The parenthood test

October 2009

Dear Dave,

Sounds like you're signed up for one martial arts class too many. What with parent-and-toddler, GymTots, WaterBabies, KidKrafts and MiniMusic for Daisy, along with school, Fab Footie, Dramarama and Trampoleaping for Sam, you've got a hectic schedule. No wonder you sometimes find yourself halfway along the road with a selection of children and assorted sports kits, only to discover you've forgotten where you're going. I'd drop the Junior Judo if I were you. From what you say, it doesn't seem as if Sam's enjoying it anyway. It will mean the money you paid for the outfit goes to waste but think of all the cash you'll save on snacks, bus fare and renewing the subscription. He can always use the thing as a dressing gown.

Struggle through the next few weeks, though, and life should get easier. It's at this point in the year that the timetable is the most packed - school is back in full swing and every club and activity is up and running for the new academic year. There's always plenty of homework, a wealth of new programmes on the telly, a looming deadline for the wife and usually a spate of birthday parties as well. It's manic.

Technically, the spring is just as busy but despite the miserable weather, things don't seem as bad. The routine is well-oiled and there's the happy prospect of longer days ahead. Getting everyone where they're supposed to be with appropriate equipment and footwear doesn't seem so hard.

I suppose, in its own way, December is even busier but that's down to one-off festive events. These normally involve a steady supply of mulled wine and tasty snacks, which helps take the edge off running round in a mad panic trying to buy Great Aunt Edith a present while accompanied by a bunch of chocolate-filled children who are in transit between the AquaSoccer end-of-term tournament and the AeroboCello Christmas concert.

Nope, the autumn is when everything is craziest. It's very easy to lose track of what's going on, so I wouldn't worry too much about these occasional mental aberrations and parental lapses you've been suffering. That said, I can see why you find them disturbing. Believe me, I know where you're coming from (even if you're not entirely sure yourself). I woke up the other morning and didn't have a clue who I was or where I was meant to be. I was pretty certain I had to be somewhere, though.

I stumbled out of bed, pulled on some clothes, went out onto the landing, tripped on a box containing the complete Mr Men collection and fell down the stairs. Luckily, a huge pile of soft toys cushioned my fall. To my bewilderment, however, the impact set off a cacophony of electronic nursery rhymes, sound effects and big hug requests, and in an effort to escape, I crawled into the lounge and collapsed on the sofa. It was covered in remote controls and tambourines.

I still couldn't remember who I was but I began to suspect I had children...

Eventually it all came back to me and I got the kids up, fed and on the way to their various educational and social engagements. Then I went back to bed for a bit to recover. I suggest that you do the same if ever you get the opportunity - it'll minimise the long-term effects of parenthood.

You see, one day your children will have moved out and life will be simpler again but I'm afraid any neural damage you incur in the meantime is permanent. Get some rest or you'll become confused and disoriented like me. Who knows where you'll end up? You'll take your dry-cleaning for a trampoline lesson and then suddenly wonder where you left the kids.

You should really avoid this scenario if possible. It will all involve far too much explaining to child services.

Of course, it may be too late and your zombiefication may already have begun. You should prepare for the worst. Personally, I could have done with some warning about the houseful of children I was wandering into the other morning. As a consequence, I've considered leaving a note of their names and ages on my bedside table for reference in similar situations in the future. Unfortunately, I'd never remember to update it as they got older and, more than that, if I was really confuddled I might not believe what I was reading without further evidence anyway. ('I have a nine-year-old? What the...? When did that happen? The Millennium hasn't even arrived yet and I'm really looking forward to visiting that Dome. This is all some kind of joke. I just need to climb out of bed and go look in - Ow! LEGO! Ow! My foot! Ow!')

I can't be the only one with this problem, so I've compiled a helpful questionnaire for distribution to households throughout the land. You might want to keep it handy. It will help cut down on injuries and disaster should you ever find yourself roaming the house in a daze trying to remember your name and what you were doing:

Do you have children?

(and if so, how old are they?)
An easy guide to spotting the tell-tale signs of parenthood

Lost? Tired? Confused? Covered in jam? This pamphlet is for you!

Unsurprisingly, these symptoms can be troubling and lead to high levels of anxiety and distress. Don't worry! There may be a simple explanation - you may be a parent. That's right, everything may be perfectly normal! In fact, it probably is. All you need do to be sure is answer the following questions and then add up your score. This will determine if you are, indeed, a parent and provide a rough approximation of the age of your children, allowing you to equip yourself appropriately:

1. Look at yourself in the mirror. Is the face staring back at you:

A. Full of health and vigour, with a twinkle still firmly in the eye? (1 point)
B. Relatively youthful but with a sickly, grey pallor and a splattering of banana porridge? (2 points)
C. Looking a little worse for wear but it's hard to tell with all the nervous twitching going on? (3 points)
D. Lined and jaded? (4 points)
E. Sagging and yet serene? (5 points)

2. What's on your lounge carpet?

A. I'm not sure, I can't see it for Duplo. (2 points)
B. Marbles. Lots and lots of... Argh! Thump... (3 points)
C. Muddy boot prints and half a pizza. (4 points)
D. Not much apart from a vast assortment of faded stains. (5 points)
E. I don't have a carpet. I have fashionable rugs, a glass-topped coffee table and a selection of fragile carvings of giraffes. (1 point)

