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WHAT DO YOU SAY TO WOULD-BE PARENTS?

“So… what’s it like having kids?” the would-be parent asks.

“It’s great,” you say, “Having kids is the best thing that’s ever happened to us. They’re a lot of work, but when you see the way they smile and laugh and take in the world, it’s definitely worth it.”

And then maybe you chuckle and offer to let them stay over and take your kids for a weekend “test drive,” knowing they probably won’t but hoping they will so you and your spouse can get away for that “romantic weekend” you’ve been talking about since pretty much your kids were born (with the term “romantic” being parent-code for “getting some sleep and being able to watch pay-per-view movies all the way through, in one sitting, without being interrupted a dozen times because ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘I had an accident’ or ‘I spilled jam on the carpet,’ etc.”).

You may suggest these would-be parents pick up a movie or two, too. But while many recommend something like “Parenthood”1 for its funny and touching insights into the ups and downs of, well, parenthood, there’s another movie that gives a fuller and more complete picture: 1970s horror classic “The Exorcist.” Here’s why:

Demonic possession is just another name for a weekday morning.

As every parent knows, at random and unpredictable intervals, your little angel will wake up snarling and nasty like a beast from Hell. Foul-mouthed? Before you even get through the door to say “Good morning, I made you breakfast,” you find yourself assaulted with “GET OUT! Can’t you see I’m sleeping? You always wake me up like this. I hate you. I hate you. I HATE YOU.”

And their appearance? Definitely something unholy (though, to be fair, not because they’re suddenly sporting horns, scales and some grotesque demon pig-nose, but because nobody looks good when they don’t shower for three days – why is personal hygiene such a difficult concept for kids to get, anyway?).

As for being able to crawl across the ceiling? Well… maybe not the ceiling, but when you consider the gravity-defying ways kids flip around in their beds while they sleep, it’s not such a stretch to think they might some- how end up on the ceiling.

Green puke? How about orange puke, yellow puke and blue puke, too?

It’s not called “The Technicolor Yawn” for nothing, something parents usually find out fast. Often, these multi-colored hues can be traced back to two types of foods: foods consumed in excess, like artificially-flavored fruit punch, Halloween candy and birthday cake; and foods consumed under protest such as salad, non-breaded fish, and brussels sprouts (with the eventual volume of puke increasing exponentially if you happen to say something like “I don’t care if you don’t like it. Nobody ever threw up eating brussels sprouts, so finish your plate!” first).

You know a child’s head can’t spin completely around… but a 5-year-old doesn’t.

And no matter how quickly the parent dashes into the other room to get the phone or answer the door or shut the oven off before dinner burns, it’s five seconds more than the 5-year-old needs to twist the 2-year-old’s head around to the point where it’s about to snap. “But we were just playing owl,” the child protests.

You don’t need an exorcist, but a child psychologist might be a good idea.

What parent hasn’t thrown up their hands at some point and said “I can’t do this anymore!” before turning to an expert for help?

Whether it’s the therapist, the math tutor, the reading coach, the college placement counselor or even the pitching specialist, all these experts are trying to do is exactly what Father Merrin was trying to do to Linda Blair’s Regan: make the kid “normal” again.

There can always be a sequel because evil – like parenting – goes on forever.

Which means the moment parents think they’re done and their kids are on their own, they move back home. Or go into therapy. Or just stop calling. This can happen at any time, for any reason (though it’s often financial), and it’s generally a lot worse than the original, just like “Exorcist 2 – The Heretic,” “The Exorcist 3,” and both versions of “Exorcist – The Beginning.”

And if that isn’t scary, nothing is.

From “Why Chicken Nuggets are Better Than Prozac.”

1Is the TV version of this movie a reasonable substitute? Clearly the show has plenty of fans –  here, here, here and here, for example – but what if it gets cancelled? Imagine devoting hour after hour to something, getting attached and becoming emotionally invested in its well-being, only to have it suddenly just grow up and move go away? On second thought… maybe that’s even more like parenthood than the movie “Parenthood.”

WHEN KIDS ASK UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTIONS

What’s sex? Did you take drugs in college? Why did you vote for George W. Bush* the second time?

Kids ask questions all the time, but there’s a difference between the ones parents can’t answer — “Does God need to shower?” — and the ones (some) parents don’t want to. The solution? Perhaps we can take a cue from politicians, their press secretaries and the so-called “bipartisan” pundits we see on TV and use the same simple strategies for answering without answering.

