What we don't know

Author: Arienne Thompson '04

I have a bone to pick with my parents: I don’t really know how to do anything, and it’s all their fault.

To give you an idea of how clueless I am, consider that I finally learned the intricacies of making coffee a few weeks after my 28th birthday.

It began with a call to my mother one Saturday morning as I sat snowed-in at my boyfriend’s house. (Fortunately for me, he can cook and shovel with the best of them.)

Me: “So, Mom, you know how I like coffee and always go to 7-Eleven to get those cheap, vending-machine cappuccinos? Well, I’d like to make coffee at home instead. Sooo, how exactly do you do it?”

Her: “You know the lines on the side of the machine — pour water inside to the 4-cup line — you won’t need more than that. Then get a filter . . .”

She continued with the basics as I feverishly took mental notes so I wouldn’t have to call back.

You laugh, but this is, indeed, a real exchange between a mother and her nearly 30-year-old child — emphasis on child.

I admit it. I am clueless.

Although I don’t consider my childhood particularly sheltered, I do acknowledge that my wonderful parents, bless their hearts, did let some of the basics slip through the cracks. Sure, my sister and I know how to load a dishwasher, feed a dog and do laundry, the chores we shared growing up. But when it comes to balancing a checkbook, sewing on a button, filing taxes, using a curling iron and, obviously, making coffee, we are sometimes at a loss.

If I get a flat tire, I call AAA first and my father, who is 850 miles away in Memphis, second without thinking twice about it. My father once offered to fly up to D.C. to fix my brakes rather than have me drive to the mechanic and pay a little more than the cost of his plane ticket.

When I began my first apartment search in Washington, I scoured Craigslist for the perfect place. I found one, but another eager seeker beat me to the punch. So my mother called the building next door and got me in the next week.

I am not complaining about being raised by two of the most generous and loving human beings around. Rather, I realize as I get older that I come from a generation of know-nothings groomed to be the best but who lack the skill set to go it alone.

Sure, many of us millennials approaching 30 escaped the increasingly rabid strain of helicopter parents who swoop into their children’s lives to micromanage to the hilt. However, our overeager but well-intentioned parents may have done us a similar disservice with their never-ebbing love and attention.

In their efforts to provide us with lives and plant in us ambitions that exceeded their own, our parents have turned us into what author Ron Alsop describes as a generation “with a lot of brain power but not a lot of common sense.”

In The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace, Alsop contends that our parents are not solely to blame, however, as technology has made life too fast-paced to care about things like chores, and schools have neglected classes on such workplace basics as showing up on time and not blasting your iPod at your desk.

Still, home is where it starts.

“This lack of initiative or at least common sense about what to do is very pervasive,” Alsop says, “I don’t think it’s mean-spirited. I just think it’s a lack of being brought up feeling that you have to pitch in and contribute to the whole family, whether it is ordinary things like helping fix a meal or helping cut the grass.”

See? We’re not selfish, just clueless.

While we sat around letting our parents peel our bananas and fill out our college applications (guilty!), we felt not entitled but protected. As we left our beds unmade and our shoes on the stairs, we studied hard, got the best test scores, went to the best schools and landed our dream jobs. For every life skill that fell by the wayside, we were praised for knocking an educational or professional milestone out of the park.

Don’t get me wrong, parents of millennials. We do plenty of things well because of you. We are philanthropic, we demand work-life balance, we respect our elders, we are less cynical than Generation X and we are tech-savvy.

And, sure, technology is one of the only superiorities I can hang over my parents’ heads, but it’s a small victory when I think of the things I never learned how to do, and fear I may never master.

I’ve adapted to my strange, hybrid child-adult life, making rudimentary meals and Googling fast fixes for removing wax from carpet. But as the invincibility of youth wanes in tandem with my parents’ inevitable mortality, I know that my best bet in life is to get percolating on making myself a little less clueless.

Arienne Thompson, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area, covers fashion and celebrities for USA TODAY. She is serving her second term on the Black Alumni of Notre Dame Board of Directors.