If I were writing an advertisement for a position as a parent, this would be my headline. Back in 1996 BC (Before Children), I naively listed out the qualities I thought a parent would require. These included a sense of humour. Patience. Love. An ability to play. And you know what? All of those things are true and wonderful if you have them. But after 17-odd years parenting, I would require the following skills and attributes for anyone applying for the position of parent. And yes, this is in order, with #1 being the most important.
#7 High tolerance for dirt and mess
Yep, there’s a lot of this. You need to be able to cope with it. You can wash kids. And their clothes. And your house. Dirt is not the end of the world.
#6 Willingness to perform repetitive tasks
Laundry. Dishes. Tidying. Laundry. Dishes. Tidying. Hairy McLary stories. Nursery rhymes. Movies and songs on endless repeat. Enough said.
#5 Physical robustness
I don’t necessarily mean huge, although when I had twins, being tall and strong was a huge help, both during the pregnancy and when I was carrying around and feeding two babies at the same time. Strength has also been useful for those children of mine who occasionally need assistance getting to their bedroom to have some calming down time. When they’re wrestling, struggling, screaming and hitting and they don’t want to be removed from the situation and calm down, it can really help if you can physically move them. As my children tend to be tall and sturdy, this is a huge help! And endurance is useful. Think of those long family outings where you are the one carrying the backpack with the food, sunscreen, water and necessities because YOU are the parent (even when your children are bigger than you are). Endurance, stamina and strength are very useful.
#4 First Aid Certificate
It is very helpful to know if you need to take your child to the doctor, the emergency clinic which has an x-ray machine or the hospital. A First Aid Certificate will give you the ability to run triage. You can then also intelligently tell the medical professionals the cause of the accident, what treatment you have already applied and you can maintain your calm demeanour while they stitch, plaster or otherwise fix your broken child.
#3 The germ resistance of a cockroach
Frankly, the amount of germs your wee darlings bring home, and the strength of those germs mean that you need to be like the prehistoric cockroach to survive. Each new environment that your child enters will produce new and progressively more vile illnesses. The positive side of this is that your children inherit your germ resistance. Our oldest child was our sickest, and we were the most susceptible to her germs. By the time we got to numbers 5 and 6, not only were they almost never ill (we can count the number of days off daycare and school on the fingers of one hand, and they are seven now) but neither were we.
#2 The ability to sleep, anywhere, anyhow
This comes in handy in three ways. You need to be able to go to sleep quickly and easily. You need to be able to go BACK to sleep easily after being woken up. And you need to be able to make whatever hours of sleep you get, count. Seriously folks, they use sleep deprivation as a torture method. In the main, I go to sleep easily, wake easily and go back to sleep easily. Phew. I once was in bed feeding the twins when they were babies and woke up to discover I had LOST one! Turns out that one of the babies and I had gone to sleep and the other was still feeding. My husband had woken and noticed the sleeping baby and moved him off the feeding pillow back to the cot. Took several years off my life. I have been known to go to sleep standing up. And after years of sleep deprivation, going to an observatory, or even the movies at times, leads only to sleep. You know, I’m relaxed, leaning back and it’s warm and dark. Turns out this is exactly what I needed to survive the early years. Needless to say, insomniacs should not apply.
#1 A strong stomach
I cannot overrate this. From the post-labour messiness (let’s not go into detail here) to meconium (green runny poo for those not already in the know) to poo which escapes up your divine infant’s back to the smelly milk which “spilly” babies chuck up all the time (and half of our kids were this way inclined) and then to the far more repellent full on projectile vomiting as the wee darlings get older. If you have a weak stomach, life is much more difficult. Our oldest three were all spilly. I remember putting daughter number 1 on one shoulder, and she chucked all over me. I changed my shirt and she promptly chucked again. I handed Daughter number 2 to a cousin of her father’s (who was wearing an especially nice shirt) and recommended that he put a cloth nappy over his shoulder. He uttered the unforgettable phrase “she won’t be sick on me”. I’m sure I don’t need to detail the next few minutes. As she got older, the same daughter had a predilection for being very ill just before she came down with something like an ear infection, and then again on the last day of said illness. Unfortunately, until she was about 3, she would only do this sitting on my knee. I wised up and moved to the bathroom after the first couple of times, but I have to say it was a red letter day the first time she realised she felt sick and was ill in the toilet. I was reminded of this tonight as my youngest suddenly sprinted for the bathroom, saying “I’m going to throw up” and proceeded to be violently ill. Everywhere. That’s what prompted this post actually. I was completed unmoved by the mess as I cleaned him, the toilet and the bathroom up, and thought how lucky I was. A side note is that at 3am, his twin brother woke me up to announce that he felt like being sick too…
Now that’s not to say that I have coped with every poo or vomit disaster I have come across. In fact, there have been times when I have just LOOKED, jaws agape, and been completely overwhelmed. Sometimes a poo disaster has required two people to deal with it – and I have been the only one there! I have been known to take a poo or vomit covered baby into the shower with me in order to clean us both up. This doesn’t work when you are out of the house. So my biggest advice is have plenty of cloth nappies with you at all times, and take not only a change of clothes for the baby, but a change of clothes for you as well.
Sadly, it appears from this list that I might actually qualify for a job as a parent. Whilst this is no doubt a relief for my six children, it does appear that there is no way I can get out of it now. 17 years on-the-job experience probably counts for something as well. Now it seems I just need to master the extras – patience, spontaneity, an ability to play, a liking for housework. Maybe by the time grandchildren come along, I’ll be there.
What would you add to the employment advertisement for a parent?