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. 

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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.

“Did the Doctor See Your Boobies?”

Two years ago, home alone and reading a book, I started experiencing stroke-like symptoms. My body was clearly reacting to the unusual trifecta of quiet, solitude and personal enjoyment … As we sought a diagnosis, my kids kept it real as only kids can do. Here’s a throwback post revisiting that time. 

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“I think I just had a stroke.”

This is what I said to my husband on Good Friday, when he came home from work to find me shivering in the bathtub.

As I recounted what had just happened (confusion, memory loss, headache,  numbness in my right hand), I could hardly believe what I was saying.

I’m forty-two and in okay shape. I drink too much wine but have never smoked. I don’t have a family history of stroke.

Yet thirty minutes prior, I read the same paragraph of my book five or six times before giving up. None of the words made sense me to and I had to pause on each one, trying to determine its meaning. Then I couldn’t remember my sister in law’s name, the names of my brother’s cats, or the city in Italy I’d just booked a trip to the day before. Information that should have been on the tip of my tongue was outside my grasp and trying to come up with it was like the dream where you’re running but not moving. Quicksand.

Then my hand went numb and I knew I had a problem so all four of us jumped in the car headed to the closest emergency room.

After blood work, an electrocardiogram and a CAT Scan, they sent me home with two baby aspirin and a whole lot of questions. Two days later I was back in the stroke prevention clinic where appointments were made for an MRI, an echocardiogram and a neck ultrasound.

I was also given a delightful apparatus known as a Holter heart monitor to wear for two days.  “You can walk your dogs, sleep, cook, clean, do everything you normally would except bathe,” the nurse practitioner told me.

“No danger of the last two,” I said, making a hilarious joke she’d probably never heard before.

If you’re not familiar, the Holter monitor is as subtle as a third breast and just as sexy. Through the small electrodes stuck to my chest, the Holter was tracking my  heart’s rhythms to determine if something irregular could have caused my symptoms.

My kids thought it was super cool.

“Are those like, in you?” my oldest daughter asked, pointing to the wires taped to my chest.

“Did the Doctor see your boobies?” said my youngest, wide-eyed.

Then the flood gates opened:

Can you get electrocuted?”

“Can you put chocolate milk in those tubes?”

“Is that the same tape we wrap presents with?”

“Are they listening to your heart to see if you’re sad?”

“Do you have super powers now?”

“Are you going to work like that?” and,

“Are you going to die?”

“No, I’m not going to die but if I play my cards right I might get a cleaning lady out of this.” My humour was lost on them but fortunately they were back to Scarredy Squirrel before I had time to formulate a better answer.

Over the next two weeks I went back and forth from test to test, appointment to appointment enduring a variety of indignities that made me glad I’d never bothered to become a full-fledged hypochondriac.

The echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart, involves a low-lit room and a technician rubbing a gelled-up wand over your chest, across your neck and under your boobs while you alternate being lying on your back or on your side. Unfortunately there is absolutely no way to endure this procedure while maintaining any sense of dignity or body confidence. Should I lift the boob for easier wanding? Should I stay still and let the technician manipulate the boob however she sees fit?

Eventually I stopped obsessing and let the boobs flop where they may. I decided that getting a heart ultrasound was like getting a massage, or sex when you’re really tired: just lie there and eventually someone will tell you what to do. The whole thing isn’t so bad if you just close your eyes and go to your happy place (a vineyard in New Zealand, for instance). That is until you hear your heart beating through the machine’s high-definition speakers and start obsessing about whether it sounds too fast or too slow, too loud or too quiet. And was that a murmur???

Despite being raised by a nurse I am ridiculously squeamish. The sound of my own heart beating made me want to run screaming from the room. I know it’s a pretty important organ but I have absolutely no interest in participating in my heart’s version of “take Jen to work day”. I don’t want a detailed job description and I most certainly don’t want sound effects. Please just do your job red blobby thing.

Before the brain MRI, a tech named Francis asked me three times if I had any metal inserts in my body, despite the fact that I’d already indicated “no” on the intake form he was holding in his hand. Good to be thorough, I guess. Francis then helped me into the machine, inserted my ear plugs, strapped in my head and showed me how to use the emergency call button.

“In case I want to order a drink?” I asked.

Francis was not amused.

