Kids learn a lot growing up; from birth until their early 20s their brains are literally information-seeking sponges. And while a lot of what they need to know to prepare for "the real world" after they leave home is taught in school during the course of the school year, there are so many other skills to learn — skills just as or even MORE valuable, I would argue — than plain old reading and math.
Here is a list of 45 Life Skills (in no particular order) that once mastered, only then will I consider allowing my children to leave the nest.
1. Read a map
2. Ask for directions
3. Roast a chicken
4. Buy condoms
5. Talk to a pharmacist without giggling
6. Make a doctors appointment
7. Barter/haggle on price
8. Appreciate differences
9. Make an apology
10. Stand up for a friend
11. Tell an authority figure they're wrong
12. Balance a bank account
13. Make a killer guacamole
14. Accept help
15. Say no, offer no explanation, mean it, and stick to it
16. Paddle a canoe or rowboat
17. Check the car oil
18. Own a library card
19. Offer assistance to someone in distress
20. Iron a dress shirt
21. Vacuum the corners
22. Cancel a gym subscription
23. Load a dishwasher
24. Use jumper cables
25. Negotiate a contract
26. Catch a fish
27. Start a fire (bon; not house.)
28. Keep a plant alive
29. Use a lawnmower
30. Use an axe/chainsaw/filet knife
31. Swing a tennis racket or golf club
32. Change a tire
33. Tell someone to fuck off (I am serious. It's hella cathartic.)
34. Diaper a baby
35. Win an argument
36. Drive stick-shift
37. Parallel park
38. Pump their own gas
40. Use a drill
41. Know all the words to a great campfire song
42. Get out of an awkward moment and help a friend in turn
43. Lose gracefully
44. Understand the importance of: life jackets, sunscreen, helmets, home fire alarms
45. Hire/marry someone to perform duties from list above should they be unable
There you have it!
The list seems long, but I bet your kids have a great base of knowledge already. I mean, come on; look who they have modelling all this great behaviour for them. (My kids will be pros at #33.) And, because I am always learning (stop learning, stop living) this list is fluid. Perhaps humans in the future won't need many of these skills, but they'll be replaced by others. Who would have thought 25 years ago that "Google something" would mean something?
What would you add?
Eleven years-old is young — very young — and it's also when I got my first period. Besides the logistical nightmares it caused (I lived with just my single father), it wasn't too bad, all things considered. Of course, in my case, All Things Considered will be the title of my future memoir and shall include a chapter on how I would have rather been eaten by bears than ask my father for money for maxi pads. So instead, I would load up our ancient wagon with his Molson Export empties and haul them to the beer store for return money. The local pharmacy was kitty-corner to the beer store, so it was all very convenient, once you looked past the inevitable glass breakage and smelling like a pub-urinal factor. (Note: The follow up to my memoir is going to be Raised Feral: Why Jeni is No Fun at Parties.)
I didn't suffer from any real cramping or pain, and my regular routine of alcohol-empty transport continued swimmingly. This is why, when my own daughter "BECAME A WOMAN," her pain took me off guard. Like, "come-to-school-and-bring-me-drugs-I-am-probably-dying" off guard. It's hard to understand pain you've never experienced, as I told my partner, when he attempted to say he "understood childbirth" because he once had a kidney stone. (RIP boyfriend's left ear.) My daughter was NOT impressed with this new development on the puberty wheel-o-fun. This was not the period experience she had been conditioned to expect from soft-edged tampon commercials. This was pain. This was something called "dysmenorrhea," I explained, and relayed the medical explanation:
Primary dysmenorrhea is defined as painful menses with cramping sensation in the lower abdomen that is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as sweating, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and tremulousness. All these symptoms occur just before or during the menses in women with normal pelvic anatomy.
Essentially, that's what period pain is. "No," she replied. "It's essentially complete and utter bullshit." (She prefers layman's terms.)