3. Check your DVD collection. Does it mainly consist of:

A. The original Star Wars trilogy, The Matrix, Love Actually and The Shawshank Redemption? (1 point)
B. The complete works of Bob the Builder and the Teletubbies? (2 points)
C. Computer-animated movies involving talking animals and cute robots? (3 points)
D. Empty cases which have been left lying open on every available surface within five feet of the TV? The only discs visible appear to have been used as pizza toppings and then trodden on. (4 points)
E. A huge mix of accumulated tat. (5 points)

4. What's in the fridge?

A. A delicious selection of produce from around the world, ready to be whipped up into a nutritious meal. (1 point)
B. Lots of little tubs of slime. (2 points)
C. Vegetables, fresh fruit, twenty pints of milk and some Cheestrings. (3 points)
D. Absolutely nothing - it's been emptied out. Wait a minute... my beer's gone too, and the crisps! (4 points)
E. Cottage cheese and low-cholesterol margarine. (5 points)

5. Examine your TV and the surrounding area. What do you see?

A. An Xbox 360. (1 point)
B. Sticky fingerprints, an Xbox 360 and a sandwich in the DVD player. (2 points)
C. A Wii and an Xbox 360. (3 points)
D. A Wii, vast numbers of empty DVD cases and a void in the dust where an Xbox 360 used to be. A trail of muddy footprints and pizza leads off in the direction of a darkened bedroom. (4 points)
E. There is no TV. Looks like one of the bedrooms has been converted into a cinema, though, complete with projector and mini-bar. It appears the previous contents of the room have been tipped into bin bags and chucked out the window. (5 points)

6. What's in the laundry tub?

A. It's mainly shirts and underwear. (1 point)
B. Almost nothing. That must be why the washing machine is on. There is this funny bucket with a lid on, though. I'll just check what... Gag!... Somebody... Gasp!... call a Hazmat team... Wheeze... (2 points)
C. A hundred thousand pairs of grey school socks. (3 points)
D. I don't know but I think I saw something move in there. (4 points)
E. I can't get to it because someone's mistaken my house for a laundrette and dumped several bin bags full of dirty clothes in the utility room. (5 points)

7. Do the photos on display around the house feature:

A. You and your friends in interesting and varied locations? (1 point)
B. You holding babies? (2 points)
C. Children in school uniform trying to remember how to smile? (3 points)
D. People who look a bit like you (but much younger) and their friends in interesting and varied locations? (4 points)
E. People who look a bit like you (but much younger) holding babies? (5 points)

8. Examine the shoes in the shoe rack. What do you see?

A. What shoe rack? I only have one pair of shoes. Why would I need a shoe rack? (1 point)
B. A vast selection of Crocs, Wellies, sandals, trainers and school shoes spilling off the rack, down the hall and out onto the street. (3 points)
C. Huge, puffy trainers, combat boots, uncomfortably high heels and some flip-flops. (4 points)
D. Several pairs of sensible shoes (mainly female) plus plenty of extra space for when people come to visit at Christmas. (5 points)
E. There are no shoes in the shoe rack. They're all in the tumble-dryer. (2 points)

9. How many bedrooms does your house contain?

A. None. I have a futon. (-3 points)
B. One. (1 point)
C. Two, and one of them has a cot in it. (2 points)
D. Two, and one of them has bunk beds. (3 points)
E. Three. One with a cot AND one with bunk beds. (3 points)
F. Four. Oh, this isn't good - two of them smell really bad and another is covered with posters of Zac Efron. (4 points)
G. Five. Worryingly, they all have bunk beds. (Stop counting and run)
H. One. But I do have my own cinema, gym, jacuzzi and study... (5 points)

Well done. You've completed the questionnaire. Now add up the score and discover if you have children:

6-20 points. You have young children. You are suffering from a mixture of sleep deprivation, exposure to biological waste and a caffeine overdose. Go have a lie down after you've made sure the kids are all properly fed, cleaned, clothed and caged. (This may take some time...)

21-30 points. You have children. They've driven you slightly mad but they're probably entertaining themselves happily by destroying the house. Find them and make them do their homework.

31-43 points. You have older children. They'll be in their rooms or helping the police with their enquiries. You're blacking out because you don't want to know which. Teenagers are self-cleaning, however, and can look after themselves for short periods, so it's OK to leave the house and go buy some more food. (Remove the fluff from the pizza if you need something to keep you going. You almost certainly paid for it, after all!)

44+ points. You have children... but they've left home. Result! You don't have to remember where they are. Go put your feet up while playing computer games in your underpants.

If you scored less than 6 or found the questions impossible to answer, you probably don't have children. You have a hang-over. Go put your feet up while playing computer games in your underpants. (Make sure they're clean underpants - it'll minimise the embarrassment should you discover that you do in fact have children, you're simply in someone else's house.)

Whatever your situation, we hope you found this information useful and that it will help you cope with the next few minutes, hours and decades! Good luck!

Compiler's disclaimer:

Of course, it should be noted that when I hired a pest control guy to deal with my rodent issues a couple of years ago, he failed to find many droppings, spot any visible damage or detect any suspicious odours. As a consequence, he thought I was paranoid and exaggerating the extent of the problem.

I wasn't. The mice were everywhere - they were merely clever enough to clean up after themselves.

Similarly, just because there aren't any signs of children immediately apparent in your home, that doesn't mean they aren't there. They may be hiding behind the sofa, desperately whispering to each other in an attempt to devise a plausible excuse for the honey in the tumble-dryer (mixed in with the shoes). It's always worth double-checking.
That should sort out some of your confusion but try to take it easy when you can anyway. You don't... Oh, is that the time? Fraser has a Street Dance & Hip Hop taster session. (He's not thrilled but it's free.) I'd better go. All the best...

Yours in a woman's world,


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