Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Inside Information

Consort and I, we are a modern couple. We each have jobs. We view each other as equal partners in the relationship. We are each comfortable admitting that Consort is the better cook of the two of us. And yet, with each passing year, we inch towards a kind of traditionalism that my grandparents might recognize even if they questioned my intermittent obscenities.

Consort has no idea what Daughter’s shoe size is. I suspected this was true, but decided to confirm this before I slandered him in my blog. I called him at work, expecting to get his voice-mail. I got him. This led to:

QUINN: Wow, I wasn’t expecting to actually talk to you.

CONSORT: Well, you got me. What’s up?

QUINN: You can call me back later, when you’re not busy.

CONSORT: If I were busy, I wouldn’t have picked up. I ask again, what’s up?

QUINN: It’s really stupid. We’ll talk tonight.

(Silence of Consort losing his mind.)

QUINN: Okay, okay. What is your daughter’s shoe size?

(Silence of Consort regaining his mind, but wondering about mine.)

CONSORT: I think she’s…a…does she need new shoes? Do I need to pick up shoes on the way home?

QUINN: No, she’s fine for shoes right now. I’m writing a blog.

(Silence of Consort trying to decide if the stress of finishing the book has made me take to daytime drinking.)

QUINN: So, do you know what size shoe she wears?

CONSORT: Um…a seven?

Readers, she does not wear a seven. Were he to buy a pair of shoes in a size seven, she could wear them as charms on a bracelet. But since he rarely gets her dressed in the morning, he hardly ever watches her cram her feet into shoes and then hobble around in pain, which would cause him to think “She’s grown out of her shoes, which are a certain size. Ergo, I must go to the store and get the next size up.”

Back on the phone, I clued him in to her shoe size. Enlivened by this new information, he said “Then, what size clothing does she wear?”

“Oh,” I said happily, “that’s a good question. Suffice to say, it depends on the brand, the season and the style. Are we talking about Gymboree elastic-waist shorts or are we talking a dress from Nordstroms or are we talking about narrow-leg pants from Boden? And don’t even get me started on Target…”

“Shoot, my 10:00 just walked in. I’ll see you tonight. “

His loss.

Somewhere along the way, I became the holder of the clothing information for Daughter, as well as her freshest food quirks, her vaccination schedule and the most up-to-date “Friends and Enemies” list from school. Consort knows we switched pediatricians but doesn’t remember why, nor does he exactly remember where the new pediatrician is located. In fact, his relationship with her ongoing care can be summed up by the phrase “I have no idea. Rather than screw something up, I’ll leave this in the hands of my significant other, who seems excited by this topic.”

This is exactly the same relationship I have with my car. For years we’d bring my old car in on a gurney, an IV drip of oil wheeling alongside, to Chris the esteemed mechanic. Anywhere from an hour to two days later he’d call me with the diagnoses:

CHRIS: So, the drive-shaft is hedging its defibrillator. I can flush it, but you’re still going to have ashes in the gecko.

QUINN: Uh huh…?

CHRIS: I’d suggest we throttle the chinchilla, which will save you money in the long run, and hold off on enameling the monitor.


CHRIS: Quinn? You there?

QUINN: Do the cheap one.

Later, Consort would ask me what Chris said. I would repeat what I remembered. Then he’d call Chris to find out exactly what he said. Somewhere in the last year Chris stopped calling me at all. Consort tells me what I need to know:

CONSORT: Chris called.


CONSORT: Pick it up tomorrow. And use your emergency brake every single time or I’m going to laugh at you.

And then there’s the roof. I have lived in this house for ten years; when I first bought the house, we were told the roof had been redone five years’ previously. This pleased me, and I hardly ever thought about the roof again. Like oxygen and my iPod, it’s enough for me to have it and to shudder at how uncomfortable I’d be without it.

Consort’s relationship is far more intimate. He likes the roof as much as the next family member, but hovering over our roof is a tree which sheds, in an average year, ten thousand pounds of spiky seed pods. I don’t know what sadist chose that particular tree to be anywhere near humans, but it’s a very large and pretty tree, and we love it very much, just so long as we don’t have to touch it in any way. But the seed pods drop on to the roof, and the spikes of one seed pod find another and mesh, thereby forming a larger seed pod. Do this a few thousand times, and eventually the roof is covered by one gigantic, throbbing, vengeful seed-pod. If it rains, they help to create a kind of demonic, roof-destroying swimming pool on the flat parts of the roof.

At least, this is what I am told. I have yet to get on the roof, but at least twice a year Consort gets out the big ladder and heads topside where he spends several hours flinging spiky, irregularly-shaped objects down into the green garbage bins. He knows the places where they tend to congregate, and he knows the shadowy places where the amateur wouldn’t think to look. My job is to walk out in the back yard every hour or so and ask him if he wants iced-tea.

