By Beth Donze
There was nothing Sofia Reed could do to stop the domino effect from reaching her newborn daughter, Rebecca: A chair toppled onto the desk on which the young mother had just set Rebecca’s portable crib. The chain reaction sent Baby Rebecca crashing onto the floor, causing the infant serious injury.
Fortunately, the “baby” was not human.
Rebecca was the hard-boiled “egg baby” Sofia carried around Feb. 5-9, in fulfillment of a seventh-grade religion project at St. Matthew the Apostle School in River Ridge.
That Monday, class members arrived at school bearing a hard-boiled egg they had named, clothed, diapered, swaddled and decked with the facial features and accessories of their choice.
“I am emotionally connected to this baby, and when it broke, I almost cried,” said Sofia, recalling her egg baby’s disastrous fall just two days into the class project. “I was so shocked I couldn’t say anything. When I saw it on the floor with cracks, I almost lost it.”
The students ensconced their egg babies in all manner of infant carriers and provided them with baby bottles, teething rings, stuffed animals and other toys. One egg baby sported real human hair, clipped from the head of her young “aunt.” Another egg baby could be turned to show the eyes of an “awake” baby on one side, and a “slumbering” baby on the other.
Seventh grader Bella Roberts said the most difficult part of keeping her baby – Lizzie – safe was shielding her from rushing bodies during class changes. Bella tucked her egg daughter under a baby blanket her real great grandmother had crocheted for her when she was born.
“Basically, it’s important to keep the egg close to you at all times and not let it out of your sight,” Bella advised.
The egg baby curriculum was launched 20 years ago by Joanne Caldcleugh, St. Matthew’s religion coordinator and sixth- and seventh-grade religion teacher, as a hands-on means of teaching her students responsibility, respect for life and human dignity.
The Friday before their week of “parenthood,” Caldcleugh had her students randomly pick the sex of their baby out of a basket and instructed them to give their baby a name with some biblical connection.
Seventh grader Kennedy Nguyen named his son “Caesar” and whimsically presented him with a rubber duck named “Salad” and a bib that read “Superhero in Training.”
“I’ve learned that parenthood is hard – you shouldn’t have a kid at a younger age because some people don’t have enough responsibility for taking care of a young one,” Kennedy said, recalling a close call with his egg baby. “I tripped on the door frame going home (with Caesar) the first day and I kind of fell on my face,” Kennedy said. “But he was O.K. He survived.”
Other than at lunch period, the babies must remain with the students at all times – on campus and at home – unless they ask someone to babysit. Caldcleugh was touched to hear that seventh graders involved in an away basketball game that week had asked their coach to keep the trunk of his car open, “so their egg babies wouldn’t smother.”
Another requirement of the graded project was to write a daily journal entry – either real or imaginary – from the perspective of a real parent.
For example, seventh grader Emily Hedrick wrote about how a play date at City Park between her daughter Hannah and a friend’s baby turned into a slumber party between the two young mothers.
“You’ll leave your egg on the nightstand and turn around and then you say, ‘Oh wait. There’s a baby, I have to go get it!’” Emily said, smiling.
Seventh grader George Cazabon settled on the name “Maggie” after learning it was a derivative of the biblical name Margaret. The seventh grader placed cotton balls (“to keep her from rolling out of bed”), a tiny mirror and a bottle of hand sanitizer into Maggie’s beautifully decorated basket crib.
George said he and his classmates thought the project would be “easy” – until multiple eggs began cracking as early as Tuesday. He said he scrambled to move Maggie’s basket out of harm’s way when he was unexpectedly greeted by a bounding dog.
“We all realized we had to pay a little more attention to them,” George said. “It taught a lot about responsibility and respect for life. When you have a child, you have to care for it.”
Caldcleugh said that while some of her students had a hard time handing over their egg babies on Friday, she mostly heard sighs of relief that the week was over.
“(This project) is for them to learn that they’re not ready to be responsible for a child,” Caldcleugh said. “I tell them, ‘By Friday, you should be pretty tired of carrying that egg. Think if you had a child at a young age; you’d have to deal with that all the time.’”