I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: My military husband was trained for war and managing people who all have the same haircut.
This partly explains why he consistently takes the bottle of mustard from the condiments shelf but puts it back in the vegetable drawer or some other unlikely place. (More on this later.) It also creates trouble when he comes home and the children and I do not behave — or even think like — soldiers.
Imagine spending your entire workday with people who call you “sir,” and then eating dinner with a 3-year-old who butters his roll with a spoon and has sideburns down to his earlobes. At the end of the business day, it is fair to say that Dustin leaves one planet and enters a new one.
Which isn’t to say that Dustin and his “planet” are smarter than we are. They are a different kind of smart. Dustin went to the Naval Academy and has a degree in systems engineering. That doesn’t mean he knows how to scramble an egg or navigate his Facebook account.
My Navy dad once was the captain of an aircraft carrier, but he still needed me to figure out his cell phone and beeper. In this way, it has been my experience that some of the smartest people (in the traditional sense) are the most clueless of ordinary things.
Take ramekins, for example. In case you are like Dustin, ramekins are small bowls with straight sides used for making certain desserts and side items. I use them to make individual chicken pot pies. One day, while I was preparing my recipe, I said out loud, “I wonder if I have enough ramekins for this.”
Dustin was reading the newspaper at the table. He looked up and said, “I’m sorry, rammy-whats?”
“Ramekins,” I said, my head deep inside a kitchen cabinet.
“I have no idea what you are talking about.” Dustin said. “I’ve never even heard that word.”
I came back out of the cabinet and stared at him. “But you’ve eaten out of one.”
He looked confused. “It’s something you eat out of?”
I found a ramekin and showed it to him.
“That’s a small bowl,” he said.
“No, it’s a ramekin.”
Later he asked, “Is the word ‘ramekin’ something that you deliberately learned? Did someone go out of their way to teach you that? Or is it just something you knew?”
He was sincerely concerned about the fact that he had made it to the age of 35 without knowing about ramekins. It’s debatable which thing bothered him more: that he had never heard of a ramekin, or that I was keeping a “secret stash” of them in the kitchen.
Dustin was all caught up in the ramekin dilemma for several weeks. “Where do you learn these things?” he asked me several times. Apparently, for all of Dustin’s intelligence, it is incredibly easy to impress him. You should see how smart I appear when I find his “lost keys” on the table beside the front door.
During this time, we had company several weekends in a row. Dustin asked all of them, “If I say ‘ramekin,’ what do you think of?” Most people thought it was a trick question. Their confused faces seemed to be saying, “Maybe ‘ramekin’ is an engineering term, too?”
On one of these occasions, we were actually eating out of ramekins. During dinner, Dustin said far too many times than necessary, “This ramekin is perfect for chicken pot pie.” And, “Ramekins are so useful, don’t you think?”
Again, our guests looked confused. Dustin was acting like an 8-year-old who has just learned the proper use of the word “sarcastic” and goes out of his way to fit it into a sentence. I mean, really, how do you build on a conversation about ramekins?
Then, last week, I asked Dustin to put some leftovers in the fridge. He got a casserole dish from the cabinet and said, “I’m just going to take this large ramekin here and fill it with some leftovers to be put in the fridge.”
Ford, 9, said, “That’s too big to be a ramekin, Dad. Ramekins are small bowls.”
Dustin looked at me and said, “I give up. How do you all know these things? When did HE learn what a ramekin is?”
I could see that Dustin needed to regain a degree of familiarity. He was like a foreigner in a strange land. He had tried to make sense of our world at home, and he had failed. After all this time, he still did not understand the difference between a ramekin, a bowl and a casserole dish. So I offered him some encouragement: “Dustin, why don’t you go figure out why those ramekins retain heat so well.” And then, because I knew that would not take him very long, I added: “Also, could you help me find my dicing mandoline?”
It’s good to keep him on his toes.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at email@example.com.