"I know you have thousands of things to do dear, but I'm running late for a meeting in Manhattan and I'll never find parking. Do you think you could drive me?"

"Sure!" said my wife. "Let me just grab a sweater and the keys and I'll meet you outside."

"Too good to be true," I thought. "If we don't hit traffic, I won't be more than five minutes late."

Within a moment or two, I was settling into the van and we were on our way.

I don't often ride in the van. That's her car. That's the family car. I have my own car.

So there I was, sitting in the passenger seat -- an alien location for me -- gliding along the Gowanus Expressway, just praying that New York City traffic would somehow go to recess for a half an hour or so, so I could make my meeting on time.

The scream I let out caused both of us to jump.

"12:55?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!"

I had looked at the clock on the dashboard and could not believe how late it was. Where had the time gone? There was no way I was going to make that meeting.

"No, no, no!" cried the wife, muffling her laugh. "It's not 12:55. I always keep my clock in the car a few minutes ahead."

"Whew...er...you scared the wits out of me. Do you happen to know the real time," I inquired watchlessly (sic)?

"Sure," she said peering at her wristwatch, "it's 12:33."

I did some very swift subtraction.

"Do you mean that you keep your clock 22 MINUTES FAST????"

This time my wife laughed out loud.

"I guess so," is all she could say.

I lifted the lever on my right and my seat jerked back a good six inches. I closed my eyes. The Toyota hummed along, thru the Battery Tunnel, and up the West Side Highway. Recess was indeed in effect. We didn't talk much. I was trying to assimilate the mini-event that had just transpired.

It's not like I had never met anyone who kept his clock or watch ahead of the actual time. It is perfectly acceptable practice. But 22 minutes did seem a trifle excessive. I mean, what exactly is the point of keeping one's clock any minutes ahead? Don't they know that the real time is actually earlier? Who are they fooling? Do they pretend to forget? Does it really help them be more on time?

I decided to keep my ponderings to myself. (Hint: this is often a very good idea.)

But it did get me to realize that when I become frustrated because the woman in my life seems not to be living in the same time zone as me, I am missing the essential message. The way I see it, God created man and woman with different skills, aspirations and responsibilities. He also created us with different commandments.

Women are not required to wear tzizit or tefillin. Women do not have to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashana or sit in a sukkah, though many do fulfill the obligations anyway. The common denominator? These are all positive commandments that are fixed by time requirements.

While many women today excel in sectors outside the home, their prime craft has always been as keepers of the family sanity and security. Sure, I can hold up the fort upon occasion, and in certain cases, I can almost be the Splenda of the house. But there really is no substitute for the real thing.

If keeping her clock 22 minutes fast in some ways helps her balance her beyond-hectic schedule, I've got to accept that -- whether it makes sense to me or not.

When caring for the needs of everyone around you is truly your chief focus and objective, commandments restricted by timely observance simply cannot be adhered to. It would be a contradiction of the highest terms. You just cannot abandon your kids because the shofar is calling. And thus, the clock must become a non-factor. It's called, priorities.

The complexities of my wife's responsibilities must, at times, render the clock moot. And if keeping her clock 22 minutes fast in some ways helps her balance her beyond-hectic schedule, I've got to accept that -- whether it makes sense to me or not. That's part of what it means to care.

I'M STRANGE TOO

I trekked home by train later that evening, satisfied that I better understood my wife's perspective about time (ironically, it was she that got me to my appointment on time, while I was the late one).

Famished, I walked in the door and I remembered that my wife had several work and school-related appointments in the late afternoon and would be running out for two other functions immediately after dinner. I said a silent prayer, hoping she had somehow managed to squeeze in a few moments to prepare one of her great meals (she is an incredible cook).

Sure enough, the aroma was wafting through the living room as I made my way to the kitchen. The kids were converging around the table as it was going through its final stages of being set. This was going to be a rushed meal, but I was grateful to have one. I sat down and peered out at the table I had seen thousands of times before. It was a very familiar weeknight sight; plastic tablecloth, disposable plates, plastic cutlery, plastic cups -- you know the scene.

And now for a confession. I hate plastic anything -- spoons, forks, cups, plates etc. You name it. If it's plastic I detest it -- especially knives. They're the worst. They should be used only to carve airline food -- they deserve each other. Yes... yes... I know all about convenience and practicality. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't use all of these wonderful culinary accouterments. But I still can't stand them.

My wife knows my quirk... all too well. But she accepts my silly penchant and indulges me.

And my wife knows my quirk... all too well. So there, in front of me, is a table radiating and glimmering in white plastic polytetrafluoroethylene. But my food is reposing on a respectable and worthy Correlle dinner plate, royally skirted by a formidable, stainless Ginsu steak knife and matching fork. And to the upper right rests a favorite full-bodied 8 oz. Carleton drinking glass -- nothing fancy, just genuine, bona fide, non-plasticized glass.

It's a family joke, my loathing for plastic and the accommodations that I am afforded because of it, but my wife puts up with it and spoils me, I guess. I'm sure it makes no sense to her whatsoever, but she accepts my silly penchant and indulges me. That, too, is part of what it means to care.

Every home is different. Perhaps it is your wife who hates plastic or glass or avocado or Mozart or air conditioning or bungee jumping or Newsweek. Maybe it is your husband who dislikes clocks that show the real time or leather couches or mountain views or history or the color green or people who laugh too loud or Democrats. Who cares? We all have our particular idiosyncrasies and preferences. Some of them make a lot of sense; many of them do not. We need to learn how to just accept them... and each other.

No, it's not as simple as it sounds. But it is essential.

Caring. That's what it means.