As a long-term follower of the famous adage "Starve a cold and stuff an anxiety," I could hardly get through "The Parent Test" without washing down my lemon meringue pie with a quart of eggnog.
It wasn't that I flunked. It was rather that I kept losing points for the characteristics that I considered proof of sanity. I lost one point because I would never, under any condition, drive a school bus, and another point cause I couldn't live comfortably on half my income. I lost more points because I wouldn't want to have children like my friends' children.
It was all enough to turn me away from ever being a mother, if I weren't one already. But that was, I suspect, the point.
"The Parent Test" purports to test your aptitude for parenting before you get locked into the family business. I'm sure that it will devoured by the very people who are so uptight about The Decision - to have or not to have - that they would gobble any guide placed before them.
But it is really a test of Why Not to Be a Parent. It should have been subtitled "201 Ways to Feed Your Fantasies of Failure."
The co-author of the book is Ellen Peck, whose previous interest in children was limited to teenage acne commercials and a book called "The Baby Trap." A founding figure in the Non-Parents Organization, she has long written about parenting as a trail of delights that extends all the way from diapers to pimples.
o be fair, this time she and her co-author, William Granzig, labored hard to offset any impression of an anti-parenting bias.
To be fair, they failed.
They are, for openers, a decade behind the times. They actually introduce their effort with the belief that "anyone growing up in this society has, prior to reading this book, received predominately warm, romantic impressions of parenthood and children."
If that were on her quiz, I would have answered, "False." The decision-making couples of today couldn't find a "warm, romantic impression of parenthood and children" on a Gerber food label.
In the 1950s, people came down with diabetes from the sugar-coated version of motherhood. But in the '70s, couples can barely unpurse their lips long enough to say "baby." They've been oversold on the hassles of parenting. They've overdosed on the horror stories. "Carrie" is their image of childhood, and Sisyphus is their role model for parenting. They are suffering, not from romanticism but from terminal conflict.
I know a dozen couples who can't decide whether to have children. They can't even decide how to decide. They want a rational actuarial kind of life-plan, and this test feeds right into their anxiety. The search is on to unearth the "right reason" to have children and to find out who are the "right people" to have them.
Peck and Granzig are pretty good at finding out the "wrong reasons," of course: "Broadly speaking there are four major categories of motive for parenthood - egotistic, compensatory, comforting and affectionate - and the odds are the first three of these four categories will cause you trouble." They had me absolutely convinced that any poverty-stricken, child-hating nomad is unfit.
But they are lousy at explaining why anyone - other than a child psycholigists school-bus driver who plays entire games of Monopoly with 5-year-olds and enjoys being abused by teenagers - would ever want to give birth.
The problem is that they, and the borderline couples I know, are talking about children in general. In the abstract. But we don't have them in the abstract. We have specific people we call our own.
The best-prepared, the most hyper-planned of us, still find that parenting is 20 years of on-th-job training. The pleasure of being a parent isn't reasonable or objective. It doesn't lend itself to grades. At the risk of sounding "warm," not to mention "romantic," it is the extraordinary experience of having short people who hang around a while, who change you as they change, who push and prod and aggravate and thrill you and make life fuller. Who are, more than anything else, irrationally special to you.
Parenting demands a risk and not a scoreboard. So far as I'm concerned, you can pass the celery sticks. This was my final exam.