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The Baby Project

Mom recalls Teenager's recent opportunity to learn the hard way about parenting an infant.

Any latent questions on whether or not my husband and I should have had a fourth baby were put to rest when our Teenager took care of an infant for a recent weekend.

The baby project, as designed by Weston High School’s health class, asks sophomores to care for a crying, mewling, eating, diaper-wetting toy infant. The students must feed, change, burp, soothe and suffer through all the tortures of early parenthood, with none of its charming benefits.

The complaints started early. In fact, they started before the infant “turned on” at 4 p.m.

Baby Coyotito, nestled in his bulky car seat, rode the bus home with Teenager. It began to rain as he approached our car, his gait awkward from the seat’s weight. Observing him, I felt the weight of the car seat on my inner arm and in my shoulder, remembered the equipment we hauled everywhere. I remembered how leaving the house even for the simplest of tasks required 45 minutes of careful preparation.

“This sucks. I hate this project already,” Teenager said, heaving the seat in the car. He wiped his brow, furrowed with anxiety.

“It hasn’t even started crying yet,” he sighed.

Sure enough, at 4:05, Baby Coyotito sprang to wailing life. Before my eyes, my otherwise very-laid-back teenager leapt to action.

“WHERE’S THE DIAPER BAG?” he yelled, ripping Coyotito’s shirt apart so that he could electronically register his response time, as I doubled over in laughter.

Teenager dug through the infant’s care kit with the ferocity of a dog seeking a bone in a muddy hole. Locating the bottle, Teenager plugged Coyotito’s mouth, shoulders sagging with relief as the crying ceased and sucking ensued.

“Teenager, if you really want to make the best of this weekend, you must embrace Baby Coyotito,” I said, trying to be helpful. “Be gentle with him. Would you treat a real infant this way?”

Teenager glared at me.

“Just consider yourself lucky that he’s bottle-feeding,” I added mischievously. “It’s much faster. When you breastfed—"

“MOM!”

“When you breastfed, it was well over 40 minutes, every two hours,” I continued, undeterred. “All day, all night, every day. For months.”

That night, I heard the unmistakable shuffling of the 2 a.m. feeding. There was also a 5:30 a.m. feeding. Groans,  semi-profane muttering, and one pretty loud “SHUT UP, COYOTITO!” accompanied each.

Continuing a pattern 15 years in the making, I woke up each time the baby cried, while my husband slept on, unaware.

Teenager came down early on Saturday morning, eyes puffy and red.

“I got NO SLEEP last night,” Teenager howled. “One time, the bottle and diaper change DIDN’T EVEN WORK. I had to ROCK him back to sleep.”

“Well, that happens a lot,” I said. “Some parents resort to putting their babies in the car and driving them around in the middle of the night, because it’s the only thing that calms them down.”

“Mom, I have a gig tonight,” Teenager said, eyeing me with a wary hopefulness. “Can you watch Coyotito while I play?”

“No!” I said triumphantly. “Parents have to make exactly these sacrifices all the time. You’ll have to manage,” I added.

Onstage that evening – where Coyotito sat in his car seat, adjacent to my son and in front of the drum set, Teenager enjoyed the luck that infants sometimes bestow on parents who desperately need it.

Coyotito, apparently not noise-sensitive, was an angel. He stared vacantly – and silently – into the audience as the music played on, oblivious to the amplifiers, lights and applause.

I didn’t need to give Teenager any more talks about the exhaustion and frustration that new parents endure, nor the patience that’s required.

“Anyone who seriously considers having a baby is probably beyond the sway of reasoned argument,” I told him. “Just keep in mind, when it’s time for you to have your own baby, that two essential components were missing from this experience.”

“Like what?” he said, leaning against the headrest and shutting his eyes. 

“Love,” I said. “And the money to pay for it all,” I added, pulling into the garage, realizing that I had forgotten to buy groceries and had nothing to prepare for dinner. 

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