You know, I hear people talk about when their kids were babies and how much they miss those times. How quickly they grow from when they were rocked and swaddled and laid down for bed in a crib to being lousy teens that don’t pick up after themselves or don’t understand the value of a penny earned. Well I’m here to tell you that those people aren’t remembering things the way they really were. I love my kids with all my heart and I would do anything for them, but I do NOT miss the days of swaddling and mystery crying at 2am and not being able to simply ask the child “What’s wrong?” It was a time in parenting that I survived(as did my now teenage children), but not one I could ever relive.
This weekend my 15-year old daughter brought home the toy baby for her Advanced Child Development class. It was the “Scared Straight” weekend where she got to see what being an unwed, teenage mother is like. The baby I assume has gotten a little more advanced from where they were 15-20 years ago. When I picked her up from school on Friday she showed me the wrist band she had to wear for the whole weekend(she pointed out it was sorta of like the house arrest ankle bracelet.) The baby has a bunch of sensors all over it. This way it can record when you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, be it feeding it, changing its diaper, burping it, or rocking it. The baby was also on a timer so it would automatically turn on at 6pm Friday night and then shut off at 6pm Sunday night. In-between there, my 15-year old was the mother of a plastic baby with sensors in its mouth and butt.
At first I found it pretty amusing. The idea of my 15-year old having to contend with this android infant for the weekend, tending to its every need and struggling to understand why this thing was crying. But I have to admit, when that robo baby began crying around 9:30pm Friday night something switched on in me. I felt overwhelming anxiety. Walking into my daughter’s bedroom and seeing her changing a fake diaper on a plastic baby as it screamed bloody murder, I had this feeling of sheer helplessness and overwhelming melancholy. It hurt to see my kid dealing with a “kid” over her own.
Then it also reminded me of my daughter when she was a baby.
Maybe it’s that middle child syndrome, but my 15-year old had a rough go of it when she was a baby. Very colic-y and fussy, she was so hard to get to sleep. And when she was awake she was what I’d call a stoic baby. She’d smile, sure, but for the most part she had a very sort of blank look to her. Even when I’d put her on my knee and get her dancing along to some random song on the radio, everyone in the house would be rolling laughing and she’d have this look like she could care a less.
When she couldn’t sleep I’d usually be the one to get up with her. My wife breastfed our oldest and youngest, but our 15-year old really didn’t want anything to do with it. She was more of a formula baby, so I was in charge of that. We’d have late night feedings while watching some weird movie on the satellite, then I’d burp her and we’d both eventually fall asleep in the recliner in the living room. That La Z Boy was our best friend back then. I still remember that feeling of absolute relief when she’d finally close her eyes and the deep sleep would set in. I’d watch her as her eyeballs would move around behind her eyelids. What was she dreaming? What was she seeing? Was she dancing on my knee in a room full of cackling Hubners? I’d never know.
The android infant crying its pre-recorded howls of hunger or discomfort triggered lots of memories for me. It was this messed up butting heads of melancholy and PTSD. It was all I could do to not run out of her bedroom and go hide in the closet till the weekend had ended. Saturday morning I went in and asked her how she slept. She said “not good.” Apparently the plastic baby woke up five times and needed fed, changed, and rocked, leaving my daughter around 5 hours sleep(pretty good, if you ask me.)
My 15-year old spent the weekend in her room doing not much at all(besides feeding and changing a plastic doll.) Besides understanding how to take care of the needs of a baby, she also realized that she has no business being a teen mom(thank Christ.) I told her imagine if this was real. What sort of life would you have? She looked at me as to say “Yeah, not really much of one at all.”
I know it was a class assignment and all, but this whole thing took its toll on me. Yeah, seeing my kid pretending to have a kid of her own was weird and uncomfortable. But more than that it really did remind me of how quickly life goes by. She is now closer in age to having her own kid than being that little baby herself. We’re closer to her rocking her own, real child than we are to when I used to sit in that old recliner and rock her in the middle of the night, feeling both overwhelming love and complete helplessness all within the course of a pat on the back and a burp.
I’m not saying I miss those days. I still think those folks are crazy who say they do. But I occasionally do have a heart, and it may once in a while miss the swaddle and miss those late night naps in a beat up old La Z Boy.