Friday, March 27, 2015

The Prince and the Pea

Obviously, I already have a hard time getting to sleep at night, but I manage that pretty well with rigid routines, comfortable space designs, and, sometimes, pharmaceutical assistance. Now the doctor tells me that my favorite sleep position is out of the question, because, apparently, sleeping on your side with your arm extended past your head is damaging to the rotator cuff, and probably partly responsible for my shoulder injury and pain. And it wouldn't matter if I decided not to listen to him, because it was already becoming impossible to sleep in that position anyway, because the pain wouldn't let me get comfortable.

At this point, I should probably clarify exactly what I mean when I use words like "rigid" and "routines" to describe my sleep habits. Here are just a few facts, all true, about my sleeping arrangements, all of which developed over years of struggling with insomnia, and all of which came as a complete shock to my wife once we married.

1. I sleep with at least six or seven pillows, all for me, and use every one of them in different ways, depending upon what position I'm sleeping in. My wife saw all of those pillows on my bed before we married, but of course assumed that they were just decorative. She now knows that they are definitely not, and wants to buy a bigger bed. This also makes it almost impossible to sleep in hotel rooms, unless I bring my own pillows, because the front desk never seems to understand what I mean by "more pillows."

2. I cannot look at any screen except for television for at least thirty minutes before I want to try to sleep, especially if it involves games of any sort, even puzzles. Once my brain revs up, it takes too long to idle back down again.

3. I play ocean and rain sounds to fall asleep. When I slept alone, they would pretty much play all night, but ever since my wife started having nightmares of being on a capsizing boat in a hurricane, I started programming the sounds to cut off after twenty minutes.

4. If I'm still awake after the nature sounds turn off, then I pop a melatonin, and that always helps, but I don't take them on the weekends, because I don't want to become dependent on them.

5. No part of my body can be touching any other part of my body. Or more specifically, no part of my skin can be touching any other part of my skin. That's what three to four of those pillows are used for. Touching my wife's body, on the other hand always welcome, except that now, with the wonky shoulder, I can't even sleep in a position that allows for spooning.

6. The room needs to be pretty darn cold, freezing, as my wife puts it, before I can fall asleep.

So, losing my favorite sleep position was a real challenge, and I'm still working out how to compensate for it. Rearranging the pillows does seem to help, and I certainly want to do everything I can to get rid of this shoulder pain, but it's cost me a few restless nights, not to mention annoying my wife and keeping her up as well. On the other hand, it's also a source of some amusement for her, watching me twist and turn and try to build magic walls and forts with my pillows.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Dear Meghan Trainor

Like most parents, I try to monitor what music my kids listen to, and, also like most parents, I fail at it pretty miserably. It's not like back when I was a kid, and you needed your parents to buy you a tape or something. My kids can literally listen to whatever they want on YouTube or SoundCloud, for free, and I could never really monitor it all. Plus they can watch the videos - on their laptops or phones, at school or at home, without my supervision, no matter how vigilant I am. But, then again, even in my golden years of cassette tapes, I got whatever music I wanted anyway, and my parents didn't know about most of it. We dubbed each others tapes and recorded mixes from underground hip-hop radio stations, so I got hold of some things that I probably shouldn't have had, and some things that my parents definitely would not have approved. And Look How Good I Turned Out!*

So the key, I guess, is to continue to monitor the music they download into their brains, as well as you can, but to also make yourself aware of the landscape of music that your children live in, and to keep discussing their choices of music, letting them always know how you think about what you hear, and inculcate them with the real critical and analytical skills to really listen to music and think about what the lyrics are not only saying to them, but about them as well.

So this post would be too easy if I were ranting about some misogynistic rapper spewing obscenities and retrogression. My kids already react to that with repulsion, for the most part, and as a lover of hip-hop, I've introduced them to new and old artists that I support and admire, for their beats, lyrical ability, and worldview. I'm actually not half as concerned about the artists with huge targets on their forehead that are obviously shouting dangerous ideas. I'm more concerned with the ones that fly under the radar, the pop stars that pass for cute and cuddly, or even uplifting and positive, but under closer scrutiny have us chanting anthems that are backwards and destructive.

