still just tasteless puree.  Their kids would be just as happy with Gerber’s veal.

Sooner or later, these Washington women know that they have a unique opportunity to brighten their increasingly drab, dreary, and routine lives – taking a lover. The problem is that their world is almost exclusively female.  Stay-at-home dads are the exception, and the crowd at playgrounds, parks, and kiddie shows is almost always female; and most plumbers and carpenters are either black, Latino, or West Virginia crackers.

Jennifer Brindle had two children, 2 and 4, and had left her job at Parker Baines to take care of them full time.  Like most other ex-professionals, Jenny threw herself into her new occupation with energy and enthusiasm; but, also like her colleagues, quickly grew bored and restless with the endless chores and mind-numbing routines of childcare. Why had she not opted for a Salvadoran nanny like so many of her friends? What was she giving her children that Maria or Serafina could not?  Emilia Sanchez who worked for the Fergusons in Spring Valley read to their children in Spanish and by the time they were the same age as her Marcia, they could understand and speak Spanish perfectly.  The Ferguson children had just as much fun at Turtle Park with Emilia as with their own mother; and Emilia’s meals were far tastier than anything Joan Ferguson could concoct. 

When she had finally put her children to sleep, Jennifer worked at her computer keeping up with online law journals and following the most interesting cases before the Superior Court. She became quickly bored. Reading about contentious cases was not the same as arguing with worthy adversaries in court or in the corporate boardroom.  She started many novels, but was interrupted so often that she lost the thread and context.  After a month trying to get through the first few hundred pages of Anna Karenina, she gave up, gave in, and read short stories.  She became more and more depressed, and her lassitude and indifference affected the children.  They became more whiny and pestering than ever.

Jennifer didn’t consciously decide to take a lover – she would have thought that too Victorian and upper class – but deliberately or not she found herself thinking of ways to get out more, to be more engaging and open.  She was still young, attractive, and of course available; and none of this was lost on men. Conversations with graduate students at the Phillips was easy and uncomplicated; and there were few days spent at Rose Park in Georgetown without a casual chat with tennis players or World Bank executives who walked there at lunchtime.  Before long, her days were filled with exciting, erotic rendezvous. 

The children, it turned out, were no problem whatsoever.  They were easily farmed out or tucked in and by the time they woke up or returned, Jennifer was back at work in the kitchen.  Mistakes were bound to happen, and on a few occasions her younger daughter woke up early from her nap and opened the door to Jennifer’s bedroom; but at two years old, the line between fantasy and reality is still blurred, and it was easy to convince the little girl that she saw nothing or no one in Mommy’s bed.

What made the adventure even easier was that her husband was both clueless and accepting.  Jennifer had gotten far enough in Anna Karenina to feel the same dismissiveness for her husband as Anna had for Karenin, a man who, because he thought that male jealousy was one of humanity’s baser instincts and one which demeaned women, chose to overlook Anna’s indiscretions with Vronsky.  Once he finally had to face facts, Karenin chose to ignore them.  He was emotionally and sexually inept.

Jennifer’s husband was by no means as dire a male case as Karenin.  He was attentive, sexually mature, and intelligent – at least reasonably so; although Jennifer always felt she had a bit of an edge on him in this regard.  Yet while most men would have noticed something – a telltale scent, rarely read coffee table books slightly out of order, one more glass than usual on the counter – Randy Brindle came home, took off his shoes, and settled into the sofa as he did every day, oblivious to the telltale signs everywhere.

Best of all, he was always too tired to make love.  In the days before her lovers, Jennifer was frustrated and angry with him for what she interpreted as his indifference; but she found that she was more dispirited, unsatisfied, and angry after he finally rolled off of her than if they had had no sex at all.

Jennifer was not promiscuous – at least she didn’t think so. Yes, she trolled for lovers at the National Gallery and the Hirschhorn, but how could the sensitive young painter studying at the Corcoran be simply a sexual catch?  Nor did the number and diversity of lovers ever convince her that she had crossed a moral line. The world was full of talented, virile, and respectful men for whom sexual intimacy was an expression of their appreciation of women.  What were numbers anyway?  Meaningless abstractions in a real world of physical and emotional pleasure.

Whether Jennifer had some innate ability to pick the right lovers or whether she was simply lucky is beside the point.  She continued her sexual interludes until her children became far more aware and savvy than her husband. She missed the eroticism of singular encounters but was mature enough to know that the uniqueness of this particular period in her life was over. She rarely ran into her former lovers, but when she did she did not cover and run; but greeted them warmly and with genuine affection. She really did choose well, and all the many men in her life understood like she did that love in the afternoon was momentary, and there were never any regrets, recriminations, or insults.

As she grew older she settled in to married life.  The few female friends who knew of her sexual past always wondered how she could return to a life of such routine and sameness. “It was a phase”, she said, “like any other.” She was as comfortable shooting the rapids as she was in calm water.

What I admired most was her ability to accept life as a series of unique experiences, adventures that came and went, events that were remembered but never regretted.  She realized at 35 that life was short – too short for indolence and certainly too brief for complacency and inaction. “I hate Chekhov”, she once told me. “Irina, Masha, Olga…all of his women are incapable of action.  Boredom and indecision are diseases, one of his characters says.  She has no patience for Sonya, Vanya, or Astrov.  I never want to be like them either.”

She never was remotely like them; and after her ‘Tuesday afternoons’ were over she went on to other things.  Literature and men were no different, she told me.  They were not interchangeable, but both exciting and fulfilling in their own right. As I said, I have never met a woman like her and doubt I ever will.


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