For 20 minutes, I lay as still as possible as a bunch of meds students banged on the outside of the machine to simulate scary medical sounds and serious medically things to make sure I was taking this seriously. Or maybe the machine really was taking pictures, I’m not sure because I took the opportunity to have a wee nap. I’m not one to look a gift nap in the mouth.

When it was over Francis helped me up, told me my neurologist would receive the results right away and directed me back to the change room. Naturally I’d left my locker key sitting on the dirty laundry bin and had to tip toe back into the MRI room to retrieve it before I was FINALLY allowed to ditch the gown and flee the scene.

And now I wait. Even though I fully expect my tests results to reveal something benign and treatable, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t spooked.

I had a cancer scare in 2007 and I remember the incredible sense of relief when I heard the words “We were wrong, there’s no cancer.” Ever since, I’ve felt like I dodged a medical bullet and now, in my more morbid moments, I wonder if something scary has finally caught up with me.

The whole “life can change in an instant” refrain has been running through my head constantly since this happened. One minute I was planning dinner, the next I was headed to the emergency room. Was this a one-off with an innocent medical explanation, or are we on the precipice of receiving news that will change our lives?

Regardless, I have new respect for the people I know and love who are dealing with terrifying conditions and have spent weeks waiting for potentially life-changing medical news. I know how lucky I am to have my family and my sense of humour to get me through.

And if the worst thing to come of this is a few squished and exposed boobs, I’m okay with that.

This post was originally published on the Mabelhood blog in 2016.  I’ve since learned my symptoms were caused by a benign migraine condition and there’s nothing to worry about, unless you count my family’s complete and utter lack of concern. 

 

We may not be able to protect our kids from heartbreak but we can try to prepare them for that crazy BIG thing called love. Here’s a throwback post, originally published by Mabels Labels, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

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Huddle up girls.

I know you’re only six and nine and the idea of a boy kissing, touching or liking you is capital G GROSS right now, but you need to be ready for the day that changes. You need to be ready for the day a boy, or girl, takes your heart and cradles it lovingly in his hand before smashing it to the ground and jumping on it with soccer cleats.

I know, that was harsh, but this is important. I need to make sure you’re paying attention.

Oh sweetie, don’t cry, I don’t mean your actual heart. I meant your feelings. What happens when someone hurts your feelings.

Better now? Okay good.

So here’s the scoop: Right now boys are annoying. They’re loud, they’re rough and most of them smell. They don’t like dolls or stuffies and they think most of the things you like are stupid. They’re right about Shopkins, by the way, but I digress.

Soon, much sooner than mommy and daddy would like, you will start to see boys, or girls, differently. You will develop feelings for them that are different from the feelings you have for us or for your other friends. You’ll probably feel these feelings in your tummy. You might start acting different when that person is around. You might start to pay attention to where he is at all times and finding reasons to be around him. These feelings might make you embarrassed, but there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Liking, or feeling like you love someone, is a wonderful thing. It’s called having a crush …. because that’s how you’ll feel when it ends.

But trust me my little angels, you will survive.  You will cry and sob and rage about the unfairness of it all. You will wonder what you did wrong and consider changing everything about yourself in order to please him.

But here’s the really important part: DON’T.

One of the hardest lessons you’ll ever learn is this: sometimes the people we love don’t love us back. Sometimes they start loving us then change their minds, and sometimes we change our minds about them.

Remember, this is romantic love we’re talking about, the long, smoochy kissing kind of love. The kind mommy and daddy have for you is the kind that lasts forever and ever no matter how many things you break, what colour you dye your hair or how many times you skip school. We will always love you unconditionally and beyond reason, forever and ever. This is non-negotiable. (That means stamped it, no erasies).

Boys, on the other hand, come with no such guarantee. They will come and go and the only thing that will stay the same is YOU. Yes, you will change, grow, travel, learn new things and do different jobs but your pure, sweet, wonderful, full hearts will, I hope, never change. The person you are in your heart and soul should remain strong.

When I watch you I’m overwhelmed by your confidence, the way you walk around the house singing and dancing, laughing and being silly, so sure of who you are and that you are loved. If I could bottle that innocence, my babies, I would. And even though I can’t protect you from every crappy thing the world throws at you, I will prepare you for it as best I can.