1. Give a detailed, thoughtful response, just not to the question they ask.

Campaigning politicians are particularly good at this, and the trick is to remember that your answer can be anything, just as long as you can loosely relate it to the original question.

For example, if asked about drugs, begin by saying “I’m glad you asked me about smoking pot in college…,” which makes it sound like you’re going to admit that for most of your sophomore year your best friend was your bong, but then say “…because I think it’s important that we be open and honest with each other, especially now that you’re older and starting to ask hard questions. It seems like only yesterday when the most important thing on your mind was which Power Ranger you wanted to dress up as, or if a certain Pokemon could beat a certain other kind of Pokemon. I have to admit that watching you grow up has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life, and I look forward to helping you continue on that journey towards adult- hood by providing you with the information and insight I myself have gained over the years…”

If you haven’t lost them by then, just keep talking.

2. Focus on “the larger issue.”

Which can be pretty much anything you want it to be.

3. Ask your kids what they think the answer is.

Also known as the therapist approach.

This works well for things you don’t really know how to explain, but not-so- well for things you’re just not comfortable talking about.

4. Lie.

Time was that people who didn’t tell the truth were called liars and they were looked down upon, but thanks to all the CEO’s, athletes, politicians and ce- lebrities who’ve been caught with their pants down (or off, or filled with drugs, etc.) those days seem to be over.

The best thing about this approach is that if your lie is later exposed, you can claim you just “misspoke.” As in “Yes, I can see how my response to the ques- tion ‘Did I vote for George W. Bush?’ might have been confusing, because when I said ‘No,’ I actually misspoke. In point of fact – and because it’s im- portant to me that the record accurately reflect my views – I didn’t mean ‘No’ in the traditional sense of the word, and I can see now how my incorrect use of that word might have been somewhat misleading, because what I, in fact, meant was that I felt that in light of the specific challenges facing the Presi- dent at that time, it was important for me – and really, all of us as a nation – to remain united and strong, and because of that, I did my duty as an American by going to the polls and casting a ballot so my voice could be heard, and even though that ballot was nominally in the affirmative, it was really more a show of support for the country as a whole than a specific endorsement of any one candidate. I voted because it’s the duty of every citizen to vote, and for that I will never apologize.”

5. Use a spokesperson.

Either a hired professional or your spouse, if he or she has the BS skills required.

This has the added benefit of distancing you from your answer, whatever that might be.

Plus, if you are later confronted about the answer your spokesperson gave on your behalf, you can say you didn’t actually mean whatever it was they said and that you must have been “quoted out of context.”

*Or, increasingly for many, Barack Obama the first time.

PARENTS VS. NON-PARENTS

Everybody says having kids changes everything, but how?

It’s not like you suddenly wake up in some alternate reality (even if it sometimes feels that way) or discover the days of the week have been completely rearranged (which isn’t to say that chronic sleep-deprivation isn’t sometimes disorienting), it’s mostly that everything you did before you had kids gets replaced with some other activity.

For example:

Non-parent activity: Hanging out with friends
Parent activity: Hanging out with people you don’t really know – and might not even like – because their kids are friends with your kids

Non-parent activity: Making plans
Parent activity: Canceling plans because somebody threw up

Non-parent activity: Sleeping
Parent activity: Three 24 oz. Lattes, a half-case of Diet Coke and five Red Bulls per day

Non-parent activity: Being on time
Parent activity: Explaining why you’re late (for a while anyway, until everybody stops inviting you to things, or says it’s “adults only”)

Non-parent activity: Going to a 4-star restaurant
Parent activity: Going to McDonald’s

Non-parent activity: Going to a 3-star restaurant
Parent activity: Going to McDonald’s

Non-parent activity: Going to a 2-star restaurant
Parent activity: Going to McDonald’s

Non-parent activity: Going to a 1-star restaurant
Parent activity: Going to Chuck E. Cheese, because if you have to go to McDonald’s one more time you’ll go insane

Non-parent activity: Finding the perfect handbag
Parent activity: Finding the perfect babysitter (who is likely to be just as expensive and “sold out”)

Non-parent activity: Working out in the morning
Parent activity: Working out for 15 minutes before everybody gets up, stopping, getting everybody breakfast, going back and working out for 5 more minutes, stopping, getting clean socks and underwear from the dryer, where you accidentally left them last night because you fell asleep before you could fold them, trying to work out for a few more minutes before realizing you’re out of time

Non-parent activity: Working out at night
Parent activity: Laughing at the thought of working out at night, because after a day like this who has the energy?

