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Polygamy Ain’t Lookin’ So Bad

A bittersweet goodbye to my beloved co-wife.

Ahhhh, polygamists: scary old white men marrying dozens and dozens of 13-year-old sisters or… .

I’m starting to think we are brainwashed to believe polygamy is a creepy thing. (Not sure who is brainwashing us. Not men, I wouldn’t think, but who?) It has been practiced for millions of years and not just by sickos. I have the read the Bible, thank you very much, and quite a few of those revered guys had multiple wives.

Still, my whole life it gave me the willies to even contemplate polygamy. Self-righteously, I’d declare, “I’d never share my man!” like sex is the only aspect to a polygamous relationship.

Then I had kids. When my first child was born, my mother stayed with us for 10 days, cooking and cleaning, bringing me water whenever I nursed. It was wonderful … and then she was gone. I was alone all day with the baby. I cried and cried. It seemed like I could hardly get away from nursing and changing diapers to make myself a cocktail … I mean, a sandwich.

Seven days after my mother left, my friend Ginny came to live with us for six weeks. She was four months pregnant with her first child and her husband had just been deployed to Afghanistan. He would be gone for 15 months.

It was an emotional time for both of us, and we needed each other’s support. But it was also amazing to have a woman in the house. Being female, she was a mind reader. She would just look at me and know to bring me my TaB and my Nembutal. I never felt like I was nagging for help.

I think my husband was going a little crazy having different women living with us. But, I wondered, if they were cooking for him AND he could have sex with them, would he have been as annoyed? (Paging Dr. Freud.)

Last May, when Ginny’s husband left for another year-long tour in Afghanistan, she moved with her 2 ½-year-old son back to Dunedin. We spent every day together. Soon after, my husband’s job required that he work out of town each week. That was when Ginny and I started the coolest thing I have ever done (an exaggeration, I hope). We planned a menu together and switched off eating dinner at each other’s house every night.

One of us would go to the other’s house at 4 p.m., and the ladies would cook together while the kids played. We drank , chatted and gossiped. Working together, we made the most amazing meals: goat cheese and spinach crepes with balsamic glaze, penne with walnuts and roasted broccoli and Greek salad hummus wraps with homemade pitas. We grilled “Dinosaur meat” for the kids. I started to bake homemade bread. Each night after dinner was over, Ginny and I would clean up the kitchen, give the kids a bath and then go home. It was bliss.

It was awesome only having to come up with, and shop for, two or three meals a week, but also because there was someone there to talk to while I cooked. It changed from being a chore to being fun. For so long, the end of the day had been my most dreaded time. What to do with the kids? What to make for dinner? I was feeding the kids canned (organic) because I was too exhausted to make a good meal AND clean up after it. It was a depressing routine.

Being home with kids all day can get lonely. And I know women have come up with moms groups and playground play-dates as ways to get out and socialize with other mothers. I kept wondering why I find these groups so unsatisfying, when I finally realized: They’re taking me away from all the stuff I have to do. I have to do laundry and cook and clean and sitting here at the playground is driving me CRAZY. I hate the playground. Yes, my kid broke his leg on one of the curved ladders, but I think maybe I hated it before that. What are we doing here? Am I supposed to play with my kids or just sprint around having a heart attack as they perilously peer over the six-foot edge, laughing, “Look at me! Look at me!”? Seven adult conversations (started but never finished) later … “Come on kids, it’s time to go home.” 

Shouldn’t my kids be playing by the riverbank with all the other kids in the village while the ladies do the laundry?

Maybe I’m sexist, maybe I’m a realist, but I have been seriously rethinking my stance on polygamy. I have been thinking maybe there is some in-born pack mentality that causes women to collaborate, working and gossiping while all their kids play together, older kids watching the younger kids. (It is a laundromat/playground.)  I’m telling you this is how women work. (Ever found yourself discretely cleaning out your friend’s refrigerator?)

For all the help men now give us, there is still a big difference between a man and a woman. And as much as we may try to force (with our village-less society) men into the caretaker roles, no amount of waxing, pink shirts, and no-polish manicures will turn a man into a nurturer. (Now don’t get all huffy. I’m generalizing, but I think most men would agree that the thought of caring for an infant freaks them out.)

Women help when they see another woman working. Men take that as their cue to go lay on the couch. Woman don’t come home and leave their muddy shoes on a freshly mopped floor. Women automatically – that means they don’t have to be asked – help when one kid desperately needs the green cut off his while the other kid has his head stuck under the bed. When kids are fussy, women take turns letting each other eat. Women know when to give another woman some time to take a shower, AND a woman knows how to break it gently to her friend that she smells, looks like a meth addict and needs to wash her hair.

I really think that we might find it helpful having a couple other wives in the house. (I would obviously have to choose the wife.) Especially since many of us live far away from other family members, and/or we had kids so late that our 75-year-old parents aren’t thrilled about being left for two hours with a hyperactive 18-month-old. Plus many of us wanted big families, but with only 15 minutes left on our biological clocks and three more kids to spit out (not to mention the guaranteed divorce and asylum stay that another infant would cause), it would be nice if another wife could get busy pushing out a couple kids. Then we could have that nice big family we all dreamed about (without the prolapsed uterus to show for it).

So possibly there are some “hypothetical” downsides to polygamy.

I’m sure you won’t admit it now, because it is probably the middle of the day, and you feel all perky, but you can’t deny, late at night, when you are half asleep on the couch (or even worse, early in the morning, mouth full of hot garbage) you wish you could tag out of it, just this once, and let one of the other wives do it. So maybe you exchange exhaustion for some jealousy. I think it is a fair trade.  