So, on that note, what is up with this "Dear Future Husband" song by Meghan Trainor? I know she's had some positive lyrics in some other songs, and it's interesting that she presents an image that in some ways goes against the traditional standard of beauty in the music business, if you dismiss the fact that she's fair, blond, and curvy. I do like her sense of fashion, especially that it presents my daughters with a choice of style that seems more modest to me than others. But when did it become okay to be a Bridezilla? When was the demanding task-master of a wife considered the norm and not the joke?

First, if I could give my daughters advice, from a male perspective, about how to approach marriage and their role in it, one of the first thing I would tell them is to forget the idea that women are allowed to be "crazy" or act "crazy" and should not be made accountable for their attitudes and behavior when they do. Everyone has bad days, when work isn't going right, when the threshold for foolishness is particularly low, when concerns and outrages have built up nearly to capacity. But nobody gets a crazy day. Nobody gets to treat others, especially significant others, with anything less than respect and love, and just get away with it. Yes, it happens, because people are imperfect and therefore control their emotions imperfectly at times. I do it myself sometimes, and I flatter myself by thinking I'm extremely patient. However, when I do, I can't just expect my wife to take my abuse and craziness, shrug her shoulders, and dismiss it as part of being married to me. I have to apologize, make it up to her, and show her that the behavior does not reflect the man I want to be. The idea that men should accommodate their wives' craziness is must another backwards-thinking way of saying that women are somehow defective, unfixable, emotion-driven basket cases that have to be handled with care. That womanhood is a type of mental illness, and that it's sufferers may have good days, but can't be held responsible for their actions when the illness becomes too difficult to manage.

Secondly, I would tell my daughters that they are not always right, that nobody is always right, and that sometimes being right isn't even the right concept. When my wife and I differ about where to eat dinner, neither one of us is right. When we argue about how to keep house, neither one of us is right. Sometimes we simply have to argue our preferences and compromise. Sometimes that means that I have to defer to my wife's desires, out of love and a desire for peace, but not out of obligation. Sometimes, however, she's just dead wrong, and sometimes I'm dead wrong. This is why God gave us minds capable of reason, logic, and rhetoric. The way real life works, or should work, is that each side makes their best case, and when you are proven wrong on some point, you concede the point to your partner, willingly, gladly, thankful to be corrected out of wrong thinking. What you don't do is insist, without reason, or even flying in the face of it, that you are "right" just because you have a different number of x-chromosomes as your partner. That kind of thinking gets a marriage and a family nowhere. Literally. No progress can be made in a home like that - not financially, not sexually, not parentally. So don't play the "I'm always right" card, or the "If Mama's not happy, nobody's happy" card. You are a human, not a time-lord; you cannot bend reality to your will.

Lastly, I would tell my daughters that withholding sex as a means of getting your way is always a bad idea. Actually, I would probably tell their mom or stepmom to tell them that. But I would believe it, and think it! And I would fumble through an reasoned explanation if they forced me to! As much as I would hate having that conversation with my girls, it is important for them to know that sex is not marriage currency; it is not the reward for bowing and scraping and bending to your tyranny. In actuality, sex is one of the primary means of building emotional intimacy and bonding with your husband or wife. It is intrinsically tied to a man's self-worth and self-perception, and the idea that it can be used as a big stick to control the brute is one that can backfire in a million terrible ways. Your love ought to be the one thing in the entire world that your man can count on, and vice versa. Your kisses are not to be meted out for opening doors, like a dog trainer tossing bacon treats to a Spaniel for sitting on command. Now, there may be times when your husband's behavior is genuinely poor, so much so that he has offended you and broken the intimacy between you, and sex may just be unthinkable for you in that moment. He may need to apologize for his offense and find a way to restore the harmony in order for real sex and intimacy to take place, but that's not the same as holding out on your husband until he caves in to your whims, or threatening him with a drought in order to force him into submission.

