Thursday, March 1, 2001
Remember Baby Alive, that Kenner doll that supposedly performed lifelike functions? Baby Alive was all about digestion. She came with a bottle, some diapers and a few packets of "baby food" that turned suspicious hues when mixed with water. You put the stuff in the bottle, squeezed it into her mouth, and a few minutes later Baby Alive''s diaper held a jewel-toned blob of gel.
The attempt at realism was undermined by the unfortunate fact that sooner or later Baby Alive''s insides would get all gummed up with gelatin, rendering her just another doll who''d fallen out of the toy rotation.
At the same time, high school health classes were sending kids home with eggs and sacks of flour to simulate the burden of parenthood--a uniquely unimpressive method of teen pregnancy prevention.
Perhaps it was just a matter of time before the Baby Alive idea met the flour sack concept. In 1993, San Diegans Mary and Rick Jurmain came up with Baby Think It Over®, a life-size infant doll with an internal computer that tracks care. Just pop in two AA batteries and Standard Baby, available in six ethnicities, generates random cries signalling need, then coos when its "care session" is over. Teens "care" for the baby by inserting a special plastic key in its back, then turning and holding the key until the crying stops.
Or there''s RealCare Baby, a more sophisticated model that tracks head support and has sensors on the mouth that record proper feeding, as well as sensors that detect regular diaper changes.
Frustrated by a squalling kid at 2am? Too bad. Both computers also monitor the sort of rough handling that seems to have killed four-month-old Raul Anthony Suarez of Salinas, whose father is charged with murder in what the prosecution is calling a shaken-baby death.
The dolls'' hefty price tags--the two models cost $300 and $400 respectively, with warranties--is a small price to pay for teen pregnancy prevention, especially here, where teen pregnancy is a serious
problem. Monterey County''s teen birth rate is higher than Los Angeles County''s. Naturally our raw numbers are lower than theirs, but last year, 871 babies were born in Monterey County to mothers between the ages of 10 and 19. Of them, 322 were 17 or younger.
The Monterey County Health Department''s POSTPONE program owns 33 Baby Think It Over® dolls and regularly loans them out to local high school health classes (and even one middle school) for weekend-long checkout periods. A printout from the internal computer tracks incidents of care, neglect and abuse.
Travis Stuart, a health teacher at Alisal High School in Salinas, hands out school-owned dolls to students every weekend.
"You can tell by how they''re holding it on Monday morning," he says. "If they''re still holding it by the head or putting it in their backpack, then you know it didn''t work."
The point, says Stuart, is not so much for kids to bond with the dolls as for them to realize the gravity of parenthood. That, plus generating school interest in the program, was the impetus for a recent Baby Think It Over® competition.
For five days during the last week of January, 32 teens from Salinas, North Salinas, Everett Alvarez and Alisal high schools cared for Baby Think It Over® dolls around the clock. Between eating breakfast, walking to school, taking tests, and playing sports, they tended to their babies'' cries. They woke up many nights. Some were asked to leave their classes, and many were embarrassed some or all of the time. They kept journals of their frustrating experiences, and in the end, most had developed a very sober view of life as a teen parent.
Grand prizes were awarded to contestants who exhibited the most growth--whether it was borne of exasperation, tenderness or a slowly dawning realization of the seriousness of parenthood. Here are excerpts from some of the most soulful, humorous and introspective journals.
Alex Del Rio, senior,
North Salinas High
-- Day 1
At first I was anticipating the arrival of my "son/daughter" when we arrived at Natividad. I was still happy. When I first started to hear the crying I was thinking to myself, "what did I get myself into?"
That crying is so annoying. It seems they programmed the most annoying cry they could have got.
When I arrived to school everything was fine. She had been sleeping. By the way, I named her Jewel. I heard no crying for like an hour. All other babies had begun crying. So I made the mistake of letting her head fall back to see if everything was right. She did cry and would not be quiet. The day went fine. Everybody wanted to see her.
-- Day 2
Last night I did not sleep well. My kid woke at 11:00pm and I think at 4:00am and again at 6:00am. I had to feed her, burp her, and change her diaper.