Non-parent activity: Yoga
Parent activity: Mommy & Me

Non-parent activity: Seeing movies
Parent activity: Seeing movies you hate, over and over again, because kids love repetition

Non-parent activity: Biking
Parent activity: Taking your kids to the emergency room for stitches after they crash

Non-parent activity: Going shopping
Parent activity: Going shopping, not getting a chance to get everything, then having to go shopping again (and sometimes again and again and again, depending on how tired and disoriented you are)

Non-parent activity: Sex
Parent activity: Naps, but not with anywhere near the same frequency

Non-parent activity: Being in a hurry
Parent activity: Being in a hurry but having to stop at a gas station anyway, because somebody forget to pee before they get in the car

Non-parent activity: Organization
Parent activity: Reluctantly embracing the chaos

Non-parent activity: Date night
Parent activity: Prom night – as in the one your kids go to, since that’s how long it will be before you ever get to go out again

Non-parent activity: Vacations
Parent activity: Going to Disneyland (which can be fun but is definitely not a vacation)

Non-parent activity: Relieving stress through exercise, meditation, deep-breathing, etc
Parent activity: Drinking

Non-parent activity: Modesty
Parent activity: Answering the door in a towel because even though you told the kids “Don’t get it!” they did (which is also the reason you sometimes spend 25 minutes talking to telemarketers)

Non-parent activity: Going to a sporting event and booing the ref
Parent activity: Not booing the ref because you now realize being fair and impartial is impossible and that no matter what the call, somebody will throw a fit (and whether it’s a professional athlete or a child, the screaming, yelling, stomping and fist-pounding all looks exactly the same)

Non-parent activity: Buying new furniture
Parent activity: Buying new furniture because — your kids “swear” — the old furniture just fell apart and/or got stained all by itself

Non-parent activity: Turning off the evening news because their coverage of the latest public health “crisis” is ridiculous
Parent activity: Turning off the evening news and taking your kids to the emergency room because now you’re worried they might have been exposed to it

Non-parent activity: Cleanliness, basic hygiene
Parent activity: The five-second rule

Non-parent activity: Wiping your nose with Kleenex
Parent activity: Wiping their nose with your thumb and forefinger, then flinging it on the ground

Non-parent activity: Getting a facial
Parent activity: Getting a facial of vomit

Non-parent activity: Doing things when you want to
Parent activity: Doing things when you have to

Non-parent activity: Deciding you’re ready to have kids
Parent activity: Realizing you were wrong (but trying to make the most of it, anyway)

A NOTE TO NON-PARENTS ABOUT SELECTING AGE-APPROPRIATE GIFTS

While it may seem helpful that every toy in the toy store is labeled with a “recommended for ages X to Y” or “suitable for ages X and up,” it’s not.

In fact, in many ways it makes gift-giving much more complicated.

Let’s start with infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers: there isn’t a 21st Century parent who doesn’t believe the one running around his or her house isn’t clearly more developmentally advanced than most others.

Not convinced?

Just think about any conversation you’ve had with the parents since they became parents: doesn’t it always include at least one funny/touching anecdote about how their little angel accomplished something a merely “average” child wouldn’t be expected to do until he or she was much, much older?

Given this, it would seem logical to assume the child’s functional age would be much greater than the child’s actual age, to the point where, for example, a toy designed to help pre-schoolers improve small muscle control would be well-suited for their little toddler.

But no.

Because even if the kid is advanced, there’s no way he or she is that advanced, which means not only won’t the kid be able to use the toy (not for its intended purpose, anyway), the resulting failure, frustration and over-stimulation will lead to a massive meltdown the child’s parents will blame on you and the idiotic gift you bought that traumatized their offspring.

You might as well have given the child a dunce cap and the parents a t-shirt that read “We’re the proud parents of a moron.”

It doesn’t get any easier buying gifts for older kids, either.

Let’s say you have an 11-year-old nephew who loves to play video games. Having spent some time with him, you realize his favorite games are ultra-violent first-person shooters and elaborate, adult-oriented fantasy role-playing games.

So you buy him one.

And then come Christmas Day, when you call over to the house to say “Season’s Greetings,” you’re shocked when nobody will speak to you.