For a while, our conventionality bothered me. Shouldn’t I, as a modern woman, not believe down deep that her car runs on mechanized hamsters and pixie dust? Shouldn’t Consort be able to identify his daughter’s pediatrician in a crowd of two? I mentioned this to Consort one night, as he made dinner. He shook his head firmly as he diced olives.

“It’s not about convention or eccentricity,” he said. “It’s about talent management. People who do things well, should do those things. I can explain to you how the car works...“

I sighed, “Oh, I really wish you wouldn’t.”

“Exactly my point,” he observed, gesturing with his chopping knife. “You don’t care about how the car works; you just want it to move. I like cars, and I like thinking about cars every once in a while. If I liked thinking about cars all the time, I’d be working for Chris. You like thinking about her wardrobe, so you keep an eye on that. If I had to think about her wardrobe, she’d have whatever she wanted, which would include those shiny heels she keeps showing me in catalogues.” I flinched. I knew those shoes. If ever a pair of shoes shouted “Mother has a long and tempestuous history with Children’s Protective Services”, it was them.

So I guess he was right. Other parents, looking at us, might think we had mindlessly settled into some parody of the Cleaver household, but we knew the truth. I had the shoes and the shots; he had the seeds and the sedan. I watched Consort spoon out three bowls of puttanesca.

“Add a few extra olives to her serving,” I said. “She’s goofy for greek olives these days.”

He spooned more olives onto her plate, and we smiled at one another.


Blogger Suzanne said...

He's right, it is all about talent management.

My husband and I have non conventional roles-I work out of the home, he's the stay at home dad. We work to our strengths. I'd drive him crazy if I wasn't working.

Look at it this way, when you recognize your strengths and work with just that knowlege, you will be less stressed. You don't have to keep up with knowing about the car or the roof because Consort will do so. He saves brain power not having to remember daughter's sizes. Sounds like a decent deal to me!

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the whole, I agree and sympathize. One warning though. Stereotypes, or more accurately, stereotypical ways of viewing others, are alive and well. Witness, for example, those awful signs that were held up at a Hillary Clinton rally or speech or something the other day. I won't repeat what was written on them, but you get the idea. If too many others witness your patterns, you may want to be ready for a patterned response, based on their (unfortunately) patterned perception.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Dodi said...

OK, I'm scared to even bring this up...

Consort chalks it up to talent management. But, so many of us moms seem to have the same "talents" when it comes to our kids. I also have the shots and shoes, Husband has the magic cars that are made possible by "hamsters and pixie dust" (you could not have phrased that more perfectly). I take care of which child likes what and which friend is acceptable at the moment, he mows the lawn and makes sure the power tools are where we need them to be. Children's daily needs have historically been viewed to be women's responsibilities. Do you think it's coincidence that the majority of the women who have children are talented in the areas of primary caregivers, while the majority of men - by coincidence - are talented with mechanics and yardwork?

Are the talents we manage predetermined?

Talent management. Nature or nurture?

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with talent management. My boyfriend and I have our own chores, they aren't listed they are a given. I resentfully do all of the laundry and fold it and put it away. He makes TONS of laundry. I decide I will wear white underwear all week to do a proper load of whites where he will insist on every hue under the rainbow, sure I am the crazy one I know. Every so often I will have a conniption as to why I always do the laundry. Which he will respond without any guile by doing laundry but his way which is wrong. However when I want to plant a particularly large tree or shrub, remodel the carriage house or anything that requires having an engineer boyfriend that knows how to use a BBQ, speak to a contractor in a tone of voice far friendlier than my own or negotiate a better price I go hide in the other room where I belong and fold clothes.

7:14 PM  
Blogger torontopearl said...

I often edit my husband's business and personal letters and emails. He often makes dinner, does carpool, takes the kids to appointments and extracurricular activities...


8:14 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I'm a strong believer in doing what your best at... my husband takes care of the cars, I handle the kid info. Now, if we only could find someone who was good at cooking and cleaning!

7:20 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

I have noticed exactly the same sort of trends in our marriage of 11 1/2 yrs. When we first married we both worked in professional jobs, both occasionally cooked, both did laundry, etc... It was a marriage of equals and we both did everything, well, everything except that I dealt with the mechanic.

Over the years we have completely transformed such that my wife is now a stay-at-home mom who does the laundry, cooks, and cleans. I am responsible for providing income, talking to the mechanic, repairing anything that breaks, and communicating with anyone over the phone. This week I learned that my responsibilities also include figuring out what to do about the increasing evidence that small rodents may be frolicking in our silverware drawer.

This shift towards "traditional" roles irked me for awhile, mainly because I think that I imagined somehow that our relationship was somehow more evolved and I was a modern, sensitive guy. I am no longer irked by the new paradigm, but I am still stunned to see that it ever happened.

7:30 AM  
Blogger Doc's Girl said...