I was so mad because I could not ignore that crying even if I wanted to. I was also mad at myself for getting myself into this. I am glad it is only till Friday. It was very difficult to do my homework. I think they should give these babies to kids that are heard talking about sex. This would definitely change their minds. Well, got to go, Jewel is crying again.
-- Day 3
I am really tired. I have not slept well in two days. I have never hoped and prayed for Friday to come. My brother is now really mad at me. Me and him share our room. He has now kicked me out of the room. I sleep in the living room because my brother could not handle the baby crying. I thought it was fair for me to sleep in the living room because if he had a kid I would probably do the same thing.
-- Day 4
I hate this baby! I cannot wait until tomorrow. I have not got my regular sleep since I got this kid. Last night it was the most gruesome of all. I must have woken up every two hours. This is the last time I volunteer for something like this. Whoever came up with that cry deserves a raise.
Brian Key, senior,
Salinas High (Grand Prize winner)
-- Day 1
Day one, Starting Day, was a very harsh day. It was a confusing day, tiring and annoying, the baby had to be rocked three times, one time for 30 minutes. People responded to me oddly, just giving me weird looks and making fun of me. But I don''t care, I''m just representing SHS.
Parenting is as hard as I thought. Time consuming. If I wouldn''t have had to take care of my baby today, I would have gone to baseball, worked out and hung out with some friends. But I didn''t have the opportunity to. My parents think I don''t have the responsibility to take care of my baby. I want to prove them wrong. I can be responsible.
-- Day 2
My day, even worse. The baby does not like to sleep. Waking up every two hours is not fun. Today I felt really drained, physically and emotionally. I''m with the baby 24/7. It''s hard to trust anybody else.
-- Day 3
Today had to have been the longest day of my life. The baby barely slept. And I was up late just trying to do my work.
Well, people are trying to throw the baby and some people have succeeded. Today I felt like *#!@. I''m so tired and frustrated with people trying to hurt my baby. My parents think I''m crazy, but I can do it.
-- Day 4
Today I feel like a piece of poop, with no energy or patience for people messing with my baby. I snap at anyone who tries to hurt it or anything to abuse it. But only three hours to go ''til I say Goodbye...
Since this is my last journal entry, I''ll get into more detail than the others. A real baby is 24/7, feeding, rocking, burping, DRESSING, and changing the diaper. And if you mistrust the baby, it could have a serious injury or even death. With a real child you have to be so careful it''s not even funny.
Further down the road I will meet a girl whom I will fall in love with. Then the time will come when children are being talked about. And when that time comes I will think of this experience and how all the fun things I had will disappear for a while while I tend to another life. But in the end it will be worth it because I, as a parent, will get to watch a person evolve in front of my eyes, witnessing the first time my child will throw a ball or walk, talk or hey, maybe work the remote control.
Before this experience, I knew that I would have to sacrifice a couple of things. But I was wrong. I sacrificed many things, things that are important to me. For example, my friends, family, sports and school. But mostly I miss the SLEEP!
I would like to thank Bonnie, Helen, Travis and the POSTPONE program for giving me this experience. Hopefully this program will expand to our schools and show teenagers how they''re not ready to have children and get a nice wake-up call.
Edith Cerda, junior,
Everett Alvarez High
(Grand Prize winner)
-- Day 1
My day went pretty good. When I got to school everyone was looking at me. I just smiled and kept walking. There was some people that would stop and ask me questions about the baby. Then they would want to hold it. Today I felt strange. I felt a unique feeling within me. I had so much attention that I was tired of it. I guess I felt crowded. I was also embarrassed at a certain point. It was in my 5th period, that my Spanish teacher asked me to leave class until my baby calmed down. I know he wouldn''t have asked me to do that if the baby had only cried once or twice but it cried about four times, and it started to disrupt the whole class.
-- Day 2
Overall my day was awkward, at school I took it to all my classes. I only had to step out of my 4th block because it was really disruptive (the crying).
Today my boss gave me permission to take my baby to work. When I arrived to work everyone left what they were doing to come "greet" the baby. One of my managers asked me, "Hey, are you going to be carrying that ''thing'' around all the time?"
