The Quest For A Good Night’s Sleep

snoreMy husband snores. Badly. Eruptive, thundering refrains that torment me throughout the night. Worse are the periods of silence, during which he stops breathing, followed by violent, gasping-for-air inhalations that startle me awake – if I’m able to fall asleep in the first place – and have me fearing for his life.

Then there’s the matter of our mattress. It’s the absolute pits, as in it belongs in a pit. We’ve never had good luck with mattresses. Once we slept on the most comfortable mattress for two nights at an inn, bought the exact model, and that’s the one we currently own. We went so far as to have a mattress custom made once, and even that turned out awful.

Between these two things, I’m in the midst of a sleep crisis. Constant exhaustion. Eyes with perpetual dark circles under them. I’d go so far as to say that I feel like a zombie, but I’m pretty sure zombies don’t feel things, like aching shoulders, sore backs, and stiff necks.

This is no way to live. I love my husband, but enough is enough. And that mattress has to go. At my age, I need beauty sleep more than ever.

My husband’s sleep apnea was diagnosed when he spent the night at a sleep clinic. They recommended a CPAP, but he tore it off, claimed it made him feel like he was suffocating. He left the clinic and never looked back, and so his snoring continues. It is ruining our health, our quality of life, and our sofa. Most nights, he starts off in our bed, but after being elbowed several times by moi, listening to my grumbles of, “Will you shut the hell up?” and outright, “Please go sleep on the sofa”, he usually heads downstairs.

Part of me feels sorry for this, but mostly I’m too relieved he’s gone to care.

Then there’s the mattress. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I had it to myself and still woke up tired and sore. We have attempted some mattress shopping recently, but with so many choices, how does one decide? Yesterday, it seemed we’d found the perfect solution; two extra-long twin gel foam mattresses (pushed together to look like a king-sized bed) with separate adjustable frames that can be fitted to our individual bodies. The salesman suggested that being able to raise his upper body might help my husband snore less.

The mattress felt comfy and I almost fell asleep right there in the store while testing it out. Not wanting to rush into a purchase, however, we thanked the brilliant salesman and went home to do our research. The mattress reviews were mostly positive, but the adjustable bed frame reviews were bad.

Other models with rave reviews cost up to three times more. While a good night’s sleep is priceless, and I’d be glad to invest in a high quality adjustable bed frame if it means a great night’s sleep, past experience has taught me there are no guarantees – in life, in mattresses, or in my husband not snoring if we purchase a new bed.

So what to do?

I’m considering separate bedrooms (gasp!). Most articles say it can be good for a marriage because both spouses are sleeping well and have their own space. Even sex can be better because you have more energy and it’s kind of fun going off into one bedroom or the other. More couples want to do it, but are worried about the stigma. One lone article said that sleeping separately is awful for a marriage and a sign of poor communication. Does the author not realize that when you’re chronically exhausted, communication is whittled down to grunts?

Something’s got to give. We both need sleep. I’m thinking of taking a chance and getting the twin mattresses and adjustable frames, despite the reviews. Maybe we can also do separate bedrooms on weeknights, when having to function at work the next day is critical, and sleep together on weekends. Kind of like a slumber party, only better.

But I worry, will we be setting a poor example for our children? Will they think we don’t love each other anymore? Will we grow apart? Do I even care about all this as long as I’m getting a good night’s sleep?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on snoring, mattresses, and spouses sleeping apart!

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In The Blink Of An Eye

tree

This tree…

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…landed on this truck.

Everything can change. I was reminded of this last Sunday, when my husband called to tell me a tree had split in half and landed on the roof of his truck while he was driving down the street. It was such a freak thing to happen. I almost didn’t believe it, until I saw the tree, and his truck, for myself. He suffered a concussion and sprained neck from the impact, but it could have been much worse. Thank God he’s a man who likes to drive a sturdy pick-up truck. If he had a compact car, he might be dead.

 

What are the odds of a tree falling on your vehicle while you’re driving down the street? Maybe the same as winning the lottery? I couldn’t help but wonder about this, given the fact that on that same morning in church, I donated the dollar bill I’d been saving to buy a lottery ticket to the nuns who were visiting our parish. The bill had been stuffed in my purse for weeks. I was waiting for that perfect, intuitive moment to speak to me, “Today is the day to purchase the winning lottery ticket at this obscure store you never frequent.”

