Family Studies Did Not Prepare Me For This

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Yesterday, when my 10-year old discovered the ironing board behind some clothes in my closet and asked ‘what’s this?’, I was: a) super proud to be doing parenting right and b) catapulted back to Grade 7 when learning how to cook, sew and iron were actual academic endeavours.

The first time I picked up an iron was in Family Studies class, as was the first time I heard the God-awful shriek of the ironing board being unfolded. Family Studies was also where I learned how to properly measure dry ingredients (apparently there’s a wrong way??) as well as how to use electric beaters. These are all useful skills, to be fair, but the longer stay-at-home measure are in place, the more I realize all those hours spent hunched over a sewing machine making corduroy pillow pets was NOT time well spent.

If you weren’t forced to didn’t have the pleasure of taking Family Studies class, let me set the scene:

Grade 7 was the year my classmates and I would get a tiny dose of delicious, school-sanctioned freedom when, after lunch on Wednesdays, we would converge on an elementary school several blocks from our regular institution. Upon arrival, the boys went one way and the girls another. If you had a penis, you took a hard right (pun intended) into the Shop aka Industrial Arts room, which reeked of sawdust and oiled leather. Giant machines littered the room while half-finished wood shelves and step-stools and sat stacked on benches and windowsills around the room. Except for these masterpieces, everything in the room was metal, including the stools the boys sat on (affectionately referred to as ‘ball-crushers’) and the desks.

Those of us lacking the required anatomy for Shop had to continue down the hall to the Family Studies room where we were greeted by bright-coloured plastic chairs tucked neatly into small groups of desks. On one side of the room there was a long counter populated by half a dozen sewing machines, and on the side, a mock kitchen. 

During each ninety-minute class my fellow female students and I would learn to sew, iron and bake while our male counterparts would learn to cut sheet metal using a band saw. It was all very pink and blue, proving that although it was 1985, the elementary school curriculum was still stuck in 1950. Yes Mrs. Cleaver I’d love something from the ice box. And my parents are well, thank you for asking.

At 12 years-old, I couldn’t articulate my outrage over being forced to conform to outdated gender norms but I did know, even then, that I was never going to be the kind of woman who cared about perfectly-pressed collars. And I was savvy enough to wonder why we girls were practicing our ironing skills on men’s dress shirts and not on our own clothes. While I was learning how to iron his shirts (badly), my future husband was learning to …. what? Build shit? Cut blocks of wood with a machine? Avoid his family in the garage?

To be clear I am not knocking these skills or the people who have and make use of them. I just think it’s funny how utterly useless this education is to me now. In truth, Family Studies and Shop led me to believe that ironing and using a buzz saw would play much larger roles in adult life than they actually do.

Because you know what I’m not doing with time? Ironing or sewing.

And you know what my husband’s not doing with his time? MAKING WOODEN BENCHES.

What really would have prepared us for today’s world is knowing how to survive until 7 p.m. without a glass of wine, not to mention conflict de-escalation and mediation. (‘I’m setting the timer for five minutes and when it goes off you need to give your sister a turn looking at the cat’ is a sentence I never thought I’d say.) How to simultaneously be your child’s parent, teacher, playmate and camp counsellor 24/7, for months on end while managing the stress of lost wages, job insecurity, separation from family members and, oh, and a killer virus, would also be pretty handy right now. I’m barely holding it together emotionally and financially but’s it’s gonna be okay guys ‘cause I can properly measure flour!

The pandemic has given many people the chance to learn new skills, but it has also highlighted many of the ones we’re deficient in. And I’d wager a guess that the things no one taught us in school, the things we’re learning on the fly out of necessity, are the most valuable. I guess I could always just whip up a few pillow pets for us to strap to our faces when we go to the grocery store, or as surrogate human friends for my children.

Let me know if you want to place an order. I’ll be in the garage.


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Author: Jen Millard

Jen Millard is a writer who's not afraid to say what everyone else is thinking about parenting and relationships. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram via @jennemillard or at wineandsmarties.com.

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