So then I told him what was going on and that the boss had given me permission to bring it to work. Within an hour my boss arrived at work and I explained the competition to him and how I was supposed to treat the baby. He laughed and replied that the baby did a really good job of physically resembling a baby. Then I told him he was the baby-sitter. He agreed, but at the end regretted it! He had to feed it about four times, 15 minutes each time. Burp it, rock it the whole entire time!
-- Day 5
Well today''s the day! The day to give back my Baby. Today I felt like I am missing something. I think I got attached to Alexander Isaiah. I mean, I would hear Alexander cry even when it was with the baby-sitter. I guess I got attached to it. Parenting is hard. At first I thought it would be fun to take care of Alex, but it''s not all fun. It''s hard work, long nights and tiring.
Meghan Fusun, junior
North Salinas High(Grand Prize winner)
-- Day 1
Before I became a mom today I was extremely nervous. However, I was excited about it. I don''t know why, though. I mean I knew it was going to be a lot of work and less sleep but I still couldn''t wait to get my baby.
-- Day 2
Last night was the worst night ever. I didn''t know it would cry every hour. Thank goodness I woke up. I positioned the carrier I had borrowed from my stepbrother on my bed, so I''ll get up. I''m a deep sleeper so that is a bit of a problem.
Today was practically the same as yesterday, lots of stares. I''m not tired of my baby though, however, not as excited as I was yesterday. I''m asking everyone if they have clothes I can borrow though. Poor Trent looks ghetto in his baby Postpone shirt.
-- Day 3
I''m no longer enjoying this anymore. This whole thing is a complete pain. I don''t want to deal with another day or night of this. I just wish I could take the battery pack out, but I can''t. Even the alternate mom says she''s glad she didn''t have to do what I have. It was fun at first but now I can''t stand it. I never want kids. That''s an overestimate, of course, but I''m going to be waiting a long time till I have kids, like when I''m 30 years old.
-- Day 4
I can''t take this anymore! He cried only two times last night, but I couldn''t even get up. My mom had to come in and wake me up. Then she tried to put the key in and tried to stop his crying.
His cry now is like my alarm clock. I just can''t handle it. Like real babies, they''re cute when you don''t have to do all the work.
Well tomorrow''s the last day and I can''t wait. I really need to give this baby up before I start abusing it. I definitely know I can''t have kids at my age now with this experience. Of course I already knew I couldn''t handle it but now I know for absolute this is by far, far from easy and this isn''t even a real baby, babies are even more work.
Elgene Tumacder, sophomore
Salinas High School (Grand Prize winner)
-- Day 1
This was a wonderful experience to receive a baby and have it for a while. At first it was the easiest program. Everyone wanted to baby-sit and hold it. It was a good girl the whole day, crying only once. I named it Destiny Natalie Jisabel Tumacder.
At night is where it went crazy. It drove me crazy. It cried every 1 and 1/2 hours. I would hold the key then fall asleep and let go and it would start crying again. It was a tough night but I went through this night and I know that I can make it through the rest of the week.
-- Day 2
I was excited to take it to school. My mom was excited too. She would hold it for me. She thought it was funny and it was very interesting. She would hold it as if it were real. Then school came and teacher would ask questions. It would cry and I would tend to its care.
Another hard part of the day was keeping the guys from hitting the head and trying to make it cry. Many people kept wanting to make it cry to see how it sounds. I defended it like a father and all the girls defended it as well. But they would fight over who''s the mommy. The day was good but was tiring. I only got 2-3 hours sleep. That night I just did my homework. Then before I went to sleep my mom would rock her so I could get some sleep.
-- Day 4
The big and last whole day I get my precious daughter. I have gotten emotionally attached. I try to spend a lot of time with it. My day goes great. Stay up late with it and don''t mind that it cries. Good night, Destiny.
-- Day 5
I love the day I finally understood the full responsibility as a father. People who have babies have no future but the future of their newborn baby. My parents think that the baby was a joke, yet they know the responsibilities for a baby and know that I am smart enough to grab hold of my future before I have a baby.
