3 Parenting Classes We Never Got – But Need

July 22, 2011

Listen up, you local hubs of educational offerings – like UVA Health System, you offer some really necessary basics, and we’re grateful for them. Yep. And they stand us in good stead during those first few months of pooping, breastfeeding, bathing that runs us through the ringer of our own mental fortitude harder than a drill sergeant in one of those Vietnam movies.

But then the kids graduate, the classes for parents disappear – now all you can find are ballet, soccer, karate for the kids – and your brain, while not taxed to the maximum of human endurance, now faces ever increasingly mind-boggling strains of the psyche for which this parent at least feels utterly unprepared.

We need some Continuing Ed, people!

Here are my suggestions.

1. Scientific Answers and Cop-Outs

Okay, I somehow swam my way through advanced chemistry and physics in high school, and I doggy-paddled to some As in college biology. Still, my five-year-old daughter manages to come up with some questions that stop me in whatever tracks I thought I was making away from having to recall any of that stuff.

I can handle the philosophical whys, because the answers are themselves questions. I can handle rhyming games. And, English major that I was, I enjoy the word-origin queries – “Why is it called a Kitchen? Why is a seal called a seal?” and the abstract concept confusions – “But what is lying?” These are challenges I am happy to meet. That’s why I studied English. You could find the answer in a dictionary or make up a theory. I got that part nailed.

But the bulk of the questions fall into the category of Things I Should Know Because Didn’t I Learn Them in Earth Science 101? And they come. Incessantly.


Before dinner: “Why is part of the air conditioner outside?”

At the dinner table: “Why do we put things in refrigerators? But what does a bacteria do? Why are some good and some bad? Are they in the air?”

And, right after lights out: “So many animals have black stripes. But why?”

I don’t know. It seems like I should know, but I really really don’t. I’m making dinner, I’m trying to keep the three-year-old from somehow getting all of his dinner on the floor and not his mouth, I’m hoping they’ll fall asleep – I don’t know why the air conditioner is halfway out the window. I start to explain as if I DO know, and it becomes incredibly obvious I haven’t a clue.

“Well, you know, it brings in air and cools it” – and then is there too much air in the house? “or does it pull out the hot air?” – seems too old to do all that – “well, it pulls it out and puts it in – ” I’m scrambling – “so it sticks out.”

Bacteria? I try to steer the convo to a rationale for why she shouldn’t suck her toes. Yes, she needs one. But it just brings on more questions. I go to Wikipedia for a quick fix of facts. Good god, the explanation is complicated. I don’t have time for all this chemical crap and canoodly language. Do bacteria eat stuff the way worms do? Is that how they make things rot or curdle? Just tell me so I can satisfy the kid and finish my beans!

Scientists don’t excel at really getting to the nitty-gritty, concrete, obvious terms and analogies to help a parent like myself offer a kid like my daughter something that is both basically true and equally simple to grasp. Give us a class! Or at least a support group.

2. First Aid 101

No, I don’t mean Red Cross certification. I’m talking about your kid gets a cut on his or her face and you call the doctor and he asks you to examine the wound.

“How deep is it?” he asks. I dunno.

“Is there a separation in the tissue?” Huh?

“blah blah blah compression blah flap of skin poodle poo can help you determine whether or not to go to the ER.”

Huh? I have to know what kind of cut looks like it needs stitches? How the hell do I know? I grew up in the land of the 70s. We didn’t have helmets when we rode our bikes, seat belts in the backseat of the car, organic food, and we certainly didn’t go to the ER when we got gashes, sun burns, what have you. We just scarred and waited for the skin cancer.

So I need a class in how to talk to my pediatrician on the phone, what to look for in my kids’ symptoms, how to know if the thermometer isn’t working, whether you’re supposed to use a bandaid or not, what constitutes throw-up vs. regurgitation, etc. Basic stuff that some people learned and the rest of us didn’t but are expected to know, obviously, because there are no remedial classes around to take.

Subjects to be covered also include:

  • A little rehash of germ theory wouldn’t be hurtful. For instance, when my first baby peed in the bathtub at 9 months, I freaked: Evacuate? Restart? Let it go? No clue.
  • Temperatures: How to take them, read them, and what they should be (so I get confused sometimes)
  • ¬†How to read OTC medications – Do I want the kid to suppress the coughs or express them?
  • Is the little proverb “starve a fever, feed a cold” true or a myth?
  • Cutting toddler nails and hair 101

3. What Can I Get Away With?

Other possible titles: How Bad Am I? or How Much Will Therapy Cost? or Grab Bag Miscellany

So this sounds bad, but seriously, there are some legal and psychological mysteries hanging around out there that I think all parents should have a clue about, like:

Is it allowable to leave your kids in the car while you run into 7-11 for a soda? (Answer: No.)

I accidentally swore in front of my kids. Am I going to hell?

Are five year olds really preteens?

Is two really terrible? Because it looks pretty good now that we’re in three.

How long can they go without a bath and still be considered civilized?

Do they always need underwear?

What’s the appropriate etiquette in a restaurant when your two year old poops in the aisle in plain view of all the dining customers?

Do you give a child a time out for drawing on her arms a tattoo – when I have a tattoo, a real one?

How much TV will scar them – really?

How long can I let my kid suck her thumb? Her pacifier? Her feet?

Please let me push them in the grocery cart, even though it says they’re too heavy?

Is it ok I can’t answer all her questions?

Are they screwed because they get chicken nuggets (vegetarian at least) at least once a week because I’m a single parent and I’m tired?

Will they ever sleep?

Will I ever sleep?


Will they ever wipe their own butts?

Will they ever eat healthy meals?


So, those are the three I need. Any others I should add to the wish list?