F is for Family Life

bunny-crib-beddingI just became a grandmother. Pepita, as we affectionately call her, sleeps a lot, nestled in her bunny-bedecked bed. She is tiny, her head a perfect oval, as bald as an egg.

Maybe that’s because Pepita is an egg. My 13-year-old daughter Ally just brought her home as part of Family Life’s attempt to prevent teen pregnancy. All eighth graders are charged with 24/7 responsibility for their hard-boiled infants. No sleep-aways in the refrigerator next to the leftovers, no cracks or substitutions, no transformations into egg salad allowed. During PE class or nights on the town, a reputable eggsitter must be found. Ally even has to read 20 minutes a day to Pepita. Unlike with real babies, no pages can be skipped, and the egg’s grandparents must vouch in writing for this exemplary parental behavior. Also unlike with real babies, the experiment with teen parenting lasts only five days, and no college tuition must be salted away.

My neighbor, whose kids are much older than mine, had warned me about egg babies years earlier. She described how all the eighth-grade girls fussed and cooed over their charges, spending hours planning play dates and making little outfits for them, while the eighth-grade boys pretty much left their children in their lockers for the week. Since I have a lot of friends my own age whose parenting styles parallel this gender divide with only modest variation, I was dubious about Family Life’s ability to transcend hard-wiring.

I am happy to report that my daughter is breaking gender stereotypes. Ally tends more to the neglect side than the cooing side of the parenting spectrum. True, she deigned to decorate Pepita with a marker-drawn bow, big blue eyes, and rosy cheeks. But soon after coming home with her new baby, she was trying to unload her on me.

“Can’t you just keep her in your purse?” Ally wailed as we prepared to go to a photography exhibit. “I don’t want to lug her around, and you’re bringing your bag anyway!”

“You’re the one who got pregnant!” I countered. “Deal with it.”

Pepita spent her first art opening crammed into a linty, airless pocket of her sulky mother’s sweatshirt. After that, she’s been pretty quiet. You might almost be tricked into thinking how easy it is to have a baby around the house (or locker). After all, eighth-graders have to read 20 minutes a night anyway just for English.

One thing’s for sure, although I didn’t need egg babies to clinch the case: At 13, my daughter is way too young to become a mother.

And having only recently liberated my purse from carrying around snacks and extra socks for my own kids, I’m way too young to become a grandmother.

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I wrote this several years ago. Now Ally is a language assistant teaching English to babies and toddlers in Barcelona (or maybe she is “exposing” them to English, just as they are exposing her to constant viruses). According to Ally, exposure to the real thing–germs and all–is an even better preventative than egg babies! 

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What are your experiences with efforts to prevent teen pregnancy?

10 thoughts on “F is for Family Life

  1. Ohhh, I love this post! My daughter would be the one trying to pawn the egg baby off on someone else (most likely ME). I’ll tell you what works better than an egg baby, and that is actual babysitting. She babysits in the church nursery and also for some families. She also helped teach dance to preschoolers for several years. BEST FORM OF BIRTH CONTROL EVER.

  2. My eldest is 10, so we’re not into pregnancy prevention yet, but she does have a younger cousin and I think she realises there is a lot of sleepness nights involved. I’m concentrating on keeping her levels of common sense high and hoping then I don’t have to worry.

  3. Maybe the egg babies to deter teenage pregnancies in some cases, but it did not seem to help when I was in school. A friend and I laughed a year after graduation that only a few of us did not rush to get married or have kids before or soon after high school graduation. I remember a couple of the girls actually seemed really into the egg baby as well. But maybe in most cases the egg baby project does deter teenage pregnancy. I just do not think this project should be mandatory because it seems a bit ridiculous. And yes, there were kids who thought it was when I was in high school, and would throw the egg up and down.

  4. I did this project in 8th grade too! It definitely gave us something to think about, but it’s interesting to read a parent’s perspective. Thanks for sharing!

    • Karen, that is so funny! I’m curious about how it affected you and your peers. My older daughter–not the one in the post–were just talking about this project. I didn’t remember, but this daughter apparently had twin egg babies–and her boyfriend quietly left his egg on a shelf for most of the week. But they do not have any children yet at ages 26 and 29, so perhaps Family Life was effective!

  5. My kids have always had lots of younger cousins around to see what babies were like and now some of these cousins have babies of their own so lots of practical lessons to be shared. I’ve also been fortunate that my kids (all in their 20s right now) have been pretty sensible and we’ve been able to talk about things. None of them had to look after a Pepita from school though.

    • My mother-in-law, now 87, said all the 9th grade girls from her Manhattan school took care of real babies every Friday morning. They all loved it, and although I didn’t hear of any unwanted pregnancies, I don’t think it had the desired effect intended by the curriculum designers–but neither do egg babies! I think your family’s experience–with lots of real-life, 24/7 babies and open dialogue, is the best way. Thanks for writing!

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