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NEAL CONAN, host:

Right now, it's time to "Ask Amy." As friends and family arrive over the holidays, you'll welcome them into your home and try to figure out where everyone will sleep. These things can get messy; your daughter and her boyfriend; what if your teen doesn't want to give up his room for Uncle Phil? Should you give the master bedroom over to the in-laws and fire up the air mattress in the basement? Today, we check in with Amy Dickinson, who writes the syndicated "Ask Amy" column for the Chicago Tribune, about sleepovers, and we'd like to hear from you if you're facing this bedroom dilemma, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. There's a conversation on our Web site, too. That's at npr.org; click on Talk of the Nation. Amy, with us today from the studios of member station WBEC, Chicago Public Radio. Merry Christmas, Amy.

AMY DICKINSON: Hey, Neal.

(Singing) It's the hap, happiest time.

Yeah, not so much, huh?

CONAN: OK. Enough of that, OK?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And I wanted to read this letter you got from one of your readers about her boyfriend. My boyfriend and I have been living together for two years. My parents know him well and seem to like him very much. Christmas is coming. We're invited to my family's home for three days to celebrate along with the rest of the family. Last year, my mother announced that my boyfriend and I could not share a bedroom, because it made my parents uncomfortable. This year, same story. Amy, we live together. My parents seemed fine with that, and yet, we have to completely change our sleeping habits when we're at their home. I feel like they aren't accepting this relationship. It upsets me. What can I do to change their minds about this? I don't understand using two beds when one will do fine. Signed, Chagrined.

DICKINSON: Oh, dear Chagrined...

(Soundbite of laughter)

DICKINSON: What I like about this letter is there's this presumption, I think, from the writer that her comfort maybe should take precedence over her parents' discomfort. And the thing about visiting family is, like, we tend to forget, when we are with our family, that some of us are actually guests and others are hosts. And it gets really, really messed up over the holidays, because sometimes when our parents are hosting us, they forget that they're the hosts, and we, when we're visiting resort, to our - I mean, how many of us, even as adults, go home and flop on the couch and go, Mom?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DICKINSON: You know, we sort of revert to this previous life that we led when we were at home.

CONAN: You're kind not to use the word infantile.

DICKINSON: Infantile, exactly. And the thing about the holidays, there are often just - there's just not enough space to go around, and everyone - it tends to be a very high-tension time anyway. People really need to respect one another's comfort.

CONAN: Yet, isn't there also a tradition of, well, you're guests in our house; we should do everything we can to make you comfortable?

DICKINSON: There's also a tradition, Neal, that a lot of parents like to mention called "my house, my rules." Maybe you've heard this?

CONAN: I heard that, yes.

DICKINSON: I have heard this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I may have said that - those words may have left my mouth at some point.

DICKINSON: And you know what's funny? I've been through, sort of, both sides of this. I definitely feel like it's not a huge thing to change your sleeping arrangements when you're a guest in someone else's house. You know, I'm in a huge family. We all get together, and one year - for Thanksgiving, we have these huge gatherings. I actually woke up on Thanksgiving morning underneath the dining-room table.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DICKINSON: Because that was, like, the only space where I could stretch out. And so, it's, like, everybody is sleeping all over the house.

CONAN: Not as a product of too much eggnog.

DICKINSON: No. No, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DICKINSON: But it's, like, everybody is sleeping everywhere. And so, you know, everybody gets disruptive - disrupted, excuse me - when - yeah, disruptive - over the holidays. And you know, you just have to kind of pretend you're at camp and put up with it.

CONAN: This email from Matthew in Miami: Please advise on same-sex partners coming home with a son. Sleeping arrangement is just the beginning.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DICKINSON: Well, just a beginning of what? I mean, one year, I had a really great letter from a mom who said that her son brought his same-sex partner home for Thanksgiving, and she felt very uncomfortable, because there was a lot of, sort of, public displays of affection.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

DICKINSON: And she wasn't comfortable with that, and you know, I think it is a delicate thing, but you - I think I could understand a mom asking a boyfriend and a girlfriend to, hey, dial it down when you're in the house. Come on, you know? Not in the kitchen, people. You know, it's - I think it's fine to ask people to sort of be a little - create a little distance and be respectful of everybody. I mean, I don't think anyone loves watching other people make out. So, don't do it.

CONAN: Let's see if we get Nick on the line, Nick with us from Nashville.

NICK (Caller): Hey, yeah. I'm actually driving to Cincinnati. We're having our Christmas a little early this year. My sister's getting her master's in nursing, so we're all getting together early. But my brother, he's flying in from Colorado; my dad and his girlfriend are flying in from Hawaii; and my sister and her husband have two kids. And so we're all cramming in the house, and they're trying to finish their basement to have extra space, but it's not done yet. And every time I visit, I usually sleep on the couch, which I'm fine with, but it's kind of interesting that we'll all be together. I'm not sure where my brother's going to end up.

