8th graders get firsthand experience with the challenges of parenthood

You are about to explore the wonders of parenthood. So begins the overview of the 8th grade Baby Project given to students at the project onset.

If you’ve walked anywhere in or around middle school for the past several weeks, you might have noticed that RealCare Babies have been pretty much everywhere. Each student is required to care for one, often paired with another student, to learn lessons about collaboration and cooperation whilst being responsible for a very young child. They even have to take the babies home!

The project is designed to provide a basic parenting experience, as students learn about some of the responsibilities, challenges, and compromises associated with being a parent.

Who assesses them? Their teachers do, of course, and they assess themselves in written reflections (see two examples below). Also, the babies judge them: during the course of the project, the RealCare Baby’s internal computer monitors and reports all care a student provides.

In their reflections, students are also asked to consider what physical challenges they have confronted in navigating school and life, transportation complexities, how baby care impacts classroom time and homework, sports activities, and most importantly, how it effects their social life.

And that’s not all: they must consider the finances of being a parent, delve into and understand genotypes and phenotypes, understand car seats, scrapbooking, and more.

Journal 1: Camille D.

Day 1

The first day of having my baby, Carter, was full of surprises. At first, I was very nervous because as soon as the baby was turned on, it started to cry and was in need of a diaper change. As the day went on, I was able to feel more comfortable with Carter. Soon, diaper changes, feeding and rocking became easy. Something that surprised me was the weight of the car seat. Carrying the car seat up and down the stairs, as well as juggling my books and computer was difficult. Going to art class was the most challenging because I had to go up and down the steep stairs three times while feeding Carter. I tried to carry Carter without the carrier, but it filled me with fear of losing head support or dropping the baby. Before I started the baby project, I promised myself that I would not break the baby’s neck, which so far, I think I have accomplished not losing head support. Also, navigating through hallways and weaving through classrooms full of students became complicated. I felt as if I was carrying around a massive rectangular weight that took up too much space and knocked into people. The car. I was terrified of going into the car with Carter. I dreaded the moment when Carter would cry in my small car, and me, being unable to find what she needed. I was lucky enough for Carter to continue sleeping throughout the entire car ride peacefully. She slept for quite awhile, which scared me, but was also very pleasant. As nighttime arrived, Carter was rocked and fed more than once, but was very calm until 10:00. When I brought the baby home, my mom was very surprised at Carter’s good behavior and loved to tease me about having a child, since she had three. My mother was also confused as to what the scanner had to do and that both the bottle and the diaper had scanner in them too. When I told her I had to scan Carter’s belly button, she exploded with laughter. As day one closed up, I was tired and knew that more would be in store for me during day two.

Day 2

Carter slept through the entire morning of day two and needed a diaper change right before homeroom. She was silent most of the morning, through the first two periods, which allowed me to get a lot of homework finished. One of my fears for the baby project was not being able to complete all of my homework well, but since Carter is such a calm baby, so far, it has allowed me to finish all of my homework on time. During wind ensemble it was very hard to hear if Carter was crying since there were so many instruments playing, but I managed to detect when she was crying or moaning. She only cried once during wind, in which she needed to be rocked and Aunjoli (a classmate) was kind enough to rock her since she did not have to play. During most of my core classes, Carter remained silent. During history and math, the babies around me made noises, which made me jump and become very nervous because I did not know which baby was crying. It was never Carter who was crying, but it scared me to not be able to know if she was the baby crying. My social life changed a little bit when Carter came into my life. Many of my classmates knew what it felt like to travel and live with a baby, I felt comfort in knowing that my friends knew what situation I was in. A funny experience I had was in Latin class when Carter was crying and I tried feeding and rocking her as well as changing her diaper, all which did not work, but as soon as I picked her up, she stopped and made a strange noise and everyone laughed. Also something I find hilarious is when a Carter burps, she takes two breaths and ends with this loud grunt of a burp that sounds like a small foghorn. As school ended, I was ready for Carter to cry in the car. Surprisingly, she did not make a sound and was as silent as a mouse, once again. At home Carter made barely any noise, which also scared me. She cried once and there seemed to be no solution to stop her from crying until she finished after one minuet. This made me frustrated and sad because I wanted to know what I was doing wrong, but yet there was nothing I could do, which made me disappointed in myself. I am very excited to see what will happen on day three.

Finances

In math class we rolled dice to determine our annual income as well as our level of education.  I received an education of a high school diploma. I also received an annual income of $30,567.00 because of my lack of education and my gender, female. I was able to figure out my income because I rolled a “1” on the multiplier roll and, my achievement adjusted income was $588. From this I was able to figure out my income both monthly and annually. Monthly I earn $2,548.00 and yearly I earn $30,567.00. Clearly, I am not a wealthy citizen, but can mange to survive. Therefore, I am allowed no luxuries and have a very tight budget when it comes to food, clothing, daycare, rent, and more.

