The Case for Marriage as a Renewable Contract

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Best rings ever.

Another day, another celebrity break-up: Fergie and Josh, Jennifer and Justin, Channing and Jenna, now Nikki and John (ps. might have seen that last one coming).

When a couple calls it quits, it’s easy to bemoan our era of seemingly disposable unions. Our grandparents would say, “Back in my day marriage was for life. You stuck it out.” But is commitment really the problem? Could it be the traditional marriage structure that isn’t working? Does “forever” create too much pressure and too many unrealistic expectations? What if marriage was a renewable contract instead of a lifelong commitment?

This idea isn’t new, but it is polarizing.

Ever since the post-Victorian era, progressive scholars, philosophers and artists have been exploring and suggesting alternatives to traditional marriage. In some circles, the idea has wild appeal. Others believe undermining the traditional marriage arrangement indicates a breakdown in societal values and the beginning of dystopian anarchy. Cue the locusts!

And many of us fall somewhere in the middle. We intend to wed for life but we also know shit happens and people change. While there are many benefits to creating a lifelong partnership, marriage is no longer necessary for procreation or to further one’s financial interests (unless you’re a Trump).

These days, marriage rarely involves the joining of two farms or an exchange of livestock. So many wonder: Could freeing each other from “forever” actually lead to happier, more productive unions? If “forever” becomes an anvil around the neck, for whatever reason, could “maybe forever, let’s start with five years” be more practical?

And while we’re at it, while we’re redesigning marriage as a partnership of increments, why not expand the contract to go beyond spoken vows? Why not make it an actual contract that requires each party to keep up his end of the bargain? I know, I know… stop being so romantic Jen! But … a renewable marriage contract could be customized to each party’s opinions, values and expectations. As a temporary agreement that welcomes and prepares for change, the renewable contract is designed to meet the needs of the people signing it, not the other way around.

The contract’s “Deliverables” section would represent the minimum standards that must exist throughout the marriage as well as language acknowledging that while all elements may not be present at all times, on balance, values like fidelity, emotional support, respect and willingness to compromise must be consistently upheld. Again, these would be customized to preference. We could also include “Deal-breakers”, things that void the contract immediately should they arise. Deal-breakers could be big, like (must never commit murder or own a snake) or small (must never become vegan or watch musicals).

The truth is, the comfort and security of marriage can make us lazy. Even when we try to keep our relationship fresh and strong we still find ourselves taking advantage of the long-term commitment. So what if I clip my toenails in bed? What are you going to do, divorce me?  Once the marriage is underway, it can be easy to undermine the respect and admiration we had for our partner back in the relationship’s early days. Things we’d never consider doing while dating become acceptable in marriage, sometimes resulting in death by a thousand cuts.

Imagine sitting down with your intended to draft the renewable marriage contract. Think of the conversations, the intimacy and the raw knowledge you would gather about your potential spouse. How many relationships would flourish, having launched from a place of deep understanding and mutual agreement, and how many would end right there, for the right reasons?

The beauty of the renewable marriage contract is that it forces us to confront and discuss our expectations before making the most important commitment of our lives. There’s something about putting our signature to something that really makes us think. We sign the marriage license at the ceremony but that’s after the deed is done. Many couples sign that piece of paper without ever having talked seriously about what they want their relationship to look like, and what is truly important to them.

Having our desires and expectations written as terms of an agreement will help us communicate them without shame or uncertainty. Those of us raised to be pleasers, who’ve been taught to avoid conflict at all costs, have an especially difficult time believing we are entitled to express our needs. Rather than tamping down our wishes and wants, or expecting our partner to decode them (then living with simmering resentment when s/he doesn’t), a renewable marriage contract helps us define and discuss our expectations.

If the time comes to part ways, the expiry of a contract is a cleaner and simpler alternative to the breaking of a lifelong commitment. Break-ups are rarely pretty or amicable, and a renewable contract won’t change that. Just as a marriage certificate offers no guarantee from having our hearts and vows broken, this alternative piece of paper will not protect us from having to disentangle in ugly and difficult ways. But could it enable us to right-size expectations? Could the end of a marriage be less traumatic if we’d only committed to five years in the first place?

“Till death do us part” is still an option because ideally, after each term, the contract would be renewed. Like the people it serves, the marriage contract would also grow and evolve. Renewal periods would be at each party’s discretion, ie. two, five, seven or 10-year increments.

