Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Mock-up of Parenting - Part the First where we detail the tasks involved

Before I had kids, I had taken care of kids. I’d watched older friend’s kids, babysat, done church childcare, and various other kid-care activities. Based on those experiences, I thought I’d be a pretty decent parent.
What I have now discovered is that none of those experiences really prepared me for being a parent.
Due to this realization, I’ve been trying to think of a way to explain to someone who doesn’t currently have kids of their own what it is like being a parent. While all my illustrations fail in some capacity, I have an idea I think is getting there.
First, pick a day where you want to accomplish something that isn’t related to childcare. This task or tasks should take several hours to finish and be something that you want to finish on that day, preferably. It could even be a series of projects, rather than one big project, as long as you have it in mind to try to finish a large number of those projects within this single day.
In the morning of said day, turn on your television and queue up an episode of a show you like that has some plot. Sitcoms aren’t ideal, since they are mostly episodic and can be watched fairly mindlessly. News is a little better, but still not ideal, as knowing what happened on the previous episode doesn’t impact being able to watch future episodes. This should be a show that has a multi-episode plot, and where it is at least somewhat important or beneficial that you be familiar with previous episodes. Turn the TV up to a level where you don’t have to strain to hear it in any way.
Then get a radio with speakers—no headphones. Turn it to a music station. It doesn’t matter what kind of music station—feel free to choose a station you listen to regularly or that plays music that you already enjoy and with which you are somewhat familiar. Turn that radio up to a few decibels less than the TV.
Now get a tennis ball.
Start your show and turn on the radio. Then choose a point on the wall and start bouncing the tennis ball against the wall. The ball should not bounce more than once on its return trip, and it should not rest in your hand for more than a second.
You have several goals. First, at the end of your show you should understand what happened in the episode well enough to be able to immediately go on to the next episode. Second, you need to be able to recite all the names of the songs that came on the radio while the show was on. You may write them down as they play, if you like. This may sound hard, but remember a lot of radio is commercials and talking. You don’t have to remember any of that.
If you have a spouse who is at home with you, your spouse may help. One of you can write down songs, while the other bounces the ball. At the end of the show, you may commiserate on the plot to make sure you have it all down.
If at the end of the show’s length, you have accomplished all these things, then you get to reward yourself, first with some sort of treat – ice cream, chocolate, whatever – then by starting to work on the tasks you wanted to accomplish that day. If you fail at any 1 of these things, you get the treat, but you don’t get to go onto your tasks unless you try again with the same episode. If you fail at any 1 thing a second time, give yourself another, smaller treat, then try again. A third single failure—a tiny treat, try again. Fourth time, no treat, try again, etc.
If you fail at any 2 tasks, you get no treat that round. Try again.
This is what it is like to be the parent of 1 average child for 1 day.

At first, you may make mistakes. You won’t be able to remember all the songs. You’ll drop the tennis ball or hold it too long or it will bounce too many times. Maybe you won’t remember some key part of the show. However, on your second time through the same episode, you’ll do much better. Probably because you will know the plot and can almost ignore the TV, focusing on the radio. If you have a spouse helping, you almost definitely will succeed the first time, and then you both get treats.
As you do it more and more, with different episodes, it will get easier. Your multi-focus ability will adapt, your muscles will get used to the motion, and your memory will improve. You’ll feel like a success.
Now, occasionally, the plot of the show will get extra detailed, or it will change suddenly, perhaps because it is a new season. That may throw you a bit, but you’ll recover fairly quickly. New music will come out on the radio, so occasionally you won’t catch the name. Once in a while you’ll have an unlucky fumble with the ball. Overall, however, you will improve.

Then you decide to have a second kid. Add a tennis ball.

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