childhood, parenting

A Gross of Forks

“Can you buy a gross of forks? If it were just the two of us, that would last us about five lifetimes. With the kids, it’ll be lucky if it lasts us five years.”

We were standing in the kitchen looking in the silverware drawer, where there is indeed a dearth of forks. I’d found two underneath pantry shelves while sweeping the kitchen the other day, and have a theory that there are more in bedrooms, as much as they deny it.

Kids. Or the reasons we can’t have nice things. I’m not going to order a gross of forks. I am contemplating ordering a couple of dozen, though… we’ve bought silverware twice in the last 18 months, and sometimes I wonder if they are eating it. Roughage? They are a bit old to do what they used to do, when we’d be digging the garden beds and find mysterious spoons. Those days, I needed a gross of spoons. Now it’s forks. What’s next?

The Ginja Ninja and I have been talking a lot recently about this coming year. It’s a big year for her – the biggest in her young life to date. She will graduate from highschool, start college, and plans to start her first jobs very soon. She told me that it’s scary, thinking about everything that is changing in her life. She’s going from a kid, to an adult, and it’s painful.

Adults have to worry about forks, kids don’t. To them, forks are invisible. Sure, they eat with them, but if one slides into the trash while they’re scraping their plate, they don’t notice, or care. Adults, on the other hand, have to suck it up and stick their hand in the trash to retrieve it. Because it’s just a fork, but forks add up. And a hand can be washed along with the fork.  While we were talking about the forks in the kitchen, the First Reader showed me one of our two egg pans. Both are reserved for eggs, because they are the only non-stick pans we own. I prefer cast iron, in no small part because you can’t do to a cast iron pan what a kid can do to a Teflon pan.

It’s not that he scraped the heck out of it. It’s that the Little Man doesn’t yet grasp that you need to grease even a non-stick pan, and that if you put scrambled eggs in a pan with no lubricant and then burn the heck out of it, there’s no going back. “If I did that to a pan,” the First Reader who was born in the era of thrift told me, “I’d have gotten what for. I don’t remember ever doing it, though, and maybe that was because pans were tougher back then.” Which is a good point. Pans were tougher – you could scour the ever-living daylights out of a cast iron or the heavy aluminum he remembers in his mother’s kitchen. You can’t exactly do that with Teflon. It’s less forgiving.

The learning part of growing up involves losing forks, digging in the garden with spoons, burning pans… and being yelled at so you learn not to do that again. As an adult there are other considerations that keep us more careful of our belongings – we don’t want to have to buy stuff all the time that shouldn’t need replacing that often. Part of the transition from childhood to adulthood that my daughter is just starting to learn is the personal responsibility. A child is made to be responsible by outside pressures. Parents who demand to know what they have been doing with the forks, and give them what-for when they ruin a pan. An adult retrieves the fork because that’s money they want to be able to use somewhere else, not buying more freaking forks.

So that’s what I’m going to try and do this year. Teach the Ginja Ninja why forks are important, so she’ll be able to adult better when she’s on her own. The lessons of adulting are painful when one doesn’t have a support system. But I also don’t want to give her so much support she’s swaddled up in it, because that will weaken her muscles and leave her unable to function without that support. First, though, I need to get to the store and buy some forks.

16 thoughts on “A Gross of Forks

  1. I noticed that with my two older kids (both grown, married, and with kids of their own) that ownership was the key, especially with my son. The non-stick pans at his house are carefully washed by hand, and only wood or silicone utensils can be used in them. My non-stick pans were tossed in the dishwasher after having left-over egg scraped out with the same fork used to scramble said eggs. And it’s not just that he’s grown up – if he borrows a tool from his Dad it is returned in worse condition than when it was loaned, if it is returned at all. It’s not his, so it’s no money out of his pocket to replace it. (Yes, I know the solution is to stop loaning stuff to him, and my husband will agree right up until the boy comes over, metaphorical hat in hand, asking to borrow whatever.)

    Adulting is hard, and sometimes it’s the little things, like forks and screwdrivers and washcloths, that are the hardest.

