Because I have always worked, they have grown up with a team of childminders and cleaners, so it has taken time for them to learn to keep their rooms tidy and hang up their clothes. But what’s unusual about that?
Sloph has followed my path, preferring to know nothing of cleaning, washing and ironing until some was forced on her by life in boarding school. Do schools in Britain still teach domestic science (or home economics as it was upgraded to) and if so can they compete with Jamie Oliver on TV? Is it assumed that boys and girls in elite boarding schools will still inherit homes with servants?
Can cooking be included in the Homo Faber syllabus of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme, now de rigeur in international schools? I have never heard of it. Is the Latin name still indicative of gender bias towards woodwork and metalwork? In my Latin lessons at school, I remember translating a menu for a banquet, but it seems there were no real recipes to go with it. One dish was something like a swan stuffed with a goose stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a quail stuffed with a pigeon stuffed with an olive. The idea was to eat the olive. They say that learning Latin was useless for modern life, but this was not quite what they had in mind.
Bee, on the other hand, has demanded to learn to knit, though she has not seen me do it much. Proficiency has been measured in the length of a scarf knitted on enormous needles in nobbly wool (the dropped stitches are more easily disguised). The products have been much admired by her teenage friends. Sewing on buttons and mending rips in favourite clothes and turning up hems are still delegated to mother.
Who provides the new essential “services” of the modern age which support the working mother? For us, it has become reliable low cost transport (taxi) to transport kids to school, cafe and the local cinema, (wonderful in Vilnius and hopeless in Athens) and the healthy food delivery service (souvlaki from Grandma’s, two blocks away in Athens, reprieving us from a diet of pizza). And let’s not forget the man who fixes the satellite TV and brings the pirate card. Or the English speaking student/au pair/cleaning lady/maid who finds you the shoe repairer (needed on a rare occasion these days) or an explanation of a local holiday custom. In return you acquire her problems: struggles with college fees, exams (whether to cheat or not) and whether life with a foreign family is more interesting than the possible teaching job in a rural school which seems the only way to get started.
In Athens we have been frustrated by lack of communication with our Polish maid who seems to speak fluent Greek but not English French or German. Her life remains a mystery to us, though her excellence and common sense as a maid indicate she could do much better in life. Is this the curse of the Greek education system in which she must have grown up?
How do mothers transmit domestic skills to their children now? Should they even bother to try? What are the new technical proficiencies one needs for domestic life these days? Lessons in computers and internet hardly count, since these are as essential as reading and writing. In our house the most practical technical task needed is finding a spare UK/continental plug adaptor. Both my kids learned to do this early in life. And the biggest help for a mother is for the teenager to order the dinner for delivery, when the mother has SMSd her arrival time. And perhaps I should add the ability to read labels in supermarkets in whatever languages are available.