Real Real-Estate Woes: Cramped Space Means Shushes, not Shags

I’m having an affair with my husband. Ever since we became parents, the operative word for our sex life is “furtive.” We’re sneaking around, exchanging coded phone calls and hush-hush quickies. I haven’t had to work this hard to score since the SAT’s. Friends with sprawling suburban abodes have bedrooms to themselves, bedrooms that maybe even lock. We, on the other hand, have two doors in our whole Carroll Gardens apartment. One leads to an impossibly tiny bathroom, the other to the hall. Neither is particularly helpful in getting me any play. Our 5-year-old sleeps in a small room directly off ours, where painted hinges are all that remain to remind us of the time something sturdier than a flimsy, shabby-chic-from-Target drape once hung. The baby rests, often fitfully, in the crib a few feet from our bed. And a white-noise machine delivers a whoosh of sound rarely found outside international airports.

Like most urban parents, the sleep of our children is a fragile, easily disturbed and deeply precious commodity. There are few things in life we cling to with such desperation as that brief window of time each night after our kids conk out but before we go to bed. We have neighbors who live with their twins in a one-bedroom and sleep on a futon, colleagues whose erratic schedules made hooking up a challenge even before they had kids. They say every child is a miracle. Now I know that’s because sex is damn near impossible.

Our place isn’t large, and the floor plan is open, so even a low-volume conversation in the back reverberates to the front. Spooked just sitting in the living room talking or watching a movie, we’re flat-out petrified at anything requiring somewhat more enthusiastic noise, or the ill-timed squeak of a bedspring. We confine our lovemaking to the maximum quiet and dark we can muster. It’s mostly because we’re just not the sort of parents who ever want their kids to have the vaguest idea they have a sex life-but also because if, God forbid, we were to wake them, we’d never get laid.

Romantic spontaneity went out the window right around the time our elder daughter was 6 weeks old and I got the thumbs-up from my doctor to resume sex. The hormonally horny creature I’d been throughout pregnancy was already gone, replaced by a sleep-deprived woman with sagging belly, leaky rack and below-the-waist disaster zone. Nevertheless, I’ve always been a plucky, up-for-anything sort, and I figured I could put aside my recuperative blahs long enough to get back on the road to wanton sex goddess. A short time and few less articles of clothing later, I realized there was one small factor I hadn’t considered-something that screamed a lot and dozed in 20-minute bursts.

A couple of years and another child later, sex is as calculated an aspect of life as RSVP-ing to birthday-party invitations. My mate and I look at our calendars before plotting out when we might have any energy. We plan for a night, have an extra cup of coffee in the afternoon, and cross our fingers that the kids go down soundly at their appointed bedtime. Then, a while later, we stealthily crawl under the covers for a brief grope fest and hope any ominous thumping from the crib doesn’t erupt into a full-blown wail.

It hasn’t been an easy adjustment. I’m not one who enjoys uncertainty. I prefer my Mr. Coffee machine to wondering if there’s going to be a line at Starbucks. Similarly, I was never into dating and the agita of never knowing where my next roll in the hay was coming from. I was delighted when my husband and I moved in together. Booty on demand-it was better than cable. We could spend whole weekend mornings lolling in bed together. We could set an evening mood with a few candles and a little Isaac Hayes. Now we’ve gone from “Shaft” to shhhhh. The threat of discovery may be sexy when you’re trysting in the bathroom of some club, but it’s a stone-cold libido killer when you’re in your own home.

Reliable seduction has become, like sleep and a wardrobe unstained by applesauce, a luxury I can no longer afford. So I’ve adapted. I don’t need an aromatherapy massage, a bubble bath for two or a roaring fireplace. Flimsy lingerie? Who even sees it? That stuff all strikes me as hopelessly girlie now. Instead, I’ve become as efficiently goal-oriented as any guy. Where once I could offer a coy come-on or a teasing promise of things to come, my repertoire of dirty talk now consists of a single phrase: “Make it snappy.”

When he was still at his old job, my husband was able to take the occasional day off, or sometimes just nip home for a nooner while the kids were out of the house. Even then we had to contend with our largely stay-at-home neighbors clomping through the halls, reminding us of the acoustic limitations of our dwelling. Do I feel super-erotic when there’s a loud squabble in the stairwell about who didn’t recycle their beer bottles? Not so much.

I can’t remember the last time my mate and I were truly alone. The relentless exhaustion of working and parenting takes its toll, but I sometimes think that if only we had a real room, a place with a door and no need for a noise machine and no one else sharing it, I might actually feel a little more like the contented little sexpot I once fancied myself. When I entertain vague fantasies about leaving our cramped quarters and buying a house, I get hot thinking about how we could have more sex-that, and a washing machine. Hell, we could have sex on the washing machine.

But instead we remain here, quietly scoping out the Lowes and wondering if our landlord would raise an eyebrow if she saw us hauling lumber and doorknobs in. And we bide our time, nodding our heads sagely when the old folks in the neighborhood look at our chubby-cheeked offspring and sigh that it all goes so fast. That’s the attitude I’m going with. It’s just 17 years till they’re in college. And if, by then, we creak when we go at it, at least I won’t have to worry about the noise.