Could we take the concept of a personalized agreement and apply it to a lifelong commitment instead of one made in multi-year increments? Sure, but the multi-year, only in increments aspect is what gives the whole thing meaning and gravitas.

Being “up for renewal” might keep us on our best behaviour but the Holy Grail of success would be the evolution of marriage into a more practical institution.

The renewable marriage contract is not a perfect concept but it does provide a built-in mechanism for addressing our relationship needs. It acknowledges that forever is a long time to tether yourself to someone who, like you, will grow, change and evolve with age and experience. Instead of replacing honest, face-to-face dialogue, it provides a jumping off point for the expression of desires we may not be comfortable tackling proactively and which, when unexpressed, can lead to conflict down the road.

A written contract with deliverables, terms and conditions may seem too structured, or specific, but its beauty lies in the fact it can be either permanent or impermanent, depending on what’s required. When our needs and wants change, when life happens and what’s written is no longer relevant, we agree to explore a new framework; we tear up the existing agreement and create a new one (or not) that works better for us. When the fog of war becomes too thick, the renewable marriage contract provides a foundation for good communication. It helps us find our way, which is what any good relationship should do.

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How an Introvert Survives Group Travel

 

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I’m one of those people who is skeptical about group travel. Group anything, really because I’m usually more comfortable being alone. Whether it’s dinner, a movie, a day, a weekend, I’m very happy to spend it in the company of me, myself and I.

When I decided to join 26 other people on a trip to Kenya, I was apprehensive about the group aspect. Kenya was a bucket list destination and required a significant investment of time and money. The trip was also coming at a time in my life when I was really craving a mental break. For all these reasons it was important that everything be perfect. Not perfect as in on-time flights and free wifi, perfect as in free of things that often define group travel situations, like aqua fit at an all-inclusive or waiting for Marge from Minnesota to find her camera so the bus could depart for the excursion. To be frank, I was afraid the vacation would be spoiled by other humans.

Before you write me off as a total asshole, let me explain. I am an introvert. I spend a LOT of time in my head. Socializing and being “on” around people I don’t know exhausts me. Small talk stresses me out and drains my energy. Networking events, cocktail parties and similar group situations are my worst nightmare.

I like people, I really do, but it’s difficult for me to get to know them. I thrive on deep, meaningful conversations that stimulate my brain and heart, but it’s difficult to get to that stage without the requisite small talk first. So around and around we go.

Even when I’m out with friends I’m usually the first one to leave and go to bed because by 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. my brain is screaming that it needs to lie in the dark and recharge. The only time I suffer from FOMO is when I’m on the dance floor thinking about the book tucked under pillow.

Because of all this, I often come across as being aloof. I look like someone who’d rather sit alone or with the people she knows, someone who can’t be bothered to socialize or make new friends, which is funny because what I’m really thinking is some version of “holy shit, how do I disappear before my head explodes and everyone finds out I’m the most boring person here?”

Not surprisingly, this cycle of social incompetence does not make for successful human interactions, especially in groups.

But I went.

I went because it was Kenya, and because there would be safaris. I went because I’d be traveling with a handful of good friends. I went because I would never be able to arrange such a culturally immersive experience on my own. I went because comfort zones are made to be broken.

Aren’t they?

And I went because I remember from travelling around Europe (alone, of course) that there is great benefit in shared experience. Even I can admit that watching an incredible sunset in Greece or standing atop the Eiffel Tower for the first time is much more fun when you can turn to someone you know and share that moment with them.

On safari, when we came around the corner and spotted a female lion playing in the sun with her cubs less than 5 metres from our truck, that moment was even more special because there were a dozen other people gaping, gasping and losing their freakin’ minds right alongside me.

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I’m usually more content to watch, listen and observe, leaving others to do the jumping in. I will NEVER raise my hand when someone says “we need a volunteer!” and I die a thousand deaths whenever I win a raffle prize because I hate being singled out, even for a good reason.

So for the first few days of the trip, I stuck to my usual ways. I was there and I was present. I was moved and I was joyful, but I wasn’t immersed.

But nothing pulls you off the sidelines faster than 600 primary school children, wearing nothing more than threadbare uniforms and huge toothy smiles, singing you into their village.

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When a village “mama” who has never spent a night outside her mud hut and never fetched water from anything but a brown river stands before 30 white, English-speaking tourists and confidently tells you her life’s story, you actively engage with her. You drop your own insecurities and hang-ups and fall over backwards to show her how much her hospitality has meant to you even if that’s not your “thing.”

