Out of My Mind – Job Security

As long as you think you’re the one in charge, you’re the boss, right? Not necessarily.

 Three bearded faces watched from the door as we pulled out of the driveway. Before we were out of sight, two (of the small, four-legged variety) disappeared after being distracted by a squirrel, and I watched my husband sigh and walk away with a slight limp as he closed the door behind us.

Even though I knew that in short order, the house that I had left spotlessly clean and tidy would soon look like a frat house, with the volume of the television’s Western Channel at its maximum, all the toilet seats up, and an empty carton of butter pecan ice cream abandoned on the kitchen counter, I still felt bad about abandoning my husband to accompany our daughter to a conference in the sunshine state.

Adding to my guilt was the fact that my beloved was sporting a boot the size of a small child from foot surgery a couple of weeks prior, and would be on his own to wrangle the two wire-haired wiener dogs up and down a steep flight of stairs at least once a day. Although his practice run of the task, scooting up the stairs on his rear end while balancing the writhing miniature sausages had me laughing out loud, I had visions of arriving home to find him and the hot-dogs in a pile at the bottom.

I also worried that he’d be an emaciated sack of bones after four days. His survival skills could give Bear Grylls a run for his money in deepest, darkest Africa, and for most of his life he ran complicated multi-million dollar projects, but I knew that his mind turned to mush when trapped in a two story brick house. When I used to travel for work, I’d stock the pantry and pack the refrigerator with home-made dinners and desserts, only to return to find a full refrigerator and a trash can full of Burger King wrappers.

The following is a transcript of a real conversation:

“Why didn’t you heat up the casserole I left for you, or at least fix a sandwich?”

“I couldn’t find the bread.”

This time would be different. Without being able to drive, he was really trapped, and Burger King doesn’t deliver. This time, his life might truly depend on his ability to locate and prepare sustenance. When planning for his stint as a shut-in, I remembered one of the very few times in my childhood that my parents left my brother and me with a babysitter. We were devastated at being left, until my mother produced two magical TV dinners that were as unexpected and rare as a go-go dancer at a church social. Our eyes were still glued to the colorfully boxed aluminum trays of frozen cuisine as my parents quietly slipped out the door.

Using this same strategy, I had left the refrigerator loaded with exotic frozen selections like Salisbury steak and unnaturally yellow corn, and parmesan chicken pot pie with broccoli instead of the green peas I knew he disdained. Meatloaf with green beans, chicken fried steak with oddly unidentifiable vegetables, macaroni and cheese from the refrigerated section of the supermarket, and enough baked potatoes to last a week in Ireland rounded out the dinner selections.

When I laid out all these treasures and mapped out their location in the freezer, I was a little hurt by the way his eyes lit up like a kid at Christmas, but relieved to know that if he could find the microwave, he wouldn’t starve. I’m not sure whether it is the nurturer in me, or the bossy pants I wear that make me feel the need to cover all the bases when I’m not around. Either way, I’ve spoiled him, and have no one to blame but myself.

But who is really driving the bus here? I know that he could learn the sequence of the electronic controls on the washing machine if he wanted to, and that if he put his mind to it, he’d easily figure out all the buttons on the television’s remote controls. After all, he’s the one who taught me a lot of what I know about running things when he’s away.

It’s likely that I’ve been played, and if I’m honest, I have to admit that I’m wise to his game. He figured out a long time ago just how much I like think I’m in charge, and has very wisely let me think that I am.  When I look back at all the times I’ve smacked myself in the forehead and wondered how he finished kindergarten, I realize that by making me think that he can’t possibly live a normal, functioning life without me, he’s given me the illusion that I can do anything – the kind of job security that money can’t buy, the kind of success that can’t be guaranteed at any Fortune 500 company, and the kind of confidence that can’t be learned in any self-help course. Turns out, he’s a pretty smart guy.

We hear the television long before we see the three bearded faces at the door when we turn into the driveway four days later. The two four-legged owners bark their brains out for a minute before taking off after a squirrel, and the third limps a little as he throws open the door to greet us. Inside, just as I thought, the toilet seats are all up, and there are blobs of ice cream on the kitchen counter. He doesn’t look starved, and all the frozen dinners are gone from the freezer.

“Thank goodness you’re home,” he says. “I can’t get the TV to change channels.”

I wipe off the counters, turn on the washing machine, and smile. No matter which of us is fooling the other, it’s good to know that my job is secure for the long haul.

By Susan Frampton