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Ronni Takes On: a Baby

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Many students at Farragut High School feel like they grasp the idea of the classes offered on campus, but very few seem to find themselves in the Home Ec. classes. Food and Nutrition, Teaching as a Profession, and Child Lifespan and Development. One project in particular that piqued my interest was for the latter class, where students could sign out and care for a robotic baby as a grade.

Full-time students in Child Lifespan and Development normally reserve their babies a few weeks in advance on a sign-out sheet in the front of G202, collecting them after school on Friday. The babies can be activated for a certain amount of time, usually under 24 hours, and then they are returned to class before school starts again on Monday. As a journalism student, though, I was interested in seeing how my peers and adults would react to the baby. So, with approval from all of my teachers, I would be taking baby for all of my Friday classes.

On Friday, September 8th, I arrived in Green Wing to collect my child. I would be taking care of baby Charlie, who was luckily the only baby not signed out for the weekend I requested. Ms. Flatford, the class’s instructor, walked me through taking care of the infant: how to hold, feed, and rock him, and we set up Charlie to stay activated from 8am on Friday to 2pm on Saturday.

I was stunned by how much Charlie could “see.” Each baby records if his or her head is supported, shaken, or dropped. They also take note of the the weather, which clothes they’re equipped with, and how long they’ve been left in their carrier. Other students were also surprised by the accuracy of the toy’s recordings.

Another important factor in this trial is that I have never been placed in charge of another human being before, let alone an infant. I am now a young mother, and I have no idea how to take care of Charlie Tiny-Ears Ward (I lost a bet in sixth grade). I’ve never held a baby, or changed a diaper. All I know about parenthood is inscribed on the laminated cheat sheet of “Baby Care Techniques“ that Ms. Flatford let me take.

Throughout the beginning of Macroeconomics, Charlie was silent. I took notes and engaged in discussions, but worried if the baby wasn’t set up right, or if I could have broken him somewhere between Green and Yellow wing. About halfway through my panic, at the end of the lesson, the baby seemed to be making noises. I couldn’t tell if they were just babbling, which was normal, or an actual cry. So I waited, trying to listen to the last of Coach Cool’s economics spiel over the growing giggles of the class. The baby, coughed a couple times, went silent for a moment, and then burst into a fit of screaming that shattered whatever hope there was at controlling the class. Charlie only needed a feeding, but his awkward suckling noises made it nearly impossible to calm down the class. I was surprised with how students so openly chatted about their hatred of babies. Jackson Lovelace, a senior, commented that “if that thing cried while I was sleeping, I would throw it down the hall.” Charlie had barely been calm for five minutes when he started crying again. This time, the bottle didn’t work, Coach Cool was starting a video, and I immediately ran out of the room to try to rock Charlie. Not only did this not work, but I gained the attention of every teacher in Yellow Wing. Ms. Breeding shouted at me to “Shut that baby up” while Ms. Brimer attempted to burp the baby for a few minutes. I appeared on several Snapchat stories that morning as the “crying baby lady.” All in all, Coach Cool said that it seemed like I did a good job, even though if it didn’t feel like it to me.

On my way to second block, this infant was screaming for a third time in the middle of the halls! So, clearly the only logical course of action, I grabbed the carrier in both hands and sprinted down the hall, Charlie screaming all the way. When I made it to AP Literature, I discovered that Charlie only needed to be held, which could have been easy. That is, until I realized we were taking a test. So I attempted the exam, baby in one hand and pencil in the other, flipping pages with my nose and vainly trying to mask the occasional gurgles that Charlie made. Other students were more annoyed with the baby babbles than I would have expected, some imitating the noises and others shouting about how they couldn’t work in these conditions. I didn’t want to tell them that they could be worse. Ms. Cagle grew increasingly uncomfortable with my child’s antics, and eventually Ms. Toth came to collect Charlie. Apparently he didn’t cry for the rest of the block, which made me wonder if he had been crying because of his hunger or because of my presence.

In third block, journalism, I chugged a coffee and attempted to write down the torture that Charlie had inflicted upon me. Journalism students are much more accustomed to strange sights, and were fairly accepting of the baby’s antics in a surprising change from the first half of my day. Some students actually found Charlie cute and cooed over him, and Marissa Van Leuven took a picture for the newspaper’s Instagram, announcing the birth of my child.. It was probably around 12:45 that Charlie grew restless and started screaming, I realized for a second time how little I know about actually caring for a child. I tried the bottle, and Charlie calmed down, but just after he finished his meal and I put him down, he screamed again. This continued throughout the rest of the class, with me growing increasingly impatient and stressed. Toth commented that she thought I wasn’t the most responsible parent, and, when asked what she would grade me, said “a 48.”

On my way to lunch, Charlie was screaming in the halls for the second time. Instead of eating, I spent lunch in the stairwell with a bottle pressed to the infant’s face, and missed my own meal. Having a child is incredibly annoying.

Even if Child Lifespan and Development students don’t care for their children during classes, this is an incredible project that takes time and commitment. The caretaker can’t leave to go to work, stray too far from their baby, or even sleep for more than a few hours at a time.

At home, I did much better with Charlie. I had learned how the baby was programmed, It took a few hours, but I began to understand what Charlie needed and when he needed it.

I was worried about watching Charlie overnight, because of how much of a deep sleeper I am, but soon found out that this wouldn’t be an issue because the infant’s screams could wake the dead. Every few hours, I fumbled through the dark for the bottle or diaper, trying to quell my infant before he woke up every soul in my home. A couple times, he did, but I managed to gather at least three hours of sleep. I think I even slept with Charlie in my arms, upright, with my arm raised and a bottle permanently stuck in my fingers.

Photo Credit: Bethany Roysdon

In the morning, I worked on homework, taking frequent breaks to stop and feed Charlie, change Charlie, and burp Charlie. I remarked to my mom that I don’t know how she had done this three times. I balanced schoolwork and a baby until one o’clock, when I crashed and napped until Charlie deactivated an hour later.

All in all, my experience with a baby was a learning one. If I had been in Child Lifespan and Development, I might have understood the skills more. Anyone interested in caretaking and children would enjoy taking the class and get quite a few easy points from the baby project.

My scores indicated that I missed a few points in first and third block, ending the experiment with an 88. So I guess in the end I’m at least a B grade mom.

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Ronni Takes On: a Baby