After listening to the nun’s plea, I decided the hell with it, like I’m really going to win the lottery with this dollar bill or, like, ever. The money would be better spent on the nuns’ cause. (Lest you think I’m a cheapskate, I’d already made a donation during mass when the basket came through; the dollar was the only cash I had left.)

Then later that day, a tree lands on my husband’s truck. That day, my husband says to me, half-joking, “You almost just came into half a million dollars.” He was referring to the $500,000 life insurance policy we have on him. Not that I wouldn’t love half a million dollars, mind you, but not at the expense of his life. I told him this, and hoped he believed me.

What would our lives be without this husband and father? This man who drives me absolutely batty with his insane, surprise purchases, who hops from job to job, whose antics cause me to stay up nights worrying? I’ll tell you what it would be – miserable. This is what I thought as I drove to meet him an hour away at the hospital. My boys would be fatherless, I would be husbandless, and our worlds would totally, absolutely suck.  Because in spite of the stress he causes,  he counteracts it with so much good.

As my wise grandmother used to say when anyone in the family was complaining of marital woes and contemplating divorce (and, who knows, maybe fantasizing about their spouse passing away in a freak accident and collecting the insurance money): you are merely trading one set of problems for another.

This is what I was reminded of thanks to this freak act of nature. Or maybe it was really a wake up call from God.

If you could go back in time, would you?

Dinna fash yourself, Sassenach. 

These words, spoken often by Jamie Fraser, the red-haired Scottish hero of the STARZ series Outlander, to his spunky British wife, Claire, mean Don’t worry yourself, Outlander.  Jamie’s pet name for Claire, Sassenach, refers to British persons, considered outlanders (outsiders) by the Highlanders.  Little does Jamie know, when Claire mysteriously appears in the middle of the Scottish woods one day, that she is more of an “outlander” than his 18th century brain can ever fathom.

I am in love with this saga, based on the series of books by Diana Gabaldon.  Claire, while on a second honeymoon in Scotland after World War II with her British husband,  gets sucked hundreds of years into the past through Stonehenge-style rocks. There she meets Jamie, her soulmate across time, whom she marries, which turns her into a sort of bigamist. Together they face war,  endure trauma and tragedy and, after Claire confesses the truth about herself, attempt to change the future of the Highlanders’ fate. Through it all, their love story inspires. It’s truly the stuff of dreams and fantasies.

As much as I love a good romance, I’m more intrigued by the notion of being able to go back in time. I’ve often thought how cool it would be to go back to when dinosaurs roamed the planet. If I had a chance to do it, even if it meant never coming back (or is it forward) to the present day, and probably getting eaten by one of those giant lizards, if I didn’t starve to death first, I’d go in a second. I mean, to see a living, breathing dinosaur!  I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about it.

A friend of mine, a professor emeritus of physics, spent his entire career studying time travel (in the early years on the sly, lest his colleagues think him a quack). His name is Ron Mallett and the story of why he became obsessed with building a time machine was turned into a book, Time Traveler: A Scientist’s Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a RealityRon was kind enough to volunteer his time at a leadership conference I’d organized for students, and we’ve been friendly ever since. I love picking his physicist’s brain over our occasional lunches. Much of what he says goes over my English major head, like the time he tried to explain the existence of parallel universes by stirring a cup of coffee, and his reasoning for why he believes in a higher power. While Ron has accepted that time travel will not happen in his lifetime, he remains optimistic. He believes it will likely begin with Morse code-like messages sent back and forth between people living in different dimensions.  How amazing is that?

I’m curious – if you could go back in time, would you? If so, where would you go and why? If someone told you he or she was a time traveler, would you believe it?

Aye, I believe ye, Sassenach. But it would ha’ been a good deal easier if you’d only been a witch.

The One Question to Ask if You’re Considering Divorce

One of my Facebook friends recently posted an article that essentially said if your partner/spouse isn’t looking deeply into your eyes while painting your toenails and declaring that you’re his soulmate, then you need to move on. I couldn’t help but laugh. It was all I could do not to comment, “And we wonder why the divorce rate in the United States is 50%.”

Sadly, too many people believe this pile of crap. They don’t want to acknowledge that marriage can be hard, hard work. That sometimes your partner will disappoint you or aggravate you or do something really bad or dumb, but you stay anyway. You stay not because you’re a sucker or an enabler or have low self-esteem. You stay because this relationship isn’t just about you. It’s about both of you and, more importantly if you have children together, it’s about them. The family unit trumps your individual needs almost every time.