What happened?

The game you got was rated “M for Mature,” just like the dozen other “M for Mature” games he has in his room and plays regularly.

Except his parents didn’t realize this (either because they never set foot in his room because it’s too messy, or because they’re parents and they’re so overwhelmed with everyday demands they filter out everything that isn’t homework or a fight).

PARENTS: What did Uncle Scott get you?
KID: A video game, see?
PARENTS: I don’t think that’s appropriate – it says on the box it’s rated “M for Mature.”
KID: No, it’s fine – I have tons of other “M for Mature” games.
PARENTS: You do?

The result is your nephew hates you because you got all his games taken away and his parents hate you because you’re probably the one who corrupted him in the first place.

As if that’s not enough of an argument against age-appropriate guidelines, there’s also this problem: where do they come from?

Obviously not from parents, because if they did there would be some kind of board or council or non-profit organization responsible for determining them that would have splintered years ago into Liberal, Conservative and Centrist factions that parents would be pressured to support or denounce.

Guidelines clearly aren’t determined by toy manufacturers, either, as they would never open themselves up to such and easy-to-win lawsuit:

ATTORNEY REPRESENTING CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT: Did you or did you not state that this toy was appropriate for children ages 8 and up?
CEO: We did.
ATTORNEY REPRESENTING CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT: And where did you state that?
CEO: On the label.
ATTORNEY REPRESENTING CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT: But the four-year-olds I’m representing can’t read, can they?
CEO: No, they can’t. Which is why we agree to pay whatever settlement you want.

So who is responsible?

Unfortunately, the only group that’s left is the same group of child development experts who make up all the other guidelines for children — which might seem fine, except that for every parent who agrees with their advice (and quotes it freely, and condemns anyone who doesn’t believe it) there’s another parent who thinks everything they say is just stupid.

So unless you know exactly where the parents of the child you’re buying a gift for stand, you’re better off avoiding toys and their age-appropriate guidelines completely and doing what generations of non-parents have been doing for decades: giving U.S. Savings Bonds.

ADDENDUM TO A BRIEF NOTE TO NON-PARENTS ABOUT SELECTING AGE-APPROPRIATE GIFTS

Don’t give clothes, either, unless you’re absolutely certain the parents will like them, otherwise they end up in a giant box in the back of the closet that’s not just a pain to get out whenever you come over, but becomes an enduring reminder of your bad taste and/or cluelessness when it comes to what kinds of clothes real kids wear.

OBSERVATIONS ON THE DMV

  • Even if you are the first person in line, first thing in the morning, you will end up waiting an hour and a half.
  • Anything that can be screwed up will be screwed up.
  • Just because you are half-blind, senile, psychotic or drunk doesn’t mean you can’t renew your license — though if you’re half-blind you’ll have to take the vision test.
  • The fact that you’re supposed to take a number when you walk in only confuses the people in front of you who never learned to count.
  • Instructions are in Albanian, Arabic, Bosnian, Cambodian, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Korean, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somalian, Spanish, Turkish, Thai and Vietnamese, but stupidity seems to be the same in any language.
  • If your car gets stolen, it is likely the person who stole it is waiting in line in front of you.
  • Saying you “work at the DMV” is kind of misleading – a more accurate description would be to say you “do as little work as you possibly can so you don’t get fired from the DMV.”
  • No matter how fat you are, there will be a woman ahead of you who weighs at least 100 pounds more than you do. (This may be the one positive thing about the DMV.)
  • One couple waiting in line will get into a huge, screaming argument.
  • One couple waiting in line will dry hump each other until a DMV employee asks them to stop.
  • Somebody will video this couple and post it on Youtube.
  • If you think a set of instructions are so simple even a moron could follow them, the moron in line in front of you will prove you wrong, and require up to 25 minutes of redundant, repetitive picture-based explanation before he or she realizes you can’t just take the driver’s test and get a license, you must actually pass it first.
  • If you accidentally marked “A” even though you know the answer is “None of the above,” you still have to re-take the test.
  • If the fee is $25 and you only have $23, you are $2 short no matter how many times you say “Please” or “Couldn’t you just cut me a little slack?”
  • Even if there are 50 open seats, somebody will sit down right next to you.
  • The person who sits down next to you will make you consider leaving and coming back tomorrow, even if you have already waited two hours and are next in line.