Parenting is a strange endeavour.
Without any instruction, testing or training we are thrust into a foreign land and entrusted to take on the most challenging and consequential work of our lives. I knew from the beginning I would occasionally fail, but I hoped more often than not I would meet with success. With my role as my children’s primary teacher, I was prepared for the many lessons that lay ahead. At least the usual stuff. Numbers, colours, the alphabet. And as they grew older how to tie a shoe or look both ways before crossing the street or set up a YouTube account.
While I didn’t expect to always know the answers, I believed I’d be able to figure things out along the way. But there are a few things for which I was unprepared, things that simply never occurred to me as lessons in need of teaching. These things transcended the typical parental concerns, and I’d mistakenly believe them to be instinctual or at the very least so obvious as to negate explanation. What I came to learn, though, was that when you have children everything is in need of explanation. Even if the kids are older. Even if they’re highly intelligent. Even if it defies all reason.
Here are a few of those things.
How to play. Many days my kids seem to have forgotten that instinctive quality inherent in all young, and without direct and specific instruction from me they seem lost as to how perform this activity. Something they had done for years suddenly eluded them, and it was left to me to suggest they consult the closet for one of their 900,236 toys or encourage them to Race to the Roof (literally or figuratively – at that point I didn’t care) or have some Elephun or Go Fish. Anything other than follow me around the house all day long.
How clothing must be changed daily. Wearing the same outfit two consecutive days in a row is not condoned by civilised society and will result in merciless mockery. Please know if you choose this route, I wash my hands of the entire situation.
How changing underwear is not optional. I thought humans were born with the knowledge that new outfit equals new underwear – that this knowledge is what set us apart from other species. This, too, turns out to be a learned behavior, one that must be reinforced vociferously and repeatedly for it to be fully internalised.
How boots with shorts is not an acceptable look. I don’t care if Arianna Grande’s mother lets her do it.
How to exit the shower. What seems fairly self-evident is apparently in need of a detailed set of instructions for children to successfully complete the task. So I decided to create a step-by-step guide: First, open the curtain on the side of the tub before which a bath mat has been placed. Next, step onto the bath mat. Finally, towel dry. You are now ready to move on to the dressing phase.
How bathing is a good. Especially after a visit to the McDonald’s ball pit or swimming in the town pool or attending middle school gym class. Counter to your opinion, it is not a form of punishment. And smelling won’t win you any friends.
How to make toast. Again, I’ve created another step-by-step guide to help encourage success. First, take out the bread. Next, place slice in the toaster. Finally, push down button. When the lever pops back up, you have toast.
How I have no special extra-sensory powers in determining the weather. I feel the same exact weather conditions you do so if you ask me while we are standing outside on a hot, sunny day what the weather is going to be like, I will respond, “Exactly like this.”
How no one needs a 100-ounce Slurpee. I don’t care if it comes with free refills.
How the instructions on the box of macaroni and cheese are there for a reason. That reason is to show you how to make it. If you don’t know how much butter to add, ask the box. Not me.
How the utensils placed next to dinner plates are intended for use. They are not merely decorative.
How when the temperature dips below zero, jackets are required. It’s just the law. Similarly, when you feel cold, clothing will help.
Alternately, how when it’s 90 degrees out with 100 per cent humidity, flannel pajamas are not appropriate.
How when riding in the car, driving advice is not welcome. Unless one has a valid driver’s license and at least 20 years driving experience.
How hands have to be washed. With soap. Especially after using the bathroom. Or it doesn’t count. I’m talking about after the kids have seemingly mastered this hard-won lesson.
This last one is something I honestly never expected I’d have to teach – at least not after the first 500 times – and it requires more than just a bullet point.
While I’d never considered hand-washing to be a continuing education course, it seems lessons instilled with great care and emphasis early on erode over time. These concepts need to be reintroduced regularly – and perhaps indefinitely – for full effectiveness, a lesson I learned quite incidentally one horrific day.
I wasn’t paying much attention that day when my son went to use the bathroom. My kids had been washing their hands independently for years so when I glanced up casually and spotted him through the door left ajar what I witnessed was shocking. He’d turned on the water and squirted glob soap into the palm of his hand, and while it would appear I should be happy he followed proper bathroom protocol, it’s what happened next that terrified me.
He took the quivering, white mound of bubbles and immediately shoved it under the faucet into the flowing stream of running water. He rinsed the whole thing right down the drain. Before it was spread over his hands. There was no rubbing, no scrubbing, no washing of any kind. He might as well have dumped the bottle of soap directly into the drainpipe. The fact that any soap had touched his hand was a mere technicality.
That was the day it hit me. When it comes to kids, the job is never done. You must explain everything all the time, repeatedly, every single day for the rest of your life. Into infinity.
Or at least until they move out.
Stacey Gill is the mastermind behind the humor blog, One FunnyMotha, and co-author of ‘I Still Just Want to Pee Alone,’ the third book in The New York Times best-selling series. Find her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.