You know that moment when you’re heading out your front door for a big trip and you keep going over that mental list to make sure you’ve taken care of everything?
Dog sitter, mail hold, toothbrush, tickets, directions, deadbolt …
That’s where I am right now as a parent. My oldest is driving, earning paychecks from two jobs, and getting ready to apply to colleges. As he heads toward the front door for the trip of his life, that list keeps ticking through my head. Have I taught him everything he needs to know?
Walking, talking, using the potty. Check. We hit the concrete survival skills early, and we hit ’em hard.
Swimming, reading, using crosswalks. Check.
Next came the social arts: Sharing, patience, bathing. Nailed it.
Kindness, honesty, courage. I’d say 90 percent. Eight-five, ninety.
After that, things get fuzzier. Nursing a cold, ironing a shirt, changing a tire … Mmmaybe. In a life-or-death situation. A life-or-death runny-nose, wrinkled-shirt, flat-tire situation. But filing a tax return? Getting mildew off a shower curtain? Shipping internationally? I mean, I can’t even do those things.
I work myself into a panic about what I may have forgotten, or merely been ill-equipped, to teach him. Time is running out. Last week I made him return something to a retail store for a refund and schedule a dental appointment. Tonight I showed him how to fashion a double boiler and separate egg yolks from whites because … well, heaven forbid he needs to make tiramisu and has no Internet.
Then came the news last week that helicopter parenting is leading to depression among college-age kids. Dear god, had I imparted the wisdom necessary for my child to overcome his impending sadness wrought by my manic, decades-long wisdom-imparting?!
And this week I had another scare. My son came home from the first day at his new barista job and confessed that he had made his manager shriek in horror — and with considerable volume — when he shoved his bare hand into a burning-hot oven. He had been trying to retrieve a warm muffin and “couldn’t quite get the hang of the tongs.” The sight of a new employee thrusting his naked paw into the oven against regulation and all good sense spurred the manager’s damning yelp. And with it, my utter undoing.
Tongs. (Tongs?) TONGS. I knew I’d forgotten something.
I had shown my son how to do laundry and to laugh at himself. How to drive a stick shift on the 405 and to look people in the eye. How to apologize and stick up for himself and wrap a fancy present with curly ribbon. But I had neglected to show him how to operate a rudimentary serving utensil.
Naturally, I began cataloguing the other utensils sure to stump him in life. The confounding corkscrew. The labyrinthine garlic press. The abstruse turkey baster, for all its physics magic!
That’s when it occurred to me that I was maybe just the tiniest bit completely insane.
There’s no way, right? No way to school a single human in the ways of every kitchen gadget or otherwise steep him in every ounce of essential adult know-how. Not no how. They’ve got to learn some of it on the (tongs-required) job. By the seat of their (never-been-ironed) pants. In the line of (shoot, does he even know how to put out a) fire.
Sure enough, it only took another shift before my boy came home and announced that independence was, well, within reach.
“Oh, guess what? I got the hang of those tongs.”
In fact, now he holds the tongs in one hand to grasp customers’ bagels while slicing said bagels in half with the knife in his other hand. It’s advanced tonging, and he’s very proud of it.
“Customers actually come up to the counter and watch me,” he bragged. “I say, ‘Pretty awesome, right?’ And they say, ‘Can I get the key code for the bathroom, please? Look, seriously. I really have to go.’”
Yeah. Kid’s gonna do alright.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Broad Assumptions.