My wife comes home at night with talk of her day, meeting Very Important People and talking about Very Important Things. Even the things she does without capital letters seem fast paced and exotic.
And what do I say about my day? “Lucy used the word ‘humongous’ today.” Lucy just turned three, so that might sound fairly impressive. “Ooh, that’s great, Lucy,” my wife chirps supportively, “I’m so proud of you!” Back to me. “What was it about?” I could offer to show her; it’s still in the diaper bin. Or not. I decide instead to make something up. I try to say… Uh, I don’t know. I go blank. Even now I can’t think of anything clever. Talking to toddlers all day, about humongous poops and which one of us is Ariel this time and can ants really talk, does not do scintillating things for the old brain box. So I shrug and say, “Oh, I can’t remember.” Which is painfully plausible.
Then I let my wife go on about her day of Saving The World From The Forces Of Evil and Other Capitalized Stuff. It’s not that I’m jealous. I have my own capital-lettered job too, after all. Staying home with the kids, as the saying goes, is The Most Important Job In The World, isn’t it. But — let’s be honest — as another saying goes, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist.
Take it from me. I used to be one. True story. There was actually a time when I didn’t have yogurt stains on my shirt. I had them on my tie. Okay, in truth, it wasn’t a yogurt stain. It just looked like one. It started as a sausage grease stain, but then I put a stain remover on it, and the stain remover made it whitish like yogurt. Had I studied plastics instead of aerospace, maybe I would have known better. On the other hand, had I studied finance or law, I wouldn’t have been wearing a cheap plastic tie in the first place.
But now it doesn’t matter what I studied. As a stay-at-home dad, I don’t use my education 99% of the time. The closest I ever came was in figuring the most efficient way to fish a wayward turd out of the bathtub. But even my vapid little mind can surmise that this particular discourse on fluid mechanics would fail to impress at the dinner table.
So what do I do to assert my Importance? What do I say to sound Interesting? “I weighed the crumbs I swept from under the table today. Four and a half ounces!” Or, “I meant to get more bananas today, but on our way home from school we saw a kitty cat! And everyone got to pet it!” Or, “I managed to fit that last coffee mug into the dishwasher when it looked like you couldn’t cram so much as another kiddie spoon. And you thought my engineering degree had gone to waste!”
I just want to have something to contribute, not that stories about ancient tie stains aren’t endlessly fascinating. Those ‘50s housewives could at least bouf up their hair and put on high heels and an au courant frock. They could simply look good. Husbands fall for that sort of thing. But I have a wife. She’s going to know I’ve totally lost it if I put my hair up in a beehive. Not that I have the hair left to do it anyway.
So all I can do is just sit there. Maybe nod sympathetically here and there. Murmur, “Mm-hmm,” or, “Uh-huh.” But I can’t really say anything. I can only listen.
Give me a moment here. I think I’m about to have an inspiration. “I can… listen.” It’s coming… it’s coming… (Ding!) It’s here! Yes! I remember hearing somewhere that women actually like it when men listen. Just listen. They hate when men are always trying to cut in with something More Important to say. At least, I think so. I’m not 100% sure. I heard it way back when I had things to say myself, so I wasn’t really listening.
So that’s it. I can become interesting by being interested. Then — I know this much — my wife will talk about it to the other wives she works with. And, oh, brother, will they listen! Next thing you know, they will mention it to their husbands and ask why they can’t be more like my wife’s husband. And then all those high powered important dudes will actually feel threatened by me.
Which is all I really want. To feel like I still matter.