If this were my budget in a real life situation I would face many challenges. Since I have such a low income, it is hard to find low cost items for my family. Something that is great about being a single parent is that you don’t have to spend so much because it is just my baby and I.  One of the biggest challenges I would face is finding the right daycare for my child. Depending on the daycare, too much of my money or too little of my money could be spent paying for my child’s education, which is very important to me as a parent. Since my baby is only an infant, I wouldn’t want to spend a lot of money if my child is not leaning anything, but finding a daycare for a small amount of money is also rare. As my child grows up, if this were a real life situation, I would really have to consider what schooling options would be best for my child to make sure they have a bright future.

Food would also be another big challenge because today, food can be expensive, which is why my diet will consist strictly of canned and boxed food while my baby is allowed the formula she needs. For example, while some families can afford to shop at Whole Foods, I will have to shop at Stop and Shop or Price Rite to make sure I can afford my other needs.

Rent also is another struggle to face because good apartments or houses are expensive and I don’t have the money to buy a house. If this were a real situation I would be renting a one-bedroom apartment in a not ideal community or area. While a one-bedroom apartment would fit my child and I, what I can afford would not make us feel comfortable or happy.

To say the least, I would face many challenges because of my gender and my single, low income. Because of my gender, I would not be able to receive many job opportunities. Also, with my low education level of only graduating high school, not many companies or businesses, will hire me, assuming that I have no skills or intelligence. If this happened to be a real life situation my baby and I would have enough to live of off, but would struggle more than some families.

Journal 2: Lily L,

Day One of Parenting:

Today was my first day as a parent, and it’s been going rather well! After an eventful yet successful English class (involving four trips into the hallway), the baby only made faint noises until I passed her off to Arden at 12 o’clock. At lunch we met up and I heard stories of how our baby wailed multiple times during Arden’s Art class. Not only this, but we agreed to name our child Cecily. Arden kept her for the rest of the day, and at play practice where we shared the responsibility evenly. Afterwards, having to take the baby home, I bundled her up and lent her my scarf that she used as makeshift, turban-style headwear. Unfortunately, as my mom and I walked to the car, Cecily awoke crying, forcing me to run as quickly possible to get her to warmth. Though she needed to be changed and fed twice before we drove off, she is currently sitting peacefully beside me in my living room (and has made a friend with my cat!). So far I haven’t missed an opportunity to care for the baby, and Arden has been an incredible partner. Even through a few stressful moments, I’ve been having a wonderful time with our little girl.

Day Two:

Though the previous night had been completely calm, this morning was a bit more hectic. Cecily woke up just as we started the car and began crying. I demanded my mom wait as I fed the baby, which took longer than the actual trip to school. Once we arrived, we had to wait a few minutes before getting out, but as soon as I stepped outside, Cecily cried yet again. I rushed up the hill from the parking lot to get indoors, but once I had gotten to the atrium, I had unfortunately missed the opportunity to change her. I was disappointed at first, but later had to tell myself that there was nothing else I could have done. It would have been worse to change her diaper in 10 degree weather. After passing her off, Arden kept the baby until 11:10, and while we tried to find each other before Block 5 started, it took a good ten minutes to reunite and for me to collect Cecily and her belongings. However, one of the most stressful parts of the day was yet to come: Wind Ensemble. Not being able to hear anything over the baritone saxophone, I had an extremely difficult time trying to listen for Cecily’s cries. Luckily, she only needed to be fed once, and the rest of the day went by in a routine fashion. Tonight Arden is taking the baby home for the first time, and I can’t wait to hear about her experience!

Day Three:

I woke up this morning missing Cecily, but was glad that Arden was handling her during my deafening Wind and Jazz classes. Conveniently, at about 12 o’clock, Arden and I had a joint Math class where we met up and did (or, really, attempted to do) our taxes. Right on time, I took the baby for the rest of the day. This was the first time I had gone down to get lunch from the cafeteria with Cecily, but I was luckily accompanied by my classmate Camille who helped me navigate the crowded space (though I still had to push through a few clumps of people and hoist Cecily up to chest-level). She was reasonably quiet for the rest of the school day—only needing to be fed during Science, and not making a single noise during Latin. Afterward, I made my way to play practice where I sat for an hour with nothing to do but tend to my baby (which was a tad bittersweet). Once I finally had the chance to get up on stage, some non-performing kids volunteered to look after Cecily and “jab me in the side” if she needed me. There was one instance where I was holding her and she began hysterically screaming—though I thought I was offering proper neck support, I suppose something went haywire. As soon as practice ended, I met up with my mom and we bolted for the car. When we reached our house (with no untimely crying, I might add), I ran down the sidewalk to get indoors. Two women walked towards me and I heard “Oh, it’s not even real,” as they passed. I wish I could have explained the project to them, but both the baby and I were slowly icing over. For the past several hours, I have sat beside Cecily, feeding, changing, and burping with the help of my mother (who, I’ve found, enjoys a good diaper change). Though I must always be alert, having Cecily around at home is a great experience (and ten times easier than when we are at school).

