On paper, it seems like I could handle taking care of a baby: I have a full-time job, a decent place to live, a supportive circle of friends and family... So, what's the holdup?
I don't really have a good answer for that. All I know is that I am one of the few childless thirtysomethings in my friend groups.
So, I recently wondered how my life would change with a baby in it. Well, a robot baby, anyway.
I want to add that I know a robot baby is nothing compared to a real baby, and my struggles with a fake baby pale in comparison to what real parents go through. So, with that in mind, let's start this baby-rific adventure...
My robot baby arrived — not via stork, but via a box.
Of course the first thing everyone asked me was "What did you name her?"
After a clever suggestion from a colleague, we decided on the name "Rachael" (as in the replicant from Blade Runner).
The likeness is uncanny, I know.
And this made it official:
Now, Rachael's habits were modeled after a real baby's and designed to judge her caretaker — i.e., me — based on things I did well...
...and things I did not do well.
If I met all of the "Proper Care" needs I'd get 100%. However, any "Mishandlings" would deduct from that 100%.
I was convinced I would, at best, get like 60% total. Maybe even less.
I hadn't felt this much pressure since college finals, which was a really long time ago. And even then, it's not like I aced my finals.
So, how would I know when Rachael needed caretaking?
The wristband Rachael came with was how she would keep track of me. This way I couldn't just pawn off the tasks on someone else.
Rachael wasn't programmed to "start" until the next morning, and I'd already met my first challenge: the car seat. I literally had no idea what I was doing.
Luckily, one of our incredible Parents writers (who so kindly loaned me her car seat, carrier, and Pack ’n Play) showed me how to properly install said car seat.
This is embarrassing, but my mind was blown when I discovered my car had a special LATCH connector!
Apparently this has been a requirement in cars since 2003.
Welcome home, Rachael!
Setting up the Pack ’n Play was pretty easy, and I think that gave me a false sense of security.
I wondered if maybe the rest of my time with Rachael would be this simple too? Ha. Ha. Ha. (That's a retroactive sarcastic laugh at myself.)
I’d also like to note that I have a lovely cat named Peggy and before I brought Rachael home, I was actually more concerned about how it would affect her than me.
The first feeding.
My first task was to feed Rachael, which took about 10 minutes — much longer than I thought it would. Immediately after, she needed a diaper change (and boy, did the crying get loud) and then...ANOTHER round of feeding!
I figured, "Well, she's a growing robot baby. Girl's gotta eat!"
After all that eating and pooping, Rachael needed to be burped. Ah, the circle of life.
Suddenly, Rachael started to cry a lot more. I wondered if my neighbors could hear.
I tried the usual feeding, diaper, burping, but none of these things made her happy. And then I remembered: ROCKING. It worked. 🙌
It took 20 minutes until she calmed down, and in that time (which BTW felt more like 20 hours), I realized the genius of baby rockers. Unfortunately, I did not have one of those.
By 10:30 a.m. Rachael was finally back to sleep, and I was feeling pretty good. "That wasn't so bad," I thought (insert more retroactive laughter at myself here).
My first "out in the world" activity was a trip to the post office. Rather than use a kiosk, I opted to wait in line for the sake of experience.
As I pulled into the parking lot, all I could think was "OMG, I am actually doing this." My heart pounded. A lot.
I was mainly nervous about a) what the best way to carry Rachael was and b) people gawking at me. Once again, I didn't know what to do.
Then, like a scene out of a mediocre network sitcom, I saw a couple carrying their real baby into the post office with the car seat carrier. "Aha!" I thought. "I'll do that too."
As it turns out, holding a car seat carrier for an extended period of time sucks.
I pleaded with Rachael in my head: "Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry." She cooed. "Shit, this is it! I'm at the front of the line, she's gonna scream, and I'm going to have to run out." But that was it, it started and ended with the coo. I mentally wiped my brow.
There were a few sympathetic smiles from other post office patrons, though I don't know if they were like "Aww she's weird" or "Cute, a single mom!" Either way, I could definitely feel their eyes on me as I went up to the counter.
I got my stamps and dashed. When I got back in the car, I was relieved, and actually very happy that I got in and out without there being a "situation."
In a totally rookie move, I thought grabbing lunch at the mall would be a great idea.
I ordered food, found a relatively uninhabited table, and placed Rachael on a chair next to me. I wasn't sure if that was considered safe, but without a stroller I didn't know what my other options really were.
Right as my buzzer went off to let me know my food was ready, Rachael started whimpering. I could BARELY hear her and hunched over to try and figure out what was wrong.
It sounded like she was hungry, so I fed Rachael and ignored my buzzer, which was getting really annoying. I didn't know what to do.
Luckily, my boyfriend was nearby and could grab my food for me, but I wondered, "OMG, what the hell do single parents do when this happens? Do they just avoid being in this kind of situation entirely?"
I ended up feeding and changing Rachael THREE TIMES at the mall. Meanwhile, I barely made a dent in my own meal.
You can't tell from the pic, but there are two teenagers laughing behind me.
