FACS started off harmless enough. Our focus was mainly desserts: cookies, bars, cakes, you name it. Even though the recipes were fairly simple, something was always burning, or someone was forgetting to add the sugar into the muffin mix. We all had a lot of fun, though, especially when it was time to pawn off our baked goods onto other classrooms. I can’t say these lessons in baking really taught me anything: today, my cooking skills are no more advanced than they were when I was a 13 year old starting out in FACS class. It’s sad, but true.
However, there was one part of FACS that everyone dreaded: taking home the baby. Yes: one of those fake crying babies to teach us that parenthood isn’t for the weak of heart. It was called the “Baby Think It Over” program, and our school four fake babies of differing races and sexes to be adopted out. The FACS teacher, having a mean streak a mile wide, required that we take them home for at least three evenings, so we could only sign up for them over holiday weekends. Though I am a procrastinator by nature, I really wanted to get this over with. My friend Allison and I signed up to take home babies over Veterans’ Day weekend: a girl for her, and a boy for me.
|This is Arnie. Can you see the|
Lucky for us, these babies were fairly old models. While some of the nicer, newer babies would require you to feed and change them, our babies didn’t do anything but cry. In order to stop them from crying, you had to insert a plastic black key into a slot in their backs and hold it there until the wailing ceased. We considered just storing the babies in my farm shed until the weekend was over, but our teacher let us know that the babies had some kind of creepy internal technology that would record how long it took us to respond to their cries and any other abuse they suffered at our hands. Of course, this could make or break our grades, so keeping them in the shed all weekend was out of the question.
On that fateful weekend, Allison and I picked up our “children” from the FACS room. I named my child Arnie because of a newfound love for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. On that first night, we decided that we’d have a sleepover with our babies. After all, misery loves company. Since we were too young for licenses (but old enough for children?), we got Allison’s parents to take pity on our souls and drive us to Brookings. Of course, the babies had to come, too. They were remarkably well behaved, even at the grocery store. Allison and I were none too thrilled at having to bring these babies along: who, as a teenager, wants to be seen in public dragging around a plastic baby? As it turned out, it was a great conversation starter. Fellow shoppers stopped us and told us about the horrible time they’d had when they took those robotic babies home years ago. Everyone wished us the best of luck as we headed home, snacks (and babies) in tow.
The babies’ good behavior couldn’t last forever. There was some moderate crying before we went to sleep, but I swear, those babies had internal clocks telling them when the most inconvenient time would be to cry. If Allison’s baby cried, mine started up, and vice versa. It was a miserable night of screeching infants, and by morning, we were both ready to sacrifice our good grades for plastic infanticide.
The rest of the weekend was a similar story. My parents relished seeing me drag around this screaming doll, and they encouraged me to go as many places as possible to get the “full parental experience.” I was perfectly satisfied to stay home and wait out the weekend in solitude, but my parents insisted on getting out and about. Being 13, I had no choice. We went to Watertown, where I either received apprehensive stares or more enthusiastic “I remember MY home ec baby” stories from strangers.
Sunday, of course, was church day. I begged my parents to let me stay home, but no way. “Wouldn’t it be rude for me to bring this noisy plaything to church?” I whined. “What if it cries and interrupts the WORD OF THE LORD?!” My parents countered sarcastically: “Don’t you remember the song? Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world!” I maintained that the song referred only to non-plastic children, but my parents insisted that today, it meant my little fake child, too.
My parents have never been ones to let their kids take the easy way out, which I suppose I should appreciate. That day, though, I would’ve done anything for the aforementioned easy way out. I was going to church, and so was the fake baby. As you may have guessed, it started screaming during the sermon or a prayer or some other time when we were supposed to be quiet. I hightailed it out of the sanctuary, feeling like an idiot for bringing a computerized crying baby to church. Meanwhile, my family did their best to stifle their giggles. (And by “did their best,” I mean they didn’t try at all.)
I spent the rest of the service in the “cry room” at our church, which is normally reserved for parents with real children. The baby came to Sunday School with me, where I was given looks of pity from my classmates, who would eventually face the same FACS fate. My Sunday School class let out early that day, so I went to find my mother. She was sitting with one of her friends, who got a huge kick out of me being stuck with a fake baby. Her young daughter was there, and she asked if she could hold my baby. Sure, I figured. What could it hurt? The little girl ran off with the doll, returning a while later with the baby’s head sporting a rather large indent. By that time, I had spent too much time with that baby to care. Seventy-two hours of attending to that stupid doll’s every whimper had to cancel out a few minutes of abuse at the hands of a four-year-old, right?
Sure enough, it was fine. I returned my charge safely to the FACS room on Monday, relieved to be a parent no more. As I handed that baby over, I was SO glad that I’d bitten the bullet and gotten this project over with. I immediately felt sorry for the rest of the poor suckers in my class who had yet to suffer through the wrath of the fake baby.
And you know what happened? My classmates all waited until the last minute to sign up for babies and were really stressed out about it? Not exactly. My flake of a teacher decided that, since everybody else had in fact waited too long to sign up for their baby weekend, that she would do away with the project all together. That’s right: those three days of fake baby hell were for nothing. Not even extra credit.
In the end, though, Arnie the fake baby really did teach me an important lesson: parenthood really isn’t for the weak of heart. Clearly, I am weak. Moral of the story: I am only having children if I can name them something awesome, like Harvey or Bruce Wayne. Thank you, FACS!