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Men and Their Missing Gerbils

I study moms all day long. And – in all honesty – something they often complain about is dads.

They’re less-than-no-good at the family breakfast routine, they don’t always understand our deep-seated doubt, and their repeated ability to pee on a toilet seat is beyond comprehension.

Men aren’t perfect. They’ve got some growth opportunities in the realm of manhood, husband-hood, and fatherhood. But let’s hit pause on the less-than-helpful story we keep telling ourselves and take a minute to turn it around. Let’s look at something men don’t have that’s remarkable and beautiful: They don’t have gerbils going round and round on running wheels in their minds.

A few years back, my husband and I were on vacation, and I watched a situation play out in full Mexican color that demonstrated the profound absence of gerbils and running wheels.

I woke up early one morning to save the best seats by the pool. Of course, the resort had signs all over the place strictly prohibiting this kind of behavior (racing down to the pool groggy-eyed and tired, dropping off your multi-colored beach towels, and going back to bed), but I didn’t care. I’ve never been much of a rule follower. We were in Cabo – without our children – and by-gosh, we were going to have the best seats in the house as we watched this kid-free vacation unfold.

While saving our seats, I took a minute to sit on the lounge chair and projected in my mind the amazing day we were going to have – laughing and talking and lovingly applying suntan lotion all over each other’s backs. I knew it was a lie – he’d be glued to his iPad all day and I’d be glued to the newest addition to my self-help book library. But, hey, a girl can daydream!

My fairytale of a daydream was quickly interrupted when we returned to our hard-fought seats to find a nearby couple blasting country music.

Uh-oh. This wasn’t going to end well.

While I adore country music, my husband (born and raised in Switzerland) does not share my affinity for the genre. He has said on many occasions that the lyrics make him feel “overly sad and angry—and who wants to feel that way?”

He immediately looked over at me and said, “I’m going to have to say something.”

Oh. Lord.

And they’re off! It’s like the gerbils in my mind heard a starter’s pistol and bolted – racing to nowhere on their teeny, tiny running wheels.

Years ago, my girlfriends and I came up with this metaphor for the chaos of hyper-scrutiny that occurs in our minds when we start to stew, project, and worse-case-scenario the heck out of everyday situations.

Poolside in Cabo, I immediately started projecting how this situation was going to end, despite the fact that it hadn’t even remotely begun.

It’s amazing. In forty-seven seconds, the gerbils helped me envision three very different, but equally horrible outcomes:

1.This 250-pound man-of-a-man (who could easily punt kick us both across the pool) is going to start yelling at my husband, calling him horrible names, and causing the entire poolside audience to think we’re lamer than lame.

2. The guy’s going to refuse to turn off the music, my husband will get upset, and we’re going to have to move to a crappy set of seats that are only open because the rule followers are still sleeping.

3. I’m going to feel horrible every time we see this couple around the resort, and I’ll go out of my way to smile and make small talk so that they don’t
think we’re jerks.

Man, those gerbils are fast!

When I sat up in my chair, scoping out where we would move to and how long it would take us to haul all our stuff there, I spotted my husband walking over to the music man.

Since it was a short walk, I only had time to blurt out, “Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease be nice, Honey!”

Richard: “Hey man, I don’t mean to be a pain, but is there any way you can turn it down?”

Music Man: “Oh, yeah, sorry about that, man. Of course – no problem.”


And the gerbils collapsed on their running wheel, looping around it in defeat. The very dramatic, day-ruining, geesh-we’re-horrible-people event was over in under three seconds.

Handled like many men are wired to handle things – quickly and honestly.

As I sat in stunned silence, I thought about how, when presented with a problem, my instinct was to stew on it and project horrible endings to the situation, while my husband’s instinct was to simply go solve it.

Men aren’t perfect. And neither are we. Every once in a while, it’s nice to look at what they don’t have in a positive light, as a lesson to be learned.

Men don’t live in their minds (many of them anyway). They live in the real world. Can you even imagine such a thing?

Katherine Wintsch is a nationally recognized expert on modern motherhood, founder of The Mom Complex in Richmond, and author of “Slay Like a Mother.” The majority of her expertise comes from studying the passion and pain points of mothers around the world. The rest, she says, is accumulated from a little trial and a whole lot of error while raising her own two children, Layla and Alex.
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