To top it off, in my confused state, I bit into a serrano pepper, which only escalated my level of stress. I was tired, hungry, irritated, and now my tongue was on fire.
A woman next to me asked if Rachael would "grow up and talk back to you." I have to admit, I laughed a lot at this.
When Rachael finally stopped crying I booked it as fast as humanly possible back to my car, but of course she started SCREAMING before I could even get there. 😩
Rachael's crying reached a bloodcurdling level, and I knew in that moment that I had somehow messed up. I was probably on my way to getting that 60%.
It was 99 degrees out and I was exhausted. But I wanted to do one more "quick errand."
I stopped at CVS to get cotton rounds, and they didn't have them in stock. OF COURSE. My "quick errand" had suddenly become my "quick mistake."
Rachael and the car seat felt like they weighed a million pounds (OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, I was never great with math). I was also wondering, "Why the hell am I wearing a sweatshirt?!"
I was less than 12 hours into being a robot baby parent, and it had very obviously already taken its toll on me.
And in case you're wondering, this is what a robot baby's diaper looks like:
That evening, Rachael proceeded to wake me up at 3:00 a.m., 6:15 a.m., and 7:00 a.m., which was honestly not as bad as I was expecting.
After Rachael's morning feed, burp, and diaper change, I rushed through a shower and a change of clothes myself to make it out in time for brunch with a friend.
I happily passed off my parenting duties during brunch to my friend Hannah, who appeared to be more of a natural than me when it came to holding a (fake) baby.
When we arrived, the hostess "awwwed" (she hadn't seen that my baby was fake yet) and offered us a plethora of tables to choose from. In fact, I'd say I was offered a wider choices of seats than I had ever been sans baby.
To my surprise no one seemed to care that Rachael was fake. No one stared or laughed — people mostly ignored it.
Later, it was time for a trip to the grocery store, and time for me to try out the baby carrier.
I probably had the baby carrier on wrong because my back started to get tired, but I felt like having the baby at my chest was both comforting and freeing.
I actually walked past another woman with a real baby in a carrier. She did a double take and then laughed, "I thought that was real!" It was nice for the split second before she realized I was a faker to share that moment.
Safe and sound back home.
After another couple of rounds of feeding and diaper changes at home, I decided it would be a good time to cook dinner.
I fully expected Rachael to fuss while I did this, and so I was super paranoid while cooking. I kept thinking I heard Rachael whimper, when in reality nothing was happening. She slept the whole way though.
It wasn't until I sat down to watch True Detective that she began to cry.
Between the ramblings of Detective Velcoro and co., I fed Rachael twice, burped her once, and changed one diaper.
And then came the night from hell.
Just as I thought I had mastered this whole parenting thing, Rachael decided it was time to teach me a real lesson.
Rachael woke me up at 2:00 a.m., 3:30 a.m., 5:10 a.m., and 8:00 a.m. through the course of the night.
Bring your robot baby to work day.
As my co-workers ate lunch nearby, I thought it would be fun to show them Rachael. I struggled to get her out of the carrier for a better view, and as I did so, our senior Parents editor noted that I had just broken my baby's neck. 😕
Sure enough Rachael started getting fussy on the drive back home. Technically, I could've ignored her, but I didn't want it to affect my score.
By the final night I felt like I was able to predict Rachael's needs a lot easier than I had on the first day.
HOLY CRAP, I GOT 90%!!!!!!
1. Kind of a no-brainer, but babies (even fake robot ones) are a lot of work.
2. As it turns out, I am decently capable of taking care of a robot baby.
3. People love smiling at you when you carry a baby...until they find out it's fake.
4. Carrying a baby is physically very demanding.
5. Driving with a baby is extra nerve-racking.
6. To the people who invented the rocker, baby carriers, car seats, strollers, and more, I salute you.
7. Babies seem to have routines, and the more time you spend with them the easier it seems to predict their needs (kind of).
8. Having someone around to help you take care of a baby makes a big difference.
9. Anyone who's ever had to raise a baby on their own is a fucking hero.
10. Maternity/paternity leave is very important to anyone who's a working parent.
11. I didn't have to worry about my cat accepting a baby to our home. In fact, Peggy seemed pretty attached to Rachael by the end of it.
Overall, this 72-hour trial went a lot better than I expected it to. Would I say that this test has helped me get over my fear of taking care of a baby? Yes.
Sure, Rachael may not have been as challenging as a real baby, but I think she gave me a little taste of how my life might change if there was a baby in it. So, thanks, Rachael.
A postscript from Rachael's makers:
"The RealCare Baby infant simulator is combined with curriculum and used by educational institutions to teach, demonstrate and allow participants to experience what it is like to be a parent. The infant simulators will register and record a user's interaction. Users will be evaluated on the simulators demands for feeding, burping, rocking, and diapering 24-7. Users are also evaluated on any mishandling events with the simulator including shaken baby and proper head support as well as exposure to temperature extremes among others. At the end of the program the computer inside the simulator will provide a full report of the user's ability to address the needs of the infant."