Claudius Emanuel G-S
I’m not sure whether to have children. As mentioned previously, I thought it best to spend a few days with a broadly baby-like crying machine before continuing to ponder related questions of population ethics and meaning and stuff.
My baby showed up a day later than expected, at someone else’s address, which I guess is a risk with having babies.
I had worried a lot about exactly how to begin this game of make-believe. I guess because I have OCD, and don’t like things to have improper beginnings or ends, much like some people don’t like unresolved parentheses. I didn’t want to go through pretend childbirth, but I also didn’t want to have him just appear in the kitchen as if we had known each other for ages. Because we hadn’t, and wouldn’t I need to make up some sort of backstory then, of how we had interacted so far? I decided to bring the box into the foyer, open it, put his batteries in, and from that moment the game would begin. And it would be as if I just brought him home from the hospital.
I put the box on the floor and opened it. Tense with anticipation, I put the batteries in the doll’s back, and—having reached the magic starting moment—turned around my son. And flopped his head backwards on his intentionally puny neck, causing him to scream in pain. I supposed that this wouldn’t be a ‘maintain your perfect track record’ type game.
I rocked him back to silence, shaken by the sudden screaming in an already tense moment. Then laid him down (head-supportingly) and read the manual.
Don’t let your child’s head flop backwards. Don’t shake him. Don’t let him cry for more than two minutes without figuring out what he is crying about and beginning to resolve it. Or you will be graded as ‘negligent’. If your child cries—any of about seven real cries, realistically timed according to the actual schedules of hundreds of real babies—then put your parent-identification-tag in his back, and wait for him to respond with a loud ‘beep’… before proceeding to burp, rock, feed or change him. Or to wait out your three minutes if he is merely ‘fussy’, and beyond help. Apparently it was 30 minutes in the last version, but I am lucky and enjoying the ‘thank god it isn’t as bad as last time’ experience of parenting.
He was mostly pretty quiet, and it was easy enough to work near him between bouts of neediness. Surprisingly, he seemed to lack a concept of being awake versus being asleep. Since—as far as I know—real babies are usually either awake or asleep, presumably parts of this baby’s schedule corresponded to the real babies whose schedule his imitated being asleep. But his eyes were not capable of closing. So while the instruction guide said that he may sometimes chirp happily or cough to indicate being awake, during the 99.99% of the time that he wasn’t doing those things, it was pretty unclear. So he lay there, ambiguously make-believe-conscious, while I got on with life.
And overall he actually didn’t spend much time crying, because as soon as I began rocking him or feeding him or whatever, he would stop. But the activities themselves could take forty five minutes. And while at first I figured pacing around the living room is a fine way to take a break and think about what I’m working on, pretty soon I signed up for a free Netflix trial.
I wanted to make it a realistic experiment, and experience more of what having a small child is like, so I decided to take him to the supermarket, before making not-the-most-convenient-possible dinner. He came with a little front-rucksack thing for carrying him around in, so I put him in that, packed up his bottle and diaper and parent-identification-tag in my handbag, and took him two blocks away to Wholefoods.
I wasn’t sure what to do if he started screaming. Do I finish shopping? Do I run away, dropping my half-full basket at the door? Do I seek one of those baby-changing restrooms? Feed him in the supermarket? I figured whichever one I did would be embarrassing. So I was nervous to actually pick up many groceries, worsening the ‘run away’ option, without yet a good alternative. So I dawdled until he started screaming.
It wasn’t as embarrassing as I thought. The supermarket music and overall supermarket noise is actually loud enough to basically overwhelm the screams of a pretend baby. I went with feeding him in the supermarket, walking up and down one of the aisles and avoiding making eye contact with anyone.
For some reason I felt embarrassed just having a fake baby in public. As if by looking like I had a baby, I was somehow promising people that I did, and letting them down. Which in advance seemed a weird concern. What do they care if I have a real baby?
But then I tried going out in public with him. And people would come up just to exclaim about how small he was and how he is a baby, or to say ‘looks like you have your hands full there’ or something, and then indeed be disappointed, or awkwardly not too disappointed. Or say that they liked what I was doing, confusedly. A pair of women shouted from twenty steps behind me, asking if I could stop so they could see my baby. I think this whole aspect might be nice if you actually have a baby.
I didn’t get a lot of work done during the week, but it was sort of inexplicable what went wrong. I suspect it was the massive sleep deprivation. By far the most obviously bad part of this was the night time. If someone asks you for something every fifteen minutes to three hours through the day, that’s basically fine. If they do that through the night, it is awful.
The most surprisingly difficult part was naming him. I didn’t manage it until just before I sent him back. He just didn’t seem like a [insert any name here]. I also learned that S thinks you should name children before you have even met them, which seems absurd to me.
I don’t know whether this changed my desire to have children upwards or downwards, but I feel like I have a better concrete picture of what I would be in for, and what kinds of things would tend to make it especially better or worse. For instance, I am much more interested now in what kinds of desperate efforts have been made to resolve the not being able to sleep properly for years thing.