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.
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!
What are your experiences with efforts to prevent teen pregnancy?