When my daughter was a little over a year old, she made her first real joke; she grabbed my boob in her chubby paws, grinned hugely and announced, "Mine!"
I might have found this funny and cute, if she hadn't been up all night, leisurely grazing on breast milk. Or if I hadn't just spent an hour of precious nap time arguing with my sad and neglected husband about our sex life (or our lack thereof), or even if I hadn't, just minutes before, yelled uncharacteristically at my sad and neglected dog to "GET THE [BLEEP] AWAY FROM ME," just because she laid her head on my lap for a long overdue petting session.
The problem is, in my daughter's first devil-inspired try at humor she got it right. Contrary to what my husband might hope for, my breasts do belong to her. And that's just the beginning. My heart, my attention, my devotion, my very most important reason for living now all also belong to her. It is her scent I inhale at night. It is her skin I polish with kisses. It is her body I know better than my husband's now, better than my own.
At the time she made that joke I was well beyond "touched out," that catch-phrase parenting books and magazines love to use as an explanation of new mothers' lack of libido. Yes, I was tired of being touched and pulled and scratched and stretched. And yes, there were times I wanted to fling her off of me like some parasitic bug. But most of the time I just wanted the world and all other living creatures to leave the two of us alone so I could hold my daughter and count her toes and stare at her like she was my high school sweetheart.
I remember the first time we left her. I knew it was time, I could sense my husband drifting away, tired of begging after the scraps of intimacy or connection I could muster up to throw his way. But the whole time we were out I thought only of her. I smiled and held his hand and plotted with him to be naughty if she was asleep when we got home. But even after two drinks and a stroll through the adult section of the local video store I was about as hot as day-old bath water. I wanted to want to be naughty, but really, all I wanted to do was rush home and kiss my baby.
As a life-long intimacy junkie, mothering an infant was the ultimate fix. I'd float around in my own clock-less world, bathed in a Madonna and Child afterglow, satisfied in a deeper way than even the best sex can produce as a by-product. I swam in a world of maternal preoccupation that left me needing sex about as much as that famous phrase about a woman needing a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Forget being "touched out" -- I was touched just enough, thanks.
At two-and-a-half, my daughter is weaning herself. She pulls away when I reach for her. She squirms when I kiss her. She berates me, using the same tone I use on the dog: "Get OUTTA here, Mama!"
We spend the days not like lovers, but changelings. We are some sort of horrific half beast with two heads, each trying to wrest control from the other. I am in intimacy withdrawal; I'm shaky, hormonal, and weepy. While she sleeps I steal deep whiffs of her once-baby breath, still laced with the sweetness of my milk. But I can't deny it. She is becoming her own person, her own body, her own heart. I am becoming, too; restless, unsettled, charged. My previously off-limits breasts begin to take on new life; my nipples tingle with long-lost sensation. I've had naughty dreams two nights in row, I've touched myself.
Her eyes mirror what I feel, fear and intoxication. Independence looms over every interaction, a lure, a shadow; the terror and thrill of freedom. I turn my back on it, but I know it's there, undeniable, firm, always knocking. She is not mine and I am not hers. We are our own.
My husband and I have instituted "Date Night." Tonight, we're going to see live music, something we once enjoyed together, a lifetime ago. It's still hard for me to leave her. While the babysitter gets settled, I panic and quickly scribble my last will and testament; I'm leaving explicit directions for the care of our daughter should we die in freak accident.
We get drinks before the show, and, determined to rid myself of all kid thoughts, I pound two shots. It works. At the show we hold hands and weave through baby-faced adults so we can get up close to the baby-faced band. They are all beautiful and full of themselves and music and each other. I inhale the heat and energy from the crowd, sucking it down like an airborne drug. My husband is pushed into me from behind, and I don't push him back. He wraps his arms around my chest and yells something into my ear, but his words hit my neck instead. I shiver.
"What?" I yell back at him, the music pulsing through me like long lost hormones and desires.
"Mine," he teases huskily, his lips on my ear, his hand discreetly grabbing my breast.
For the first time in a long time it makes me hot, instead of not. And for the first time in a long time, I know I am my own to give.
I giggle and tease him back. "No way," I say, turning my lips to his as we move together to the music, "Mine."