This is not to say you should remain in a physically and/or emotionally abusive situation or tolerate chronic infidelity. If this is happening, please get help, stat. Let me just be clear that your spouse not saying “I love you” daily or asking about your work day or cleaning the bathroom doesn’t constitute abuse.

If you read my blog, you know that I sometimes disclose personal details about my marriage, especially as it relates to my husband’s job issues. I do this not to throw him under the bus, but because, well, this blog is about the truth, and the truth is that he’s having a midlife career crisis – big time. Sometimes his shenanigans make me feel so crazy and hopeless that I want to leave. I tell myself that life would be easier and more peaceful without him.

My life, that is. Not his necessarily, or our sons’.

I’ve been threatening the “D” word on and off for a while now. I’m ashamed to admit it, but there you have it, the truth on the table. As in, “If you don’t find a better paying job and stick with it, I’m leaving” or “If you use the charge card one more time I’m leaving” and “If you don’t start seeing a therapist I’m leaving.” I think you get the drift. By now he knows I’m the girl who cries wolf. During the most stressful times, divorce seems like it could be a fairly easy escape, if you don’t count my children being torn in two, our cozy home sold, and the remains of our family scattered around like dried up leaves in autumn.

It finally occurred to me recently that I had a decision to make – stay or go. Simple as that. No more idle threats; they are pointless and immature. As I imagined what it would be like to leave my husband of nearly 22 years, uproot my children, decide who gets the sectional sofa, a question popped into my mind like an epiphany.

What if leaving wasn’t an option? What if I had no choice but to adhere to my marital vows? How would I approach this frustrating situation then?

The answer came to me immediately. I would love him, support him, and do my best to build him up, knowing that he’s in crisis and doesn’t have the skills to cope alone. I am his life partner, his helpmate, and it’s my role to support him through the tough times. What kind of wife, woman, would I be if I just walked away and discarded him like an old sock in his hour of need? He would never treat me in such a shabby way.

What if leaving wasn’t an option? How would you go about resolving the issue if the status quo also weren’t an option? What creative approaches might you try?

We can’t change anyone. We can only change ourselves. The notion is truly empowering, especially when it places us in a position to have a positive and even soul-saving impact on those we love. There is almost always someone stronger in the marriage at any given time. If that person is you, try not to view it as a burden, but rather recognize it as a great gift you’ve been given, one of strength, compassion, and the ability to problem solve.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Gram and GrampOne of the hardest parts of growing older is missing people who’ve passed. Today I’m thinking of my paternal grandparents, Louis “Luigi” and Francis “Francesca”. These two beautiful people made my childhood magical and left me full of warm memories.

They were the ones that hosted Sunday dinners with family, the table laden with mouth-watering homemade Italian food. There was the treehouse my grandfather built around the apple tree in their backyard, fully equipped with a tire swing. Saturday nights were for watching Love Boat and Fantasy Island with my grandmother.

On Sunday mornings my grandfather would head to the bakery at 6:00 a.m. for a fresh loaf of Italian bread while my grandmother and I slept in. My breakfast choices upon waking were warm sliced bread with melted butter or his famous thick-sliced French toast, accompanied by fresh-squeezed orange juice.

They spoiled me and loved me unconditionally, in the way only grandparents can. By revolving their lives around family and each other, they turned an ordinary life together into an extraordinary one. Their love and life stories are engrained in my heart.

One of my favorite stories is of how they met at a dance hall right after World War II ended. My grandmother was there with her sister and cousins. The place was filled with war worn soldiers looking for wives, my grandfather included. Grandpa said the instant he set eyes on my grandmother, who was about a decade his junior, he knew she was the one. He kept an eye on her throughout the evening and when finally she went to the restroom alone, he was waiting by the door as she exited.

The story that shocked me when I heard it was that they separated for a while early on because my grandfather started gambling. One day my grandmother went to the bank to withdraw some cash, only to discover that the money they’d had in the account was gone. My grandfather had gambled it away.

My grandmother left him, taking my young father and aunt with her. Her instructions to my grandfather were that she’d take him back once he earned back all the money he’d blown. To his credit, he did, sometimes taking on crazy gigs to do so, such as a stint as a private detective in New York. Also to his credit is that he never gambled again.

