Someone recently reminded me of the school project where kids carry around a plastic baby that cries, to teach parenting skills. Since seeing this depicted on “Saved by the Bell” as a child, I have always been secretly jealous of the project, what with the whole getting-married-to-a-male-classmate thing, pretending to be a mom, etc. I was intrigued to hear it is still around.
Now as a parent, I view this activity with both appreciation and humor. Good idea, but I think I have a few adaptations to add. Truly, I would have benefited from something along these lines. I had no idea what to expect as a mom; most don’t. If you are preparing to be a mom, I suggest that you do the following for three months:
Go buy a cat. (*Cat lovers, PETA, and the easily offended: I mean no disrespect to cats. Sure, they’re FAR inferior to dogs, flighty, and weird, but no real harm intended.) Anyway, find a cat. From the instant your purchase is transacted, don’t set the cat down for more than a minute unless it is sound asleep. Carry it at all times. For the first three weeks, conduct all your business (making your bed, getting water, going to the bathroom, sweeping the floor, etc.) while holding the cat. If you have a spouse, brief trade-offs are allowed during the hours of 6:00-9:00at night.
-Let’s start with the sleeping routine, because that is the biggest adjustment. You’ll need to prep the room beforehand. Turn the closet light on, position your radio to a nice static-y AM station (to mimic a monitor), turn on a fan, and set a noise machine loudly to a nice mechanical ocean wave setting. If it sounds like an airport, you’re on the right track. *Keep in mind that every night you have to set all this up before putting the cat to sleep, because the changes might wake him up.
-Then, situate the sleeping cat next to your bed in a small, open carrier. For the first night, set your alarm to go off every 45 minutes. Be sure to choose the most annoying sound option. When it goes off, gently sway the carrier back and forth for ten minutes. Make sure to practice the whole gamet of rocking motions – the back and forth, up and down, side to side, etc. For the length of the three month experiment, the alarm should go off each night at least every THREE hours. Sometimes you’ll wake from the dead of sleep to feed the cat, sometimes rock him, sometimes scour the floor on your hands and knees for pacifiers you have hidden, sometimes go downstairs and administer medicine (be sure to wake yourself up enough to dose correctly, mind you), and other times, just wake up and do nothing. Just wake up. Then try to go back to sleep.
– If your future parenting plans include breastfeeding, then practice by doing this. It’s not an exact parallel, but you’ll get the idea. Every other time you wake up, use a blood pressure monitor for a good fifteen minutes on each arm. Keep in mind you have to hold the cat during the whole interval, and stay awake for the whole thing. If you plan to bottle-feed, then get up make a serving of hot chocolate. Be exact in your measurements, now. Feed it to the cat using a dropper.
– About midnight, wake the cat up and feed him a small serving of cabbage, peppers, and refried beans. He might be a bit gassy in an hour or two. If he is, you might want to move his legs around in a bicycle sort of motion for a while (up to an hour). Put him to sleep and back in his crate. If he wakes up in the transfer, you must start again.Remember throughout it all that any loud noises will probably wake up any other children in the house, though your spouse will sleep peacefully until morning.
– Choose a different alarm for 6am. At this point, most likely the cat will be awake, hungry, and unhappy. First feed him. Then, bounce him around the room, cuddling him, singing “Joy to the World” for at least a half hour. At this point he’ll be happy, but not sleeping. Both of you should plan to start your day then.
– But don’t forget. You aren’t allowed to brush your teeth, wash your face, or take a shower until about 1:00. If you’d like a cup of coffee, sure, go ahead. Drink half and feed half to the cat, and see how the day goes.
– For breakfast, toast some bread. After fifteen minutes, you can butter it. Eat two bites and then stop to put a diaper on the cat. Then feed the cat and wait an additional fifteen minutes. If you’d still like your toast, you can proceed, but do it while talking on the phone, unloading the dishwasher, checking your email, and, of course, rocking the cat.
– Proceed with the day’s activities. If you plan to have more than one child, you must narrate all activities while doing them. Be perky, be instructional, and, always, be alert. Every half hour make a complete round of all the rooms in the house, checking for loose cords, dropped pennies, or other hazards or misbehaviors. As soon as breakfast is over, take all the small objects in the house and scatter them around on the floor. Open all doors, strip down the couch cushions, and pour water all over the kitchen floor.
– Throughout the day, run the cat up and down the stairs AT LEAST 100 times. If you plan to have other kids, then get ahold of a small to mid-sized beagle. Take him up with you half the times.
– If you can make it until one, it’s shower time. First, get the cat asleep. Dead asleep. If you plan to have multiple kids, flip a coin. If you get heads, you win. You can take a shower today. Otherwise you’re out of luck. If it’s a good day (read: shower day) then first position the sleeping cat within eyeshot of the shower, but not so close that the rushing waters will wake him up. It may take a little fidgiting to determine the best position for YOUR cat before the starting of the shower. You may need to incrementally start the vent fan, the water, and the noise machine so all the racket doesn’t wake up him. Anyway, for your shower be sure to shave just one leg per shower, and of course, eliminate that silly conditioner. Waste of precious time. Streamline your makeup routine into five steps. Go ahead and throw away all your lipgloss, because you will never, ever have time to put it on.
– About four thirty it’s time to make dinner. Pick something simple, of course, because you’ll be holding the cat. It is permissible to strap him to your body in a carrier. He’ll need some up-and-down movement though, so make sure you’re bouncing up and down while chopping potatoes, browning chicken, or stirring pasta. If you’re planning to have multiple kids, spread golf balls, opened markers, and tupperware lids all over the floor, remembering to dodge them as you cook. Every five minutes, take something out of the cabinet and dump half of it on the floor. Stop and pick it up. As before, narrate all of your steps aloud, here stopping at least 12 times to say, “No, don’t ___”. You can pick any random chastisement here, but they all need to be dangerous, and different. Once you have dinner ready, you can eat. Go ahead and put yours in the freezer for a bit before eating it. While you eat, bounce up and down with the cat. Put some music on, like Raffi. You are never allowed to finish your plate, at least not until bedtime.
-Like to entertain? No problem. Invite a few friends over and do all of the following in heels, without getting flustered, intermixing the aforementioned talk with witty, pleasant adult conversation.
– The cat will need a bath. Clothed, stand and under the shower for three minutes and get your front side at least half wet. Then bathe the cat. When you are done, you have about 90 seconds before he will be very tired, very hungry, and very unhappy. He’ll be squirming, so work quickly. In that time you will need to towel him dry, rub lotion on his fur, slather some desitin on the hind quarters, zip him in a onesie, and hurry him downstairs for a meal. Don’t be discouraged if you’re both in tears by the end of it.
Once the cat is asleep, congrats. You made it through another day.
If you are childless, you are probably thinking I am joking with this silly plan. I assure you, from the depths of my heart, I am not. Try it! You will be well-prepared for motherhood! *Disclaimer: The chaos reflected in this essay is not intended to hide all of the WONDERFUL things about being a mom. It sure is hard work, but there’s nothing else I’d rather do!