Brussel Sprouts for Two Please
As I stepped onto the airport tram I found myself in the middle of a family discussion. A tussled-haired boy somewhere close to 9 responded to an endless stream of statements from the parents in a tone that varied from contempt to distress, “I don’t care.” The words may have attempted confidence, but his eyes betrayed him. He did care – a whole lot.
My internal smirk wasn’t directed at the immediate situation, but the realization that every couple plays the proverbial game of I Don’t Care at least once a day – and probably multiple times over any given weekend. At my house, the game begins daily about 3:30. The Skype message pops up with clock-like precision. “What’s for dinner?” My response really hasn’t changed much in 20 years of marriage. “I don’t know, what do you want?” I’m sure you can anticipate the next exchange. Without much effort we start down the same path of the 9 yr. old boy. “I don’t care.”
The messages will volley back/forth waiting for someone to break form and finally declare a cuisine. Anything really just to end the endless conversation. “Fine, let’s grab Mexican.” “No, I had that for lunch.” So you do care. We could have shaved five minutes off of this exchange if you’d simply said “Had Mexican for lunch, so anything else is fine.” But we don’t. “I don’t care” seems to be what we say when we really don’t want to say anything. No skin in the game. If the decision isn’t the best, not my fault I didn’t choose “this” place.
As a former speech/debate coach this has to be #1 on my pet peeve list. Communication is almost an art form. Crafting your message to ensure the audience clearly understands your message. The pen can be mightier than the sword, after all. It does take effort, it does require a little skin in the game, and the person you’re speaking with should be worth that effort. I found a short-cut or fast track way to end the “I Don’t Care” game in our house – at least related to dinner.
If there is one food my husband hates, it would be Brussel sprouts. There is no “if”. He hates them. He cannot stand the smell of them. Slimy, squishy, snotty mucous blobs masquerading as a vegetable would be one of his more polite descriptions. You can grill them, fry them, sauté them. My brother-in-law marinates them in a sea salt/garlic sauce before grilling them wrapped in bacon. My husband still will not eat them.
When the game begins and he throws “I don’t care” across the net – I quickly and consistently respond, “Great, Cheddars has steamed brussel sprouts as an appetizer and I’m sure we can find something after that.” Game over. It is like our code word. When I know he isn’t really putting effort into a response or giving me a ½ response I’ll regret following later, I just ask if “it” (whatever we are talking about) involves brussel sprouts. Message received and we can then have a real conversation about what we really want. There are times when what we have for dinner doesn’t matter. I get it. But it should always matter that you are willing to express your opinion and not hide behind a platitude.