Asphyxiated by microwave popcorn
That old thing about a man’s home being his castle may not resonate much in today’s more egalitarian households. But that doesn’t stop us from acting a little despotic now and again.
I learned fairly early on in my marriage that certain things are silly to make a firm stand against. I may find it heretical to eat cold pizza for breakfast, but any protests are largely ignored anyway. And if I push the matter, I risk sounding like an unyielding crank, the kind of Joan Crawford parent who blows a gasket over coat hangers or paper towel patterns.
There is one thing I find tough to yield on, though, and that’s microwave popcorn. It may be a gene, a chemical imbalance or a touch of mental illness I can’t control, but I simply cannot abide the smell of microwave popcorn. Although I haven’t banned it outright – as if that’d be enforceable – I have made my distaste well enough known that wife and kids rarely pop in my presence.
But if they do pop while I’m gone and I get home sooner than was perhaps expected, they have guilty looks on their faces – like sitcom teens caught by mom and dad with the lingering smell of marijuana in the air.
Sometimes, though, popcorn must happen. On the all-too-rare occasion that we all agree on a movie we’d like to watch, the rest of the family needs the popcorn to fill out the experience. I don’t understand it, but I see it for what it is and recognize that this odd predilection is common in American households. (For the record, I will note that traditionally popped movie-theatre popcorn is OK.) So when I allow microwave pop, I steel myself for the invasive, greasy, malodorous tsunami of olfactory horror that will soon emanate from the kitchen and consider it taking one for the team.
And that’s family. Jen can’t tolerate the lights in the living room being dimmed below full power, so I rarely use the dimmer switch. I like the lower light in the early morning, though, so if I do use it and hear her coming down the stairs, I quickly turn it up or off completely. The kids know to do this as well.
Idiosyncrasies and pet peeves – we’ve all got them, but they get magnified within the close confines of the family unit. What may be a cute foible to a friend or co-worker can become a grinding, repetitive annoyance of historic proportion within the family – if we let it.
And that’s the trick. The human mind has an extraordinary capacity to filter out noise of all kinds – and not just the kind that comes in the ear. I once lived in an apartment right on upper Broadway in Manhattan, where the constant shriek of the siren and prattle of homeless people became invisible to me after only a few weeks. Others who’ve tried living in similar situations have given it up as hopeless, since they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – allow themselves to assimilate.
If that’s the case, you’ll never enjoy any time in New York City, and perhaps family life isn’t for you, either. I’ll bet that plenty of failed marriages and busted families can be traced, at least in part, to a failure to assimilate and yield to the quirks and petty annoyances being perpetrated by others. After time, you’ll find, they don’t seem like annoyances anymore but just part of the background – like the hum of the fridge or the murmured chatter of teens on the phone.
Get used to that, and you can really start focusing on the positives. And yeah, sometimes, you just have to throw up your hands and smell the microwave popcorn.