Grandma was a woman ahead of her time. While most mothers back in the late 1950s and 1960s were stay-at-home moms, she worked, first as a bookkeeper and then later, after earning a college degree, as an accountant. At one point she worked as a bookkeeper at a factory across the street from their house so she could look out the window and keep an eye on things.

Most important is that she enjoyed working. There was none of the agonizing over work/life balance or of finding her life purpose that besets so many women today, myself included. Grandma knew her purpose; it was to provide and care for her family and have a little fun while doing it.

She was also a strong helpmate to my grandfather. At one point he was having trouble finding a good job. My grandmother took it upon herself to write a letter to the city mayor, a fellow Italian, in which she highlighted my grandfather’s qualities and service to his country. She then asked the mayor if he had a job for him. The mayor responded by offering my grandfather a position as a groundskeeper at a public golf course. It was a job my Grandpa loved and kept until he retired.

When Grandpa died of heart failure Grandma, who was already showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, went downhill quickly. Without him there as her memory keeper, she was lost. One of the most heartbreaking moments in my life came when we were in her kitchen and she burst into tears because she couldn’t make sense of the numbers in her checkbook. She said that in all her years as an accountant, she’d never once made a mistake with the numbers, and now this. Eventually that horrid disease took her away from us.

Once, when I was pregnant with my youngest son and having a difficult  last trimester, I awoke in the middle of the night because I felt someone sitting on the edge of the bed beside me. I thought maybe my husband had come in the room (he was sleeping in the spare room because of my nonstop tossing and turning). But no one was there, at least no one I could see or touch. Yet I could feel a strong presence. I felt afraid for a moment, then relaxed. The presence was so loving and comforting that to this day I’m convinced it was my grandmother.

Thinking of my grandparents makes me yearn for a simpler time. Perhaps that’s part of what I miss, not just them but the way life was with them; simple, relaxed, grounded in what really matters. For just a moment I can close my eyes and I am back in that place.

Things I Learned From the Woman Next Door

How many potatoes does a wife peel over the course of her wifetime?

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Last week while I was peeling potatoes in my kitchen I had a flashback. For a few moments, I was transported back in time to when I was 18 years old, a young wife and stay-at-home mom, sitting in the kitchen of the middle-aged woman who lived next door.

I loved this woman. She was a boisterous, thrice-married, functioning alcoholic with a wealth of experience, none of which she seemed to learn from, all of which she loved to share after a few glasses of wine.

Evenings spent with her were an adventure as she told tales of ex-husbands and lovers, of friends’ sorrows, and of being adopted. She would gossip about the doctors at the OB/GYN office where she worked, unconcerned that I was a patient there, knowing I had a mad crush on the youngest of them.

My cue to leave some nights were hints of what would later become knock-down, drag-out fights between her and the guitar-playing, passive-aggressive, alcoholic third husband. To say she led a dramatic life is an understatement.

Despite her crazy life, as a young woman, I learned from her. A lot of what I learned was what not to do. But I also learned that a tough life didn’t have to dampen one’s spirit. She was a loving, if inconsistent, mother and a fantastic cook.

Many of our conversations took place in her kitchen, me sitting at the table while she prepared meals. This often involved peeling potatoes. It was during these moments that tidbits of wisdom emerged.

One of her statements in particular stood out. She told me that when she married her first husband, at the age of 18, she vowed to “count every potato I peeled as a wife.”

Her statement struck me because of how loaded it was with meaning. It implied that marriage was a monotonous state in which a woman must perform never-ending duties for her family, many of which went unappreciated. By counting the potatoes, she was in her small way rebelling against the institution, and placing a value on her worth as a woman and wife.

Even at that tender age she had an inkling of what she was getting in to. Of course she lost count.

As I stood in my kitchen, peeler in hand, her words came back to me. There can be a lot of monotony, drudgery, and duty in women’s work. What we do for our families often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Yet we keep on peeling the potatoes, because that’s what women do.

From this woman next door, I learned that every scrape of the potato skin is an act of love, each chop on the cutting board is an offering.

Has Feminism Ruined Marriage?

I had no intention ever of writing a post about feminism and marriage, but last week, while visiting my local library, I came across a book called The Proper Care & Feeding of Marriage by syndicated radio host and marriage counselor Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

I’d heard things about Dr. Laura, things that didn’t align with the liberal, somewhat feminist working mother and wife I believed I was. Yet I found myself taking the book off the shelf, flipping it open to the jacket cover description.

