*I pulled into a parking space at Bed, Bath & Beyond next to a silver Prius just in time to overhear a mother and her daughter, standing at the open trunk of the car, having a seminal moment.
I shut off my engine and sat there, not wanting to get out of my car and risk embarrassing them, yet ashamed of myself for not wanting to miss a syllable being said. Stern, artfully manipulative language was used; the law unsparingly laid. Frankly, I thought she was too hard and way out of line.
But, when the girl, who looked about 10 years-old and did all the talking, finished berating her 30-something mother, all the woman could do was shut the trunk and slink behind the wheel. She backed out of the parking space while her daughter, in the passenger seat, stared straight ahead in a quiet smolder. As they drove away, I thought of a new product BB&B might consider packaging: parenting skills.
To operate heavy equipment–bulldozers and the like–there is a course that takes about 150 hours. To legally cut someone’s hair, the law is even more stringent, requiring 1600 hours of school and 3200 hours of apprenticeship for a cosmetologist license; 1500 hours of class and 3000 apprenticeship for a barber license. After completing the course and apprenticeship, you are required to pass a licensing exam.
On the other hand, to biologically create a child, all that is required is the ability to do so. You don’t need a permit or have to take classes on what to do with them when they get here.
You simply procreate and, just like that, whether or not you know anything about fostering the emotional, physical and spiritual growth of a child–you don’t even have to want one–you’ve got yourself a human being.
The following isn’t exactly a revelation, yet it bears repeating: everyone isn’t cut out for parenthood. Every living creature isn’t equipped with that chip. Some animals eat their young. And many human beings bringing other humans into the world simply don’t have what it takes psychologically to raise them.
You’ve heard about these people. Parents arrested for keeping their children in cages; horrific stories of systematic emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Desertion. Neglect. Those are just the ones on the evening news. Far more common is the garden-variety deadbeat dad, or the mom who does the best she can–or not–without a clue as to what to do.
Terrorism? Gun violence? Super flu? No, here’s your National Epidemic: people from all walks of life who are either Crazy in a Normal Way, or outright koo-koo for Coco Puffs, hooking up and reproducing. Call it the rude, unpatriotic, tampering of a God-given right, but somehow, people should have to qualify to have kids.
I suggest finding the unfit before they multiply. I’d start where nearly everyone is on record: the Department of Motor Vehicles. Develop a high-tech way to monitor the driving habits of childless drivers aged sixteen to, say, fifty.
If they drive drunk, routinely cut people off, make u-turns in the middle of busy intersections, text or tweet while driving, or infinitely worse, SIT ON TRAFFIC LIGHTS AT RUSH HOUR WITHOUT INDICATING TO CARS BEHIND THEM THAT THEY’RE MAKING A LEFT TURN UNTIL THE LIGHT TURNS GREEN, they should be put on a list. Bad drivers should not be allowed to reproduce.
Facebook is another way to find the unqualified. Members prone to posting deeply personal information–stuff the world simply doesn’t need to know–should not be allowed children. Driving and Internet posting both require basic common sense. Wow, so does parenting.
If you’ve entered more than three beauty pageants in your life but never won one, then no kid for you, lest you pimp them to fulfill an unrequited dream.
The person who never wanted children but is persuaded by spouse, family, peer pressure and/or their favorite TV series to consider the notion, needs a child like the world needs another war.
Those allergic to hard work needn’t apply for parenthood.
Anyone overheard saying they want to have kids in order to create the world’s next great family singing group should be tracked down and neutered.
Or educated. I’m convinced that if for education’s sake we took the mystique and the giggles out of sex–that if early in life we were made to truly grasp the real and forever consequences—fewer people would become parents before they were ready, if ever.
As it is, I’m still waiting on that conversation about the “Birds and the Bees.” It never came up at home. At school, the closest we got to the topic was a solemn, much whispered-about black and white documentary on childbirth. You weren’t shown it until sixth grade. I don’t recall much about the film beyond our nervous expectation of its showing and the wholesale disappointment that we couldn’t really make out the vagina.
Consider, then, the paradox of a 21st century society able to get to Mars, but unclear as to the function of menstrual periods or whether penises come uncircumcised. These people are out there. Adults. I’ve met them. Likewise, there are those who believe healthy parenting is instinctive. We need to fix this.
Of course, there’ll be those who see the very idea of this kind of education as obscene. They taught their children how to use and service a gun responsibly, but never said boo to them about how human beings are made or sought to break the chain of dysfunctional parenting. But we gotta do something. Even Dairy Queen doesn’t accept every applicant. Some people just aren’t qualified.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]
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