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When a 13-year old girl from the local high school tells you she studies from 4:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. six days a week and that she wears her hair shorn to the scalp because she doesn’t have time for vanity, you talk to her one-on-one for as long as you possibly can. You wade though the discomfort of small talk and language barriers and you ask her about her favourite subject, what she wants to be when she grows up and whether or not she likes Justin Bieber (she does) because that’s what she deserves.

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To my great relief, the Kenya travel experience even gave me plenty of time to retreat inside my head.

As I cut rebar and bent steel ties on the build site; as I watched a herd of elephants emerge from the trees on safari, as I bounced along dusty, uneven dirt roads on long bus rides to and from camp I found plenty of time to nourish and check in with myself, to contemplate the things that needed to be contemplated and to recharge.

In Kenya, for the first time in a long time, I collected energy from people instead of feeling depleted by them. I grew stronger and more present the more I opened up, the more I shared, the more I engaged.

In Kenya I pushed myself outside my introvert comfort zone simply because the country deserved to be appreciated and gushed over. Her people deserved to know they’d been seen and heard, and that they were changing my life much more than I was changing theirs.

I learned quickly that sitting on the sidelines and watching was not what Kenya was about. Kenya made me want to shout from the rooftops about everything I was learning and experiencing; she made me want to jump in with both feet, to immerse myself in everything she had to offer, to test and then demolish self-imposed boundaries, all in the name of love for a country whose motto might as well be “love first, ask questions later.”

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And you barely have to make this choice, this decision towards extroversion, because Kenya makes it for you. Kenya makes it impossible for you to do anything but peel off your reservations and insecurities and leave them in the dirt as you dance and shout with the village elders, hold children on your lap and revel in the omnipresent spirit of joy and the power of community.

For two weeks, Kenya and its people, made me forget that I prefer my own company to that of strangers. Together they made me forget that I’m rubbish at small talk and insecure around new people. Kenya and her people inspired me to open my eyes a little wider and embrace not only what was completely foreign but that which should be familiar: human connection.

10 Blogs My Family Wishes I’d Never Written

Everytime I post a new blog I’m pretty sure my mother makes the sign of the cross before reading it. We’re not Catholic but I think this is her way of saying “please don’t let this be about her sex life. Again.”

I get a lot of feedback about my writing but the comments that make me the happiest and most gratified are the ones that say something like, “I can’t believe you said that, but I’m so glad you did.”

I started my blog, in part, because I was reading so much about parenting that I couldn’t relate to, such as Pinterest-worthy school lunches, sleep training, managing behaviours, raising a reader, etc. etc. Most of it was good advice but it was not reflecting my reality as an adoptive mother of one, and then two, young girls who came to me hard-wired with their own opinions, beliefs, likes, dislikes, traumas and experiences. I wasn’t trying to carve an apple into a perfect spiral or teach my pre-K daughter how to write her name, I was just trying to survive.

My tell it like it is style was born, therefore, not out of a desire to be funny or provocative, but because anything less seemed like a waste of time. And since I can’t do it any other way, I might as well own it.

Right, mom?

10. That time I made pizza that turned out like the creepy snake-face guy from Pirates of the Caribbean. https://wineandsmartiesblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/day-2-of-the-rest-of-my-life-cue-sobbing

9. That time I wrote about waxxing toddlers and told everyone to mind their own business. https://urbanmoms.ca/parenting/i-defend-your-right-to-parent/

8. That time we let our oldest daughter befriend a lobster before we cooked it alive. She is now a vegetarian.http://blog.mabelslabels.com/were-eating-your-friend-pass-the-butter

7. That time I electrocuted Leila (by accident). https://wineandsmartiesblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/patience-is-a-virtue-until-you-get-electrocuted/

6. That time my ten-year old had to learn about periods and sex while staring at my 44-year old body floating in the bathtub.https://urbanmoms.ca/parenting/teenagers-parenting/period-talk-my-daughter/

5. That time I wrote about drinking too much. http://blog.mabelslabels.com/moms-lets-talk-about-the-drinking and the time after that,

http://blog.mabelslabels.com/still-talking-drinking , and then the time I vlogged about it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7ZpxO96qCk

4. That time I railed against the stupidity of school welcome packages, which is only funny because I’m Chair of the parent council at my kids’ school. https://urbanmoms.ca/parenting/i-defend-your-right-to-parent/

3. That time I made the kids hold my bags while I pooped in the middle of a street in broad daylight. http://www.savvymom.ca/article/myth-perfect-family-vacation/

2. That time I wrote about scheduling sex. http://www.savvymom.ca/article/started-scheduling-sex-calendars/

1. That time I wrote about my first, but certainly not my last, vibrator. https://urbanmoms.ca/parenting/sex-parenting/buying-my-first-vibrator-was-about-way-more-than-sex/

Why I’m Calling Bullshit on Mom Guilt

 

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When are you coming home, mommy?”

