People sometimes ask me why I’ve never had children. “They smell bad,” is my usual response. But the truth is that I haven’t had kids because I’ve watched other people do it, and it terrifies me.
The idea of giving birth—the physical equivalent of pooping a watermelon—isn’t exactly pleasant. But what really freaks me out is the huge, life-altering change that children represent. My friends have told me over and over that they had no idea how much having a child would change their lives.
I’ve listened attentively to their stories. And as a public service, I’ve distilled them into 11 simple steps that may just help prospective parents prepare for the diaper-changing, snot-wiping, barf-covered hell that their lives will inevitably become. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Note: I adapted what follows from an email my youngest sister forwarded. If you are—or know—the author, please drop me a note so I can give proper credit.
11 Steps to Parenthood Preparedness
Step 1: Prepare to take criticism.
Find a couple who are already parents and berate them about their:
1. Methods of discipline.
2. Appalling lack of patience.
3. Allowing their children to run wild.
Then, condescendingly suggest ways in which they might improve their child’s breastfeeding, sleep habits, toilet training, table manners, and overall behavior. Extra credit: Enjoy Step 1 because it will be the last time in your life you will have all the answers.
Step 2: Prepare to adjust your sleeping habits.
1. Get home from work.
2. Pace the living room from 5 to 10 p.m. while carrying a bag of wet flour. At about 8 p.m., eat a cold microwave dinner with one hand.
3. At 10 p.m., put the bag down gently, set the alarm for midnight, and go to sleep.
4. Get up at midnight, pick up the bag of flour, and pace around the living room until 1 a.m.
5. Because you can’t fall back asleep, get up at 2 a.m. Make yourself a drink and watch an infomercial. Set your alarm for 3 a.m.
6. Go to bed at 2:45 a.m.
7. Get up at 3 a.m. when the alarm goes off.
8. Sing songs quietly in the dark until 4 a.m., then go back to bed.
9. Wake up at 6 a.m. Make breakfast. Get ready for work. Go to work and be productive.
10. Repeat steps 1-9 every night for 3–5 years.
Step 3: Raise your “mess tolerance.”
1. Smear peanut butter all over your sofa and splatter jam on the curtains.
2. Hide a piece of raw chicken behind the stereo and leave it there all summer.
3. Stick your fingers in the flower bed, then rub your muddy claws all over the walls.
5. Take your favorite book or photo album. Wreck it.
6. Spill milk on your new pillows. Cover the stains with crayons. How does that look?
Step 4: Learn to dress a small child.
1. Buy an octopus and a small bag made out of loose mesh.
2. Attempt to put the octopus into the bag so that none of the arms hang out.
Time allowed: all morning.
Step 5: Arrange for transportation.
1. Sell your BMW and buy a mini-van.
2. Buy a chocolate ice cream cone and put it in the glove compartment. Leave it there.
3. Get a dime. Stick it in the CD player.
4. Take a family-size package of chocolate cookies. Mash them into the back seat. Sprinkle cheerios all over the floor, then smash them with your foot.
5. Run a garden rake along both sides of the car.
Step 6: Learn to feed your family.
1. Go to the nearest grocery store.
2. Bring the closest thing you can find to a pre-school child. (A full-grown goat is an excellent choice.) If you intend to have more than one child, take an additional goat for each child.
3. Buy your week’s groceries without letting the goats out of your sight.
4. Pay for everything the goats eat or destroy.
5. Ignore other people’s disparaging comments about your goats or their behavior. (If you need a refresher, see Step 1.)
Step 7: Learn to feed your child.
1. Hollow out a melon.
2. Make a small hole in the side.
3. Suspend it from the ceiling and swing it from side to side.
4. Get a bowl of soggy Cheerios and attempt to spoon them into the swaying melon while pretending to be an airplane.
5. Continue until half the Cheerios are gone.
6. Tip half of the remaining Cheerios into your lap. The other half, just throw up into the air.
Congratulations! You are now ready to feed a nine-month-old baby.
Step 8: Become culturally literate.
1. Memorize the names of every character from Sesame Street, Barney, Dora the Explorer, Disney, the Teletubbies, and Pokemon.
2. Watch nothing but PBS, the Disney channel or Noggin for at least five years.
3. Be prepared to discuss the merits of the aforementioned programs and stations with other parents.
Step 9: Learn to travel with a toddler.
1. Make a recording of Fran Drescher saying “mommy” or “daddy” repeatedly. (Important: Allow no more than a four-second delay between each “mommy/daddy”; occasional crescendo to the level of a supersonic jet is suggested.)
2. Play this tape in your car everywhere you go for the next four years. You are now ready to take a long trip with a toddler.
Step 10: Field-test your new skills.
1. Leave the house and start talking to an adult of your choice.
2. Ask someone else to continually tug on your skirt hem, pants, shirt-sleeve, or elbow while playing the “mommy/daddy” tape you made for Step 9.
If you’re able to maintain the conversation for at least two minutes, you may be ready to be a parent. If not, repeat Step 9 and try again.
Step 11: Develop a sense of humor.
You’re going to need it. Good luck!