When Washougal High School students finish Rachel Fouts-Carrico’s child development class, one thing is clear.
Becoming a parent is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.
The class, which Fouts-Carrico has taught for four years, gives students an overview of topics including childhood developmental stages, working in early childhood education, childbirth, costs of raising a child, teen parenting, and even offers the opportunity to take home a mechanical baby for the weekend.
The baby cries, eats, sleeps and poops, pretty much like any other infant. If students don’t figure out how to soothe the baby, it cries louder.
“The kids are always so excited about it at first,” Fouts-Carrico said. “But after they’ve had the baby for the weekend, that romantic notion of having a child is usually gone. They typically say it was the worst weekend of their life. Different tempered people react in different ways, but the reality really works.”
Just ask junior Nick Arden. When asked what his experience with the mechanical baby was like, he replied, “Oh, you mean baby Satan? Can you please put that in all-caps, too? You get no sleep with that baby, and if you don’t figure out what the issue is pretty quickly, it will go off.”
He said at times during the weekend, he felt helpless and bumbled everything. Which, as any new parent is likely to agree, has also happened to them at one point or another.
“The worst part is not being able to figure out what the baby wants,” he said.
Arden said the most important lesson he’s learned from the class so far is that he’s definitely not ready to be a father.
“Responsibility wise, it’s pretty hard-core,” he said. “I am so not ready to have a child. Guys who are interested in having sex should take this class. They’ll be done for the rest of their lives.”
Junior Ethan Crone took the class because it sounded interesting. When asked what he knew about babies before enrolling, he said, “They poop and throw up.”
After having the mechanical baby for the weekend, he has a new empathy for his parents.
“It was a nightmare,” he said. “Finding out what was wrong with it was the worst part. It would start crying and wouldn’t stop. My mom thought it was funny and laughed at me.”
Crone said that overall, the class has been a good experience preparing for the future, and would encourage other teens to take it as well.
“Some teens don’t think about the potential outcome when they have sex,” he said. “They tend to think in the moment, not the future.”
That’s part of the message that Fouts-Carrico hopes students will take away from her class.
“I really think it raises awareness about the intricacies of childcare and parenthood,” she said. “Last year a young woman who was pregnant, took the class and shared her story, and I think a lot of the kids understood the seriousness of the situation.”
Junior Amanda Xanthoudakis decided to take the class because she wanted to learn more about children.
“I do a lot of babysitting and I do think actual kids are easier than the mechanical babies,” she said. “At least you can make a funny face at them and try to get a smile. The dolls just cry more.”
Xanthoudakis had the mechanical baby during her mom’s birthday weekend, and her mother had no intention of letting her teenager stay hunkered down at the house.
“We had to go to Seaside,” Xanthoudakis said. “It wasn’t a fun experience. My mom thought it was pretty funny, though.”
However, after a weekend of other teens pointing and laughing, nasty glares from older people who thought the baby was real, and frequent wake-up calls, Xanthoudakis was at her breaking point.
“I called my boyfriend three times, crying,” she said.
The best lesson she’s learned so far is that parenting is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.
“Kids are hard, and there’s a ton of responsibility actually caring for another person,” Xanthoudakis said. “If you have a child, there’s a lot more responsibility than just what you want to do.”
Senior Stacy Bradley, who wants children, “someday,” said she struggled during her weekend with the mechanical baby as well.
“The first day, it was alright, but then it would cry all night long,” she said. “I got no sleep at all. It took me until Sunday night to figure out if I rocked the baby while I fed it, it wouldn’t cry.”
When asked what the most important thing she learned from the class was, Bradley said, “I won’t be getting any sleep for a long time after I have a kid.”
Despite her struggles, Bradley said she has really enjoyed the class.
“It’s been really helpful and now I know a little more about what to expect,” she said.