"Welcome to womanhood," I told her, as I passed the painkillers. We needed to have a little chat, a chat about what I call The Three Golden Rules for Period Having Lady People and All Others Who Bleed from their Vaginas. (I really need to work on a shorter title.) It consists of three parts:
Any young girl who either has her period or has it coming, needs a "Period Pal." That's what I call the bag I prepared for my daughter to keep in her locker or backpack. She even has a version at home and it covers all of her (and several friends') needs. It includes:
If you always keep this bag accessible, your daughter will become a goddamn hero by Grade 12. The sewing and design students will make her a red cape. I promise you.
People who say they have a problem should be heard. Pain is real, whether emotional or physical. No matter the source or subject, everyone deserves to be heard and respected, FULL STOP. My daughter is spirited and fun, and she knows what it's like to miss out on things because of a back ache from ovaries and uterus's and such. If someone says they can't do something because they are suffering, honour that. This goes beyond periods and missing parties, but any story with "respect" as a tagline gets airtime in my house. Let's give this issue the respect it deserves. I don't use a reusable menstrual cup, nor do I make my own toilet paper or breast milk hand soap but that doesn't mean it's not cool if you do. I couldn't use tampons because a) my dad sure as hell couldn't show me how, and b) I WAS 11! WHAT IS A TAMPON?
Respect choices and circumstances, period-based, or otherwise.
The best fun is heavily-planned fun, right? Even if you're not Type A, you must admit that being prepared for the unexpected can make things more enjoyable. When they go out, I advise both my kids to carry things like $20, a granola bar, gum, house keys, and a spare smart phone charger. In coming years, this will mean pocket birth control (condoms, etc.) and if I had my way they'd each carry a full hiking backpack complete with shark repellent and helmets. But maybe that's just me.
Yes, womanhood is not without its pains, she is learning. And she was right about the bullshit part. She missed pool parties because she didn't have tampons and we were given side-eye from soccer team captains for being absent too many times to count before we figured out the best pain strategy for her. I think these coaches don't understand that between 16% and 93% of menstruating adolescents experience primary dysmenorrhea, and severe pain "is perceived in 2% to 29% of the studied girls." If I had known period pain was this prevalent in young girls and teens, I may have brought her to the doctor sooner, because this is real. My daughter should be in the game, not watching from the sidelines. Something as simple as a plan for getting on top of period pain before it causes missed days at school and social events means MORE FUN, LESS BULLSHIT.
My daughter is in the majority - 70% of girls with menstrual pain self-manage. So for now, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs like Advil or ibuprofen) along with heat packs are all we need. But we have options if things get worse before they get better,. One day we may need to discuss hormonal menstrual cycle management like oral contraceptive pills with our doctor. I teach my daughter that SHE owns her body, and that also means pain. Knowing she has agency and can seek help for her pain is important but it's my job as a parent to help her now, while she's young. Luckily, she doesn't need to haul beer bottles to get pads, and she has someone to help her with hygiene and pain control options. Like the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research is doing, we should be encouraging research to help manage period pain. It's definitely as important as fighting all the bullshit stuff women face, like the wage gap, mansplaining, and more expensive haircuts.
There's no cosmic "get your shit together" message stronger than an inch of water in your basement.
Our water heater - the big, hulking old tank style heater - sprang a leak somewhere in its nether regions, and just like me after birthing two babies and consuming several gin and tonics on a trampoline, she no longer holds her water. I panicked at the inch of water on the floor but not for the reasons you'd expect. I panicked because this meant a repair technician was going to come into my house, and not the clean upstairs part. They'd see my downstairs, the true belly of the beast. So I frantically emptied the laundry/utility room of all its 25 bins of crap: holiday decor, children's clothing too tight but planned for new homes, skates from years gone by, broken picture frames I don't plan on fixing, old tools and bins of rusty something or others. I moved - by hand - a freezer, countless "organizing" bins and pieces of furniture into the adjoining small rec-room/kitchen area and all but barred the door.
The repair tech arrived and determined the leak could be remedied but first he'd have to turn off the main water valve and where was that, ma'am?
