A little book called Stuff Every Guy Should Know crossed my desk recently. It was full of fairly useless trifles (how to bet on horses, choose a cigar, etc.), but it did inspire me to ponder a question.

A little book called Stuff Every Guy Should Know crossed my desk recently. It was full of fairly useless trifles (how to bet on horses, choose a cigar, etc.), but it did inspire me to ponder a question.

What useful trifles would I put in a book called Stuff Every Parent Should Know? These would be the small things that can pull you out of everyday jams and make life flow a little more smoothly. Here are a few of the many things that come to mind:

How to put together a nutritious meal in five minutes using nothing but dusty canned goods, three-day-old bread and overripe bananas.
An ability to improvise meals is a parental must unless you want to run up a $300-a-month pizza bill. At a minimum, learn everyone's canned soup preference and keep an emergency stash on hand.
A related bit of advice: Never run out of eggs, carrots and elbow macaroni because they look good together on a plate. Sometimes, appearance alone will carry you through.


How to do algebra.
I thought I had put it behind me after graduating from high school, but when the kids came along, it returned with a vengeance. Rudiments of it were showing up in their homework by fourth grade, bringing back unpleasant memories of x's and y's and so forth.
I'm telling you: Learn it or be counting fruitlessly on your fingers at 10:30 p.m. while your 11-year-old sits frustrated by your side with a half-completed math worksheet.


How to logically file paperwork.
Every parent needs a filing system because kids generate incredible amounts of paperwork. I erred in often making my file headings too general. So here's a tip: When you really need to find a piece of paper, it will be easier if your file headings don't read "Tommy's School Stuff - '03 to '09."
Ease of retrieval is the key because the need for vital documents has a way of making itself known on weekday mornings, three minutes before the school bus comes.


Who can fix a computer fast.
Every parent needs to know at least one neighbor who understands computer error messages, knows what to do when the printer won't work and understands how to embed a chart in a research paper.
Also, this neighbor should be a night owl, because more than likely you will be calling after 11 p.m. on the night before a project worth 75 percent of a student's grade is due.


Where the nearest Walmart is.
Love it or hate it, the giant 24-hour retailer can be a lifesaver when you need to buy a pair of hiking boots at midnight. I ran into just that situation once with my daughter, on the night before she was leaving for camp.
I probably should have turned it into a lesson on the importance of planning. "You won't always have Walmart to bail you out," I should have said. But I think I got distracted by the canned soup aisle.