The baby is screaming. My wife is tapping its back. It keeps screaming. She shakes it. More high-pitched baby screams.
Finally, I shout, “Throw it in the freezer!”
My wife laughs. She turns the little black doll over and fiddles with, yes, the key.
I was first introduced to Baby Think It Over® several years ago, when the 13-year-old babysitter arrived carrying—my God!—a baby and promptly tripped on the steps, flinging the little bundle onto the bluestone sidewalk. I gasped. The babysitter screamed. The bundle went Waaah!
My son’s school paid $300 apiece for a dozen or so of these computer-assisted dolls. According to his teacher, Ms. Ferraro, they are meant to teach prepubescent kids how difficult it is to take care of a baby and thus make them “think it over.” And for the past few years it has been a ritual of fall to see 8th graders in the supermarket, in church, at football games, carrying their “little babies,” which Waaah! at the appropriately inappropriate times and embarrass the kid.
But this is serious business. On the Baby Think It Over web site (www.realityworks.com), you’d think you were shopping for a new car:
“As of July 1, 2007 Realityworks will discontinue support for older models…Standard Baby (Generation 4) released in 1996, Realistic Head Support Baby (Generation 5) released in 1998, Original RealCare Baby released in 1999…. Please consider the Trade-In Program.… We’ll give you a $50 discount toward the purchase of the latest Realityworks infant simulator.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
The students must take the “babies” for a weekend, everywhere they go. They fill out a chart, noting when it cried, what the student was doing, how long it cried, how the student felt, and how others were affected. My son was reading a book (good for him) at 3:46 p.m. when the baby started crying. “I felt fine,” he wrote.
The next entry is in my wife’s handwriting. Crying started at 4:55 and ended at 4:55. And what was she doing at the time? “Talking to our dog.” How did she feel? “Anxious.” Her next entry, 20 minutes later, is “Key breaks.”
She elaborated in her own journal (I refused to keep one): “In order to let our son attend his first snowboarding night with the City Youth Department, I volunteered to babysit. Trying to stop the baby’s crying, I broke the plastic key. I drove to the Middle School and threw myself on your mercy.”
She got a new key (for $6), and our son took over later that night. He made another dozen or so entries; he was, variously, sleeping, riding in the car, watching TV, sleeping, sleeping, sleeping, brushing teeth, when the baby cried, and he always felt “fine.” The crying never affected anyone else except once, in church. “It scared my dad,” he noted.
After my son turned in his baby, he came home from school dejected, with a note. “I had it 66 hours. Let neck down 13 times. 5 neglects. 2 rough handling. Let cry 37 minutes.”
My wife was incensed. She penned “an addendum” to her journal. “I think that a piece of the missing broken key could be a cause of the result. Please advise.”
I could have advised: a piece of broken logic got stuck in the educational cerebellum.
Later that year, on the way to my son’s 8th-grade graduation, we stopped at the hospital to visit his classmate, Katlyn, and her new baby boy. “Did he come with a key?” I asked. She laughed, beaming, as any new mother would. Of some 80 girls in the class, 4 were pregnant that year. They were barely 14.
I recently called Ms. Ferraro to ask how things were going. She explained that she probably wouldn’t get any new babies. “I was chaperoning at a football game, and these kids had the babies in shopping bags. They had figured out how to put duct tape over the babies’ heads and on to their chests so the head wouldn’t move.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that some kids play football with the babies.
Peter Meyer, former news editor of Life magazine, is a freelance writer and a contributing editor of Education Next.