I’m not ashamed to say that my parents are two of my best friends. (I probably wouldn’t say this to their faces because they might tell me that I need to get out more.) But for all their wit and kindness, they could have used a few tips that would have helped them raise me better. I share this advice now in the hopes that Vassar parents-to-be will take note and avoid their offspring turning out like I did.
1. Don’t homeschool your child
I’m conflicted on this point. On the one hand, being homeschooled until ninth grade allowed me to pursue my own interests in a supportive community of peers. On the other hand, I’m now awkward and unpleasant to be around. The other day, when I was shopping at Target with some friends, I emerged from an aisle bewildered, blinking and casting about like when the Mole Women from “Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt” see the sun for the first time in over a decade. I was confused because I couldn’t remember what the last item on my list was, but my friend’s declaration upon seeing me accurately sums up my social skills and general demeanor: “Sometimes Talya acts like her mom didn’t let her out of the house until she was 15 years old.” I try to own my weirdness, but this comment hit close to home. I couldn’t help but meditate on how I might be different, had I not spent my formative years rotating between the living rooms of a handful of other super-alt peers, taking history lessons from nurturing soccer moms, munching on kale and listening to parents discuss the perils of vaccination. Luckily, I managed to escape the bubble with moderate success, but if I were a parent, I wouldn’t risk it.
2. Call your child out if they suck at things
I was an artsy kid in all senses of the word, and my parents always supported my endeavors—whether that meant buying me paints and pencils, providing me diaries to fill with angsty diatribes or driving me to weekly all-homeschooler choir practices. Unfortunately for everyone around us, I was a horrendous singer. I’m so tone-deaf that attempting to sing unleashes a discordant wail that sets every dog within five miles howling. Moreover, my normal speaking voice has been described by more than one person as “funny but weird,” and trying to force it to hit notes does nothing to improve that characterization. But I truly had no idea, and I even sang solos in choir when my instructor would allow me to punish the audience. (I assume she handed out disclaimers and free earplugs before the concert started.) So it came as a shock when my grandma finally let slip that I would never be a particularly good singer. After that rude awakening, I found my musical niche with flute and recorder, but going to a school overrun by a cappella groups and having a boyfriend with perfect pitch means that the sting still hasn’t completely faded. What’s worse, I went through a prolonged goth phase between ages eight and twelve. One would never know now from looking at my wardrobe—which has recently incorporated a denim jumper and Birkenstocks—but for a time, I refused to leave the house if my outfit didn’t include at least seven holes, three chains and a gratuitous amount of poorly applied eyeliner. This trend persisted until my mom finally told me, in the gentlest of tones, that fishnet tights didn’t suit me. To sum up, please do your children a favor and don’t be afraid to tell them they need to change their clothes/are totally incompetent.
3. Teach your child how to use a fork
This is not a joke; I literally did not know how to use a fork until I was 14 years old. That is to say, I was unaware that you could use the side of it to cut with. It’s just not intuitive! I remained blissfully ignorant until one day when I was trying to portion off bites of meatloaf by stabbing my fork into it and pulling and twisting fervently. Then I glanced over and saw my mom neatly chopping her loaf with the side of her fork. I was both devastated by the 14 years I had wasted and filled with joy for the possibilities that shone before me. In fact, I’m fairly sure this epiphany was the closest I’ll ever come to a religious experience. If this happened to me, though, I fear what similar utensil-related mishaps could befall other children. Parents-to-be, stay vigilant, and if you see your little darling using a knife to eat soup, leap into action before it’s too late.