There are tests for driving, permits for hunting and fishing and licenses for marrying. But most people have children without any formal preparation whatsoever.
Suddenly, we are the proud possessors of small creatures who are rarely clean, rarely quiet and barely cute enough to offset the other two. Well-meaning folks keep handing us Dr. Spock when what we really need is Mr. Spock to beam us to another galaxy before the next Smurf cartoon hits the tube.
Prospective parents should ask themselves these questions:
Do I need to sleep regular hours?
Most parents-to-be are prepared to abandon occasional naps. They should be prepared to abandon regular rest altogether. Children have an innate ability to change their sleeping patterns as fast as parents adjust to them. Be ready to go from the 2 a.m. feeding to the 4 a.m. nightmare to the 6 a.m. potty patrol. Later, your child will keep you up late listening to rock music or get you up early to blow dry his/her hair before school.
Do I have superior mechanical ability?
High schools should require prospective parents to take mechanical courses instead of Home Ec. Parenthood requires the ability to assemble complicated equipment--from cribs to car seats and from strollers to Snuglis.
After these elementary projects, you move on to bicycles, aided by instructions loosely translated from the Japanese. You may learn to pour concrete as you build a practice device for your home run hitter. Or become an expert carpenter while constructing a doll house containing more lumber than it took to build Mount Vernon. By the time the kids leave for college, most parents could qualify as union laborers.
Am I prepared to share?
Parents believe they teach children to share, but it is really the other way around. Children share everything from your shoes to your secrets. Be prepared to see your new sweater go off to field day or to have your family fights described in "show and tell."
Am I a quick thinker?
Try answering the following childhood questions using logic, wit and patient understanding:
* "Were Adam and Eve black or white?"
* "How old were you when you 'did it?' "
* "If designer jeans are so bad, why are you wearing them?"
* "Why do I have to make my bed, I'm just going to get back into it tonight?"
* "Why did you get so upset when I told your boss what you said about President Reagan?"
Am I interested in continuing education?
Parenthood offers endless opportunities for library research, book reports and smelly science experiments. Teachers may say that homework is for kids, but as long as schools keep turning out students who are better at passing notes in class than taking notes in the library, parents will have a chance to learn more than they want to know about Japanese festivals, the interiors of earthworms and Lake Kenya.
Am I seeking thrills and adventure?
Were you planning to put the wee ones on roller skates or the roller coaster alone? Parenthood provides the chance to relive all of the adventures you barely survived in your own childhood--with an additional challenge. Now you have to hold a small hand and try not to cry for your mother.