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Tonight's The Night (Maybe)

I will not think of having sex in the kitchen. (Well, I won't think of having sex while scraping squished peas off the floor, that is.) I'll go ahead with my plans.

It's Monday night. Isabelle, 3, has crashed, exhausted after a preschool party. Jessica, 1, is singing but crib-bound. The kitchen is clean. The lunch boxes are packed. I've put a candle in the bedroom, fetched matches from the high shelf. My black bra is tighter than it used to be. But then again, that gives it a certain uplifting effect.

This could be the night! I tiptoe toward the bedroom. "Mommy?" Isabelle stands in her Cinderella nightgown rubbing her eyes.

Busted. Again.

My husband and I used to have a nice sex life. But (do I really even need to say this?) that was before kids. Now I feel like a teenager again  -- creeping around, constantly being interrupted, furtively admiring a guy from afar but not getting anywhere with him. Not since I was 17 has so much planning gone into doing so little.

For one thing, the obstacles are just as formidable. Having toddlers is like living with the sex police  -- they're worse than my parents. Jessica has a sixth sense, crying the moment the bedroom candle is lit. And Isabelle recently found my diaphragm. I said it was a sink plug, to be used only by Mommy for really big leaks. This seemed to satisfy her. But I'll probably find it in the sink next.

My attitude's the same as it was in high school, too. Forget the joy of sex. I'm back to the idea of sex as getting away with something. And just like those early days, lust is mixed with a little loathing. Let's face it, when you don't do something much, you lose confidence. Is it possible for a married woman to forget how to do it? It's hard to believe but true: I got further in my parents' den when I was in high school than I often do in my own bedroom now.

But, persistence! Nothing as complicated as making love ever happened between the parents of two toddlers without some extra-careful conniving.

The following Thursday night: We're going to put the kids to bed early. Four stories. Three trips to get glasses of water. Everything appears to hinge on Isabelle, who's been waking up regularly half an hour after we put her down.

Will she or won't she?

It Takes a Little Luck

Dishes, floor, and lunch boxes done, we tiptoe to the bedroom. Before, we would have set the stereo. Forget it. Lighting the candle, I listen for the rap-rap of little knuckles on the bedroom door. Instead, I hear...

"Whaaaa!" It's Jessica. Nightmare? Dirty diaper? By the time I figure it out, it's past my curfew. I may not be grounded tomorrow if I stay up past 10 p.m., but I'll feel that way.

Sunday night: The experts all say that parents of young children still need to make love  -- to keep the bond alive and calm nerves frayed by toddler tantrums and missing sippy cups. But I'm tired of the chase. And that's all right. Because at 9:15, when my daughters finally fall asleep, my husband decides it's time to call the hurricane-shutter man.

In Miami, where we live, hurricanes are serious business, and this dicey subject has put a kibosh on many an evening. From his side of the bed, my husband has explained how shutter men never show up; from mine, I've described a horrific scene of flying toddlers and shattered glass.

I figure it's going to be a long call. We have lots of windows. That's okay. Any mom knows that survival is more important than sex. Besides, I've made other plans tonight  -- I've got a magazine to read. I'm deep into clutter-free closets when my husband enters. The shutter man is coming tomorrow. (I've heard this before.)

But my husband no longer looks like a guy who's thinking about hurricanes. Instead, he looks a lot like my high school boyfriend did when I told him my parents were out of town.

"It's nine-thirty," he whispers.

The nightgown I'm wearing resembles a tent and is as worn as a blankie. The black bra's in the laundry. But we both know an opportunity when we see one. And for the mother of a toddler, opportunity is what sex is all about. I close my eyes.

The planets align. This mysterious, unattainable man is mine. On this rare night, I feel as I did in the backseat of the car on that moonlit street the police forgot to patrol: almost, for a moment, like a real adult.


Jennifer Bingham Hull's Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life will be out in the fall.