By Emily Harrington
My best girlfriend told me she has dreamed of pushing a baby around in a stroller since she was a little girl. It’s something she always knew she would do — be a mom.
As she said this to a group of us, the other women in the room nodded and smiled, and I thought, “What gene am I missing?” Is this a normal childhood aspiration or am I the abnormal one? Are maternal instincts innate or learned?
As I said in my first post, I do want to have children. In fact I really love children. I adore our nephews and would probably choose to hang out with my cousin’s little girls over most adults. But, at the end of the day, I’m happy to return them to their moms’ safe havens and go back to my structured serenity.
There are a few times in my life where I have questioned the phrase maternal “instincts.” One disastrous night stands out to me.
The memory takes me back to my high school’s Child Development class. The teacher proposed an extra credit assignment to the mostly-female students. The task: Take home an electronic baby for one evening. Nope, no flour-bag babies or hard boiled eggs to care for. These were crying, screaming life-size babies. Of course, the intention was to teach blossoming young women to be wary of teenage sex, as it could lead to a lifetime commitment you are not ready for. It worked — it was all the birth control I would need.
So, with the motivation of extra credit, I bundled up my baby up and slipped its body into my Eastpak. (I left the zipper open on top a little, you know, for air.) I felt so grown up. When I got home my mom and I took turns holding the baby and cooing at it.
Within a few hours of bringing the baby home, it lost its new baby luster. Now, you didn’t have to feed it or change it, but it would cry. The pattern was, baby cried, you picked it up and held it for a while and the crying would cease.
I made it into the evening relatively unscathed and uninterested. I tucked the baby in beside me and went to sleep. I don’t know if the sensors in that doll went haywire or what, but it screamed well into the night. I tried to hold it, bounce it, lay it in a different position. It just screamed. I got so fed up I wrapped the baby in blankets and shoved it under my bed! Another pillow on top and the muffled screams became tolerable.
The batteries must have run out eventually because both baby and I got some rest! The next morning I put baby back in my Eastpak and headed to school. Each girl proudly presented their baby to the teacher and explained how their night went. I kind of pitched my baby underhanded and went back to my seat.
There was one caveat to the assignment that we were all unaware of: In the back of each doll was a device that took readings of your performance as a parent in the form of abuses and neglects.
I started to sweat and turn red. The teacher was opening the backs of each doll and reading the “parents” performance to the class. Everyone’s reading were relatively benign, with very low numbers if any registered at all. When she got to my device, it read 99 neglects and 11 abuses.
All I wanted was extra credit!
I’m hoping after my high school mishap as a pseudo-mom, I can learn to be a great mom when our test becomes positive. I hope maternal instincts can be learned and are not just innate. Even though I didn’t dream of pushing a baby stroller as a little girl, as an adult I hope I can learn to be the best mom possible.
Emily Harrington is a 28-year-old townie on the cusp of full blown adulthood. She’s a wife still in the honeymoon stage and a mom of a borderline psychotic mini-Australian Shepherd. She has a full-time job in communications/marketing and a full-time life outside of work.