“Why did you have to go away, mommy?”

“Do you love your job more than us, mommy?”

My kids are masters of the guilt trip. When I go away they tear me up with it, like stale almond butter on a piece of doughy white bread. They question, they whine, they whimper and sometimes they cry. They aren’t trying to be jerks, but if mommy manipulation was an academic discipline my kids would be teaching at Harvard.

But unfortunately for them, I am 100% DONE AND FINISHED with mom guilt because being away from your kids isn’t something you should feel guilty about. And I’m not even going to qualify that statement by adding away for work, or away for a short period of time.

Yes, spending six months at an ashram while your baby is learning to talk and say your name might be a tad excessive, but mom guilt is never limited to those types of extremes; it’s something we’ve been taught to feel every time we physically step away from our day-to-day responsibilities at home, or every time we try, and fail, to find balance between work and family.

What makes mom guilt particularly fucked up is that it’s often at its worst when we’re hustling for our family in a different, less direct, more intangible way. Do you think the women who came before us felt bad about stepping away from the butter churn to sell quilts in town? Fuck no. They were like, I’m heading out, don’t let your brother drown in the well while I’m gone. And they did it without thinking twice because it had to be done and they knew being a constant physical presence was impossible and had nothing to do with being a good mother.

Mom guilt is a concept born out of other people’s discomfort with working women. Like plague-carrying rats these notions have slowly infected us with guilt and shame about leaving our kids to pursue everything from our academic and professional dreams to a 30-minute pedicure. Mom guilt was invented by people who get uncomfortable when we take the focus off pleasing and parenting, but we don’t have to buy into it.

I am lucky to have the help of a small but mighty village and a Grand Poo Bah (aka husband) who genuinely likes solo parenting and is always down for an evening, a few days or a few weeks of daddy daughter time. Pizza and no showers for dayz y’all!!!  If you don’t have great support, leaving your kids is probably the most guilt-inducing thing there is, and I get that. But here’s the thing: we need to change the conversation, change the vernacular around “mom guilt” because by tying it to our jobs and/or our need to take some time away, we’re convincing ourselves our actions are something to be ashamed of.

If your kids hate going to your sister’s house but your sister is the only one who can take them when you travel, it’s okay to feel guilty about leaving them in a situation they don’t love. It’s okay to feel sad that they won’t experience an OMG THERE’S NO LINE UP FOR THE ASS ANNIHILATOR WATERSLIDE-level of ecstacy every minute you’re gone. But mamas, it’s NOT okay to let those feelings morph into guilt. Missing your kids, wanting them to be happy and hating it when they’re sad should not be labelled as guilt because it’s not the same. You don’t have to feel mom guilt because you think you’re supposed to feel mom guilt, either.

I guarantee I love my children just as much as you love yours, and I am not immune to guilt, or to feeling I have made the wrong decision or that I should be doing something different, somewhere else. In fact, this is an almost daily occurence. Whether for business or pleasure, I’ve missed several firsts including lost teeth and scored goals, and I mourn each one because I will never have those moments back, and I will not be part of those memories. But that is disappointment, not guilt, and the difference is critical because it speaks to how we feel about ourselves as mothers.

Listen, if you murder someone or start giving hand jobs for fun in the Beer Store parking lot you might have some reasons to feel guilty, depending on the circumstances. If your kids don’t know what a carrot is, or if they are expected to hail their own Ubers to daycare, some personal reflection might be in order. But going to work, going away for work, missing activities for work and loving work are NOT legitimate reasons for guilt. And neither is taking time for yourself. Period, full stop, end of sentence.

I don’t feel guilty for leaving my family because doing so is often in service to them, whether that means earning an income, taking time for myself, or a combination of the two. Even when there is no benefit to my absence other than being able to catch my breath and return home with a smile on my face, I still refuse to feel guilty because motherhood isn’t about punching a clock. Motherhood isn’t about the hours I log in a kitchen or laundry room. It’s about being there mentally, emotionally and spiritually for my kids 24/7, even when I’m not physically present. My kids are safe, they are loved and they are fed and I’m learning to ignore the noise telling me that’s not enough, especially when I’m not there.

