Monday, November 1, 2010

Why details matter

Say you're a business executive planning a trip--let's hypothetically assume to Japan--for a week.  You will be working hard: long hours and lots of seminars and presentations, not to mention the nine to midnight workday expected of a Salaryman in Tokyo.  You're will be tired and stressed.

Your wife will be at home with your four young daughters.  While you are gone, she will be Mommy and Daddy and taxi driver and disciplinarian and cook and cleaner and laundress and negotiator and tutor and activity director, plus about 10,000 other things all rolled into one.  Above all, she will be trying to keep things structured and running smoothly for the kids.  She will be tired and stressed.

Your kids will alternate between going about their day-to-day activities, missing you terribly, and being angry with Mommy for not being Daddy.  They will be tired and stressed. 

But the one thing everyone will be looking forward most of all--yourself included--is the day you return home.  In fact, your family will be making a Big Deal about how many days are left until Daddy comes home.  Seven days, six days...  Until finally it's only one. more. day.

On The Day, your wife will figure out which flight you are supposed to be on based upon what you told her: "It's the only flight from Japan to Los Angeles that day--it lands around one."

She and your daughters will track your flight on FlightAware, watching as your plane arches over the Pacific ("Like a rainbow," PartyGirl will squeal) and down the California coast.  Everyone will cheer as they watch your plane land at LAX.

"Only about two hours now," your wife will tell the girls.  "You can stay up until Daddy gets home."

So will begin the wait.  First the wait for your phone call, telling your family that you've arrived safely.  When that hasn't come after an hour, your wife will try to call you.  When her call goes straight to voice, she'll assume that your battery is dead.

"That's okay,"  she'll reassure the girls.  "He'll be here in another hour or so."

After nearly two hours, the girls will be getting wild with tired anticipation.  Finally, in a fit of pique, your wife will order everyone to nap, even the big girls who really don't need one.

Then she'll be left alone with her one question:  What has happened to you?  Is it too early to be concerned?  Maybe Customs took a long time, maybe the traffic is bad, maybe...?  But no, it's surely too soon to worry and she's being silly.  After all, it's only been three hours since you landed.  She'll try to wait patiently, but she will keep finding herself walking by the front window, hoping to see that airport shuttle pulling up.

When the girls wake up from nap it will be nearly five and, while she will chide herself a little for overreacting, she will know that if she doesn't do something now it will be too late.  Corporate America will shut down for the weekend in 15 minutes.  She searches for the phone numbers you left her of your Japanese contacts.  She will try to call, only to find out that she can't call Japan on her phone.  She will look for the number of your boss, your carpool buddy, anyone...  Should she call the airlines?  The Embassy?  The police?  What do you do when your husband doesn't come home from across the world?

Finally she will call your office.  Your wife will explain her missing husband situation ("What must they think about our relationship?" your wife will think, her cheeks burning).  The receptionist won't know who could help. 

"Can you transfer me to whomever bought the tickets?" your wife will plead.

"I think there's someone still in purchasing," the receptionist will sigh.

Now your wife will have to explain her missing husband situation to a new person.  The burning in her cheeks will be the same. 

The new person, the head of purchasing, will ask a lot of questions that your wife won't have answers for:  Requisition number...? Account number...?  Authorization number...?

Finally an answer:  He is scheduled to return on Saturday, October 30th.

"October 30th," your wife will repeat.  "That's tomorrow."

Your wife will hold her tears until after she's hung up with the head of purchasing.  She will hold them until she tries to explain to your daughters that Daddy isn't coming home today, but he'll be home tomorrow.  She will say it in a hopeful chirpy voice, hoping that they'll all just be like, "Okay, tomorrow it is then."

But they will all wail and cry and scream that it isn't fair and why did Daddy lie to us?

And as your wife also cries, she will tell them that Daddy didn't know, it was a mistake, but he'll be home tomorrow, it's okay, sometimes these things happen and we get to have another girls' night, isn't that fun?

The next day when you land exhausted after your week in Japan, you will probably wonder why your wife doesn't answer the first time you call.  Or the second.  In fact, she will probably not call you back until nearly an hour after you land.

And when she does, her greeting will be, "What day is it?"


So, were you this hypothetical wife (HW) what would you have done?

(As a side note, HW had asked hypothetical husband (HH) numerous times for an actual physical itinerary--you know, in case something happens...  HH was not big on The Details and kept insisting that there was only one flight and he would be on it.)

In this hypothetical situation, HW first composed email after discarded email trying to express how upset she and hypothetical children were by the mistake, but everything she wrote just seemed bitchy and bitter so she gave up. 

She eventually called her mom and whined and complained.  Her mom told her to get over it by the next day when HH came home and HW tried, because, after all it was a mistake and the important thing was that HH husband was okay and he would be home.

But when HW asked HH what day it was, HH answered Friday.  And when HH was told that it was actually Saturday, HH seemed somewhat amused--like, Oh really? That's strange!. 

HW tried to explain just how upset everyone was by the easily preventable mistake, but then she felt all bitchy and bitter again.  So instead of just feeling bitchy and bitter, HW decided to actually be bitchy and bitter and told HH that thanks to his mistake there would be no sex, since her period had started that. very. morning.  (which it had) so... nosexforyou

Then HW proceeded to have very detailed nightmares about what life would be like after HH left her for a less bitchy, less bitter, more sexy wife.

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