Taking care of a fake baby is a common sex education lesson in many teenagers' high school curriculums. Sometimes the fake baby is an egg, and sometimes it is a sack of flour, but the lesson is the same: "Being a parent is hard, so keep it in your pants." It's a hard enough assignment as a teen, but teenagers live with their parents. And most teenagers have their meals cooked for them, get rides to school, and don't have full time jobs.
I, however, am an adult (lol, debatable). I live with two roommates, I make my own meals, and I get my own ass on the subway each morning to commute to my full time job.
I also have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), which I was diagnosed with at 10 years old. It's a common mental health disorder. But sometimes it makes my life super hard. Staying organized, staying focused, managing my time, remaining motivated — these are all things my brain struggles to do. I was a bad student. I barely passed high school. I flunked out of community college twice. Though I worked in childcare for over ten years (as a successful nanny, preschool teacher, half-day kindergarten teacher, and camp counselor), the idea of raising actual kids of my own while living with ADD terrifies me. My parenting days may be a long way down the road, but it's still something I've worried about since I was 18.
So, I decided that for a week I would give myself the fake baby challenge. I was going to carry around a sack of flour for one week and pretend it was my baby. Before I got started, I set up three ground rules for myself:
1. The baby must always be in my sight.
2. I must "feed" the baby every three hours. (I didn't give the sack of flour any food. Instead, I would just put a tally mark on the bag to note that it had been "fed.")
3. The flour sack must remain intact for the entire week.
I bought my new sack of flour in the morning on my way to work. I grabbed the heaviest sack I could find: 10 pounds. I decided I would name it "Little Baby Flour."
Five minutes later, I was on the subway wishing a large dog would rip both my arms off. I was already physically exhausted. Just throw it in your purse, I thought. Do it. It's just a sack of flour and not an actual baby. This wouldn't be happening if you went to the gym regularly. But I kept holding on, because if my flour sack were an actual baby, I would not be able to just "throw it in my purse."
I leave Little Baby Flour at my desk the entire first day. And then I leave it there overnight.
Listen, I'm not proud of what I did. It's a really busy day at work. I spend the day working from a collection of office couches, away from my desk. (Violation of rule #1: The baby must alway be in sight.) It seems the fears I had about being a bad mother are not without merit.
After the previous day's blunder, I pay much closer attention to Little Baby Flour. I make sure I know where LBF is at all times. I get my work done with LBF in my arms, which makes typing a whole lot harder. I take LBF to a work meeting. Because it's an important meeting, and I don't want a sack of flour just sitting on the table, I shove LBF under the table by my feet. (Not everyone in the office knows about my experiment and I don't want to freak people out.) Should you do this with a human baby? Probably not.
This is the first day I run errands with LBF. I go to a coffee shop for a latte, and struggle to hold the cup and LBF at the same time. When I leave, I can barely open the door. I then go to CVS to buy shampoo and conditioner, and struggle to hold LBF, my purse, my gym bag, and the shampoo and conditioner. That night, I meet a friend at a bar for a drink. Halfway through the night, I loudly exclaim "FUCK" — I realize only then that I left LBF at my apartment. I spend that night at my boyfriend's place, while LBF is left to its own devices at my own. (Don't worry: By this point I also realize I'm doing a horrible job. It's not just you.)
If this were real life, I would be in jail. I wish I were the type of person who could do this experiment correctly. I'm not neglecting LBF on purpose. I don't enjoy leaving the sack of flour alone. It's like my iPhone problem. I don't like leaving my iPhone in cabs all the time. But does it happen at least once a month? Yes.
It's a Saturday, so I spend the entire day in bed playing video games at my boyfriend's place. LBF remains at my apartment. I'm tired. Am I honestly supposed to take the subway all the way to my apartment just so I can come back with a bag of flour???????? (The answer is "Yes.") I know I should go back and get it. But I also know that if LBF stays at my apartment alone, nothing bad will happen. It's not a real human. It will be fine.
The only way I can explain the process of what's happening in my brain while I take care of LBF is to share a passage from a book titled Fast Minds: How To Thrive If You Have ADHD. In the book, Dr. Craig Surman writes:
So, in this situation, taking care of LBF = filling out my tax forms. The reason I stay at my boyfriend's place and play video games all day is because the stakes in this flour experiment aren't high enough. When I worked in childcare, I made sure I always had my eyes on the kids. Taking care of them was like being chased by the tiger, except I enjoyed it. I was always on alert because I had to be, and because I truly cared about each and every one of them.
This is why people with A.D.D. tend to do well in high pressure situations.
(By the way, if a real tiger was chasing me, I would not enjoy it. I would be dead instantly because I am not athletic. Also, tigers are faster than humans. I'm not kidding. Look it up.)
This is the day that will henceforth be known as The Leaking. I'm back in my apartment, holding LBF, bending over to pick up a debit card I dropped, when out of the corner of my eye, I see white. It's one of those moments where, had it happened in a movie, you'd see the flour falling out of the sack in slow motion while Mozart's Lacrimosa played in the background.
I repair LBF with packing tape.
Throughout the week I've been picturing this horrible scenario where I'm on the subway and I drop LBF and flour spills everywhere. Everyone on the train stares at me and I panic because I'm unsure if I should clean up the flour or just run off the train at the next stop. So when I mend LBF's wounds it's not really because I care about its well-being, but because I am trying to avoid my nightmare subway situation.
At work, I realize that I left LBF at my apartment once again. A co-worker walks by, asks where my baby is and I, right on cue, yell "FUCK!" This is also the day I stop tallying LBF's meals. I stay at the office until 1:00 AM doing other work. I'm uninterested at this point. I'm like the cat who plays with its new toy for three days, gets bored, and then never touches it again. My brain decided LBF wasn't important without even consulting me first.
I forget to bring LBF to the office on the last day of my experiment. People with ADD are less able to direct their mental effort at will. What's frustrating about this is that other people often read this difficulty as irresponsibility, laziness, and carelessness. But for me, it was more that LBF was no longer the freshest thing in my mind — I had new assignments and shiny new ideas.
What I Learned
I didn't begin this experiment thinking I'd get a genuinely good assessment of my abilities as a parent. A sack of flour and a human child are two very different things. And because I know that, my brain makes it easier for me to justify leaving LBF behind.
You might be wondering: "What the hell was she thinking? How could she just... forget?" It's tough to describe. I didn't feel guilty about it because my brain didn't leave me any space to feel guilt.
I'm not a careless monster. When I was a camp counselor, I would cry every year on the last day of camp while I watched my campers leave. I didn't have that with kind of bond with my sack of flour, so it wasn't hard for me to forget about LBF.
Still, I'm ashamed of myself for neglecting this bag of flour the way I did. It's the same shame I felt when I left high school and realized that, out of the four years I spent there, I maybe handed in nine math assignments.
What I did take away from the experiment, however, was something I already knew:
I'm not great at juggling a lot of things at once by myself. When many people become parents, they often say their child becomes the most important thing in their lives. So when I'm a parent, I'll be juggling a lot of important things at once. And since my A.D.D. causes my brain to navigate life based on what it thinks is the most important, I know the way I felt about my campers is the same way I'll feel about my kid. Only more so.
I don't plan on raising my child alone. By the time I'm ready to have a kid, I plan on being with someone I love. Someone who can deal with my A.D.D. Someone who agrees that using the ice tray without filling it back up again should be a federal offense. These requirements, especially the last one, are very important to me.
But if that plan doesn't work out, I hope that by the time I am ready to have a child cloning will be available to the public, and I will clone myself into six beautiful moms.