Sadly, I don’t see polygamy being legalized anytime soon. So, yes, I would love to have a play date with you and the kids. Why don’t you come to my house?  And don’t forget your Dyson.

Author’s note: In the happiest of bittersweet goodbyes, my co-wife is safely reunited with her husband, and soon they are off to live in a new city. Even though I will sorely miss my buddies, I am so happy for them to be together again.  

Next Wednesday: More Sexist Hyperbole.

Gayle Turke May 25, 2011 at 10:48 AM
I had to pause a bit at some of the humor in this piece but otherwise I am lol.
Charlotte Abington May 25, 2011 at 11:51 AM
Great article, Chris. Have you seen the movie African Cats? Maybe the lions have it right!
Jamie Halkuff May 25, 2011 at 01:06 PM
Haha! You speak the truth, woman! I love the idea of alternating dinner nights with your friend...makes the mundane chores that much more fun!
Rene' Johnson May 25, 2011 at 01:07 PM
This is a great article - Pen Name Jane rocks! I am lucky to have a husband that pitches in before I ask, but I feel extremely lucky. The older I have become, the more I have been thankful for my girlfriends. The title of the article is what caused me to read it...but, the underlying gratitude for girlfriends and their understanding of the mutual conditions of motherhood is what it is all about!
Jennifer Harrington May 25, 2011 at 01:33 PM
If only the sex thing didn't ruin polygamy!! I would join that damn "Sister Wives" show...just kidding. That was so funny babes! The ladies really do know how to take care of one another. I think Rene summed it up pretty well!
Tracy Jasnowski May 25, 2011 at 01:43 PM
Someone sent me a study once that said the healthiest thing a man can do is get married, the healthiest thing a woman can do is spend time with her girlfriends. And here's the big one: NOT spending time with other women was the equivalent, healthwise, of being a smoker. I always wish that our society could continue the tradition of the multi-generational household but having some sister-wives would do the trick too.
Jess May 25, 2011 at 02:14 PM
I see your point, and would love the village aspect to daily life, but could not bear sharing the love of my life with another woman. Call it jealousy, I'm ok with that, but I don't think he would want to share me either. I would gladly trade off diner nights with you though : )
q0rban May 25, 2011 at 04:31 PM
I'm ruining the author's subtlety, but the thing we are missing, of course, is not polygamy, but community. We have become so isolated, so individualistic. If you can't manage on your own, without outside help, you are weak. What a lie! We need to be inviting people into our day-to-day lives, not to a play-date at the park. Cooking together, cleaning together, working together… This is where true friendship happens. It's scary at first—making friends is not as easy as it used to be when we were teenagers. Embrace the awkwardness, though—it's worth every moment.
Heather May 25, 2011 at 05:23 PM
I LOVE this and totally agree! Wanna come clean together? It now makes so much sense to me. I love your articles! They make me laugh, cry, and laugh a little more. Thanks for writing what we all feel - you have a beautiful way with words.
Shelly Maslak May 25, 2011 at 06:34 PM
Love this article!
Lauren May 25, 2011 at 09:44 PM
Another great article! I agree--community is definately missing and it puts a lot of pressure on people. Having someone there to help you without having to verbalize it and the benefit of learning from each other's mistakes gives us great advantages and helps us advance as a culture. Why not start a NEW trend?
Jennifer Westfall May 25, 2011 at 10:08 PM
Girlfriend, you are so right on about everything you write about! Thank you for helping me to feel normal. I'm honored to have you as my friend!
Chris Sansbury May 26, 2011 at 12:21 PM
Yes, I want to clean together!
Chris Sansbury May 26, 2011 at 12:31 PM
You are so right about the scary part...we are reluctant to show new friends how we really live, even though when you meet a genuine, honest person you feel so relieved, like “hey, I do that too”.
Charlotte Abington May 26, 2011 at 01:44 PM
I like Tracy's multi-generational thought. . . . Come to the New Hampshire woods everybody! Bring your kids!
Maggy Graham May 29, 2011 at 12:51 PM
I've read a number of the Amish novels out now such as those by Beverly Lewis. The Amish Cook's Baking Book also describes this cultural practice. The community gets together quite frequently to get things done. They call these days "frolics." Yes, they do this to raise barns or sheds or to frame a house, but the women get together as well for sewing, cleaning or baking. And everyone brings food. I did this once when a friend bought an older house and we all got together and cleaned it. It was a wonderful day. Hard work. But wonderful. (And I was a lot younger.) Of course, this practice is a lot simpler when everyone has a subculture in common with all the rules of social interaction worked out. I could see how it would be simpler within various church communities. Is it possible in a wider community?
Sandy August 04, 2011 at 07:19 PM
Hey! I live close to you in tarpon. Loved this piece, you are welcome to join my family. I would die if I didn't live on the same street as my family. I'm not the "homebody-can't-leave-the-nester", I just love this neighborhood. Safe, quiet, big yards and I already knew all the neighbors. My grandparents bought the house across from us after baby 1 was born so we have 3 generations in our "Greek village". Every 2 weeks we pick a new culture to make dinner and listen to their music & drink their booze of choice. We love it. It's the most fun our family has ever had in such a different way and my kids are excited to Try new foods. Check out my blog & drop me a line if you'd like to hang. Crunchygreekmom dot com.

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