Home Ec Goes High Tech

A week ago my younger daughter brought home a permission slip from school.  Her Family and Consumer Science class (FACS), the modern-day equivalent of Home Ec, was offering a take-home activity for interested students.  The chance to have a baby!  Not a real one, of course, this would be pretend.  But unlike the flour sacks or eggs of yore, these kids would be getting something better.  A 21st century SIM BABY!

Heavier than a doll, though similar in look, this electronic infant can coo, breathe, sleep, drink, and be burped.  Instead of cheap leaky plastic, Sim Baby “drinks” from a sturdy waterless bottle with an internal sensor.  Similarly, its diapers contain a hidden sensor in the crotch.  The baby has a speaker on its chest that issues realistic noises – mostly fussing and crying – and an internal sensor that links to a wrist band worn by the student.  It doesn’t move, but otherwise Sim Baby behaves very similarly to a real-life infant.  It’s unpredictable, demanding, and smells great.

This experience was not something to be taken lightly.  Much like a real baby, Sim Baby would impact the student’s sleep, induce stress, and disturb the family unit (hence the need for parental consent).  But the chance for my daughter to have a very lifelike parenting experience without having to actually give birth?  HECK YEAH.  Yesterday, my daughter brought Sim Baby home.  Meet Lil Momma.

My daughter was a jangle of emotions.  Excited but nervous, she wanted to be a good mom!  Sim Baby was programmed to turn on at 3PM.  So we had a grace period of roughly 15 minutes with which to get home.  We made it exactly and as I unlocked the back door we began hearing the baby’s very first noises.  My daughter rushed upstairs with the diaper bag.

The Sim Baby’s internal computer tracks data and records user responses.  The student wears a wristband, like the kind you get at a concert or carnival, with an attached sensor linked electronically to the baby.  Each time the baby “acts up” – meaning makes noise that merits a response, like crying or whah-ing, etc. – the student must respond quickly and efficiently until the issue has been addressed.  The student then places the sensor on their bracelet against the baby’s chest until a “beep” is heard.  This records their response, the “event” is over, and they can relax.  Till NEXT TIME!

The first few hours went well.  My daughter set Sim Baby next to her on the bed and hung out watching movies.  After having her outfit swapped, Sim Baby cried and fussed a bit, was fed and had her diaper changed, and all was well again.

I’m not quite sure when things  went south, but 6 hours later my daughter was NOT enjoying the educational experience AT ALL.  I was downstairs watching TV when she appeared, red faced and sobbing.  She looked drained.  EXHAUSTED.  I was aghast.  When had this HAPPENED??  My daughter said the baby wouldn’t stop crying.  She’d tried everything.  She was beside herself.  “Momma, I have to do this, I don’t want to fail. It’s just so HARD!”

This is the face of parenthood.  My poor daughter, only 13 years young, was experiencing the very real emotions associated with the hardest unpaid profession in the world.  It’d been fine when the baby napped.  My daughter joked about the surreal breathing sounds and enjoyed the novelty of the experience.  But the throes of a evening colic-fest were (as for many parents) too much.  Just like a real baby, this Sim Baby was being a HELLA FUSSPOT.  I did what any parent would do.  I took the Sim Baby and gently – but firmly – ordered my precious offspring upstairs to take a shower.  I cradled the doll and pressed the bottle against its lips until I heard a lifelike gulping noise that continued for many minutes, after which I patted and patted and PATTED the baby’s back until my daughter returned.  I’m not sure how long precisely the patting continued, but I did take the opportunity to sniff the baby several times and it smelled WONDERFUL.  Like baby powder and plastic.  Finally I heard a tiny *burp* – my daughter swiped her bracelet – and all was well.

My husband and I checked on our daughter several times before retiring to bed and she seemed to have regained her composure.  I was expecting Sim Baby to startle us all awake but by the GRACE OF GOD it slept soundly until 5AM, when I went in to find my daughter calmly feeding the baby and assuring me she’d already changed its diaper.  WOW.  Can you say LEARNING CURVE?!  By the time I’d gotten dressed, my daughter was downstairs smiling and laughing about offloading the baby she’d now named Lil Momma.

This lesson ended up being one of the most powerful and enlightening ever.  My daughter will never – and I mean NEVER – look at parenting the same way again.  I wish that everyone, regardless of circumstance, was afforded the same opportunity.   To experience the reality of caring for an infant, one who can’t be harmed in the process, is priceless.  And at my daughter’s age (13) to understand the VERY REAL ramifications of sex and pregnancy?  Well, what better form of birth control??  I am so proud of my daughter; I saw her struggle and persevere.  And when she returned Lil Momma this morning, her teacher told her the baby had cried a total of 19 times.  Given its sleep pattern, that’s far more than once per hour.  My daughter got an 89, which is fine.  But to me what matters is that she gave 100%.  And that’s her score in my mind.  Well done, baby.


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