Due to an untimely move during high school, the second semester of my senior year found me in a health class designed for freshmen, necessary for graduation. The curriculum purported to address general topics in health and hygiene, but in reality it was about eleven solid weeks of sex ed -- let us relive the magic -- and one solid week of The-Wonder-of-Me bullshit. ("Make an album cover that sums up your personality!" "...The answer is none. None more black.")
Now, by that time I had a good working knowledge of contraception, so it was with purest teenage scorn that I received an assignment intended to terrify my fourteen-year-old classmates into celibacy. We were each issued a five-pound sack of potatoes and told to treat it as we would a real baby: to take it with us wherever we went unless we could find a babysitter; to budget for its care and feeding; and never, under any circumstances, to mash it with cream and butter.
At eighteen, I was pretty sure that anything I found stupid was worth doing very badly. I subverted the assignment in every way I could think of. Instead of pricing cribs at Sears, I insisted I'd empty a laundry basket. While my classmates borrowed strollers and wheeled their babies to English, I toted mine like a football, a hold that appalled my teacher, but one my real babies loved. I unsacked my baby and stuffed its tuberous parts into the sleeves and legs of a dingy romper from Goodwill. I named it Headless. I got a low grade. And that was my training for parenthood.
Today outside the grocery store I saw a girl lugging a baby carrier. She was young, thirteen or fourteen. The sight of her alarmed me, and I looked around for her mother. The carrier was too heavy for her; as she lurched, it jerked and swayed, but she didn't seem to care.
As I passed her I looked at the baby, expecting to see a freaked-out face gone green. But of course it wasn't a baby, but a life-sized plastic doll. My first reaction was relief: I'd been thirty seconds away from rushing right over and telling her to stop shaking that baby; demanding to know if she was breastfeeding; and making some inconsequential small talk about circumcision -- you know, just pleasant social chit-chat. Oh, and cover that baby up! It's 30 degrees out here!
My second reaction was laughter. Because from the neck down the baby was covered…with a bag of Cheetos, a box of Hot Pockets, and a package of Rainbow Twizzlers, all tucked in very neatly next to her ersatz child.
But I still wanted to tell her she was doing it wrong. For the sake of authenticity, she should have swapped the Twizzlers for Xanax.