If you’ve hurt someone or made a mistake, please apologize and make it right. If you’ve been hurt, know that it’s okay to cry, and to be disappointed and heartbroken when things don’t go your way. But promise me you will never doubt who you are. Staying true to yourself is the thing that will get you through difficult times. Know your heart and know your worth. Believe in them and don’t settle for someone who makes you feel less than you are.

Movies would have us believe that everything works out in the end. That all you need to mend a broken heart is a quirky best friend, unlimited Chardonnay and a great haircut. An entire industry has been built on the fantasy that a handsome single dad will eventually notice you and you’ll live happily ever after with his adorable twins and the blind cat he rescued from the well on his parents’ farm. Your happily ever after may not involve any of those things and yet everything will be okay because you have what you need to be happy: your own true heart, and confidence in who you are and what you’re meant to be.

You’re still at the age where you believe me and like me (most days) so I hope this lesson sinks in. It’s the best I can do to prepare you for that crazy BIG thing called love. This is the voice of experience talking so I’m asking you to trust me, even if you have no idea what I’m talking about. Remember what I’ve said, call me every day, don’t get a tattoo and you’ll be just fine.

 

Love,
Mommy.

How to Choose Your Own Adventure in 2018

I wrote this for Mabel’s Labels almost exactly a year ago, having no idea how relevant and meaningful it would become just a few days later.

2017 is in the rearview (thank God) and 2018 is well underway, making “resolution” talk a bit stale. But I don’t think there’s ever a bad time to ask…. are you ready to choose your own adventure?

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Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books?

The format is based on the reader being able to make decisions, to choose which path to follow at every crossroad in the story. Once the end is reached, you can go back and start over again, making different choices, until all possibilities have been explored and the book has been read cover to cover.

As a child of the 1980s, I LOVED these books. They got me into reading and helped inspire a lifelong pursuit of travel and adventure. They’re the reason I love mystery novels and why I’ve never given up on my dream of piloting a hot air balloon over western Europe while being chased by mysterious, yet handsome, bad guys.

I recently purchased a set of these books for my daughters and reading the covers and synopses was a total trip. I expected the plot lines to be laughable and out-dated, and I wasn’t disappointed. Lasers, aliens and aliens with lasers were common themes, as were damsels in distress and buried treasure.

It’s been a long time since I thought about Choose Your Own Adventure books, but they’re top of mind now as many of us think about charting our course for 2017 because the truth is, this year can be whatever you want it to be. You too can choose your own adventure. You can even go down one path, decide it’s not for you and switch course. You are the driver, you’re in control.

YOU, my friend, are the alien with a laser.

Will this be the year you

lose 15 pounds?

travel to that bucket list place?

pay off your credit card?

start a new career?

expand your family?

learn a new language?

end a bad relationship?

Or will this be the year you hunker down and keep the status quo? Will your focus be feathering the nest, getting better at your job, or turning a hobby into a career?

Will you start new friendships, end old ones or reconnect with someone who meant a lot to you back in the day?

Or maybe you’ll start changing the way you see the world, consciously or unconsciously.

Even when you choose your own adventure, life can throw you a curveball. And while your plot twist might not be two-headed camels chasing you across the surface of the moon (at least I hope not, for your sake), it might be something that rocks your world, something you didn’t see coming that changes everything for better or for worse. So you’ll keep reading and wait for the chance to regain control, to make the decisions that restore order, at least in part.

If 2016 was a difficult year and you’re hoping for better in 2017, what choices are you making to ensure that happens? Because even when it’s all going to hell and our husbands, bosses, and kids seem hell bent on ruining our lives, we still have choices. We all have the power to choose our own adventures, any day, any time and we don’t need a calendar flip to do it (but a nice glass of merlot can be extremely helpful.)

The point is, only you can write your story. Your kids, your spouse, your parents and your boss might have plans and expectations but YOU are the one who chooses. YOU are the one who gets to decide on a path and follow it either to its conclusion or until it forks and you have to choose again. Even when the universe sends you down a different road, never forget that eventually the time will come when you can take back the wheel.

This is what I want for myself, my girlfriends and all my loved ones in 2017: the ability to recognize that we control our own stories; for each of us to understand that there is power in choice. As we move through life we’ll have many co-pilots. At different times our parents, our friends, our spouses, even our kids, will have huge influence on the choices we make. And while it’s okay to let them guide us, even to nudge or suggest a certain path, no one else can write your story for you.

The decision is yours. Choose wisely.