Brendan Rielly: As we prepare to deliver our two oldest back to college and as our youngest enters her junior year in high school, I think often about how Erica and I prepared to become parents in the first place. This post is taken from a tongue-in-cheek guide to parenting I’ve written called How to Raise the Perfect Child, Or At Least Lie About It.
To prepare yourself for parenthood, you should seek out other parents who have young children. And criticize them. Whatever you do, don’t ask for advice. Criticize them. What do you mean you’re not playing Bach for your baby? I can’t believe your baby food’s not organic. You just have to be firm at bed time, that’s all. Breast-fed children are smarter, but if you don’t want to, I guess that’s your choice. Disposable diapers…don’t you care about the environment?
Have a ball! It’s the last time you’ll have all the answers. Or, you could spend the next nine months whacking yourself on the forehead with a hammer, yelling: “Idiot! Idiot! Idiot!” Soon, your head will go numb, you’ll forget everything you ever knew, and you’ll spend your days walking around in a daze. Boom. Parenthood.
Next, you’ll want to give someone a key to your house and pay them to sneak into your bedroom every two hours and scream in your face. This is important. Points are awarded for how far you jump out of bed and whether you land on your feet, or your face. Points are deducted if you punch the screamer in the face. Parents get arrested for that sort of thing.
After the long jump, you cannot go back to bed. Instead you must take turns heating bottles of milk and squirting them onto each other’s arm. Whoever scalds the other first, loses.
Next, you must carry a bag of compost around for an hour, singing the same song. No variations are permitted. Then, you can go back to bed. Ten minutes later, the screamer will return.
You’re not ready yet. You’re probably two of those people that enjoy stimulating conversations and romantic dinners by candlelight. In other words, you’re not yet parents.
To prepare for parenthood, from now on, every conversation must revolve solely around your child. If it doesn’t, walk away. You must work the word “poo” into every conversation at least once. Never look at the person with whom you’re speaking. Jerk your head around spasmodically like a turkey the day before Thanksgiving. Mutter to yourself frequently.
Encourage half of your coworkers to crawl between your legs whenever you speak to them. When you ask them to stop, have them drop to the floor, kick their feet and scream “No!” Encourage the other half to ignore everything you say until you repeat yourself at least three times, then they are permitted only to respond: “Why?”
Throw away your books, newspapers, magazines and movies. Replace them with books that you rub, scratch, yank, or sniff, and with movies about talking animals that LOVE you and have discovered forty-three verses to Row, Row, Row Your Boat that you never knew existed. Begin every sentence with “You know, this morning on Sesame Street….” Hum the theme song to Barney at work. Loudly.
Having rendered yourself unfit for human conversation, you must now train for the stuff-your-face sprint. Time yourselves while eating. First one done wins. Choking costs points. You’re ready when you can inhale any meal in three minutes or less. You will use the remaining time to take turns spitting baby food in each other’s faces. Points are awarded for adhesion, accuracy, and complementary colors.
Don’t quit now. There is more to learn, little cricket. Spill milk on your suits and let them sit in the sun for a week before wearing. Pour milk on your couch and place it next to your suits. The remotes belong in the oven and your watch goes in the toilet. Install new latches so you can’t open the fridge, oven, or any cabinets and put plastic covers on all doorknobs. You’ll eventually end up locked in the bathroom, furiously spinning the cover around and around. Enjoy it. This is a good time to practice muttering to yourself.
When you do get the bathroom door open, invite all your neighbors to join you. Never go to the bathroom alone. From now on, this is performance art.
Pack every suitcase you own and carry them with you wherever you go while also holding an alley cat hopped up on amphetamines. Purchase all the graham crackers in your store, pour milk on them, and spread the goop across all surfaces in your minivan. It will form a protective barrier between your vehicle and its inhabitants. Generations from now, archaeologists will be able to tell how old your van is by the number of layers. By the way, if you are still driving anything sporty—and by sporty, I mean non-minivanish—drive immediately down to the nearest minivan dealer and sign over all your salary for the next few years. You must have the latest minivan with multiple climate controls and more monitors than NASA, or you will be bad parents.
Some final, but essential, points. Call random doctors at three in the morning and complain that your child looks funny. When they hang up, call back. Tell them she smells funny too. Anytime that you are in a large group, announce that you have to go peepee and run from the room holding yourself. Sniff random people’s bottoms and announce “We have a winner!”
So, as you lay on the bathroom floor exhausted, trapped, famished, ripe, with a constant throbbing in your forehead, know this: you have fooled yourself into thinking you’re ready for parenthood.