I have been living with my boyfriend for over a year and it sometimes drives me crazy the things that I randomly just know. :) I have to just laugh. ...like remembering to send in his health insurance benefits papers even though we are unmarried and I’m not on his health insurance (because he will probably not remember that he complained all last year that it wasn’t correct).…picking up the case of energy drinks at the store (because, although he and I BOTH drink one every morning, he will not remember that the supply needs to be, you know, replenished)…and plugging his cell phone in every night when he passes out from working because I know he likes to call his parents (and me) on the long drive home from work. :-D

The list goes and on and on. :-D

I used to be challenged by knowing this random household information because I would sit and ponder, “he has an MD…and I suppose this is like having a master’s in home-ology, right?”

But, it is true that it balances out and I get a lot joy out of being the extremely productive one…especially when he comes home exhausted and just mentally drained after working a 13 hour day, opens the freezer to his favorite (low fat, low calorie, but just superb) ice cream bar that we ran out of but that I picked up on my way home…the hug I get and the him saying “wow, you know what really, really matters to me and I just can’t wait to marry you” is priceless. :-D

I thik when you have kids, you automatically get your PhD. :-P So, that won't be for a while for me. :-P (But, congrats to everyone who does, including you. :))

P.S. I get free medical advice for every scrape and muscle sprain. Hehe...:-P

I just love your blog. :) :) :)

7:38 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

As a single parent, I must be very very talented, because I do it all. Unwillingly at times, but I do it because it has to be done and who else is going to do it, the kids? I think not. I'd love to pass on the household maintenance, mostly because my old house is falling apart. I dream of having Norm Abrams come and say "Margalit, leave it to me" and next think I know my tiny little abode would be a palatial estate with a media room. A girl can dream!

12:28 PM  
Blogger landismom said...

Sometimes, I think the problem in my (hetero) marriage is that there are two 'wives', and no 'husband'. I don't wish that my dh was capable of talking to the mechanic, or climbing on the roof--I wish I was interested in doing those things--but he's not, and I'm not.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

My husband is much better at things domestic than I am.

He is also the nurturer of the children. I said: "Because I said so". A lot. He said: "Come here and let's talk". And they did.

When I say that the car is making a funny noise, he turns up the radio.

How we have lasted nearly 30 years is a mystery. If we had figured it out, we probably wouldn't have made it.

It's the mystery that's the glue.

And, even though the kids are all grown, I can still recall all of our shoe sizes. 10, 11, and 12, 13, 14.

You know what they say.

Big feet,

Big shoes.

9:21 PM  
Blogger OHN said...

You mean husbands are supposed to do stuff too????

I would love to evaporate for a month and see what would happen (or rather NOT happen) in our household. We have been in the same house for 16 years and husband still asks where things are---it's a very good thing I am a patient woman.

11:10 AM  
Blogger PowersTwinB said...

Judy is so right! "It's the mystery that's the glue"...I've been married 37+ years and the roles have reversed to the far extreme, I don't do laundry, floors or windows anymore, my hubby thinks those are his jobs now, and I would mess with that, WHY??? I do know I have had more than enough of "cooking" and I find myself loathing it now...thats the one "talent" my hubby never learned...but, now with three left-the-home-grown sons, I "play" the "it's cheaper to eat out with the two of us, than buy groceries" card...and it works 3-5 days a week...I love that line about mystery being the glue!

1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, who in your family keeps track of all of the friends and relatives in the ever-evolving address book? Who knows when everyone's birthday is? My husband's response for the last 27 years (as of next week!) was always "But you're so good at it!"

Then again, for the first dozen years he did all the cooking and it was often elaborate. I'd never cooked when I lived at home: no need and certainly, back then, no interest. My parents used to argue about who taught whom how to make pastry. Why would I interfere? One grandfather was a chef and an uncle was a chef. After years of dinner parties I got tired of having to admit that no, I didn't make the appetizer and no, not the entree and yes, hubby had made the dessert, too. What had I done? Why I'd set the table and hadn't I done a fine job? I learned to cook.

The good news about that is that it turns out I really like to cook. And it was about that time that I passed on the litter box torch.

11:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't believe I missed this one the first time around. I can relate to being the keeper of all the kiddo information that at first seems trivial, but if it fell into the wrong hands or disappeared all together... let's not go there.

My story on this topic is about the orthodontist. My Better Half was traumatized by the dentist and orthodontist as a child and teen. So much so that for our own Offspring, he happily conceded all decision making to me. This was the first and only time in our eighteen year marriage that I've been able to spend $10,000 as I saw fit. He never walked into the office for four years, until one day last year when I had a schedule conflict. He reluctantly agreed to help out.

He returned from the office with two free coffee mugs, an autographed wall calendar, a note pad, two different types of pens and the remains of the free freshly baked cookies on his chin.

"It's like Disneyland!" he declared. "And they had ice cream."

"I know," I said.

"Look at all the stuff I got!" He proudly displayed his bounty on the table.

"Yes, I see. I got a lovely plastic ruler with both standard and metric conversions when I signed all the boys' paperwork four years ago."

"Uh-huh," came the reply as he gathered his things and left the room.

1:43 PM  

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