There's nothing more infantilizing – or, teenager-izing – for an adult woman than being confronted by the more mysterious aspects of what my friends and I jokingly call "woman skills." Over the holidays, I watched my mom prepare dinner as I always do and asked her questions and then immediately forgot the answers, as I always do.
It's inevitable, really. My friends and I still experience considerable angst about not feeling grown up enough – despite the fact we're in our early thirties and doing exactly what we want to do with our lives.
It's an exciting and powerful position, to create your own life, to choose what to spend time on, what to learn, what to become good at.
For me, that always had to do with my thoughts, ideas, writing, and relationships – typical book-nerd stuff. My instincts grew around those things, not around how – or why – to make a bed in some precise way. (Are hospital corners intended to impress a straight man? Me? A hovering apparition of Martha?)
Shifting cultural mores, contemporary innovations, a convenience economy of take-out Thai and Swiffers, and the increasing tendency of women to get married and have children later in their lives have made housework, in particular, feel like less of an ongoing concern and more like something we're happily exempt from. While many women I know love doing homey stuff for fun – baking cookies and crafting DIY home decor, especially – the value of being good at "woman skills" has definitely decreased, even as we judge ourselves and each other for what we do, and don't, know how to do.
I actually have a pretty satisfying range of traditionally feminine "soft skills," such as how to talk to children, host a party and write an appropriate thank-you note. I also know enough about wedding etiquette and table setting (not that I ever really use these skills), and find peace in doing laundry.
It's the "hard skills" that never had much of a chance to form, which is where arrested-development anxiety comes from. I never learned how to clean a bathtub without soaking myself and the floor, or sew a button, or cook.
When life opens up in certain ways, some things have to fall away. What is perhaps less necessary is the accompanying feeling that by not knowing (and not really caring), I have failed as an adult woman; the guilt, I know, is its own kind of failure. Mastering that skill, though, will be the work of another generation.