Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Conjugal Relations

     Some time ago, I learned from memory and trial and error the chords to the song The Joker on guitar. I asked my brother-in-law to help me recall the lyrics, in particular what Steve Miller was saying when he sang, “Some people call me Maurice, cause I speak 'bout the ____­__ of love,” He said I'll go look it up on the Internet. I said that's no fun, what do you think he said? He said I assume he's saying, “promises.” I said I think it sounds more like “pompousness” though I like “pompatus” better because it sounds like something nasty. (I later checked the dictionary and found no such word. The Internet—I got desperate—concluded that what he said was indecipherable but probably “pompatus” just 'cause it sounded so good).
     “Conjugal Relations” is like that. It conjures images of prisoners (always males) given reprieves in a spare room to enjoy conjugal relations with their wives. I betcha those were some pretty intense, memorable, and pleasurable moments. And I like how the word “enjoy” is naturally associated with “conjugal relations.” It's never, “...and they were given an hour of privacy to endure conjugal relations.” Not that conjugal (loosely defined as “related to marriage”) requires physical acts of intimacy, but the subtext is there. (What else would they do? Waste an hour discussing the kids, a leaky roof, or bills to pay?)
     By contrast, when pop culture portrays sexual relations between longtime spouses it's predictably boring, stodgy, and persnickety. A check list chore that just has to get done, akin to washing dishes or taking out the garbage, icky-poo and disgusting. Often enough a slovenly, beer-bellied, unshaven couch potato husband belittles his bags-under-the-eyes, bathrobe-, house slippers-, and hairnet-clad, obnoxious and loud cigarette-smoking wife before seducing her. Such noncredible portrayals mock today's long-time spouses as if their sharing erotic relations is laughable ludicrous, passe' and embarrassing, especially compared to pop culture's graphic and salacious portrayals of successful hunks humping hot, new, rich, desirable, current year nymphs, replacement lovers to last year's tired, old, outdated spouses. No wonder Siskel and Ebert once said, “We get asked, why do you always like French foreign films better than Hollywood blockbusters? We say, French cinema is about adults acting like adults. Hollywood blockbusters are about adults acting like kids.”
     Yet even French cinema and books in general rarely present graphic sexual relations between long-term marrieds in positive, appealing lights, as if to do so would assure a film's or book's demise. Sad, because this plethora of sexless marriages in art is such a distortion of reality as statistics show that sex within marriage is far more prevalent than sex without. And this suggests to me that sex within marriage is far more pleasurable than sex without, for obviously people will engage more and more in whatever it is they enjoy most, finding ways regardless of marital status, convenience, or cost. As an extreme example of how unappealing sex outside marriage can be, it's said that celebrity sex is usually lousy, quick, and all you get out of it is bragging rights and STDs. Further, sexually promiscuous singles tend to have far less gratifying relationships than monogamous marrieds—no surprise as commitment and trust are fundamental to happy relations. And purveyors of prostitutes enjoy sex least of all—stripped of affection and dignity, small wonder.
     No, sexual relations between long-term marrieds can be deep, meaningful, moving, intense, erotic, and fulfilling, the best there is if taken in context, meaning good and outstanding sexual relations depends upon good and healthy interpersonal relations (and not the other way around). Or as a pastor once put it, the sexual act is like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence and everything that is said and done throughout each day leading up to that point becomes part of it.
     While I was yet in college, my buddy Norm said something surprising. He and his roommate had been discussing illegal drugs (a hot topic back then) and I asked him to describe how various drugs affected him. He said, “Marijuana is like TV. Cocaine is like masturbation...” He and his roommate went on and on about various drugs including LSD and magic mushrooms and I don't remember why, but I posed a question that began, “If cocaine is like sex—.”
     “I didn't say that,” he interrupted.
     “Yes you did, you said...”
     “No. What I said was, 'Cocaine is like masturbation...”
     “I stand corrected,” I said, nodding.
     He went on, “Sex is the best drug there is, no drug even comes close to the high sex produces. The best a drug can do is mimic or approximate its effects. But its never the same and there are always dreadful side-effects that go along with drugs.”
     Which leads to the point that besides being pleasurable, safe sex is healthy (good cardio and resistance strengthening), legal, free, and devoid of dreadful side effects. And in a long-term happy relationship, its also nurturing, loving, giving, releasing, and reviving.