Final Day as a Parent:

The last day with the baby came much more quickly that I expected! Determined to get  Cecily in the car at least once without her crying, I bundled her up in a hat and two blankets and we took a quiet ride to school. Upon arrival my mom and I took turns carrying the baby to the door, and were exhausted as we limped inside. The day started and I turned Cecily over to Arden, who bravely kept her through (a very noisy) Meeting For Worship. Once again seeing each other during Math, Arden and I shared the responsibility, taking over for each other when Cecily’s cries interrupted our two-minute presentations on home insurance and retirement funds. I then had the pleasure of taking the baby for the rest of the day, and was fortunate enough to always have a friend at my side to help me maneuver through the bustling hallways. On our way up to Latin, Cole even asked if he could take Cecily in preparation for getting his own baby next week! Before I knew it, the end of the day came, and I was almost sad that I barely had to lift a finger today. I wasn’t alone, though, and an emotional Arden and I made sure to take a final picture with Cecily to close out the project. I already miss her, but I’ve learned that taking care of a baby is definitely a commitment that one has to be willing to make in order to do well. Though parenthood seems like an experience I would like to dedicate myself to in the future, I know that the time for a child will come when I am an adult who is truly in the right environment to manage it.

Throughout the course of the past four days, my partner and I looked after an electronic baby that we became shockingly close with. After not caring much for small children of quite some time, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my experience with baby Cecily was anything but bothersome.

1. What did you learn about yourself as a partner?

As a partner, I believe I did a nice job negotiating and figuring out my schedule compared to my partner’s, making sure that we each spent approximately half of the day with Cecily and neither of us would have to take her to P.E. class. This worked out successfully, with barely a single snag in our plan. Not only this, but I think that both my partner Arden and I did well communicating—we checked up on each other during the day, asked about any happenings with Cecily, and texted/emailed all questions, concerns, homework plans, etc. We worked well together and I know we were both thankful to have the other by our side.

2. Is it easier being a single parent or having a partner?  WHY?

This answer is very much dependent on the person/partners taking care of the baby. If the single parent is responsible, this, in terms of quality, is equal to a balanced partnership, because the same amount of care in being given to the child. The single parent, though, must work harder than the balanced pair, for they are always in charge of the baby, making being single more of a challenge. However, I would much rather not have a partner than have a one who does not share my views on the project—it would be easier struggling with the baby at first than struggling with the baby and a partner. As a whole, it is most like easier to have a partner (whether they are helpful or not) because neither partner would always be responsible for the baby, yet this does not mean that the quality of the project is better.

3. What did you learn about yourself as a parent?

As a parent, I already knew I would be a bit overprotective at first. I allowed a few classmates to hold my baby (some were already granted a child and knew how to care for them, others were bound to look after one soon), but to all of the 6th and 7th graders who wished to hold or even merely touch Cecily, I was extremely hesitant and lacking in trust. I know, however, that if I had more time with my baby, I would have been able to properly show those who wished to assist me exactly how it’s done. I also learned that I’m a fairly efficient parent! I made sure to always stay close to Cecily, pay attention to the varying cries she gave for each need, and as soon as I heard a sound from her, I would scan my sensor and get to work on soothing my baby.

4. What were your greatest challenges during the project?

One challenge that never went away was balancing my attention to Cecily with staying caught up in during class. In one instance, during Latin, we were rapidly translating a story when Cecily began to cry. After changing her diaper, I quickly tried to catch up, but again fell behind twice as she needed to be burped and rocked. My classmates kindly assisted me and got me back on track, but in that moment my stress levels doubled. Transporting the baby was another undeniable challenge. The parking lot that belongs to my condo building is about three-quarters of a block away from my actual house, and my mom’s parking spot at school is in the lower portion of the lot near Friends Hall. Therefore, we had to hustle our way indoors no matter where we were; the temperature sensor and ten-degree weather sure didn’t make life easier!

5.How has your understanding of your own parents changed as a result of you being a parent?

During the project, I talked a lot to my mom about what she did in the situations that I was in. I was told about how babies can sometimes feed for an even longer period of time than we had to feed Cecily, and was beyond sympathetic when my mom explained how frequently she had to tend to me in the middle of the night. I would also ask for her assistance, making sure to prompt her on how to support the head, put on the diaper, etc. When my cautious words were denied with “I know, Lily, I’ve done this before!” I began to realize that I had nothing to worry about with the aid of an experienced parent. I had the heard stories before—of the stress and panic, yet also of the care and compassion—but truly began to understand them on a real-life level once I gained the hands-on experiences. Though I’ve always respected my parents, my respect has grown, as I’m sure my parents’ did for their mother and father when I was born.

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