Jose Fernandez, freshman,
North Salinas High (Grand Prize winner)
-- Day 1
When we got to NSHS I was sort of shy to take my new baby by my side throughout the whole day. I didn''t know if people were going to think I really had a real baby, or if they knew about this project. I didn''t know if people were going to make fun of me cause I was carrying around a doll or actually liked my baby and were interested in this project.
Later when I was going to my 2nd block the baby started crying and my hands were full with a baby, a bag, and a jacket. I had no other choice than to drop all of my things in the middle of the hall, plus a heavy backpack & attend my child. The baby was crying for about 20 minutes & when it stopped I went to class. By that time 2nd block was almost over & I missed class just because I had a baby.
-- Day 3
Last night was terrible. Isaac was quiet until I decided to go to sleep. When I was almost asleep around 12:30am Isaac started crying. I immediately got up & put the key behind his back. 15 minutes later Isaac cooed & I fell asleep. At about 3:00am I heard him crying again so I got up & took care of him. After like 10 minutes it cooed so I went back to sleep. At 7:00am it woke me up & I said "OK, this is enough." I put the key in his back for a little over 20 min. & when that was done I got ready for school. I was sooo tired and exhausted cause I hardly got any sleep.
Whenever I am not with Isaac & he''s with someone else I feel like some part of me is gone. I am starting to feel attached with Isaac cause I am with him day & night, but then again it is really hard and overwhelming. Today my mom told me she is glad for me going through this process of this program. I told her that I did it to go through a new experience not to see that it is a hard job to be a parent. She said that''s good ''cause you will realize that anyway. And you know what, she''s right. It is really hard to take care of a baby & especially support it.
-- Day 5
Last night Isaac cried six times which kept me up longer than the night before last night. It seems to be that Isaac cries more & more each night. I guess this night I won''t even shut an eyelid.
The good thing is that tomorrow I give Isaac back to Natividad Hospital. I will miss it cause I am sort of attached to it. But oh well.
I am too young to take care of a baby like an older experienced parent. I need more experience & more years until I think of having a baby.
Monica Mendez, freshman,
Everett Alvarez High
-- Day 1
Today is the first day I had my baby boy Ethan. Well, during the school day, guys that I know would bother me and tell me comments. One particular one made me laugh. He said, "See what happens, girl, when you have sex." I laughed! I felt so embarrassed. I couldn''t really manage doing my work in class. I''d be busy taking care of my baby.
Well in the night my parents told me that today I was going to learn about the consequences of having a baby.
-- Day 2
I hardly slept. The baby woke me up about four times last night. At school I couldn''t take my social studies test. Ethan would cry and I''d have to put the key, but he wouldn''t stop.
-- Day 3
Today is Wednesday! I''m so tired. I feel sick. My head hurts. I had to get up, change, change the baby, then go to school. My day was bad. I couldn''t really concentrate on what my teachers were saying. Because "Ethan" would cry. It''s hard having him around. I can''t really carry him everywhere. It''s hard to get into the lunch line. People push! My Mom asked me how I felt. I responded: horribly tired. Then I guess I passed out, and went to sleep in the living room.
-- Day 4
Today I felt so bad! I had to wake up last night many times. I was tired in the morning. I didn''t feel like eating nor doing anything.
My parents during dinner gave me a lecture about having sex and having babies. They gave me their experiences. This experience makes me think twice about having kids. Parenting is very hard, as I had thought. If I didn''t have to take care of my baby today, I would have stayed for soccer practice. My friends who have babies really must have a hard time doing other intellectual stuff. My parents think that this experience proved their point and the program''s point. I wish my parents wouldn''t have had to gone through with this stuff with me. In the future I will think of this experience when I feel like having sex.
For more information on the county''s POSTPONE program, visit www.postpone.org. Appearing in this week''s cover photo are, left to right, Sarah Martinez, freshman; Jennelle Rubio, sophomore; Meghan Fusun, junior; Perla Medina, sophomore; Carmen Velasquez, junior; Alex Del Rio, senior; Brian Key, senior; and in the foreground Edith Cerda, junior.