Brand building through storytelling

It’s not my problem

Liberation means no more search and rescue.

The airport limousine was waiting at the door and for once we were ready to go. Bags packed, fridge cleaned out, just-in-case phone numbers left with all and sundry. I checked my passport for the hundred and nineteenth time as my husband muttered, “That reminds me! Better grab my passport.” I allowed 30 seconds for this.

He’s a place-for-everything guy whose passport occupies a certain pocket of a leather portfolio, to which he promptly returns it after every vacation. So why was he suddenly tearing the place apart?

“Where was it when you last saw it?” I asked. I told myself this couldn’t be happening. A good 15 minutes of stomach-churning mayhem went by, until there was nowhere left to look. At the thought of the plane taking off for Amsterdam without us, I threw myself on the floor and sobbed.

Then clarity dawned. Whose problem was this, anyway? I said, “I’m getting on the plane no matter what. When you find your passport, meet me in Amsterdam.”

He found it soon enough once I was on my way (right portfolio, wrong pocket). And he caught up with me in 22 hours. More than anything we saw or did on that thoroughly successful trip, I remember the sheer exhilaration of sipping faux champagne at 30,000 feet and trusting my husband to solve his own problem. In the process, I began to solve a problem of my own—an urge to control what’s not mine to control.

I’ve shared this story with a good many women. Typical response: a gasp, then laughter. No need to ask how they’d handle the missing passport–they couldn’t wait to tell me. They might fume, they might curse, they’d most definitely punish their man, but they wouldn’t dream of boarding a plane when they could—correction: should—be masterminding a search. And if they’d been the ones with the missing passport (not likely, given the average woman’s obsession with anticipating every glitch that might waylay her family), they’d expect their men to stay right by their side, gamely rattling the drawers. For better, for worse, and all that.

The only person who understood exactly why I left was my husband, an eminently practical guy. He knew he was lucky to get me out the door (nothing slows down a search like the baleful gaze of someone who wants it all wrapped up 10 minutes ago).

Besides, after many years of marriage, he could picture the alternative scenario—the one that nearly happened. The frowns and sighs, the recasting of the problem as a Teachable Moment: “The best time to find your passport is a week before the trip.” Then the litany of sights we’d have to miss on our cruelly truncated holiday: “There’s no way we’ll get to The Hague to see The Girl with a Pearl Earring, but since we’re stuck here, we might as well clean the basement.”

I should have realized long ago that I’ve got enough problems of my own without shouldering everybody else’s. But then, setting other people straight is a time-honoured female habit. Chances are you know the drill. Someone asks, “Got a minute?” and there goes the next half hour. “Where do we keep the tea towels?” Better drop everything and find them.

And of course there are the childrearing years, a time when it makes sense to keep a close eye on someone else’s problems. I had a toddler who kept discovering an urgent need to pee once I’d zipped him into his snowsuit. Like every mom (and a growing number of dads), I learned not to take out the snowsuit without first asking, “Do you need to pee?”

These days I go places with a caring and responsible adult, yet I still ask faintly mom-ish questions: “Have you got your sunglasses/road map/baseball cap?” One day I’ll stop forgetting that gift shops teem with this stuf; then my husband won’t have to tell me, “You’re nagging again.”

For inspiration, I think of our reunion at the canal-side hotel in Amsterdam. I awoke from jet-lagged slumber to the clatter of my husband’s suitcase. He fell into the bed with a drowsy kiss while I headed for the Anne Frank House, knowing that, alone, I could take my sweet time there and then check out the neighbourhood boutiques. By dinnertime, I’d have found us the perfect cafe. Problem, what problem?

First published in Chatelaine, October Halloween, 2006. Copyright by Rona Maynard.


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