A Father's Journal / Hooking life's lessons on teaching 'a fish how to fish'
-- Attributed to just about everybody
Someday, our children will not be living with us. That is our hope, anyway, so my wife and I have attempted, for the last 16 years, to prepare all of us for that day. We have met with sporadic success. But it seems everybody else is doing a better job than we are.
I hear stories.
"From the day our child could walk, she did her own laundry and mowed the lawn."
"Before our children were weaned, they could cook their own meals."
"When our son started crawling, we had him operating a backhoe."
The other day, I insisted my daughter do her own laundry. She just stared at me.
I explained: "See, you start with dirty clothes, and we put them in a machine and it washes them. Then we put the clothes in another machine, and it dries them. It's called a `dryer' because of it. The other one is called a `washer.' It is a basic life skill."
We had showed her how to do it numerous times, and she is an honors student, so how hard could it be?
A few hours later, my daughter said, "The dryer is making a funny noise. Can you look at it?"
Foolish enough to believe this was a Teaching Moment, I said, "Why don't we both look at it together?" My daughter begrudgingly followed me downstairs. I opened the dryer. It was full of extremely wet clothes sitting in a few inches of standing water.
I looked at the washer. It was full of water. The washer was unbalanced or something, and it stopped halfway through the cycle. My daughter had just taken the fully soaked clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer. The dryer would not move. It just made a horrible noise. She had done laundry before. I knew that she knew how to do it.
This was indeed a teaching moment -- it taught me patience.
I reset the washer and had my daughter put the clothes back in the washer to finish the cycle. I then explained calmly what the problem was. Actually, it wasn't all that calmly. I told a friend about it, and he said his kid did the same thing, and then two months later the dryer gave out. By all calculations, I have a month left.
We can't even get the fish saying right. I have said it many times, and when I try to show the girls a life skill they say, "I know, Dad, teach a fish to fish."
Our most repetitive fish moment comes every time we wash the duvet covers. They need to go back on the comforter. The way to do it is to turn the duvet cover inside out and grab the end of the comforter with your hand and pull it through the duvet cover. I have shown my daughters how to do it probably 30 times over the years. They can't grasp or won't grasp it.
I did not come by the duvet-cover knowledge naturally. Growing up, we did not have duvet covers; we did not have comforters to put the duvet over. We were lucky to have blankets, and half the time they smelled. We did not know what a "duvet" was, let alone spell it. But really, how hard is it? Just stick your hand in and pull the comforter through.
The other fish reoccurrence is the computer printer. My daughters will just stand there wondering why it doesn't print. They are supposed to be more computer-savvy than me.
"I have a paper due tomorrow and the printer isn't working," one will say.
"Have you rebooted it?"
"Fish, fish, fish. Reboot the damn computer!"
Sometimes I wonder how they are going to function outside our bubble. Maybe it's revisionist history, but I seemed to be more self-reliant at their age. I had other problems, but self-reliance was not one of them.
I have no idea if it will work itself out. All I know is next week, we will be on vacation on a couple of creeks, in the duvet-less wilderness. Maybe I'll just teach them to fish.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other week, and will move to Fridays on July 12.