     Perhaps because Deanne and I married later in life and took things slow, we're still coming up with new stuff sixteen years into our marriage. And we still send each other to scary, new, wonderful places we never knew existed, praise God. And it's all good, blissful, guilt-free and blessed. Or as another pastor said, “God invented sex, not the devil. So the act itself is good and holy, not filthy and disgusting. It's people and Hollywood that have twisted and distorted sex into something it was never meant to be.”
     So, indulge and enjoy and always remember that as a wise person once said, “The greatest sex organ is between the ears, not the legs,” meaning what we think, feel, and say are just as important as the physical act itself and it's not what we've got or how we use it, but who we are and how we live that matters most.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Simple Life

       Awhile ago, I came to the realization that we live such simple lives. I wake up every morning about the same time (early!—see may prior Sleep essay for details regarding), eat breakfast, leave for work, catch the bus, work at the same desk, eat a home lunch, catch the bus home, and go for a workout (a three-and-a-half mile run) every third day or do one of my various hobbies on non-workout days. We eat dinner together as a family then clean up. Then I bathe, brush my teeth, read to the kids, get ready for bed, then go to sleep.
     Weekends differ only in that Friday evenings the boys attend their respective scout meetings; Saturday mornings I pay the bills and check our car's fluid levels and tire pressures, and Deanne and whoever wants to goes grocery shopping followed by a trip to the library; and Sunday mornings we all attend church.
     I recounted this realization to Deanne with giddy bemusement, commenting how boring our lives must seem to outsiders, yet to us, we have more than ample excitement dealing with the kids, health issues, and finances.  The kids' discipline, chores, needs, and homework.  And planning future trips, outings, and other fun stuff.
     She said I don't mind; I'm content.
     I remarked that our lives are plenty fulfilling too and stressful enough and I can't imagine how others deal with the stress of their more complicated lives, the most complicated life of all (short of being a drug dealer or crime boss) being the guy that lives the double-life with a hidden lover or second wife, possibly with a second set of kids. How could such a guy sleep? Did he have no conscience? Or how could he keep juggling all those balls up in the air at once—lies, deceptions, excuses, and running back-and-forth between locations? I couldn't even begin to fathom it, I have such difficulty keeping track of things and keeping things going smoothly in our own simple, straight forward lives. Such a man, I concluded must not have things under control at all but must battle, fear, and avoid endless crises, one after another—a hectic, chaotic life bound to lead (someone like me, especially) to early death.
     A week following our discussion, we had dear friends from a prior church over for lunch and the dad (of a family of five) mentioned that he told his wife “We live such complicated lives.” His face had the half-distressed, half-resigned look of “If only...”
     Now Doug is a sometimes realtor, sometimes photographer, full-time landlord of residential rental properties and fixer-uppers, part-time property manager, and full-time husband, dad, and son to parents in Wisconsin where he (and one or two of his kids and sometimes his entire family) spends a few months each year not all at once because his rental and investment properties and photography business require periodic, spread out visits. His kids are very active in swimming, soccer, and social activities, and his wife is a full—time nurse administrator, so he does most of the chauffeuring (three hours plus on the road most days). They do live complicated lives in comparison to ours, but largely by choice. They've done well in real estate and own a large, nice house in a desirable location, and I'm happy for them for it, and though Doug appears to want to simplify things, they also appear to want to keep their success going, which is understandable.  But I don't envy them in the least for their demanding, hectic, and stressful pace and lives.
     By the way, our sole expensive asset is a 2004 General Motors sedan with 35,000 miles on it purchased used two-and-a-half years ago from Craigslist for five thousand dollars. In the past, I've experienced far too much stress dealing with our used cars' troubles. I've concluded more than once I'm not cut out for home ownership, much less property rentals, where seemingly minor issues (cracked foundation, leaky roof, mold, defective materials, termites, dry rot, etc,) can cost tens of thousands to repair and lawsuits from tenants could be costly, time consuming, and stressful. Just thinking of our friends' lives makes me tired. (Also btw, we rack up only three thousand annual miles on our car, preferring to consolidate trips and stay close to home which saves time, gas, stress, and the environment. And nothing beats home cooking for tasty, economical, and healthy eating, so we eat out only once every other week or so.)
     Though not for everyone, the simple life suits us just fine, enabling us to live in and for the moment, and with and attuned to each other. And no one on their death bed has ever said, “My one regret in life is that I spent too much time with family.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lemonade Stand

       It has been a dream of mine to have the kids operate a one-time lemonade stand to spark their entrepreneurial spirits—something I'd never done as a kid or anyone I knew for that matter. Braden's always been an excellent salesman of Makahiki tickets and popcorn for scouting and I figured Penelope and Jaren would also do well.
     Problem was, I knew (or heard) too much about Hawaii's strict laws: General Excise tax license and remittance requirements; the Department of Health requirement that food for public consumption be prepared in certified commercial kitchens; and permitting requirements for public property selling. And everyone's heard of kids getting in trouble for selling lemonade in violation of some ordinance or another. So this dream always lay dormant.
     Until I realized that there are no known restrictions in giving food away free. Churches did it all the time (we'd helped out on occasion) at parks, providing meals to all comers. And we could set out a donation jar for some worthwhile tax-exempt 501(c)3 cause.
     Our opportunity came during a lazy weekend morning.  I proposed Deanne bake cookies from an instant box mix (of quite good quality) we had lying around while the kids and I prepare signs, a donation jar, pitchers of milk and juice, cups, napkins, plates, and service trays. Deanne took it a step further by wrapping baked cookies in individual size decorative cellophane bags tied with ribbons—not bad for home baked and free. The “Donations Gladly Accepted” sign indicated one hundred percent of proceeds would go to the local elementary school PTA.
     We set up at the nearest park that afternoon, Deanne and I excited yet apprehensive about what might happen. The kids displayed their handmade signs at opposite ends of the park's entrance, advertising the give-away and pointing the way.
    Despite the park's attractiveness—towering trees, grassy lawns, a playful stream, basketball court, kids' playground, and scattered picnic tables—few cars rolled by, resulting in no takers the first half hour.
     Then, a cop car approached.  Slowly, it crawled in and parked at the far end of the lot. The officer exited and headed for the restroom.  I wasn't sweating too much figuring the worst he'd likely do is ask us to relocate to private property, but breathed easy when he emerged, headed for his car, and left.
     Our first sale came via a small family of park users. Jaren, bored holding his arrow sign, went to help at the table. (I was instructing the older two by the road, who were acting apathetic, how to point signs at oncoming cars not passing ones.) Deanne told him to offer the two year old girl a bag of cookies. His mother assented, came by and spoke with Deanne, and left almost three dollars in the donation jar. Not bad for a first “sale.”
     The next “sale” was pure profit—a driver in a white SUV waiting for the light to change spoke through his open window to Penelope and Braden. Braden answered his questions, checked for cars, approached, and received a direct contribution of a dollar sixty-five.
     Fifteen minutes later, a car driven with determination and and purpose followed the signs and bee-lined into a parking stall before our display table. Out came a squat, all-business lady and a young boy, both attired in scout uniform. She, too rushed to chat much, grabbed two bags and left three dollars. We thanked her as she smiled, trudged along, and waved goodbye.
     Our final sale went to another family of park users. Deanne said hi to the father who chatted it up with her. He took two bags and left five dollars. She later explained that the man was one of Jaren's former classmate's dad—no wonder so generous.
     Although not a huge success (the kids never really got into it much except for Jaren at first before he got bored), we were satisfied that we'd at least gotten something—especially considered the first half-hour.
     Deanne submitted the proceeds and unsold cookies the next day to the PTA that had its own fund raiser going at Penelope and Jaren's school. The chairwoman was so appreciative that we'd gone out and fund-raised on our own, she seemed even more pleased than we'd been.
     For a first time, it had gone well. And I'd do it again (but would probably select a higher traffic location). Perhaps if the kids had gotten to keep all the profits they might have felt differently about it, but I doubt it. For an entrepreneur has yet to emerge from among them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Making the Grade

       This past year, Jaren, a late born, got far too many yellows for Deanne's and my comforts. First graders were awarded colors based on their behaviors exhibited at school each day. I don't even know all the colors, the scheme was so complicated, but green to olive green represented good, yellow represented warning—there had been some problems, and orange to red represented bad. In my book every day ought to be green or better. We made our expectations clear to Jaren. We instituted swift, sure consequences every time he earned yellow or worse. Nonetheless, Jaren continued to exhibit unacceptable behavior—talking out of turn, fooling around, not paying attention, not following instructions, having to be told twice to settle down, etc.—sometimes even on back-to-back days.
