We’ve lost our collective mind: language, wisdom, & skills we’d be smart to foist on our children

whittling is an important skill

(image thanks to Strawberry Sue)

My grandmother spoke Swedish fluently.  I speak none.  Eddie’s dad speaks English, Mandarin, and Taiwanese.  Eddie didn’t even know his dad spoke Taiwanese until his college years.  Joy’s grandfather spoke Spanish, but no English.  Joy speaks no Spanish, save to say “gracias” when he handed out little gifts.

With spoken language, the loss is clear; it is for the most part well documented in the family mythology. With other losses, however, I don’t think we understand what we’re losing, not even when we try to regain it by reading books or joining various social groups.

Some trades are one for one swaps: in place of Swedish, my mother gave me music. I can play the piano, I know what a sharp is and a minor 5th.  Some trades are upgrades: in place of alcohol, my father gave me a little bit of organic gardening and a lot of car repair skills. I can do my own brakes, even the drum brakes in back.

But other stuff is just out and out disappearing.  The old family farm in Ohio is down to 40 acres and at high risk of shrinking further, though the house my great-grandfather built is still the one my cousins live in.  Here’s my list of

skills every kid needs to learn:

how to ride a bike, how to fix a slipped bike chain, how to change a flat bike tire / how to patch a flat bike tire, how to find a leak

how to swim, how to administer CPR, how to swim in rivers and lakes (I say that with some caveats in the back of my head, likely born of a recent visit to alligator country)

how to whistle, how to whittle, how to sew a button on, how to hem something, how to sew up a hole, darn a sock, sew on a patch, how to follow a sewing pattern

how to wash dishes, do the laundry, and clean the bathroom

how to cook the basics (variable by culture, for me it was baked potato and corn on the cob), how to cook something a little specialized (for me it was pie crust- did you know to put the liquids in the freezer for a few minutes to cool them down?)

how to change the oil on a car, how to change a flat car tire, how to jump a battery, how to check the radiator fluid levels when the car is hot

how to read music, how to speak at least a little of a second language, how to read ALL the signs on the bus (en todos los idiomas)

how to built a birdhouse or bird feeder, how to cook over a campfire, how to close a pocketknife

how to plant a tree, how to select the ripe fruits and veggies from the market, how to trellis a vine, how to plant a transplant, how to prune

how to identify the local poisonous plants, spiders, snakes, etc, how to compost, how to recycle

how to enjoy a little solitude, how to take public transit, how to approach a strange dog

Did I miss anything?  Probably.  There are a lot of experiences I think people should have, but I was looking this morning for skills in particular.  There ought to be something from the parents unique skill sets too.  And while I thought the list would end up including more farming and gardening skills, it turns out that though I regard that as basic knowledge I have a hard time expressing it as specific skills.

farm kids photo by Super C

How to climb a tree! (thanks, Super C)

What are the basic farming and gardening skills that ought to be more universal?  A lot of naturalist wisdom fell into that same knowledge vs. skills dichotomy, too.  What are the other naturalist skills that need more breadth?

The goal here is both a physical competency and a cultural competency for both the current context and the inherited familial legacy.

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2 responses to “We’ve lost our collective mind: language, wisdom, & skills we’d be smart to foist on our children

  1. Very thoughtful list and post. I don’t know how to make a bird feeder or house, nor how to check the radiator when it’s hot. BTW, how do you do that? Luckily, my dad insisted that “if I drive a car, then I should know how to do some car stuff” even though I’m female.

    Other skills I’m working on for this year: carpentry, knot tying, and mead making.

    • Thanks Mil. I think there was some secret wave of mead making desires that blasted across this hemisphere in those solar storms- I’m seeing a lot interest in that our here too. More likely, it has a less astrological origin and is just an outgrowth of the years of attention on bees and bee-based products.

      For the radiator, the short answer is “You don’t.” Water (etc) in that system gets to being underpressure, which is why there’s the radiator overflow tank. The hot expanded water goes into there if it’s just normal-use-hot, and will overflow even that if it’s super hot.

      If you are worried the coolant levels being low, after you turn the car off, add coolant to the overflow tank to the “Full Hot” line. As it cools, the radiator will siphon the liquid into itself.

      If you’ve overheated completely and are sitting beside the highway trying to get the dang thing to cool down faster, you can open Overflow Tank Cap. (This is NOT the radiator cap.)

      So, having suggested many alternatives to opening the radiator cap, do I still bump into the occasional yutz who won’t take car advise from a woman and is hell bent on opening that cap? Sure. Guaranteed.

      I tell them to use thin cloth and do nothing until the cap is cool enough to grab with just that thin cloth, and then to only open it the first stage. Radiator caps open and close in two steps as a safety precaution. If you loosen only one step, the overflow will still come out of the car with some hustle, but you won’t have a geyser. Do these guys go for the geyser and then look totally surprised by the results? About 50% of the time. Keeps me entertained.

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