I’ve learned to accept the anxiety and discomfort that comes from being away and to not confuse these feelings with guilt. Do I want to miss shows and games and accomplishments and milestones? Of course not, and I try to minimize the number of times that happens, but I don’t feel guilty when it does. I no longer let love and longing morph into guilt by falling down the I shouldn’t have left them, I’m a bad mother rabbit hole.

I don’t apologize to my children (or to anyone) for working, for loving my job or going away for my job because I want my kids to know those are wonderful things and aspire to them. And we can’t give our kids what we don’t have. I stole that line from Brene Brown and I’m going to use the shit out of it because I truly believe if you aren’t modelling courage and confidence in your decision-making, and independence in your life, you’re doing your kids a disservice.

Mom guilt is toxic and we need to let it go. If we can cut other bad things out of our lives, why not mom guilt? Why should gluten, carbs and Facebook creeping our ex’s have all the fun? When your kid calls you sobbing because he wants you to come home it’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to have a little cry yourself if it feels overwhelming. But mamas, do NOT let those emotions edge into guilt because that is your brain telling you a made up story that has nothing to do with you being a good mother. And that story is bullshit.

Like this topic? Click here to read my blog about refusing to participate in the I’m So Busy Olympics. 

 

Why I Surrendered in the War on Stuffies

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In the past six years, a sinister force has taken over my house.

It’s not the chicken nuggets, frozen cheese pizzas and boxes of Kraft Dinner. Nor is it the lack of toilet flushing, or even the endless conversation about what they did in the toilet.

I’m talking about a plague that comes in all colours, shapes, and sizes; one with glass eyes, whose ability to transmit lice and the norovirus is as impressive as it is disgusting.

I’m talking about stuffed animals. “Stuffies” are a big part of life at chez Millard, and I’m pretty sure they’re breeding.

But even as I fantasize about permanent extermination, I have to admit I get it.

As a kid, stuffies were my constant companions. I never got into Barbies (who wants to cuddle a stick insect?) and my short-lived doll obsession was limited to the Cabbage Patch variety. For a short time, Millicent the redhead and Amber the preemie replaced the dozens of cats, bunnies, dogs, seals and indeterminate woodland creatures I played with and loved every day. But it didn’t last.

Stuffed animals were my go-to toy and I treated them like real live pets. When I was super-stressed by world events (such as the Flintstones shifting time slots, or finding my brother’s He-Man figurines violating my Care Bears) my stuffies’ soft fur and sweet faces were the ultimate comfort. Even in my late teens when my friends were cruising the cosmetics aisles and pouring over Seventeen magazine, I still had a select few hanging about. And by hanging about I mean sleeping in my bed with me every night. I have no memory of whittling my collection down from 100 to ten, but it must have been gut-wrenching.

I would spend hours positioning my stuffies for classroom lessons and TV watching. Their bed-sleeping rotation schedule was executed with the accuracy and precision of a Navy Seals training exercise. When they weren’t learning fractions and watching cartoons, my animals could be found in the bassinets and baby buggies I stole from my actual human brothers. Come on, where were my stuffies supposed to sleep? On the floor?

Fast forward thirty plus years and I find myself secreting garbage bags full of plush creatures out to the curb. Not because my kids don’t want them, but because we are simply out of room. My suggestion that we wash and donate some was met with horror so, like any good, compassionate mother, I waited until they went to school then packed as many as I could get away with into garbage bags and buried them at the bottom of the bin. (And let me tell you, life was a whole lot easier before this “clear bags only” business).

But just because no one has asked to see Tommy Turtle (yet), doesn’t mean I’m proud of my behaviour. In fact, I’ve recently become very, very ashamed.

The stuffies are ever-present in our house but when my girls are particularly anxious or out of sorts, they’ll play with them more than usual. Recently, critters I thought had disappeared (courtesy of my own cold, dead heart) were suddenly reappearing. They’d escaped my wrath by hiding under beds and at the backs of closets and were now enjoying tea parties and natural light. And this is when it hit me: not only had I thrown away some of my kids’ best friends, but I’d done so with as much compassion as a serial killer dumping the bodies. Thinking about Tommy Turtle going from a warm, comfy bed to a landfill in Michigan – and my daughters finding out about that – made me feel sick to my stomach.

