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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Household magnetism: Attraction and repulsion between family members

I never know what to expect when I get home. Some days I am a chick magnet, with my wife and two girls racing to be the first one to hug me, then cling to me no matter what I do for a good portion of the night. Meanwhile, my son ignores me in favor of Hot Wheels. Other days, I get home to three kids that zip to me while my wife glares and gets as far from me as possible. As far as I know, I've done nothing to contribute to a negative mood. I'm just happy to be home with a (mostly) loving family. This got me thinking about magnetism within the family. Each person must have a north and south pole setting, and the settings constantly flip flop or even neutralize in these human magnets. Below is a list of potential familial magnetic settings, and the things that can happen to change the north and south poles to make opposites attract within the family.

North pole: Daddy
South pole: Everyone else
Mommy has had an excellent day with the kids. Everyone played well together and behaved themselves. Daddy comes home to a blissful feeling in the air and a total of four clingons that just won't let go. Daddy walks around with kids hanging on his legs for most of the night or asking to get on his shoulders. Mommy gives lots of hugs and kisses. Daddy has good chances once kids go down to bed, though bedtime will take a long time since minor magnets won't let go of his legs as he tries to walk away.

North pole: Daddy
South pole: Kids, Mommy
This setting happens when children misbehave and fight constantly, or when Mommy gets an annoying phone call just before daddy arrives home. South poles open the door and run into the snow without shoes because they need the north pole so badly. Kids cannot get far enough away from their fellow south pole and her accompanying mood. Their north pole is viewed as sanctuary, and you can feel the repulsion between the poles. This is an interesting setting though, because Daddy's north pole only attracts the kids' south pole. Somehow the mommy south pole only works for the sake of repulsion. While Daddy is still fully attracted to Mommy, Mommy imitates a north pole with all its frigidity and runs off to hide from the family with a long book which she reads in one night.

North pole: Baby sister
South pole: Older sister, a futile baby sister (toward older sister only), Daddy
This one is pretty much a constant if no other magnets have been switched on. No amount of fatherly swatting can dissuade the 3-year-old sister from pouncing with great alacrity and insistence on baby sister, who so wants to share a pole with her older and heavier sister. Baby sister starts to resemble a wailing pancake as the overwhelming magnetic forces plaster her to the ground. Baby sister crawls as hard as her miniscule body will work toward Daddy, who is simultaneously repelling the older sister, who is attempting to maul said baby. Baby clings with futility to Daddy, who is preoccupied fending off the frenzied south pole.

North pole: 3-year-old daughter
South pole: 4-year-old son
This is one of the daddy's favorite settings, though he must remain magnetically neutral if he hopes to observe it. Either that or open an east-west pole between him and Mommy. The children play pretend, using actual toys that substitute for the pretend toys they would like to be playing with. They love and cling to each other as they zip around the house with toys. No fighting erupts, and the poles can stay aligned like this for hours, inducing the east-west poles to try to figure out how they can somehow attract the same kind of love they are seeing between siblings.

North pole: Baby sister, Daddy
South pole: Mommy (i.e. milk truck)
At eight months old, it amazes Daddy how fast baby can crawl to reach the milk truck at meal time. As she beelines it for the free meal, she often buzzes the word, "Mmmmmmaa-ma," holding the first "M" to show her appreciation for the anticipated meal. This can be a dangerous magnetic setting, since if Daddy holds baby on his shoulders or in his arms, baby will relentlessly dive toward its opposite polar coordinate, leading to some close calls which the Daddy with zero magnetic pull would prefer to forget.

North pole: Daddy
South pole: Mommy
With such a variety of settings possible, this one, so well known as newlyweds, is hard to align with three children present. Usually Daddy has to bring flowers, purposefully lose a game of Scrabble, or do a laundry list of chores around the house without being told. And doing it without being told is increasingly hard since the Mommy is quick to point out her "Honey-dos." This leads to a situation where the Daddy no longer gets correctly polarized while doing the chores. He only appeases the Mommy enough to keep her in a neutral mood. He also doesn't enjoy the chores in this scenario, since he sees the polarities reversing as she speaks the words he had intended to accomplish without hearing them first.

With only two poles, it's difficult to find the right balance within a family to maintain magnets that attract each other. Luckily, or unluckily as the case may be, no magnetic setting lasts forever. Even the earth's poles have supposedly reversed themselves during the course of history. If the earth were my family, the poles would be as mercurial and inconstant as the familial settings I've described above. As constantly as the poles shift, though, I have never seen a situation so bad in our family where there wasn't at least one north pole and one south pole. Love is a strong thing, far more magnetic than magnets could dream to be. The ultimate goal of every family should be to make every family member have both a north pole and a south pole which help the family fall into a neat line of perfectly aligned magnets.


  1. Great post, Mark! Really appreciate your perspective as a husband and father--any chance you can do some flashback posts to the dating scene to help those of us still navigating it? :)

  2. Hmm...I don't know about that. I make a better father than a single person, that's for sure. I'll think about it though and see if anything comes to my mind.