     When I was a child such misbehaviors were never a problem. Everyone always behaved—or else! And that “or else” was inconceivable—no one (never me at least) allowed it to get that far. And none of my teachers ever struck a child. Just a stern look or raised voice had always been enough. And notes were rarely sent home since behaviors were nearly always within acceptable range and those that weren't were easily rectified.
     Despite Jaren's youth relative to his peers, his academics have been slightly better that average. He's got a lively, social personality so that explains his restlessness in class—same as at home, time and again, always getting in trouble even when in time-out. And since we've been strict, we've concluded it's his innate excitability and underdeveloped impulse control in handling boredom, waiting, or impatience that causes his misbehavior—not really his fault, just age-appropriate immaturity manifesting itself.
     We ruled out medical causes such as attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity because the symptoms don't correspond. (He can sit still for long stretches; he has a good but not great attention span; his teachers say he's fine; and his pediatrician suggests its non-medical and not something to worry about for now). Nonetheless, we've been concerned and exasperated at times.
     Now the Hawaii state legislature has been fiddling with the kindergarten cut-off age for years. Before 2006, it was five by December 31; from 2006 it was five by August 1 but December 31 for junior kindergarten; then in 2014 it was five by August 1. The 2006 change was part of an ill-fated junior kindergarten program (canceled from 2014) that was supposed to provide free public preschool for late-borns, a great idea that I supported, but that didn't pan out.
            At least two-thirds of schools, claiming inadequate classrooms and staffing, simply stuck late-borns in with early borns and treated them the same as before: no separate late-born specific curriculum to prepare them for kindergarten; report cards were virtually identical for all students; and late-borns that did fine were advanced to first grade. Parents of late-borns soon discovered that nearly all junior kindergarteners were advanced to first grade as a matter of course. Thus, some began waiting an additional year, forgoing registering their four-year-olds for school and skipping junior kindergarten altogether, for why enter a child sooner than necessary?
     As stated in my prior Swearing essay, we didn't consider this option desirable for Jaren. We therefore entered him into junior kindergarten and hoped for the best, which turned out fine, and at year's end, he was promoted to first grade at age five with our blessings. But this past year in first grade, as mentioned above, he failed to behave consistently well. I concluded now's the time to retain him by having him repeat first grade. My good brilliant friend Darren in high school is a late-born and by our senior year, his biological immaturity showed—especially when it came to girls. My dad skipped a grade in elementary school (which, given the new August 1 cutoff date, is in essence what Jaren will have done if promoted to second grade relative to his class and schoolmates), struggled throughout high school and early college as a result, always felt uncomfortable about it and disadvantaged in the long run, and believed it had been done more so for administrative convenience—the small outer-island school with multiple grades per class having been so small—than to benefit him.  
     So I wrote a note stating our preference to Jaren's teacher who scheduled a conference for the two of us, Deanne, and the principal. I stated our case at the meeting emphasizing our desire to do what was optimal for Jaren long-term, but neither would budge: Jaren would move on for DOE policy limited retention to only students that exhibited the most extraordinary academic and/or behavioral deficits, which didn't apply to Jaren's occasional misbehaviors.
     Here's where DOE policy differs from Hawaii's top private schools and partly accounts for rating differences between them. Private schools (and their students and parents often enough) take seeming pride in student retention, meaning less than stellar students are readily held back to repeat grades, for promoting such students would simply draw down the school's performance ratings that are virtually always grade level based and not age based. (Not to mention private schools cherry pick their student bodies, forgoing special needs, English as a second language, and other lower-performing students.) A high schooler that attended the top rated school in the state said one of his classmates had repeated his current grade level three times and still wasn't smart.
     I told Deanne I think we could easily find some principal in the DOE or a private school that would enter Jaren as a first grader but that that would be even less optimal than keeping him at his current excellent school, so we will just have to live with it and do what we can on our side. And that I sense he'll turn out fine in the long-term (as both my high school friend and my father have)—I just don't think it's optimal. And that when I asked Dad (a former elementary school principal) about it, he affirmed he'll do fine either way. Though not what we had wanted, at least we tried.