While these toys may not have actual feelings, the meaning we assigned them made it seem as if they did.

When I watch my kids play with stuffies I see them learning to care for and about something other than themselves. I see them using empathy and demonstrating compassion. When they make sure each stuffy gets a turn on the swing I hope they are learning to be fair, and when I see them playing with their non-favourites, I hope they are learning that everyone needs a friend.

In my house, stuffies are helping bridge the gap between two little girls with little in common personality-wise. My oldest, who constantly reminds me she didn’t ask for a sister, is still, three years later, wary and mildly resentful that she’s no longer the only game in town. But when the stuffies come out, the playing field magically levels. They collaborate and connect in ways they don’t with other toys.

I’ve always been an animal lover and my kids are too. Sometimes I wonder if my love for animals fueled my stuffie obsession, or if my stuffie obsession taught me to love real animals. I guess it’s a question of what came first: the (stuffed) chicken or the egg. Regardless, I love watching my girls brush their stuffed horses, cuddle their stuffed kitties and refuse to walk their stuffed dogs, just like they do in real life.

Many people don’t understand the attachment people like my daughters and I can form to inanimate objects – how we can love something that doesn’t love us back. Psychologists will refer to our stuffed animals as “security objects” or talk about attachment issues that follow young stuffie lovers into adulthood. And once I slowed down and stopped obsessing about how stuffies were cluttering up my house I remembered what a treasured part of my childhood they were. And the killing stopped.

If you’re not there yet, I understand. If you’re still committing stuffycide in the middle of the night consider these important facts: they’re cheaper than American Girl dolls, they’re easier to clean up than glitter, and they hurt less than Lego when you step on them.

Not convinced? Come and see me. I have some clear plastic bags you can borrow.

 

This post was originally published on blog.mabelslabels.com in April, 2017. 

Why My First Vibrator Was About Much More than Sex

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 9.21.19 AMA long-married couple is in bed together one night about to get intimate when the wife suddenly decides to spice things up by turning on the lights. When she sees her husband standing before her holding a dildo she exclaims in horror, “Harold! I can’t believe you’ve been lying to me all these years. Explain yourself!” To which Harold replies, “I’ll explain this if you can explain our three kids.”

Q. What do a vibrator and tofu have in common?

A. They’re both meat substitutes.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is a blog about sex toys. More specifically, it’s a blog about my FIRST sex toy: a lovely little vibrator named Eva who is my new bestie.

Eva arrived two weeks ago and so far she’s been a great addition to the family. But I didn’t bring her home for the reasons you might think: I’m not sexually unfulfilled (but thanks for asking) and I’m not looking for a substitute or replacement for my partner. Turns out I had a lot of misconceptions about vibrators.

For many reasons, 2017 has become the year to reclaim some of my Jen-ness, to find, recapture, and wrestle to the ground some of who I was before marriage, kids, Disney movies, parent council meetings and cotton undies became my norm.

Even at my most liberated and untethered, no one would have described me as wild and crazy, and it’s not like I’m trying to be 22 again. Getting my first vibrator at forty-four isn’t even about sex: it’s about establishing more control over, and making time for, the things that make me happy. It’s about finally being mature enough to say “This is what I want” without shame or fear of judgment. It’s about living life more on my terms.

And let me be clear: I love my life. My family, my job, my hobbies, even my 10 p.m. bedtime, and I wouldn’t change a thing. But I also like having things that are just for me—things I don’t have to share with or explain to anyone. I used to feel sorry for women who “needed” a vibrator. Her husband must travel a lot, I’d think. Or, they must not have a good sex life. Turns out these women had the right idea all along, and I was the one who was missing out. But now that I’m in on the secret, there’s no turning back.

In my (albeit limited) experience, a vibrator does not adequately replace sex with a human partner. Many people disagree and claim they’re just as if not more satisfied with batteries-only sex. But for me, at least in the early stages, Eva has not proven herself as a pinch-hitter penis. She’s a complement, not a replacement; an add-on, if you will. Eva is more like an insurance policy, something to have “just in case”, like sleeping with a knife under your pillow when camping in the forest, or having an extra phone charger in your purse. It’s security, assurance that I can take care of business all by myself should the need arise. She’s like a roadside assistance plan for my vagina.