CONAN: But this - it seems like more a matter of space than delicate arrangements.

NICK: Yeah, I guess it's - I guess that is true. I guess that is true.

CONAN: But is somebody going to be asked to give up their bedroom?

NICK: Actually, my nephew, he's now six years old, and he actually was super excited, and he - he's definitely wanting for me to sleep in there so he can sleep on the ground and kind of have like a little sleepover...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: He may change his mind, given the weather in Cincinnati. But anyway...

NICK: That's true, and thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: All right, thanks. Drive carefully, Nick.

NICK: Thanks.

DICKINSON: You know, Neal, I love this question - this comment, because there're actually some - a lot of movies that sort of deal with this phenomenon, and it made me think that this is a particularly American phenomenon, the idea of sort of the kids giving up their room. I don't know if you remember in "The Big Chill," Jeff Goldblum ends up sleeping in this tiny little kid's bed, and it's - you know, this is happening all over the place, and then in the movie, "Sixteen Candles," there's this whole ritual where the kids give up their room for Grandma and Grandpa, and you know, it sort of has to be done.

CONAN: Yeah, the ugliest word at this time of the season is Aerobed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And here's an email from Greg: When we all go home for the holidays, who sleeps where tells us all which sibling is currently in favor with the matriarch of the clan. If you are the favored child, you get the big room on the south side with the most comfortable bed. She then ranks us in order of favor through the different bedrooms and their size and proximity to the bathroom, down to the pull-out beds in the basement. It's always really clear and never discussed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DICKINSON: I love that. I was going to ask if they had ever noted to their mother how obvious it was where they are in the pecking order. That's very funny.

CONAN: Let's get Sarah on the line. Sarah's with us from Portland in Oregon.

SARAH (Caller): Hi. How're you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

SARAH: Good. I was just reflecting back on a few winters ago when I had gone home with my fiance - he's now my husband - but we had had many issues where - my family is devout Christian, and I don't follow that persuasion quite as much as they do, and so, my family was split as to where my fiance was going to stay, and we were going on a family vacation, and it ended up where two of my family members were so opposed to it that they had to put us in a completely different house...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SARAH: When we went on vacation. But we lucked out. We got the hot tub

(Soundbite of laughter)

SARAH: So, it was a good deal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That sounds like you got the better part of the deal. I assume that these - everybody's adjusted to new realities.

SARAH: They have, yeah, especially since I have a ring on my finger. It's OK now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SARAH: We'll get to share the same bed under the same roof.

CONAN: Amazing how that changes things, yeah.

SARAH: Yeah.

CONAN: Thanks, Sarah. Have a great holiday.

SARAH: You, too. Merry Christmas. Bye.

CONAN: This from Kazoo(ph) in San Francisco: On the way home from our honeymoon, we stopped over at my parents' house for an evening. My mother threw open the door and proudly announced that now we were married, we could stay in the same room. We fully expected my mother to lead us up to the guest bedroom, which had a queen-size bed in it. Instead, my mother happily led us up to my old room which had been outfitted with two single beds, one that was made up in blue sheets on which lay a blue towel and a blue washcloth; the other was made up in pink sheets on which lay a pink towel and pink washcloth. To top it off, a large-ish nightstand with lamp clock and pictures separated the two beds just like "I Love Lucy." Yes, Hollywood twins.

DICKINSON: Yeah, apparently, this person's mother thinks that her daughter and son-in-law are Rob and Laura Petrie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's get Susan on the line. Susan's calling us from Denver in Colorado.

SUSAN (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to say, my situation is - I have a Marine who is coming home on leave for a short time, has - is in a long-term relationship, and you know, he has obviously wondered how we're going to do things. I have a daughter who's also in a long-term relationship, also not married, who will be at my house, and I think the issue comes down to respect and love and context, which is for me as a mom and as a family, how do we best love each other during this season? How do we accommodate those things? And how do we take in the context my son may not be home for another two years? I understand he's not married. I know there are probably some fundamentalists in terms of religion who may disagree, but I say, whatever I can do in the moment, whatever they can do in the moment, where we meet each other halfway it's not such an issue.

CONAN: And all meet the definition of consenting adults here.

SUSAN: Exactly. I mean, I think it is about - you know, if here we are in the season of love supposedly, and that's what we're supposed to be doing. So, we need to critically think about, you know, how do we love each other best and how do we make those accommodations where we might not otherwise? Even - you know, they're staying in my home; my lifestyle may not be exactly what theirs is, and my values may be different, and yet, I have an obligation, I believe, to respect what their situation is and vice versa. And so, I think it's just a fundamental function of respecting one another from a human standpoint.

