For a weekend, we were an interracial family of sorts. My teen daughter is now in health class and part of the class requires students to bring home a "fake baby" for a weekend. They offer an alternative to being a parent for a weekend which is an extensive writing assignment. My daughter wanted to do the writing assignment but since she's a good writer, she knew that wouldn't be a monumental challenge for her so she opted to bring home baby. I am proud of her choice. She could have taken the easy way out and who could have blamed her? As parents, we already know the huge commitment of time an infant requires, the lack of sleep that entails, and the limitations little ones tend to put on your social life. Therein lies the purpose of the assignment; to give our teens a little taste of what life might be like if they got pregnant too young, without proper resources, and outside a family union.
My girl brought home a girl of her own and when I picked her up from school, she came out with her big school backpack on her back, a diaper bag, and a car seat. I wanted to get a look at my "grandchild-for-the-weekend" so I peeked under the blanket that was keeping her warm to see my African American grandaughter. Huh, I thought. That's not what I was expecting, but she was cute and she was ours until 7 a.m. Monday morning when her internal workings automatically shut off.
What was intended to be a learning experience for my teen became a learning experience for our family. Maren (pronounced Muh rinn) accompanied us everywhere. Part of the assignment was visiting a store and taking a picture in the baby section of mother and child as well as finding out prices of baby items and calculating their cost for a year's worth of supplies. We were advised not to allow our teens to drive during baby weekend because fatigue could ensue.
And ensue, it did. Maren slept silently for the first few hours in our home, but once she felt apparently comfortable, the crying and mock pooping came on in full force. I must admit, I found humor in this experience. My daughter got flustered and frustrated at times, like parents do, when the baby wouldn't respond to anything she tried in an attempt to console her and stop her from crying.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this experiment of sorts was the reaction of strangers. When we made the trip to the store, the baby was in the car seat which looks authentic. I'm pretty sure nobody thought this was my baby and if they had any question, it became clear when my girl had to push the cart (hey, it's her kid in the cart!), and carry it when it cried. Since these folks were strangers, they had no reason to suspect we were hauling around a mechanical baby while we grocery shopped. Some people looked truly delighted and said things like "Oh, look at the little one!" They couldn't actually see the little one as she was bundled, but they knew what was inside that bundle. These reactions embarrassed me a little but only because I didn't want them to feel foolish if they discovered they were cooing over fake infant. But nobody really discovered that and their reactions were appreciated.
What wasn't appreciated, however, were the looks of disgust, disdain, and pity, and we received a lot of those. I generally don't care much what people think of us. I know we're good people and conduct ourselves well, so these looks weren't taken personally but they were a bit offputting. I can't say for sure what they were reacting to. Was it that my child was appearingly an unwed teen mother? Or appearingly an unwed teen mother of an African American baby? Certainly, I do not want my children to end up in this predicament for real. But if they did, the color of the baby would be the least of my concerns. I would however, applaud them for taking the responsibility of giving birth to this child and caring for him or her.
Church was another story. No one knew to expect the little guest in church but everyone was happily curious. They wondered who the baby belonged to because clearly my daughter wasn't pregnant in church the previous week. They giddily peeked at the little one and reacted with laughter when they discovered she was a school assignment. Those were welcome reactions and when Maren started to cry during church, loudly, it was a bit of comic relief when chuckles erupted throughout the congregation.
I think some part of my girl actually enjoyed this responsibility at least for a little while, before exhaustion set in. It was impressive that she insisted on caring for the child on her own unless she was using the bathroom or showering, and Grandma was happy to step in at that time. I am proud that she took the assignment seriously and got to see a snippet of what it's like to be a parent and maybe gained a bigger appreciation for how challenging it is. And someday, when she's old enough, married to a wonderful supportive man, and ready to embark on parenthood, she will get to experience for real those challenges, but this time it will come with the real joys that make it all worthwhile.
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