When trouble brews in the henhouse
The last time I got my hair cut, my hairdresser came up with a brilliant idea. She shared that she thinks it would be beneficial for employers to host bring-your-spouse-to-work days.
“My husband gets to take a long lunch break and can go to the bathroom anytime he wants,” she explained. “I would love for him to see what my days are like. I’m on my feet all day, and I’m lucky if I can scarf down a sandwich or a piece of pizza between customers.”
I was instantly sold on her idea, which I mentioned to my husband. When I asked if he was interested, he replied, “No. I can’t write press releases or website stories. Why, do you want to come to work with me?”
“Kind of. I know I would hate it, but I think it would be neat to see what you do all day.”
He scoffed. “You wouldn’t last an hour.”
I knew he was right, so I dropped the subject.
A few weeks later, I bought Elliot a children’s book called “Three Hens and a Peacock,” a wonderful story by Lester L. Laminack. It takes place on the Tucker family farm, where they sell tomatoes and corn. Three hard-working hens also supply eggs, and the cows produce milk for customers.
Conflict arises when a beautiful peacock shows up on the farm. He simply stands at the driveway’s end, fanning his dazzling feathers for passersby, who stop and purchase the farm’s offerings.
“Day after day, more folks stopped to admire the peacock, and they all bought tomatoes and corn, eggs and milk,” the book reads. “Business on the Tuckers’ farm was booming! Everyone seemed happy to have visitors stopping by…
“…but trouble was brewing in the henhouse. The hens were squawking and clucking and flapping their wings. ‘We do all the work around here. I’d like to see that peacock lay one single egg.’
“‘Exactly. He just struts around screaming. I suppose fancy feathers are more important than laying eggs. That lazy peacock gets all the attention and we do all the work.’”
After the peacock hears the hens’ comments, he mopes, moans and groans, longing to be more useful on the farm. At the suggestion of the old hound, the peacock and the hens decide to swap jobs. The peacock will take up residence in the henhouse, while the hens get “gussied up” for the glamorous job by the road.
Much to their surprise, the hens, with their “brightest beads, bangles and bows,” do not stop traffic. And the peacock – after sucking in his tummy, wiggling from left to right and finally squeezing through the tiny henhouse door – fails at laying one single egg, despite holding his breath and pushing with all his might.
The Tuckers wonder why the peacock is in the henhouse and what the hens are doing by the road. “‘Well, the way things are going, we aren’t likely to have anyone buying eggs today,’ said Farmer Tucker. ‘We need that peacock down there stopping cars!’”
Upon hearing that, the peacock realizes he is helping. He approaches the hens, who are “all clucked out.”
“‘I can tell you I’m no good at laying eggs,’ he said. ‘I’m just not meant for it.’
“One hen nodded. ‘I put on my stellar strut and even I couldn’t stop a single car,’ she said. ‘I have to hand it to you, Fancy Feathers, your job is harder than it looks.’
“The other hens agreed. The peacock looked relieved. So the hens marched back to the henhouse. The peacock strutted down to the road…. And things were quiet again on the Tuckers’ farm.”
The first time I read “Three Hens and a Peacock,” I thought about my hairdresser and her bring-your-spouse-to-work day idea. I knew she was feeling like a hard-working hen, while she perceived her husband as a fancy peacock.
(I know hens are female chickens, so for the following analogy to work, you must disregard gender.) My husband is a hen. He works hard at his job as a restaurant manager. He is on his feet for at least 10 hours every day, sometimes 11 or 12 hours or more. He withstands high heat in the kitchen, grilling meats and eggs and dipping out side dishes. He combs the dining room, making sure guests are happy with their service and food. He deals with complaints, appeasing grumbling customers who are always right. He unloads boxes from food trucks and endures the cold temperatures in the cooler and freezer. He takes inventory and orders supplies. He hires and fires, critiques and evaluates employees.
He is a hen. I don’t know how he does it. He is absolutely right. I would drown in that environment.
Because Mike works so hard and for so long, I believe he sees me as a peacock in my job. His perception of my desk job is that I sit at a computer and write stories, sipping Diet Dr. Pepper and chatting with my co-workers about our children’s endearing qualities. I admit, I do both of those things on occasion. But I’m also out and about, on the hospital campus, interviewing physicians and researchers, shooting photos and attending meetings. No, I’m not on my feet all day. No, I don’t supervise anyone. No, I don’t do manual labor. But I still work hard, and, most of the time, my work is rewarding. I wholeheartedly believe that telling others’ stories makes a difference in the world. Despite Mike’s perception that I have the glamorous job, he realizes that he would not succeed in a communications position like mine.
All seems quiet on the Henry farm, right? Not always. Trouble occasionally brews.
Being on a restaurant schedule usually means Mike works lots of evenings and weekends and has two days off during the week. During Mike’s days off, he gets to be the peacock, building K’Nex roller coasters with Elliot and teaching Cecilia that a lion says, “ROAR!” On the weekends when I’m not working, I am home all day with our children. But being home with the kids is not all tea parties and block towers and Slip’N Slides.
On the weekends I am the lone hen. In addition to the regular parenting stuff like wiping snotty noses, changing poopy diapers and feeding hungry mouths, I am doing laundry, grocery shopping and attempting to clean. There is no “me time,” but that’s OK because I am happy to spend these hours with my offspring.
Conflict comes when my hen husband arrives home and assumes peacock mode. He is Mr. Fun, wrestling with Elliot and cuddling Cecilia. Then, he sits down at the computer. He lies on the couch and watches TV. He takes a shower by himself. HOW DARE HE? I have not gone to the bathroom without a visitor all day. I have prepared every meal with an open-mouthed, whining toddler at my feet, pining for a bite like a little bird. I think to myself, I know you’ve been on your feet for the past 12 hours, but can’t you at least clear off the dining room table so no one accidentally eats all the keys, cell phones and sunglasses lying there?
Sometimes I get really worked up about all of this. It usually comes on a day when I’ve worked my peacock job, and Mike has been home by his peacock self all day while the kids are at day care. I think, on those days, it is my turn to be the peacock at home. He can be the hen of the house. I am a mean peacock though. I know I fit pretty well in our henhouse and he has to squeeze his fancy feathers into it. So I stand outside the henhouse and watch and wait. Just the other day as Mike was loading the dishwasher, I just so happened to be walking by, and I noticed a spoon that had clearly not been rinsed properly. I retrieved it from the dishwasher and threw it back into the sink. “You need to rinse that spoon again.”
But here’s the thing about hens and peacocks – sometimes you’re a hen, and sometimes you’re the peacock. And so is everybody else. Sometimes you are both a hen and a peacock in the same day. Sometimes when you feel like a hen, another hen might perceive you as a peacock.
Both jobs are specialized. Both jobs are demanding in their own ways. Both jobs are important. If you’re having a hen day, cut the peacock a break. And when you’re the peacock, offer a “thank you” to a hen. I’m trying to do the same.
Originally published on ovparent.com.