  2. Boy broke his computer headphones just six weeks into owning them. So one of his Christmas presents were a new pair but they were white and pink (flash sale on Amazon and technically from a grandmother). He wanted to return them but we explained that no one could see him in his bedroom wearing them and maybe if he kept them for a year in working condition, he could upgrade but for now it was them or nothing. Ownership requires taking care of your shit. Or losing it.

    1. I’ve done something like this for my son. He’s very hard on headphones, so I’ve said no more. He has to make his last, or do without. And he can’t just play stuff out loud.

    2. My folks’ boiled down to “return it in the same or better condition, or replace it.”

      Helps that they live by this. (Except for books. Books are kinda…fluid. There’s a reason I don’t borrow books!)

  3. First, we ran out of spoons. Then we ran out of forks. We don’t really think it was the smallest children (11 & 13) that ate them, but the adult children who have moved in and out over the past couple of years.
    I sort of imagine that they have the thought, “I’m not going to take this fork back up to the kitchen, because I’m an adult, and don’t have to follow the rules anymore.”
    That may not be the case, but it WOULD explain the fact that silverware vanishes when an adult child moves in.

    Which is why we dream of selling the house and buying an RV, and just…leaving…

    1. That’s my problem here. The other adults in the house. I’m missing about 2 dozen forks. I know this because I used to have 3 full sets. I buy cheap replacements from the Dollar General…I’m missing half of those too.

  4. I’ve eaten off of Tupperware trays since boyhood, when my mother thoughtfully bought a trio of them for me. I have a stack of five or six of them, but mostly eat off the same one, which I carefully clean in the sink after every meal. Likewise I have a favorite spork, a titanium thing made by Light My Fire. Have a favorite drinking glass, too, a UK pint beer glass. Between the tray, the spork, and the glass most of my eating needs are satisfied, and when the dishwasher fills up, it’s not because of me.

    Were I starting over again acquiring kitchen stuff for a household, I’d be strongly inclined to buy a dozen stainless steel Army trays and the same for cutlery – – the military pattern with loops for hanging is sufficient for any eating task, is widely available and there’s no fretting about mismatched pieces.

  5. My answer is why? You and your First Reader will have forks because you care and worry about replacing them. Before there were forks there were fingers When my son decided to keep things in his room- it was allowed. At the table, he either retrieved the “lost” item or went primitive and used his fingers. My wife got wild, I just laughed at hot steak or spaghetti with fingers.

  6. When my first one entered school, I finally figured out why I was gifted with three complete sets of silverware by my mother. One sister, the other one with kids, also got three – the other two siblings received only one each.

    Surplus or not, one of the first purchases I made after that at CostCo was one case of 500 spoons, and one case of 500 forks. If they came back at the end of the day, uncracked, they got washed – so I still have a few left after lo these many years. They still take them to school instead of the real things. (Although the daughters actually use their stainless steel chopsticks more these days – which, since they paid for them, have never disappeared.)

    I gave up on pans, though. I finally bought one final nice set, and told them that it was the last set that I was ever going to buy. I would use my cast iron and stainless steel cookware exclusively (I detest aluminum…) So far, they’re still around and usable.

  7. “Nobody cares about your stuff or will value it as much as you do.”
    This has been a mantra of mine, especially after moving or while living with others. I’ve seen and experienced this in many ways over the years, and there’s really no One Size Fits All solution, although there are a lot of good ideas floating around, some of which I suggest to clients or use myself, depending on the severity of the issue and the cost of the items. It’s frustrating, and can be even worse when it’s a spouse or other adult who shares your space. It’s good that you’re talking to your daughter and preparing her for the onslaught of all things adult while she’s showing concern and is receptive to your input. I believe this is something we need to be doing with our children their whole lives, not just once they reach a certain age or threshold. They may not understand everything all at once, and some definitely get it before others do, but eventually those lessons click and the light bulb goes off. “Oh, this is why we never had matching tableware when were were growing up!” and “Oh, this is why we could never afford to buy the expensive athletic shoes!”. When it’s their item, their responsibility for maintenance, repairs and replacement, and their money they have to spend, and the consequences are real, the learning curve goes way up.
    This is why, after we grow up and move out, mom and dad usually redo the house and buy lots of nice, matching things – offset by the savings of no longer having to provide for their children or their children’s lack of caring and respect for their parents’ property.

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