One of the reasons I like telling stories is that I enjoy the connections involved. One story leads to another, which invokes a few others for good measure, and soon the whole business is snowballing into something grand. Of course, stories are usually referred to as threads, which would transform the snowball image into a giant tangled knot, but we’ll pretend that the knot is a desirable bonus. The convention is for writers to talk about weaving tapestries–here tapestries are especially fancy knots–but that might be too grandiose for my particular style. I’ll settle for a more colloquial cloth product. How about socks? Let me knit for you a story sock.
My wife had taken me out for dinner on my birthday, and the evening had been going pretty well until I left for the restroom. Our toddler didn’t approve of that choice–she still preferred to use her pants and probably thought I was being unreasonable for not using mine–so she went a little crazy. Then I went a little crazy. Her craziness consisted of yelling and crying; I danced, which was probably worse.
Unsurprisingly, the restaurant’s other patrons didn’t appreciate the sudden end to their peaceful evening. If they thought that perhaps the peace would return, they were doomed to disappointment. The show was just starting.
Story Thread #1
To understand what happened next though, you need to know a bit about our trouble with spoons. As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I have different preferences about nearly everything. Baby spoons became an unexpected flashpoint for this ongoing feature of our marriage. I preferred thinner flatter spoons–spoons shaped like oars–because I could feed my daughter with them but not make a mess, even when she squirmed. My wife preferred rounder deeper spoons–spoons shaped like ladles–because she was weird and wrong.
Unlike most similar disagreements however, we had actually managed to find a few special spoons that we both would grudgingly accept. We didn’t actually like them–spoon shape is far too important an issue to allow for compromise–but we could resign ourselves to using them occasionally. Whenever we went out and about, those were the spoons that we packed since we didn’t know who would have the responsibility of feeding our daughter.
Thus, during the initial calm of dinner, one of those precious spoons had been deployed to the table.
Story Thread #2
Then came the tantrum, after which my wife and I decided that we had earned ice cream for having survived. As parents we’ve really perfected the art of celebrating small victories. Also we celebrate any defeat that isn’t entirely ignominious. (Sadly, we don’t get to celebrate very often.) This night we figured we had cause, so I went to fetch some delicious ice cream, throwing out a portion of our heretofore amassed garbage en route. I was trying to be helpful.
It will help if I explain something: we have very specific restaurant table roles, developed by practice dealing with our nearly opposite temperaments. I throw out garbage; my wife packs up our belongings. No good comes from collapsing that division. When I try to pack, I reduce our diaper bag from a brilliant system of categorized pockets to a giant sack full of junk. When my wife tries to throw out garbage…. Well, she reveals an unfathomable set of personal boundary issues, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I threw out some of our garbage, just to decrease the amount of possible trouble in front of our daughter. I figured that we’d need some space in which to eat our ice cream comfortably. What I didn’t realize was that I’d neglected to express this vision to my wife. When she saw me take garbage, she assumed it was time to pack and that I intended for us to eat our ice cream either at home or on the road.
I hadn’t taken all of the garbage however. I had only thought to take what lay in reach of our daughter; I gave no thought to keeping it away from my wife. She found it and threw it away. If that doesn’t sound foreboding, you’re not respecting our table roles enough. No good comes from collapsing the division of our roles.
When she returned to our table, the spoon was missing.
Story Thread #3
Meanwhile, I had gone to fetch ice cream from a different part of the restaurant. I would try to describe the distance that had opened between my wife and I, but it varies depending upon who you ask. From my wife’s perspective, we could have held hands. From my perspective, we could have been on different planets.
I should explain that my wife and I have different estimations of when certain sorts of communication are appropriate. I think that yelling might be forgivable if a person is on fire, although I would want to establish specific qualifications that both the person and the fire would need to satisfy. For example, a person might be allowed to yell if a fire had spread to at least two articles of his or her clothing, but only if he or she had already attempted to extinguish the fire via dropping and rolling. I think that people who are not on fire at all should be not on fire quietly.
On the other hand, my wife thinks yelling is fine as long as at least one member of the conversation is alive. Thus, when she discovered our dearth of spoon, she figured that we could still effectively converse about it even though we were in very different parts of the restaurant.
Suddenly, by the ice cream, I hear yelling: “The spoon is missing!” At once all eyes in the place were upon us, and most of them didn’t look friendly. I could almost feel everyone thinking, “These people again?”
Being a shy person by default, and having already acted like a lunatic, I was content to mourn the loss of the spoon in private. However, my wife took my silence as evidence either that I hadn’t heard her or hadn’t understood her, so she shouted again, “Do you know what happened to it?”
I couldn’t think of a way to escape; I had to yell back.
So there we were, yelling back and forth to each other about our missing spoon, disturbing everyone in the restaurant again. It was particularly unfortunate that we attracted everybody’s attention too, because then a weird thing happened.
I’m not sure if my reticence to yell made me answer my wife in unsatisfying ways, or if she was merely determined not to lose one of the few spoons we could both use. She had concluded that we must have thrown it out by mistake, because our garbage routine had been disturbed. Suddenly, and before I could process the thought of anyone doing this outside of a rare detention-level escape attempt, she dove head first into the garbage can in search of lost treasure.
Okay, she actually just poked her head into the garbage can and rifled around a bit. Still, from the looks we both got at the moment, she might as well have climbed in and started singing show tunes. I suppose that it isn’t appetizing to watch someone sift through trash.
Naturally, she had simply packed the spoon away in the diaper bag already. She found it there a minute later. It might have been better to lose it, though. That spoon played a crucial role in this disaster’s final act.
In part 4, our daughter gets the last laugh.