“Dr. Laura asserts that in order to produce and sustain a wonderfully satisfying marriage, spouses must recognize and appreciate the polarity between the masculine and feminine.”

Not what I’d expected. It sounded almost new age, like worship of a feminine and masculine divine. I turned to the introduction.

“This is not your typical marriage manual. I’m not going to present the usual psychobabble nonsense that has been dominating the marital therapy field since the sixties which condemns masculinity and disdains femininity.” (1)

Thank God for that. I hated psychobabble nonsense. I’d experienced enough of it to know that I was usually better off working out my issues on a yoga mat or in a journal.

I believe that the single most horrible problem for marriages today is a lack of understanding, not only of what is needed by a man in a woman but also what is needed by a woman in a man.” (1)

How simple; me Tarzan, you Jane. Not that such a backward concept had any place in today’s modern society.

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I kept reading.

“Chivalry is largely dead, and feminism is the murder. It soured both males and females on the joy, awe, wonder, excitement, thrill, satisfaction from, and mystery of femininity and masculinity…Spouses are more likely to suffer from behavior that resembles sibling rivalry where there is competition for resources and power.” (3)

OMG, I had to read this book. I whisked it off the shelf. At home, in my favorite chair, I read.

“Women today do not think of themselves in the context of helping “their man.” Women have been brainwashed into thinking that efforts in that direction are in the category of oppression, subservience, and catering to frail male egos…feminism demoted that singularly magical ability of women to transform deflated men into heroes and warriors into a notion of massaging the frail, pathetic ego of a weak man…” (14)

Dr. Laura’s traditional views on marriage were resonating with me, though they went against the conditioning my generation was raised on. The traitor-to-feminism feelings they invoked reminded me of the time, about two years ago, when I saw feminist Gloria Steinem speak.

At first, I was in awe to be in the presence of this women’s rights pioneer, whose efforts had made it possible for my sex to have choices. Then, about midway through her speech, I had a startling thought: What did this woman — who wasn’t a mother and hadn’t become a wife until late in life — know about the struggles moms and wives face? What qualified her to tell us how to live our lives?

She had never had to place her infant in the hands of another woman 10 hours a day in order to go to work. She had never had to wake in the night multiple times to nurse a baby, and then drag her exhausted butt to a job the next morning. What did she know about the toll this kind of lifestyle took on a marriage and a woman’s soul?

She knew nothing, at least not first-hand. Yet here she was, giving advice, saying that men needed to step it up, as if they were the sole culprits of these struggles, as if women weren’t making choices for their lives that left them feeling exhausted, guilty, and resentful.

Suddenly, I resented her, and have wrestled with conflicting feelings about feminism ever since.

Chasing career and personal goals with little regard to the impact it is having on your spouse and family is a map where all roads dead-end. Men who do this usually end up with heart attacks; women who do this end up with out-of-control families and Valium drips.” (113)

I never want America to go back to the way things used to be for women, when husbands took over their property, when they couldn’t vote, when they were forced to bear too many children, when they felt trapped in abusive marriages because they couldn’t earn a living and would lose their children if they left. Feminism freed women from all that.

I also recognize that there are couples who are making their marriages work, despite both working full-time and/or taking on non-traditional roles.

But what of the slightly over 50% of couples that aren’t making it? Divorce is taking a toll on our children, health, finances, and societal well-being. Men alone aren’t to blame. Women must acknowledge their role and responsibility in the demise.

Don’t use discussions about how bad your spouse is as entertainment with your friends. Do take every opportunity you can to build up your spouse in your mind by relating wonderful, positive stories.” (121)

I’ve been guilty of the former, of picking on my husband rather than finding things to appreciate and praise. Now I see that this says more about my state of mind than his character. Seriously, I could burn an entire meal and the man would eat it without complaining, yet God forbid he leaves his socks on the bedroom floor.

Dr. Laura claims that feminism “soured both males and females on the joy, awe, wonder, excitement, thrill, satisfaction from, and mystery of femininity and masculinity.” (3)

Is she right? Or are other factors contributing, such as the economy, fast-paced lifestyles, materialism?  Have we become a nation of whining, selfish adult brats who expect our spouses to resolve our childhood pains, meet all our needs, and mend our broken parts?

I don’t have the answers, but I suspect that helping one’s husband feel like a warrior goes much farther toward creating marital bliss than getting him to clean the toilets.