It's located exactly dead centre behind the towering wall of garbage I just moved in there, and currently behind a three foot tall popcorn machine and bathtub size bin of dirt bike equipment. I had no choice but to bare my shame. After a quick assistance I was not a hoarder, I let him in.
It occurred to me that my life had become an unending cycle of simply moving piles of shit from one location to another.
As soon as he left (no more water!) I packed up six bags of "stuff" and got them out. Five more boxes awaited my return. I did not need this shit. I did not need 490 strings of Christmas lights when we use five. I want less in my life, but better. I turfed all the crap and kept the good. No more dollar store spatulas. I would buy ONE $12 spatula that will withstand the dishwasher and the sandbox.
I want less, but better.
I became unstoppable. I got rid of mugs #11 through 22 in my cupboard. (We never have that many people over and never will. If we do, I'll rent some.) CD collection? All gone. I have all that stuff on iTunes now anyway. Less, but better. Broken baby supplies, cloth diapers, all rendered (welcomely) redundant by a surgeon's snip. Out. Acrylic sweaters I bought but hated once they were washed and became pilly. Gone. I'll save and buy a good one instead of four shitty quality ones.
My new way of thinking has flowed everywhere and into every corner of my life and it feels amazing. Facebook friends lists were culled. I bought two brands of cheese instead of five but splurged on the "good" stuff. I said no to crappy coffee and bought less but better beans. The payoff increased as my enjoyment peaked. I am saving time and money; less money spent on cheap crap that breaks and needs repair or replacement, and time because I have less to clean, less to fix, less to shuffle, and less to worry about. I'm opting out of overly consumerist activities and have time and money to now move towards experiences over things. When my teenage daughter says how much she'd love to spend a few days in New York City, with me, I don't want to explain that while I too would love that, unfortunately we can't because in 2012 I bought two turkey deep-fryers, a serger I can't figure out how to use, and an ugly leather jacket that has never seen light outside the basement closet.
Less but better is incredibly freeing and I've only been at it a month now. I am on a first-name basis with the clerk at the local recycling centre, and Kijiji has put a few hundred dollars in my pocket. It's all just... stuff. It means nothing. You can want it and love it (as I do some things) but just accept and acknowledge that it means nothing. I've been to enough estate sales to tell you with certainty that "stuff" has kept no one alive past their time. It all just ends up as landfill.
(I am no fun at parties.)
I now apply the Less But Better premise everywhere. NOTHING AND NO ONE IS SAFE. Let's just say I have two kids right now but if one pisses me off he's living with his father for the summer. I AM UNSTOPPABLE.
If you do this, you will appreciate what you have more. I know I am. How can I love ALL my things? If I have unlimited things, things that when I find them in boxes I don't recall ever buying, or even that I had them at all, how can I love those things? I want to love things in my house. I want to be unafraid to have repair technicians here when we have an issue. I want to feel not like I am tied to my "stuff" with a broken bungee cord but rather tethered to my family and friends by a silken thread. It's time. Let that shit go. Keep the kids artwork but keep one piece, not 20. I have plenty of weird stuff I keep - some that would probably have you back away slowly - but only because I have room for it in my house and in my brain. I allow for zero overflow because it makes feel bad. I don't like feeling bad. I like feeling good, and ugly acrylic sweaters don't accomplish that. Good quality gin and friends who get you do.
My house isn't magically spotless — I have kids and pets and I live in the real world — but it is cleaner, and more importantly, easier to clean.
I want less but better. I deserve it, and so do you. While I can't imagine myself as a true minimalist (I love shoes and offer no apologies) this new ideology is making me feel lighter and freer and nicer and calmer and generally more pleasant to be around. Imagine that? It's there for you in the power of a box of garbage bags.
Yesterday our water softener stopped working. I can't wait to see what lessons it holds for me.
Some parting words of wisdom on "stuff" by the wonderful, smart, missed George Carlin: