We just returned home from our mostly-annual Thanksgiving trip to Georgia to see the most immediate portion of BD's enormous Italian maternal family. On the way there, we stopped at our usual McDonald's with the giant playland just this side of Birmingham, Alabama, to let the kids take a break from puking into plastic grocery bags and also stretch their legs and throw away some food.
While waiting in line, we found ourselves behind three honest-to-goodness teenage farm boys. As they talked and joked with each other, I marveled at their almost-unintelligible Alabama drawl. I hear all kinds of Southern accents right here in Memphis, from the ultra-urban to the suburban to the transplanted Louisianans, but this was a whole other, extra-special kind of country accent. And just as I caught myself thinking snide thoughts about how ignorant they sounded, one of the boys flashed his calloused, blackened-though-scrubbed palms, and jokingly said that next time they all worked together, he was going to pretend not to know how to do anything as the others had done. One of his friends turned his equally grubby hands palms-up and protested that he had done his fair share. So, I thought, Miss Smarty Pants, these boys work. They know how to do things. And what do you know?
This thought threaded itself like a ribbon through the remainder of our meal. It was there when I took Somerset to the one-seater family bathroom and watched her sit on the rim of the toilet without noticing that the seat was flipped up, and when she stood in front of the hand dryer with her hands up and wondered aloud "How does it turn on?" in spite of the doorknob-sized, shiny silver button, and when she could not figure out how to open the door, and again back at the table when the box containing her chicken nuggets buckled slightly at the back, making it refuse to stay open and causing her to wail in dismay. It was there when we noticed that Joshua was running around the playland in only one sock, and when he admitted that he'd left the house that way because he couldn't find a matching pair, even though a giant brand-new package of socks was sitting right there in his sock drawer when he got dressed that morning.
All this prompted me to wonder what the hell is wrong with my children. They do well in school; two of them are even in the gifted program! Our house is full of books and art supplies and empty of cable cartoons and video games. I couldn't help compare my supposedly-brainy kids to those supposedly-ignorant farm boys, and wonder who would come out on top in the end. But then I started remembering things about myself as a child. Things like walking upstairs to wash my hands for dinner but brushing my teeth instead because I'd forgotten, in an instant, what I was supposed to be doing. Things like my Mom calling me "the absent-minded professor" and my dad's less patient responses to my mindless goofiness. And I thought, you know, I do OK. I'm not the most organized, together person on the planet, but I'm not the least, either. I hold down a respectable job, keep a reasonable grip on my household (with much pitching in by BD, of course), keep my kids dressed and fed and in school. I function.
Sure, there are things I don't know how to do that I really believe I should. I think it's sheer folly that most Americans have no skills when it comes to growing, making, or building things that meet our most basic needs for survival, and I'm not much better than most. I feel that I should know these things and that I should teach them to my children. So that's something to work on. That's a more constructive way of looking at it, I think, than just shaking my head at the baffling cluelessness of my children, or, worse yet, losing patience with them. They're only little kids, after all. Just like I was once.