I know, I know. It's just a stupid pop song; it's not supposed to stand up under harsh social scrutiny. But the thing is, these songs are one of the primary and most authoritative constructors of my children's worldview and self-image. In the same way that I don't want my daughter's to believe about themselves what Chief Keef says or suggests about women, I also don't want them to take these ridiculous and destructive ideas into their marriages. And if the kids complain that they can't even listen to the radio any more without hearing my voice in their heads, analyzing every verse and parsing every word, I'll know that I have accomplished my mission.

*One day I'll have to write about my fascination with this phrase. I notice that it is generally used to dismiss a criticism of some aspect of one's childhood that has clearly had a negative effect on the speaker.

Monday, March 9, 2015


We had an opportunity to visit the Magic Kingdom last weekend, kind of on the spur of the moment as a surprise for the kids. I used to take the big kids a lot, pretty much every year, at least once. Sometimes we would pay, sometimes we would pull a favor with a Disney employee, but we would make the trip from Miami to Orlando at least once a year. Of course, we had our own traditions that we developed, like sharing a huge turkey leg with my big daughter, jellybeans with my son, four o clock ice cream, among others. One tradition that we observe devotedly, although I can't remember why, is that we always watch the Carousel of Progress right before we leave the park. I can only guess that started because it's long, air-conditioned, and seated.

The last time I went was before the baby was born. MyTy and I went together just a couple of months before we got married, and that experience was a whole lot different from going with kids. We weren't in any rush, especially since we didn't pay to get in, and we only did the things we really wanted to do, hopping from park to park. The weather was nice and cool, and even the lines were tolerable, because we spent most of our time in them standing extra close, holding hands, and kissing. No tongue, you understand, strictly Disney kissing, but I'm sure some parents didn't expect their children to experience the magic in exactly that way.

When we had the baby, we told the kids that the next time we went would be when she was old enough to enjoy it, probably not for three years. They were fine with that, partly because we had just gone, the three of us, a year prior, and because they were starting to think of themselves as too old to get excited about Disney. So by the time we decided to use some of our tax refund to get tickets, they were really ready to go back.

Disney World is always great, but there's something really special about going with a little child, and especially one whose going for the first time. It's easy to get jaded about the real beauty and magic of the place as you get older, and even more so when you're the one buying the tickets. And it is magic, not the superstitious kind that should be a little scary, but the sleight-of-hand kind, the creative use of trickery that taps into your imagination, the real reason why they tell you not to use flash photography. I'll never forget the time I took a bunch of pictures of the Peter Pan ride when I was twelve and picked them up (remember that) only to see the inner workings of the trick revealed. I actually lost interest in the ride to this day.

But going with the baby brings all of that back. Everything is incredible to her, everything! I mean, she got to see the castle, and it's a real castle! She got to hang out with Pooh and Tigger! She hugged Minnie Mouse, and Minnie hugged her back, not like her stuffed toy. She went on so many rides that go so high in the air, she could see the whole park! And every time she got excited, we got excited with her.

Sure, the kids wanted to go on their own rides, Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain among them. So they rode them with MyTy, and I took the baby on a baby ride. But the thing is, the big kids wanted to ride the baby rides, too. They haven't asked for the Aladdin ride for years, but this time they wanted to go on it, just because the baby was riding it. I haven't been on it since they rode it last, and I went around twice, just because the baby wanted to go again.

Honestly, this trip was one of those times that makes me glad we accidentally got pregnant. Otherwise, we might have missed out on a beautiful baby girl, and on times like this. She really does bring us together, not just my wife and I, but all of us. The kids rode roller coasters with MyTy, I reconnected with the kids on baby rides. We missed out on 4 PM ice cream, because MyTy and I are giving up sweets for Lent, so that was hard, but I did notice that even though we were all tired at the end of the day, the big kids still insisted on doing the Carousel of Progress before leaving, and they insisted on having me go in with them. And it was exactly like I remember, which might mean they need to update that thing. I mean, voice activated appliances and virtual reality are no longer impressive as FUTURISTIC dreams, since smart houses and Oculus Rift. If the baby hadn't already been sleeping so nicely in her stroller, we would have all been in there together. But then there's always next time, right?