I will admit that shopping for Eva was a bit intimidating. I knew I didn’t want something that looked like it escaped from the set of a porn shoot but other than that, I had no idea where to begin. Big? Small? Pink? Plastic? PVC-free? Three-speed? Silent? Automatic shut-off?

Needless to say, I thought long and hard.

When I found Eva online, I was immediately intrigued. In addition to being designed by two women, she was cute, compact and discreet. She also, ahem, came in my favourite colour. After reading several reviews (all positive) and watching a short instructional video in which an animated Eva walks across the screen and hops easily into the pencil outline of a vagina, I knew she was the one.

Unlike some people (ie. the ones who write blogs about vibrators), Eva is a lady who values discretion. I am therefore forbidden to give you too many details about our time together but suffice it to say we are very happy, especially now that my cat knows Eva is not his toy.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a partner who isn’t intimidated by the thought of being “replaced” or of you taking control of your own pleasure even when s/he’s not there, a vibrator can be an exciting and liberating addition to your sex life. Think of it like melted butter on cinema popcorn: could you live without it and still be happy? Absolutely. Would you want to live without it now that you know it’s there? Probably not. Melted butter just makes the “popcorn” taste better, especially if you’re enjoying it together.

And then there are the health benefits that come with sex. According to webmd.com:

A good sex life is good for your heart. Besides being a great way to raise your heart rate, sex helps keep your estrogen and testosterone levels in balance. When either one of those is low you begin to get lots of problems, like osteoporosis and heart disease.

The same source says a healthy sex life can boost immune function, lower blood pressure, improve bladder control and sleep, ease stress and reduce a man’s risk of prostate cancer.

Do you need a vibrator to accomplish all this? No, but switching up the routine is rarely a bad idea. I’ve been sexually active for twenty-seven years (I’ll do the math for you, I lost my virginity at 17) and I didn’t think I had much left to learn, at least nothing that was legal and in my comfort zone. Turns out I was wrong, and you might be too.

Still not sold? Don’t worry, you’ll come around.

 

This blog was originally published on Urbanmoms.ca in 2017. 

Moms, Can We Talk About the Drinking?

Just over one year ago I wrote this blog about drinking. It was published by Mabels Labels and led to many conversations with friends (and strangers who reached out), as well as an appearance on AM 1010 CFRB. Check my FB and Twitter / Instagram (@wineandsmarties) for a link to the vlog update, recorded just last month. 

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I think I have a problem with alcohol.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, a woman consuming more than ten drinks per week has “high risk” habits. This ten-drink measurement is based on a five-ounce glass of wine, which is roughly half of the average glass size, and the amount I roughly NEVER pour myself.

“What is this, amateur hour?” I’ve said to people who stop pouring at the halfway mark of a glass. I’ve laughed about my drinking. I’ve made it part of my persona. My Facebook friends have tagged me in pretty much every wine meme known to man. (Yes, I’ve seen the wine bottle Christmas tree and yes, it’s completely amazing).

After a family member experienced a mental health crisis, I started hearing words like “self-medicating”, “addiction”, even “alcoholic” to describe his behaviour. In attempting to understand him, I’m learning that I might also have a problem.

So let’s talk about the drinking.

My drink of choice is wine: two, sometimes three glasses a night. Every night. Not just on weekends, not just on special occasions, not just after a particularly bad or good day. Just always.

By my estimation, each of my drinks is eight-ounces. Multiply that by 14 drinks per week (assuming only two per night) and you get 112 ounces, which is more than double what most addiction experts consider to be the line between low and high-risk drinking.

This was a sobering discovery (pun intended), but what’s scaring me more than my consumption of wine is my relationship with it.

I love wine. I love the taste, as well as the science and story behind each bottle. I love to shop for wine (main purchase criteria: animal on the label, less than $15). I love to pour it and sip it and swirl it in my glass. Drinking wine makes me feel sophisticated, even though I’m usually sporting a messy bun and pajama pants.

