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In Big Love Again

January 10, 2010

Big Love is starting up again this Sunday, and I can hardly breathe. For me, it’s the show that makes the rest of the week seem like filler.

Will the neighborhood sister-wives gather for a viewing party like we did every Sunday, bringing pajamas for the girls and letting them sleep in one bed, even on a school night? Will we wax nostalgic about the times we used to warm up milk for each other’s babies, take out their splinters, dry each other’s tears and buy enough milk at the grocery store for all of us?  You bet. Just to be clear, we won’t be talking about how great it was to sleep with the same husband. We didn’t get that far.

Our hair is short, we live in separate houses, and we never wear skirts.

“The Sisterwives of Lynwood Drive”, written in 2007 on the eve of Big Love’s second season, was picked up by Salon Broadsheet, a Mormon blog called Common Consent, and a couple of small-time TV themed blogs.

“Sisterwives” provoked a heap of scorn from some corners and delight from others. The practicing polygamists chastised us for not being bold enough to go all the way; the marriage traditionalists scolded us for hanging out in the same kitchen. Luckily, most readers caught that it was a wink and not an endorsement of polygamy in its pure – or sordid — form.

What I liked about Big Love, and still love, is that it reveals another way to tackle the family project. Bracketing our collective cultural ambivalence toward polygamy, as overtaxed parents we found it an ingenious arrangement. On our own turf, we discovered that several adults in orbit around their children could do boring things together, and have fun. Not everyone had to drive to the same place, make dinner every night, or sweep the same floor. Routine chores and errands were currency for trading. Milk for corn, driving for cooking, tit for tat.

A miniature economy showed up, and it was cozy.

‘Sisterwife’ was a nickname for our own adaptation and a shout-out to the show we loved. Already, for nearly a decade we’d camped out in each other’s kitchens, yards, living rooms and cars: cooking meals, ferrying children, trading stories about our children, husbands, lovers, sickness, houses, lawns, and work. Some were married once or twice, some never; some had children, some were aunts. All pitched in. We didn’t invent a lifestyle; we gave it a nickname.

Now that our children are older, we meet more to reminisce than to share the arduous early work of parenting that used to bore us silly and sometimes feel — let’s face it — like a mild form of house arrest. Our kids are different from each other and more interesting company for us; they’re a fair hand at sweeping the floor and can whip up a mean souffle if they take a notion. They know they’re welcome still in each other’s houses, and they know how to throw a party. They’re citizens of a broader place than just their families; and for this I thank my virtual sister-wives from the bottom of my polygamous heart.

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