(Almost) Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting I Learned in High School

by Kristin Vanderhey Shaw
Originally Published: 

When I was in high school, I signed up for Sociology class, and our big projects were two pretty important milestones: getting married and having kids. We paired up, planned the wedding, and went the full nine yards with white dresses, veils, and cake in a mock ceremony in the auditorium. One of the best parts about that is that the teacher who played my dad and walked me down the aisle was a young, gorgeous new teacher on which much of the female senior population had a crush.

We were asked to role play confrontation and conflict, and before the mock wedding, my pretend groom – my friend Dave – had to convince my “father” to let me get married. It was just a small glimpse into what marriage would look like, and looking back, I applaud the effort, even knowing the futility of trying to simulate what real marriage looks like. Everything from the personality of your partner to financial status to in-laws plays a part, and it’s a puzzle with ten million combinations.

The next step in the teacher’s plan was for us to have a baby. We were summarily handed a 10-pound sack of flour, told to name it (we named the baby Kayla, at my request, as a young fan of the soap opera Days of Our Lives), and the rules were issued: we couldn’t leave it in a locker. We couldn’t put it down. We couldn’t stick it in our backpack. We had to take turns caring for it. Like a real baby.

Now that I have a real child, I know that the flour sack gave us only a fraction of what it would be like to have a baby. I can see there were a few other classes in school that prepared me for parenthood even more…

1. DRAMA. As a parent, it is imperative to know how to act. Silly voices are a bonus. I can act mad when I’m laughing inside, and I can laugh when I want to cry. I can be a horse, a pig, a dog, and Wonder Woman. Bonus points for singing songs in a frog voice.


“It’s bedtime.”

“Why?” “Because you need to rest.” “Why?” “Because you’re three.” “Why?” “Because I said so.” “How about we read one more book and then I get into bed, OK?” “Just get into bed.”

3. ALGEBRA. If x equals the number of hours left before I am awakened by a toddler, and y equals the number of hours of sleep I need, then y-x equals NOT ENOUGH HOURS IN THE DAY.

4. CHEMISTRY. Balance this chemical equation: take one new baby (NB), one hormonal new mother (HNM) multiplied by postpartum anxiety, add one relatively sane husband (RSH) and what’s the result? I’m not completely sure yet. The mixture is simmering. NB + HNM (PPA) + RSH — > ?

5. MUSIC APPRECIATION/ BAND. Well, there was that one time, at band camp… OK, not really. But if you remember suffering through a concert of 5th-grade just-learning-how-to-form-an-embouchure kids squeaking out the original Mickey Mouse theme song as one of the performers, then you can endure any number of instruments your child will play. I know you don’t remember yourself as a musical prodigy back then. Fess up.

6. PHYS ED. This is where I learned the skills I needed to learn how to waste time in the backfield during field hockey and make up songs about our very strange teacher to the tune of Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana”. Hmm… That’s not very translatable to parenting. Yet.

7. HOME EC. Remember home ec? It was how-to-be-a-homemaker presented as educational enrichment. I still can’t sew to save my life, and the memory of the ugliest pink sweats you’ve ever seen keeps me from trying again. But damn if I can’t make a whole meal from appetizers to dessert from a roll of Pillsbury biscuits because of that class.

Thanks, Elkhart Memorial High School. See, I did pay attention.

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