Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


March 17, 2014

Tidbits: Skills for the real world

CROSSVILLE — There's a lot of talk about making sure kids are career and college ready by the time they graduate from high school. We test for it. We rank our states on it, and states turn around and they rank each school district and school on it.

We want them to be critical thinkers and creative thinkers and resilient and able to graph an equation and recite the periodic table of the elements.

But there are some things that may not be on that list, but probably should be. You might think kids would pick this stuff up somewhere as they go about their school days, but just to be sure, parents, take a look at this list and, if you aren't sure Johnny and Susie have these tasks mastered, it might be time to have some at-home schooling.

Personally, I didn't have these all down by the time I left home after high school. Some of these I still don't have down. Some, I learned by I have forgotten over the years.

Like writing a check. Once upon a time, way back in school, they covered how to write a check in a class. I don't remember what class it was. Perhaps math. I never took a class called "Basics of living," but at the time, writing a check was a basic skill everyone needed to know.

Then along came debit cards and people stopped writing checks everywhere. I bought a box of checks when I moved in 2009. I'm just now getting to the last little packet of them because I never write checks. I have a debit card and online bill payment.

This is not a problem unless I have misplaced my debit card. If you've never had to call and cancel your debit card, you don't know how frustrating it can be. You have to wait and wait days, weeks sometimes, for a new card and a new PIN number to arrive, separately. Then, you have to activate the card and commit the new PIN to memory.

In the meantime, you're standing in the checkout line trying to remember how to write a check and trying to hurry as fast as you can because you don't want to be the person holding everyone else up. I get so aggravated when I see someone writing a check at the store because, usually, they can't find a pen, and then they can't find their ID in the carryon luggage they call a purse, or they don't know why the store wants to see their ID, because they didn't need it last time they were there.

So I don't use checks much these days, and when I do, I have to think about how to write one out.

Other things that we need to make sure kids are prepared to handle is how to return merchandise to a store. Start by making sure to keep receipts until you're sure you want to keep something or it has been worn. Please, don't try and return something you've already worn outside. You aren't fooling anyone when you do that. Keep the tags on, keep the packaging, and keep a copy of the store's return policy. When you go in, be specific, but firm. You want to return the item.

The same thing goes for canceling a membership or service contract. Trust me, those companies that take care of your cell phone, TV service or just about anything else with a monthly fee, will make you jump through hoop after hoop. You're going to have to repeat yourself to no less than 25,000 people to actually cancel that membership. Repeat after me, and start practicing now, "No, I do not want to extend my contract or take you up on that reduced service fee. I want to cancel my service. Thank you."

And after you've canceled your service, you'll have to keep reminding them you don't want to be their customer again at this time. You'll get calls, emails, letters, cards. These will continue for months and months. I canceled a service three years ago and they're still sending me letters asking me to reconsider.

You should know how to care for your wardrobe yourself. This includes being able to repair a fallen hem or sew on a button. Despite the fact we live in a world that throws away everything once it needs a little work, you can save a lot of money if you know how to fix these things yourself. It's not full-fledged sewing, so don't get too nervous about it. If you can thread a needle, you're more than halfway there.

There are also a number of home and car repairs you need to know how to do on your own. Not knowing how to handle these little emergencies can lead to big emergencies. For example, you need to know how to change a tire, check your oil and jump a battery. I've had friends say they don't know how to do this stuff, and they don't see the need because there's always someone around who knows how to do that.

While it is true few men will stand by and watch a woman change a tire herself, this sort of minor emergency doesn't always happen in a populated area, or in the middle of the day, or somewhere where it is easy for others to stop and offer assistance. After I had a flat tire on a backroad in the middle of nowhere, before there was cell phone service, I learned to change my own tires. I learned how to use a tire iron and a jack, and I learned not to depend on the kindness of strangers.

That said, it's perfectly OK to accept help should it be offered. Especially if you're dressed up. Changing a tire is not exactly a clean job.

At home, you'll want to know how to plunge a toilet, replace a fuse and patch a small hole in the wall. These are not just handy skills to have. They are, in fact, life skills.

These life skills are important not only because they are things people need to know how to handle, being able to handle those little emergencies, like a flat tire, helps to build confidence to handle those emergencies that aren't so little. And that's what we're striving for, isn't it? We want our kids to be able to handle those surprises that come along, and to do so with confidence in their abilities. Every little victory helps get you ready for an even bigger victory next time.

• • •

Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at

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