The Richmond Register

January 5, 2014

A virtual glimpse at grandparenting

By Marie Mitchell
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — I got to meet my first grandchild last month. Her name is Delilah and she is delightful.

She weighed only five pounds at birth, born several weeks prematurely. In the first picture I saw of her, she was bald as an eagle, swaddled in a plain, peach colored blanket.

It’s true what they say, though. That kids grow up so fast. In this case, Delilah aged 17 years in about three months’ time. That’s because she’s a virtual child. Developed by our oldest son, Mitchell, for his Infant and Child Development class at EKU last semester.

The exercise was to teach students the developmental stages of kids from newborn to age 18. Minus the real stress and expense of actually raising one.

Virtual or not, Delilah is still a cutie. And I retain bragging rights about her. Although she’s trapped on a computer screen. Where I can’t hug her. Hold her. Spoil her rotten. Things that grandparents are expected to do before handing the kids back to their parents who are starting to appreciate the phases that Mom and Dad suffered through with them.

Mitchell had to answer some online questions about his own childhood before the baby was born. Was he a rule follower? Or rule breaker? What are his strengths and weaknesses? Was he an academic achiever as a child? Active? Social? Parents together or divorced?

All that helped shape Delilah’s temperament, interests and abilities.

“She developed pretty much on schedule,” Mitchell says, “and didn’t give me too much trouble.”

Lucky him. At three months, Delilah showed curiosity about her surroundings and smiled at family members. We got a picture at eight months: a blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty, dressed in a red, long-sleeved onesie with little footies.

At age one, Delilah was more active and social. This is a time where kids exhibit aggressive, cooperative and self-control tendencies.

She was potty trained at two and learned to ride her tricycle. Happy times, with a down side. Mitchell was down-sized in his made-up mystery job.

“I got to spend more time with Delilah,” he says, “but financially, it was stressful in my virtual life.”

No word on what his computer-generated wife thought about this. She doesn’t appear or react to family issues. Mitchell makes all of the child rearing decisions.

But wifey must exist because at age three, Delilah gets a surprise: a baby sister, Saige. For the first year, Delilah helps feed and rock the baby. She’s more outgoing and adaptable. It helps that after a year of unemployment, Dad gets a job at a higher pay scale than before.

Sibling rivalry sets in at age four. Delilah becomes clingy. Throws tantrums. Reverts to thumb sucking. Even hits her sister with a toy, requiring medical treatment.

“We took Delilah along with us to the hospital so she could see the consequences of her actions,” Mitchell says. “But overall, Saige wasn’t really a major player in the exercise. She only appears a few times.”

Delilah undergoes typical changes over the next five years. She moves from play dates to social networking. By eleven she’s less of a tomboy and more conscious of her developing body — and boys.

She’s curvier and athletic at twelve but worries about being fat. She’s a good student in high school, but moody, and wants to date. By age 15 her chief passions are nice clothes, good music, money and boys.

By 16, Delilah is driving and gets a part-time summer job. She also picks up a steady boyfriend — and an attitude. The lovebirds get matching tattoos, fortunately small and inconspicuous. Sometimes Delilah stays out past curfew. She dented her dad’s car in a minor accident and came home drunk one night.

“But she was conscientious enough to have a designated driver bring her home,” Mitchell defends her.

Those troubles aside, Delilah scored in the top 5-to-10-percent on the ACT and accepted a scholarship at a prestigious state college.

“I’m glad she got into a good liberal arts school,” Mitchell says, “but I didn’t earn any extra points because my child turned out well.”

Still, he was relieved that his child didn’t steal, total a car while drinking and driving, or serve time in prison like some of his classmates’ virtual kids.

And Mitchell feels better equipped to handle problems that come with raising children when he’s ready to be a father for real.

With actual children whom I can hold, hug and spoil. Maybe we didn’t do such a bad job raising him.