Sneaking sex

The midwife who delivered our third child had ten children of her own. Somehow, in the interstices of time between drawing, reading aloud, playing pretend, cooking dinner, cleaning the house, mediating fighting, deflecting whining, discouraging teasing, promoting tickling and paying bills, she and her husband found occasion for what James and I call "horizontal playtime."

Even with only three little ones underfoot, the logistics aren't easy. We're usually scrambling after the kids go to bed to finish everything we neglected during the day. Plus our toddler sleeps in the second bed in our room and our bed creaks like a braying donkey. One night when, despite our tiredness, we thought we'd take advantage of some husband-wife alone time, the first hee-haw of the bed made our son &

moments before sound asleep &

bolt upright. "Mommy!" he cried. "Where is you?" Finally, since we're spending the year abroad, we don't have a TV, so the trusty electronic babysitter is not an option here.

Our prime time is when the older girls are at school and our son is napping, though even then it's hard not to have an ear out for him, the doorbell, which seems programmed to ring at only the most inconvenient times, or the washing machine, which has been emitting a burning smell along with the thunderous rumbling it makes on the spin cycle.

But now school is out for the summer, so all three kids are home.

"Let's make them take naps," James suggests.

"Quiet Time," I announce. "In your beds."

"What're you and Daddy going to do?" my 7-year-old asks, raising her eyebrows.

"Have Quiet Time too," I respond.

As soon as my 7-year-old settles with a book and my 5-year-old lies on her stomach on her bed drawing a picture, James and I tiptoe into the study. We spend our Quiet Time as quietly as possible on the sofa.

The door opens and my 7-year-old bursts in, her picture book in her hand. "What's that word, Daddy?" she asks, marching up to us.

"Shelter," James answers. "It means to protect someone."

"Oh." She says, turning to go, then stops at the door, her hand on the knob.

"Why're you naked?" she demands.

"We were hot," I say quickly. "And we were taking a nap." A few days later it's Father's Day and all three kids are playing nicely together. I tell James I have a present for him and announce that Mommy and Daddy are going to take a nap, and need privacy. My 7-year-old looks suspicious.

"Why do you need privacy?" she asks. "Are you going to take off your clothes and roll all over each other?"

"Don't be silly," I say in the exasperated tone my mother used to use. "We're going to sleep and we don't want to be disturbed."

"You're going to get naked and roll all over each other!" she says loudly. "I know you are!" She giggles and starts saying it like a chant, over and over again, following me from room to room as I pick up toys. She enlists the support of her younger sister and brother. "Let's spy on them! Let's see if they get naked and roll all over each other!" James and I look at each other. Now what? There's something about your children stalking you around the house that takes the romance out of an afternoon cuddle. Chalk up another worry: Is my daughter's burgeoning awareness of (and interest in) her parents' sex life going to traumatize her later?

My midwife must have had a big-screen TV and an extensive library of kids' videos! We set our kids up with a snack of pumpkin bread, and put out water colors and paper on the dining room table. "Mommy's really tired," I say, feigning a yawn. "Be good," James adds, "and when we wake up we'll look at your drawings." Before my 7-year-old thinks to give chase, we bolt down the hall to the bedroom.

Jennifer Margulis is a professional writer from Ashland spending a year in West Africa as a Fulbright fellow. A version of this essay first appeared on .

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