I have always felt like I was missing something the rest of the world has. I don’t know what you would call it – “common sense,” “wisdom,” or more slangily, a “clue” – I just was born without it. I really do wish there were such a thing as home remedies for cluelessness or outright stupidity. I could certainly use some. When it comes to learning from a lecture or memorizing facts from a book, I do okay. In fact, I did more than okay in school – I did pretty well. But when it comes to common-sense things, I just don’t have that all-important clue.
When I was 25, which is not that young, I got a job interning for the summer at Exxon in Irving, Texas. Those were the days before Exxon was Exxon-Mobil, to give you a sense of how long ago that was. Oh heck, I’ll just say it: it was the summer of 1997. Our first day at work, we interns were invited to lunch by the Exxon Treasury executives. At a table of about a dozen people, which included the then-Treasurer of Exxon and the then-Assistant Treasurer, I managed to spill a large glass of iced tea. Now that in itself is not really stupid, it’s just clumsy. What’s stupid is what I said about it…I said, fully thinking it would be funny, “Oops! I did a Valdez! Hahahahha!” Except, no one else laughed. At all. I mean, you could have heard a bead of sweat trickle down my back in the silence that followed.
After about 20 seconds of the most uncomfortable, sweaty silence I have ever experienced, the Assistant Treasurer said, “Mare, we don’t joke about that around here.” And then came 30 minutes of lecture about how unfair the media coverage was, how they used the same oil-slick covered seal over and over again, how onerous the $5 billion in punitive damages were, especially when Exxon had already paid to clean up the spill, how it was an isolated incident caused by a rogue employee, etc. etc. Oh my goodness. I felt so stupid, so small, and so hopeless about my chances of getting offered a permanent job there. It was my first day on the job, and I had already committed a Valdez-sized CLM: “Career-Limiting Move.”
Now, every single time I have told that story – which is 100+ times – my listeners have unanimously cringed in sympathy with me or outright laughed at my cluelessness, or both. Everybody, to a person, knew that that was the wrong thing to say, that the Exxon executives would be sensitive to comments about the Valdez, or at the very least, not be able to laugh about it. So why didn’t I!?! If everyone in the world knows that I shouldn’t have said that, then where was I when God was handing out clues?!?!
Fast forward to 14 years later, I’m married. I’m a Mom. I’m 39, with 40 looming large in front of my face. Wouldn’t you think I’ve collected a few clues by now? Nope. Remember last week, when I said my baby had woken up many times in the night crying and screaming in pain, and that she had symptoms that reminded me of colic when she was 4 weeks old – i.e., the arching back, the taut stomach, etc. etc.? Well, I realize now that I caused that! How? I fed her Green Curry Roti! Green Curry, as in hot, spicy, Thai curry. Everyone I’ve told that to has been horrified, or laughed, or laughed in a horrified way, at me for doing that. “Don’t you know you can’t feed a baby spicy foods?” “She’s only a baby! Her digestive tract can’t take all that spice!” O. M. G. How did I not know that? Why does everyone else know that? And there I was, so proud of having fixed her “reflux-like” symptoms, when I was the one who gave her heartburn in the first place.
The thing is, you cannot learn these things from a book. There’s no manual out there that says you should not mention the “Valdez” lightheartedly in front of Exxon executives. And yet everybody in the world knows not to do that. There’s no guide out there about what to feed (and what not to feed) your baby, and yet all other Moms seem to be doing just fine. And since I seem to only be able to learn things from books, I think I’m probably hosed. If anyone out there has any ideas for me on how I can jump on the clue train, or has any home remedies for sheer stupidity, please, please, PLEASE…enlighten me!!