66. The Crying Machine

66. The Crying Machine

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


The Crying Machine

If your parents didn’t have any children, there’s a good chance that you won’t have any.

~Clarence Day

When my nephew, Anthony, was fourteen, he decided never to have children. He had seen the enemy, and he didn’t want to go back and study parenting anymore. Why? He enrolled in Family Studies.

In Family Studies, teenagers learn about interpersonal relationships, fighting fair, negotiating the emotional whitewater rapids of home life, and caring for children by carrying around an egg or a five-pound bag of sugar. This supposedly teaches them the responsibility of having a baby. With computer technology, the days of carrying around eggs and bags of sugar are past; lifelike dolls have taken their place.

Girls usually choose the dolls. Boys choose simpler tasks, like cooking or writing a paper, or caring for a hamster or a plant. Anthony is an unusual boy. He plays sports, but he’s not a fanatic. Given the choice, he would rather read a book, play computer games, or just watch television. Anthony chose the doll.

Unlike babies, the doll Anthony chose has an internal clock and mechanisms that provide hours and hours of scenarios you might encounter with a real baby. They even weigh about the same as a one to three-month-old infant. Anthony’s baby was named Scott, and he was fully equipped with a baby carrier, diaper bag, bottles, diapers and a change of clothes.

My sister forgot Anthony was bringing the baby home that weekend; when he did, she was surprised and fascinated. The baby was lifelike and heavy, about the size of a newborn. Anthony had a key attached to his wrist to stop the baby’s crying, and the baby cried very loudly and often.

All through supper and washing the dishes, the baby was silent. After dinner, the family went to the tack shop in town; they needed supplies for their horses. Just as they turned into the shopping mall, the baby started crying. Tracy stayed with Anthony to help him stop the baby’s cries. After ten minutes, she gave up. She told Anthony he was on his own. Anthony pleaded, but his mother ignored him.

“The baby is your responsibility,” she told him. She disappeared inside the tack shop, and Cody, who usually sticks close to his brother, followed her.

“It’s too loud,” he said.

When they returned to the car, the baby was silent.

When they drove to Walmart, Tracy gave Anthony a choice: either stay in the car with the baby or bring him into the store. Randy felt sorry for his son and didn’t think the baby would cry again. “Just leave it in the car.”

Tracy didn’t agree. “You’re teaching him bad habits. That baby is his responsibility.” Anthony left the baby in the car.

In the two years that Anthony’s family lived in that town, they never saw any of the boys’ classmates in the stores, but they didn’t count on Murphy’s Law.

“Hey, Anthony!” a girl called just as they walked into the store. “Where’s your baby?”

He told her he left it in the car. She hurried away as though afraid of being contaminated or because she couldn’t wait to tell her mother or their teacher. But Anthony didn’t care. He shrugged his shoulders and went to look at the video section, almost as though he were relieved.

Just after they got home, Tracy called her mother, and the baby started crying again.

“What is that?” Mom asked. Tracy explained. “Can’t you turn that thing down?”

“Can you turn a real baby down?” Tracy asked.

“Well, I can’t stand to listen to that,” Mom said and hung up. Anthony turned the key. The baby cried.

Tracy had worked overtime Saturday, so she went to bed early. She had just fallen asleep when she heard a baby crying. Slightly dazed and still half-asleep, Tracy got out of bed to take care of her child. Suddenly, she realized she was getting up to take care of a doll.

Tracy found Anthony in the family room. He turned the key. The baby cried. “Anthony, I have to work tomorrow. I need to get some sleep.”

“Mom, I want to go to bed, but it won’t stop crying.”

He cranked the key over and over. The baby cried and cried.

“It has to stop sometime,” Tracy said as she went back to bed.

Anthony cranked the key. The baby cried. When Tracy got back into bed, the baby’s crying sounded muffled.

Tracy got up again. Anthony was still on the couch. Although she could hear the baby crying, Tracy didn’t see it.

“Where’s the baby?”

Tracy followed her son into the laundry room, and he pointed under the table. Muffled cries came from under a pile of clothes.

“Get that baby out of there and take care of him.”

Anthony dug it out and cranked the key. The baby cried. Tracy went back to bed. And the baby cried.

A few minutes later, Anthony climbed the stairs to his bedroom. He didn’t have the baby.

“Where is that baby, Anthony?” she asked.

“I put it in the car.”

“Get that baby and put it to bed.”

“But, Mom, I locked the door.” “Go get that baby.”

Everyone was asleep when Tracy left for work the next morning. She called home a couple of times to check on the kids—and the baby. It hadn’t cried all day. As soon as Tracy got home, the baby started crying. Anthony cranked the key. The baby cried. Off and on the rest of the night, Anthony cranked, and the baby cried.

When Tracy went to bed that night, she watched Anthony climb the stairs to his room. He didn’t have the baby. She called him back downstairs.

“Where’s the baby?”

“I put it in the car. It wouldn’t stop crying.”

“Go get that baby, Anthony.”

Anthony took the baby to his room, but it didn’t cry all that night. It didn’t cry all the next day. No one was sure whether they should be relieved or worried. They jumped at every sound, sure the baby was about to cry. The baby didn’t cry.

Anthony took the baby back to school Monday morning. The baby’s internal computer recorded the amount of time it had cried and how long Anthony took to respond. The computer reported the baby had been neglected eleven times. It would have been more, but the batteries died.

Cody told Tracy he didn’t want a brother or sister. “They’re just too noisy.”

“You don’t have to worry. I have all the babies I want,” Tracy assured Cody.

Anthony tried parenthood. He didn’t like it. “I’m never having kids, Mom. They’re too much trouble.”

Parenting isn’t for the faint-hearted; neither is caring for a computerized crying machine that tattles. Family Studies are like the scared-straight program for juvenile delinquents or, as in this case, cried straight.

~J.M. Cornwell

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