We've all heard of the ancient design principle called Feng Shui, with its premise that the route to good fortune is through furniture arranging. Recently I have discovered a heretofore unacknowledged design principle that may be just as ancient and is certainly more widely practiced, particularly in households with children. It's called Far Away. It's a masculine philosophy with the premise that the route to less work and responsibility is through furniture arranging.
I first came across the practice of Far Away at a friend's wedding a while ago. I wandered in the back of the church before the event, in search of a bathroom for my then two-year-old, and heard earnest voices through an open door.
"There's another thing I must tell you, something my father told me on my wedding day, and his father told him," the father of the groom was saying to his jittery son. "It's about the marriage bed." My ears perked up and I gently silenced my son. "When you move to your new house, it's important to choose the side of the bed away from the door. You won't know why right away, but once you have kids it will be very clear." I wanted to hear more, but my son ran down the hall.
I was so astounded by the older man's words that I paid no attention to the ceremony that day. My husband has always slept on the left side of the
bed, which has been away from the door in two houses. His father and my own father sleep on the far side. I began to see a pattern.
Then after visiting a number of friends' houses and asking about each couple's sleeping habits, I began to see a conspiracy. In almost every house, the man slept away from he door--it didn't matter if it was the right side or the left side, just that it was far from the entrance.
Of course this means that the woman of the family serves on the front lines during nighttime intrusions. Location being everything, it is mom right next to the door whom the children come to in the middle of the night to ask for water or comfort. It is mom who is better situated to hear cries for lost blankies. It is mom whom the children stumble across first in the morning to tell her the sun has come up. All the while the father is strategically positioned to snooze undisturbed or to feign being undisturbed, which is the same thing.
When I expressed my suspicion of a conspiracy to my friends, many at first dismissed it. "I don't know who picked sides. It just happened," one mother of a two-year-old told me. "If these things just happened," I replied, "wouldn't I find fathers sleeping near the door about 50 percent of the time?"
"He chose that side of the bed before we had kids," another friend with two young boys said. "That was in our other house. He couldn't possibly have known." But, I suggested, who worked with the architect on the design of the bedroom? Her face turned pale--paler than it is normally from lack of sleep. Her boys wake her up on average twice a night.
I questioned my husband about his preferred sleeping site. "I sleep better if I can hang my left leg off the bed," he said cooly. This from a man who could sleep soundly in a wheelbarrow. I told him I doubted he'd snooze any less deeply with a dangling right leg, and accused him of manipulating the nocturnal order to his benefit.
"The kids always want you at night anyway," he replied. Of course they do, I said, since I'm the most accessible option.
The man-out-of-range sleeping practice is so prevalent that one of the only families I found that did not adhere to it was my sister's. Her husband sleeps closest to the door, and not coincidentally he is the one who gets up with the kids. My sister goes around bragging that she's such a hard sleeper. I could be a hard sleeper too, I realize now, except for my proximity problem.
I asked her husband how he ended up on the near side of the bed. He was clueless. But after some interrogation I traced it to this telling detail: He was so nervous on his wedding day, he says he doesn't remember a thing about it. If his father did have the "bedroom" talk with him, he completely forgot it and as a result he's been waking up...and waking up....and waking up (all in one night) on the wrong side of the bed ever since. No wonder my sister claims she has the perfect husband.
As my friends and I considered the implications of what we had uncovered, paranoia set in. What other areas of life were affected? Men always want to drive," declared a friend. "That may be to avoid dealing with kids in the car?" No, we finally decided, that's a whole different area of the male brain--the same "I'm in charge" department that gives men an almost pathological yearning for the remote control.
"How about the dinner table?" another mom e-mailed me. "My place is closest to the kitchen; I'm always the one retrieving drinks and things." Aha! I thought. The scenario was identical at my house, and though my husband would never change sides of the bed, I could make an alteration in our dinner seating plan. The next day I moved from my place nearest the kitchen to a spot that made us equidistant from it. Instantly, my jumping up from the table was cut in half. No longer did my husband have remoteness from the utensil drawer as the unspoken rationale for not getting a clean fork.
So, it seems, the solution is to stay one step ahead of devious male tradition and claim our rightful (and more restful) place in the home -- before they do.