My friend’s reply: The windchill is below zero, and he’s wearing a short-sleeved shirt and no shoes. What kind of grandmother are you? I’m calling Child Protective Services.
Thus began our weekend with Robobaby.
Spending time with a programmable infant is a critical experience in my daughter’s child development and parenting class. Each student spends one weekend feeding, dressing, changing, and living with a baby to get a taste of life with a 24/7 charge. Thanks to sensors he shares with his caretaker, this baby records everything from responses to his basic needs — he cannot be ignored — to whether he is being handled in a dangerous manner. Of course, he is also specially programmed so that teens who have pre-scheduled commitments can tell the teacher in advance so that the baby shuts off during those hours.
I admit I was jealous about that off-button.
Seeing how wrecked every classmate had been on post-baby mornings, my daughter decided to pick a holiday weekend so that at least the baby would shut off Monday morning and she could sleep in. When she told me of her plans, I sighed quietly out of earshot. A three-day weekend: a time when so many activities are canceled, so I had hoped to sleep in. Real life parenting is a game of infinite plan shifts, and shifted, I have. A lot.
You’re sleeping downstairs, I informed her, and set up some sheets on the convertible couch. Both of you.
When it comes to children, my daughter, Kira, has a gift. She babysits, she is a teacher’s helper at religious school and she aspires to work in a pediatric medical specialty. I love this about her; and yet as the weekend approached, I wondered whether her tune would change when the child in question was one who disrupted her actual daily routine. Kids in the abstract, after all, are much easier.
Friday evening, she took the baby into the bathroom with her, letting him hang out in his car seat while she washed her hair. So much for that; the baby cried until she left the shower, hair dripping all over as she fed him his bottle. Flashback to when I had done the same, only with my real babies, while I prayed to the gods of L’Oreal to let me get all of the conditioner out of my hair before any shrieks started.
You know what they say about paybacks.
It’s difficult to gauge what was the worst part about Saturday for my daughter: sitting in a car dealership for more than seven hours with Robobaby while we went through the car purchasing experience from hell; or simply being alive in said fresh hell after having been woken up six times the night before by a squalling baby. We did not leave the dealership until after 4 p.m., and during that marathon visit, Robobaby became hysterical many, many times.
Mercifully, this was no real baby. A real baby’s discombobulation can take out an entire day.
Only too bad for my daughter: at 3 a.m. Sunday morning, Robobaby did go haywire. Completely. My daughter awoke to help him (as she had done several times before that night), but for some reason, the sensors on her wrist — the ones that matched those on his little person — did not work. She tried everything in her repertoire — the bottle, changing, rocking, burping, the works — but his wails became louder and fiercer. I’m not sure whether this was intentional on the teacher’s part, but I silently rejoiced, knowing that Kira just learned one of the most critical lessons of new parenthood: No matter what you do, the baby occasionally will be inconsolable. Sometimes, babies cry for reasons that are inscrutable.
How you handle those meltdowns makes all the difference.
My daughter had heard tales of dads who, annoyed by Robobaby’s ever-increasing shrieks, had placed the inconsolable doll in the car trunk to Get Away From That Noise. Luckily, she didn’t follow that route. After trying every trick in the book, Kira simply held the baby and waited until he calmed himself — maybe not the perfect resolution, but certainly a compassionate one.
She just had to get through Sunday, a day filled with dance practice and a family party. Luckily, the baby was pre-programmed to shut off during that time. We rushed home afterwards, knowing that Robobaby would be activated at 7 p.m. Curiously, he never made another peep.
My daughter finished this experience feeling as if she had been through a war. I wondered just how taxing it really was. After all, she didn’t have to deal with a Failure to Thrive baby who wouldn’t eat and who endured zillions of tests during her first year. She didn’t spend hours walking hallways with a colicky infant, singing the entire Beatles catalog, desperately hoping for peace. She didn’t have to race to the hospital after midnight with a baby who couldn’t breathe. And she didn’t have to balance that with a job. They simply don’t program these dolls like that.
I guess if they made Robobaby too realistic, no one would ever have children.
Still, it felt a little bittersweet watching my daughter carrying Robobaby in his carseat back to the classroom. Later, she informed me that he was unusually quiet Sunday night because his battery had died.
As a temporary grandmother, I should be sad about this. But I’m not.
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