“Come closer,” my husband, William, says to me now that our three children (all under the age of 6) are finally asleep.
I unzip my oversize hoodie and pretend that I don’t have 30 extra pounds on me and that my hair is reflecting the light because it’s healthy, not greasy. As I attempt a sensual stride toward him, he stops me and says, “Wait, you have a little chocolate on your skin.”
I look down. Did I have chocolate today?
He licks his thumb and reaches for me.
Just as he’s about to make contact, I scream, “Wait! That’s not chocolate!”
Surprisingly, we didn’t give up on the evening. After all, we had scheduled it in our shared Google Calendar.
I’d like to say this was the first and last time I’d discovered excrement on my body, but sadly I can’t. This was more or less the pattern of our lives from the time our eldest was born 10 years ago until our youngest turned about 3. That and stepping on that squeaking Sophie the Giraffe, running our hands raw cleaning bottles, and overstuffing diaper bags until both our backs were forced out of alignment.
And then a monumental shift happened. It started the day we gave away our high chair.
It was at the end of a long day and I was diddling around on one of those local moms groups on Facebook when I saw that a neighbor had asked whether anyone could donate their high chair.
At first, I ignored it. I couldn’t part with any of my baby things! I scrolled down and got caught up in a different thread in which various mothers were weighing in on what the source of a mysterious rash one parent had posted a picture of could be. “Penicillin allergy?” I suggested and went to close my laptop. But then something stopped me.
Sam, our littlest, was newly 3. When we took him to restaurants, he sat in a regular chair or on a banquette. Did he really need that tray anymore? I was sick and tired of banging my hip into it each time I went to retrieve a fork. But still, what did that mean for our family if we didn’t have a high chair at the table? I felt a twinge of sadness realizing that even though we called Sam the baby, he didn’t really fit the description anymore. We were morphing as a family, and I didn’t know what to expect next.
“We’re giving away the high chair!” I proudly called out to William and told UESmommy78 that she could pick up a Peg Perego chair from our lobby tomorrow. The funny thing was, once I committed to getting rid of it, I could no longer stand the sight of it. Even though I had choo-choo-trained bites of chicken and spoonfuls of peas into all three of my children’s mouths in that chair and watched as they played with their Cheerios on the tray, suddenly this useful object where we had captured many precious memories had transformed into an eyesore.
That was my first taste of the rapture that is giving away baby things. Piecemeal, we made our way through the replica of Buy Buy Baby that existed in our home.
We took apart the crib and gave it to a cousin, then I dropped off a Mustela breast pump I barely used at the doorstep of a first-time mom. You know how they say doing good feels good and that you get more than you give when you do a nice thing? There is no truer statement of fact, as far as I’m concerned. As we parted ways with the piles of child-related equipment that clogged our hallways and closets, donating to Goodwill and to friends, I was ecstatic. Is this how Santa Claus feels? No wonder he’s so jolly. He’s just happy to have more attic space.
Suddenly, I had room in the apartment, empty cubic feet that could be filled with my things. Black sweaters. Leather handbags. High heels! Where a double stroller had regularly defied the laws of physics by parking in our narrow coat closet, now I had ample space for longer-length jackets, felt baskets for hats and gloves and a tidy row of rain boots. Our hallway closet, which had previously housed a retired crib mobile, a sit ‘n’ stroll, 50-plus straps of varying lengths to attach pacifiers to any given object, two breast-feeding pillows and a defunct diaper Genie, now held neat stacks of extra linen. Extra, I said!
My husband, thankfully, was on board with the purge. Otherwise, I could imagine us having a real problem: me, gleefully tossing leftover diapers to anyone passing by on the street with an infant, and him, fighting back tears as he takes apart the crib so it can fit into our trunk.
I didn’t just shed baby gear over this period of time. I also shed the pounds. It took nearly two years of grueling diets and weekly gym sessions I never grew to enjoy, but I did it. I look like myself pre-baby. If you saw the X-ray version of me, you’d find stretch marks across my abdomen and a bra that is working overtime. But those are my secrets.
Let me not give the impression that my house is now an all-white sanctuary of peace and quiet. I have backpacks strewn across the foyer, iPads that seem to have legs and something I like to call the Lego carpet. And, I still want to lose five more pounds. That part I expect will never go away.
But. We aren’t tired every minute of every day. We are a couple, not just parents of the same children. Best of all, we have sex in the morning sometimes — spontaneously.
Recently, I went to lunch with a good friend. (Another perk of older children? They go to school and I can have a meal without them.) When I arrived at our usual spot, I found my normally cheery pal bent over her coffee mug, with a funeral bearing.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“My sister asked for my baby stuff,” she said, looking at me in expectation of an outpouring of empathy.
“You’ll be okay,” I said.
Her eyes widened. “No I won’t. I can’t believe we no longer will have a crib in the house. I hate that the baby phase is over.”
I nodded sympathetically, but inside I was happy for her.
For William and me, shedding the baby accoutrements helped us find ourselves again. Beneath the clutter we found the rested, bathed and energetic people we were before parenthood. We even got our voices back — our actual normal-sounding voices where we didn’t add an “ee” to the end of every word (i.e. “Let me help you with your shoesies!”).
I thought about telling my friend about how the tenor of sex changes when you free your home of miniature objects. That she will wear lingerie again. That older kids go on sleepovers and there are no more scheduled “appointments.” But I didn’t. She would find out for herself soon enough.
We are aging right alongside our children, but there is a paradox at work. We are getting older, yes, but feeling younger. In the words of Justin Timberlake, we’re bringing sexy back.
Elyssa Friedland is a nonpracticing lawyer, author and mother of three who lives in New York City. Her writing has appeared in Bustle, RealSimple.com, Modern Bride and New York. Her second novel, “The Intermission,” will be published in July.