Practice Baby

After Tammie and I attended Mass on Christmas Eve, we shared a special meal together, then turned out all the lights except one lamp and thoes on the Christmas tree. A lovely, deep calm settled over the household. From the stereo came soft strains of beautiful, traditional Christmas songs by Mannheim Steam Roller, played in their usual non-traditional manner.

Under the tree there were two piles of gifts. One was from me for my daughter, the other stack was from her. Sitting on the floor next to them, Tammie leaned forward and pushed two presents aside, pointing out, “These two are your birthday gifts from me. You can’t have them until the 27th.”

Jumping up from the sofa, I exclaimed, “Thanks for reminding me. It’s midnight and baby Jesus’ birthday! Retrieving a small package from a chair side drawer, I walked over to the nativity set and unwrapped a small infant Jesus figure. Placing it in the manger between Mary and Joseph, I said, “There you go, my sweet little baby.” Tammie and I paused for a moment to enjoy the familiar ‘Silent Night’ melody playing on the stereo, then began with our gift exchange.

When Tammie comes home for a visit, she often arranges a craft day where we work on various Pinterest-inspired projects. That year, our craft day landed on my birthday. My daughter Niki came with her children. Loath to leave their favorite Christmas gifts at home for what was sure to be a long day, some of them came with gift bags.

Gemma, soon to be six-years-old, brought her Baby Alive doll. Taking a place at the dining room table where we were doing art, the little mother began to prepare the doll’s food. To me, it looked like pureed broccoli. Like a real baby, Gemma’s doll smacked and cooed, eating messily from a spoon. The faux food dribbled down the front of Baby Alive’s bib.

Looking over at Niki, I stage whispered, “I bet I know what happens next; the baby poops.”

Gemma pushed the green-smeared dish and spoon to one side and began to open the dolly’s diaper…which was filled with a green paste. I whispered, “Ew! Too real for me.” She struggled to clean the baby doll’s skin, so I stepped in to help. Through our united effort, the plastic child was cleaned up, rediapered and wrapped in a blanket. With her parental duties finished, my granddaughter wandered into the living room where the rest of the children were watching a holiday movie.

“One Christmas when I was a kid, I got a ‘Betsy-wetsy’, I said to Niki and Tammie. “When a bottle of water was ‘fed’ to it, the doll wet itself. It didn’t smack its lips or coo like Baby Alive. I loved the novelty of having a wetting baby, but Mom didn’t let me give it water very often. She was worried that the insides of the doll would get moldy.”

Glancing at our Baby Alive center-piece, Tammie questioned, “This doll just ‘ate’ make-believe strained peas. What we saw in the diaper isn’t all that was fed. What happens next?”

Niki said, “The doll has to be flushed out with warm water. There’s a bottle that comes with it.”

Laughing I suggested, “Maybe I can just hold Baby Alive’s mouth open under the kitchen faucet. Although Gemma is the doll’s mommy, I’m guessing that you are the one who does the deep cleaning and buys its food and diapers! Do you feel like you have an extra child in the house?”

Picking up the doll, Tammie said, “Baby Alive makes me think of the, “Baby, Think It Over” programs that some high schools put on to give their teenage students an idea of what having a baby really entails.”

“I’ve heard about those programs.” Niki said. “The dolls are really small computers that cry at random times and need constant attention, like real babies. When the dolls are returned, the internal computer records show how well the caretaker student responded to their doll’s needs.

We stopped working for a minute and quietly listened to the Christmas songs playing on the stereo. I said, “I’m the baby of my family and I never babysat, but when I had you two, I fell in love. That’s the difference between a “Baby Think It Over” program and having a real baby. Love that a person feels toward their own baby is something that can’t be taught in a classroom with an assigned computer baby.”

“But love isn’t enough. Some people harm their own babies.” Tammie sadly pointed out, “The “Baby Think It Over” dolls also records if it was mistreated.”

Niki stood up, peeked into the living room at her children and observed, “Mike and I were ready and able to love and care for a big family, but along the way there have been surprises.”

Stepping up alongside Niki, I looked at the nativity scene and commented, “Some surprises are bigger than others. Can you imagine how caught off guard Mary and Joseph were when they realized the Messiah was to be born in a stable?”





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