Grace: How did I make it to 40 without these life skills? -
Published Sunday, December 1, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 3:13 pm
Grace: How did I make it to 40 without these life skills?

The tire pressure light was on for the third day in a row and, psychologically and geographically, I had come to a crossroads.

The past two days had been spent having attendants at two different gas stations fruitlessly check the pressure, apply air and pocket a $5 tip. Now I was out $10, the problem wasn't solved and I was facing a long winter of this.

As I rolled to the intersection of 50th and Underwood, I weighed the choices: Go left on 50th and head south to Dodge and (embarrassingly) ask the Buchanan's attendant to check the pressure again.

Or go right into a self-serve gas station called A.B.'s and hope they had tire gauges for sale.

There was a third choice, an obvious choice, but it would be a choice of last resort: Call Dad.

I wasn't willing to go that far. Yet.

How had it come to this?

How could I reach age 40 and never have checked my tires or inflated them. Ever?

The stupid tire pressure seemed like a symbol of all the other things I didn't know, of basic survival skills I had lost because my survival did not depend on knowing these things. Until it did.

Surely I am not alone. We all have blind spots, gaps in our abilities.

And today's busy, complex lifestyle keeps adding new things that past generations didn't need to know, such as computers and smartphones. Maybe it's easier to have gaps these days.

Still, it just seems wrong to reach adulthood without a full set of basic life skills, like checking tire pressure. Where should we be learning this?

For help sorting this all out, I called a pair of retired high school teachers.

Rita Leehy taught business classes at Westside High School for 39 years. Her husband, Mike, taught something that used to be called shop class. He retired from the Omaha Public Schools.

Being in their 60s, they are sandwiched between the generation that seemingly could do everything with their hands and the generations since that seemingly can do anything with fingers. As long as there's WiFi.

Together, we bemoaned the helplessness of each successive generation. Rita complained about young people not knowing how to balance a checkbook, change a tire, or sew on a button. I complained that Google made us forget how to use libraries or read a map.

Mike listened and then offered: There are just so many hours in the day.

The high school day is so full with requirements for graduation and college, he said, that if you want to learn practical skills, that ought to come sooner.

“Start in the seventh grade,” Mike said. “Minimum.”

Even then, can schools be expected to cover those life skills when we're already trying to catch up to our industrialized nation peers in math and science?

And what about parents?

“I thought I was so good about teaching Jason how to iron,” Rita said.

But when Jason, their son, went to college and called home so much with laundry questions, Rita realized she hadn't taught him the basics about running a load of wash.

Certainly, we learn some of this stuff by doing what Jason Leehy apparently did with laundry — by practice.

Life offers milestones for that: Driving. College. Moving out of your childhood home. Buying your first house.

These chapters of our lives are rife with learning opportunities.

We learn, through trial and error and lots of calls home, how to separate the darks from the whites, how to get the toilet to flush and when to call the plumber. We learn how to scramble eggs and saute onions. And we learn that the home-cleaning elixir of our grandparents still works: vinegar and baking soda will clean about anything, better than a lot of fancy chemicals.

So we do not go through life completely inept.

But can we check our tire pressure?

As I rolled west on Underwood with convenience to my right and self-­reliance to my left, fate made the decision for me.

No left turns at 50th and Underwood.

So I had to go right. Right into the self-serve station where, for $2.49, I bought a tire pressure gauge.

I squatted down by the first tire, screwed off the cap and stared at the black rubber for the amount of air I'd need. Tire air is measured in pounds per square inch, or PSI. But was that a 51 or a 31?

I pulled out my phone, punched my make and model into Google, and Google told me to open my driver's side door and look at a sticker I'd never even noticed. The sticker said 31. Google also said I could go up to 35 in the cold.

So, I placed the gauge on the air nozzle and the white measure stick blew out at 40. Whoa. Too MUCH air!

I dragged the air hose over, screwed it onto the tire and figured the hiss I was hearing was air being released.

Not so! The tire gauge read 45. Then 50. Then 55.

I was stumped. And tick-tock. Preschoolers awaited.

It was time for the choice of last resort.

“He's in his pajamas,” my mom said when I called. “He'll be there as soon as he gets dressed.”

My folks live a half-mile away. But I worried about the time. And, I admit, about my ineptitude.

So I squatted down by the offending tire and — eureka! — realized I had been inflating the tires. And — eureka! — I could deflate the tire using my tire gauge.

By the time Dad rolled up, I had checked all four tires, filled them all to 35 and felt like I was now qualified to be on “Orange County Choppers.”

Dad very dutifully double-checked my work. He did not, to my knowledge, roll his eyes.

But he asked: “Why don't you know how to do this?”

Contact the writer: Erin Grace    |   402-444-1136    |  

Erin is a columnist who tries to find interesting stories and get them into the paper. She's drawn to the idea that everyday life offers something extraordinary.

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