The first glass is like a reward at the end of the day, a nightly ritual that affirms I made it through. It’s a way to unwind and help manage the making dinner/ bath time/homework/someone spilled the cat food/”I have to build a working paper mache volcano by tomorrow” type of chaos. The second glass is poured as I’m cleaning up the kitchen, watching the clock and asking, usually for the tenth or eleventh time, for the small people in my house to please for the love of God put on their pajamas. My third glass is either on the couch with my husband when the kids are down, or while reading in by myself in bed or in the tub. In short, there’s rarely a time between 5 and 10 p.m. every single night that I’m not drinking. And yet, there was no mindfulness to it. Sorry to go all Oprah “live your best life” on you guys but the truth is I wasn’t even stopping to consider what I was doing. I didn’t care about taste, drinking was purely functional: open mouth, insert wine, repeat. When my husband and I switched to boxed wine (!) we did so because boxes last longer and cost less. We congratulated ourselves on this practical and thrifty solution to our inventory problem. Quantity and convenience became our purchase criteria; two words that, I’m guessing, rarely come up in conversations about responsible drinking.

Like many people, alcohol is a key ingredient in my social life, especially if the function requires an abundance of small talk or meeting new people. Wine helps me be (or just feel?) social. Having said that, I also drink with people I’ve known my whole life. AND when I’m alone. AND on my paddle board.

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When I became a mom, wine was right there with me, becoming a critical part of “me time.” But in making alcohol our reward for surviving another day, both my husband and I have completely normalized its consumption within our home. Until recently, we drank openly in front of our daughters because we didn’t think we had anything to hide. Wine was wine, not “mommy juice.” We actually thought we were modelling responsible behaviour by never driving after drinking and never getting out of control. TV and movies would have us believe that alcoholics are people who drink in secret, who drink until they fall down or pass out; people who abuse their loved ones and get fired from jobs. I’ve never done any of that so everything must be fine.

When our nine-year old informed us on the walk home from school one day that “THERE’S ALCOHOL IN WINE AND ALCOHOL IS A DRUG AND YOU SHOULD NEVER TAKE DRUGS” we told her that drinking alcohol is okay as long as you’re responsible and only have a little bit. Kid logic translation: drugs are okay as long as they’re consumed in moderation. WTF? While most people wouldn’t react by running home and emptying out their liquor cabinets, they might at least take note of the fact that their kids are watching. I did neither.

The blog I started when we adopted our first daughter is called Wine and Smarties. On Twitter and Instagram I’m @wineandsmarties. I chose these names because I wanted something that spoke to my identity as both a woman and a mother. I thought it was cute and clever. And while there may not be a direct route between Instagram and Betty Ford, given that I regularly caution my college students about their social media presence (“are you sure @hotgurl69 is the message you want to send to future employers?”) “wine and smarties” is an example of how much of my identity was tied to the “mommy drinks because you cry” culture.

If you ask my daughters what mommy’s favourite thing is, they’ll say wine. If you ask them what happens when someone spills mommy’s wine, they’ll hold up their hands like claws and bare their teeth. What does my husband fill my stocking with every year? Bottles of my favourite wine.

When she was five and we were driving past the LCBO my oldest daughter yelled  “Hey mommy, there’s your store!” When carrying a box of groceries in from the car last summer, my youngest grunted as she put it down and said: “at least it’s not as heavy as a case of wine.” Instead of being horrified or, again, taking note of what they were taking note of, I turned these into funny anecdotes.  I told and retold them, even posted them on social media – a humble-brag about how cute and precocious my kids are.

The worst part for me, the part that hurts my heart the most and truly makes me question what the good God damn I’ve been thinking, is that all this was done while parenting two daughters whose birth families have actual mental health AND addiction issues. I’ve blogged about the special care adopted kids need, how frightened I am about what the future holds when they start processing the past. And I’ve done it all with a glass of wine in my hand. On the days when I feel the lowest, the most ashamed, I think about whether or not one of the biggest dangers to their health and future relationship with alcohol and addiction might have been coming from me.

Despite everything I’ve written, I do believe, emphatically, that we should be able to have it both ways: if she chooses, a woman should be able to parent unapologetically with a sippy cup in one hand and three fingers of scotch in the other. But if we’re going to normalize drinking, let’s also normalize the conversation about what to do when it becomes a problem. Let’s talk about the drinking in a way that doesn’t make us feel like the sloppy uncle who gets whispered about after falling down at family dinners. If you’re willing to share the horrors of your post-baby sex life, you can talk about this. Mommy’s drinking is not a dirty little secret. If you think you have a problem, please talk to someone. Get help.

If you’re worried you have a problem with alcohol, CAMH recommends you talk to someone you trust, like a doctor or nurse, or contact an addiction assessment centre or a self-help group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). If you’re in Ontario you can also try:

Ontario’s Drug and Alcohol Helpline at 1-800-565-8603. Open 24/7.

CAMH Information Centre at 1-800-463-6273.