CONAN: Well, Susan, welcome your Marine home and say hi from us.

SUSAN: All right. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Appreciate it, and Amy, there's attitudes like that, too. We have to remember that.

DICKINSON: Well, and what I love about what Susan said is, you know, when people think about etiquette and they talk about etiquette, they want to use etiquette like a sledgehammer. And the fact is, etiquette, politeness, it's all about respect, and she absolutely put her finger on it: How can we love one another well while we're in one another's presence? And I think it's very profound this time of year, and any time of year. I have a good friend from the Ivory Coast, and I asked her, night before last, what their Christmas tradition was. And she got tears in her eyes, and she said, we all gather at my father's house, and it's very, very hot, and we put down sheets on the floor. All of us, there are dozens of us, and we just lie together on the floor, fanning ourselves in the heat. And she got very, very wistful for this, and it just reminded me that, you know, as we sort of give up our beds and sleep on air mattresses and whatever, to embrace this time as a time of togetherness, because I think, even when it doesn't work out well, these episodes become things that we remember fondly.

CONAN: "Ask Amy's" Amy Dickinson. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's go to Marsha, Marsha with us from Coral Springs, Florida.

MARSHA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

MARSHA: I just had a little story about where to sleep at the parents' house. I've been married almost 20 years, but before we got married, my husband and I had lived together for about a year, and my parents had come to visit us during that time. They enjoyed being in our home. They had a lovely time, but whenever we went to stay with them, the rule was: people who are not married don't sleep together, so we would sleep in separate rooms. So, then when we were preparing to get married, you know, as many clergy do, the rabbi met with us and he said that we needed to have a discussion, to be prepared, and he said in this, you know, trying to be very scholarly way, he said, now, I know that the two of you has been living together and it's modern times, so, why get married? It's an old tradition. It's a piece of paper. My husband looked at him and completely dead-pan, just looked at him and said, so we can sleep together at Marsha's parents' house.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Did the rabbi get it?

MARSHA: He got it, he found it very funny, and the rest is history.

CONAN: Marsha, thanks very much, and I assume this has all progressed with no problems.

MARSHA: It has. It has.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

MARSHA: Thank you.

CONAN: There is another question, not just who sleeps where, but when you have a lot of people in the house and there's just maybe one or two bathrooms, this could be another problem, Amy.

DICKINSON: Oh, and I don't know if this happens in other families, but in my family, part of the Christmas fun is the annual breaking down of the plumbing!

(Soundbite of laughter)

DICKINSON: Where, you know, you're standing in line, like, with your toothbrush and your towel, and oops, there we go. So, we actually have a friend who's a plumber now, who's sort of on 24 hour standby emergency call, because every Christmas it happens.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get one last caller in - or we may have time for two - but Myles is with us, Myles from Rochester, New York.

MYLES (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to share. My daughter's girlfriend is going to be coming to spend Christmas with us, and I think that your previous caller nailed it right on the head. As your previous caller mentioned about, you know, respecting each other and loving each other, you know, and look, kids are going to do whatever kids are going to do regardless of the rules, and I would rather have them safe and in my own home and know where they are and know that they're under my protection than under, you know, some rooftop or some alley or in a club somewhere, whatever. So, we got them a bigger bed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Myles, isn't it great? Sometimes I missed it when my children moved out of the house. It's great to wait up for them to come home.

MYLES: Well, we haven't gotten there yet, because she'd not old enough to drive out on her own yet, but I'm sure that that will have its own trials and tribulations.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I see. All right, Myles. Thanks very much for the call and have a happy holiday.

MYLES: You, too. Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email from Alison in Lynchburg - I suspect - in Virginia: Before my husband and I were married, his grandmother would go through all sorts of perambulations to keep the unmarried folks separated when we'd gather for the holidays. One year, she cheerfully announced my husband would sleep on the sunroom porch on the chaise lounge with a cushion from the 1950s...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And my boudoir would be none other than the very unfinished basement. I had a bed among the canned goods and awoke to find a spider in my hair.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DICKINSON: Don't you just love that? And look, she looks back on this sort of fondly, it sounds like.

CONAN: After all that time, but I bet there might have been a little irritation that Christmas morning when she woke up to find her present was a tarantula.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Amy, have a great season. I suspect we're not going to talk to you until the New Year. So, have a great Christmas and have a Happy New Year.

DICKINSON: Thank you, Neal, and same to you.

CONAN: Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated "Ask Amy" column for the Chicago Tribune. It appears in a few other papers, too. She joined us today from the studio at Chicago Public Radio. Tomorrow, Ira Flatow will be here with Science Friday. We'll talk to you again on Monday. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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