Sunday, February 8, 2015

Old Lessons Made New

I remember as a girl watching my mom iron my dad's police uniform shirts. Like hanging clothes on the clothesline and making pots of soup and stew, this is one of those memories that always takes me back to childhood. And though she did it pretty regularly, Mom never gave me lessons, and it never occurred to me to ask. It was just one of those things moms did.

Fast forward to my twenties, when I moved out of my parents' house and into an apartment I shared with a friend. This experience of going out on my own and suddenly being responsible for, well, everything that had to do with my own survival was the most feet-to-the-fire education I'd ever had. I didn't know how to cook. I didn't know how to budget or shop for groceries. In fact, I had pretty much no housekeeping skills to speak of, but I was lucky: my roommate did. And he was a great and patient teacher. He was the one who taught me how to iron a collared shirt, fold a fitted sheet and figure out which pot or pan to use in the kitchen. In retrospect, it's easy to see how important it was to know these things, but when I was young, Mom did them all and, in my mind, always would.

Those lessons from decades came flooding back to me this morning when my fifteen-year-old asked me to teach him how to iron the shirt of his scout uniform. I admit I haven't ironed since leaving the corporate world fourteen years ago (my husband's office is casual dress) and I hoped I'd remember how to do it. Not surprisingly, once I set up the ironing board, heated the iron, laid out the shirt and began pushing the iron back and forth, like Tillie Olsen, my mind was filled with thoughts, ideas and emotion. But before long, Jacob was eager to take over, and I reluctantly let him. No doubt he felt the same sense of autonomy and independence, mixed with the thrill of learning something new, that I did all those years ago.

They say that with age comes wisdom, but I think it's more than just aging that wisens us. The older we get, the more our lives change and the more we are forced to learn new things, become resourceful and solve problems on our own. Though I know Jacob could have Googled "how to iron a shirt" and watched a video of the process on YouTube if he was living on his own and needed to learn, I'm glad I had the opportunity to teach him. And I hope when he goes out on his own, his memories of adolescence will include those of his dad and grandfather teaching him how to cook, and of his mom teaching him how to iron and do his own laundry. It may not make him eager to do these drudge-filled jobs, but hopefully it will give him something to think--and maybe smile--about while he's doing them.

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