Chapter One


Welcome to Child Champs

Welcome to Child Champs. I'm Dahlia Rose, I teach here.

Yes, this classroom around me is spartanly furnished, but Child Champs isn't cheap -- our reputation is that of being one of the best places to learn about child-raising in the city.

The students come in one-by-one. This the first day of class, and there is some first day confusion, but not much because Child Champs has only eight classrooms, and each of these could squeeze in twelve people each, at most. Today's class starts at 8PM, and I'm scheduled to have seven students.

This class is our basic, and most popular. We teachers have nicknamed it Rugrat 101, but we are careful not to use that name around students or managers. For them it is Parenting Fundamentals for the PAT -- the PAT Class, for short. PAT is Parent Achievement Test. You take the PAT to determine your ranking in those things related to child raising. This ranges from employment by others to receiving a "bundle of joy" from a government-sponsored baby development labs. The higher your score, the more choices you have in which baby will become yours, and where you get to raise it. Think SAT and college choice, and you're not far off the mark.

I watch the students come in. Each class is different because a lot of different kinds of people want to raise children. Our classes meet in person once a week. This adds a lot to the cost of the class. We have to have rooms, and teachers (like me) and the prospective parents have to do some traveling. But, as our founder, Anton Noidtal, puts it, "Raising children isn't a job, it's an adventure!". We charge more than the purely on-line programs, but our students get more, too, and that's why we consider ourselves the best the city has to offer.

The students have different backgrounds. We will all find out more when we do the introductions.

It's five minutes before class. I hear some yakking outside the classroom door, a "bye", and in comes a young woman with an old Rasberry of some sort. She's smallish, slim, Asian-looking with long black hair, wearing jeans, and a T-shirt with a slogan on it -- “Don’t Drink and Derive” plastered over some math formulas. Cute! The T-shirt and jeans look good on her, but it's not this year's fashion. She's probably an immigrant. She sees the sign in the classroom saying, "Please turn off devices that may interrupt your concentrating on the class." and reaches up to switch something on the unit. Ancient, which means she is poor, which means she is in class to make money -- she will become some couple's nanny or surrogate mother. She may not know much to start with, but she's early, which means she's likely to work hard at the class. I like that kind of student.

"Hi there, and welcome to the class." I say after my new student turns off her Rasberry.

She is a bit shy, and when she speaks I understand why: She is definitely an immigrant, and she's still working on her English, too. English and kids, she's going to be a busy, busy woman for the next few years! But, it's a common combination.

Next to come in are a couple. They are older, the man has let his hair gray, the woman has not. They seem to be on good terms with each other. They see the sign about turning off phones, and do something internal. Their equipment and clothing are up to date. They are likely into baby raising because they think it's now the right time in their lives.

"Hi there!" I say, "My goodness it's stormy tonight!" I encourage small talk between students before class. By the end of the course, we should all know each other well. If we don't, then coming to a face-to-face class like this has been a waste of money for the students. They should have stuck with on-line courses.

Next comes a rush of students; it is close to class starting time. A punk-looking teenage girl, a nice-but-not-noticeable man, and a no-nonsense businessman type come in. The businessman is yakking to someone as he comes in, looks around, sees the sign, and walks out to finish his talking. While he is talking outside, a striking woman in expensive clothes and sunglasses slides by him and walks in. I'd heard rumors, and they look to be true! She takes off her sunglasses, and she is Rubyzin, the pop singer with a couple of platinum albums! Ummm, I can feel my insides thrill with fan awe! I like her stuff!

Then there is a surprise. The manager stands at the door and motions for me to come out. I do. The look on his face is serious as he says, “I apologize for this short notice, but I have one more student I’d like to put in your class. He motions, she is standing at the end of the hall. She’s a woman in a full length flowing dress and wearing a scarf -- clearly a member of some conservative religious group. We don’t get that kind often here because they usually handle all their making and raising within their own group, so there’s a story here. Maybe we will hear it, maybe not.

“Sure” I say, I’m an open-minded type. He motions and she walks up and by us quietly to take her place in the classroom.

“Thanks” says the manager, looking relieved, and he heads off. I head into the classroom. The man finishes his phone talking and walks in behind me. We are all there: Time for class to begin!

"Welcome to the Child Champs Parenting Fundamentals for the PAT class." I say, "I'm Dahlia Rose, your facilitator. One of the benefits of a Child Champs class is the help you'll get from your fellow students, and me, so lets start by getting to know each other a little.

"I'm 24 years old, and I'm a baby labs child myself. My day job is event coordinator at DeMuzzy High Fashion. I got a 92nd percentile on the PAT's last year. And yes, I get some spam from baby labs. I don't have a baby yet because I'm still looking for my Mr. Right, but I do plan on raising my children while I'm young. I'm still close with my family, and that's a little about me."

I motion to the student on my right. The student is the immigrant girl with the Rasberry, "Hi... I'm Miranda An. I'm from Laos. It's between China, Vietnam and Thailand. My father is still there, but my mother, sister and I have come to the US. I work at Hamburger Heaven, and I want to move from working there into child raising as soon as I can."

"Welcome to the class." I say with a smile, and I motion to the next student, students actually, this is the man and woman who are clearly paired up in some way. I look at them more closely now. They are old, but they are fighting it. Their skin is a bit thin and leathery which says lots of outdoor or tanning salon time in the past. There is leather in their skin, but not many wrinkles, which says both have spent time and money on looking younger. Fifty years ago that look would have screamed Botox but nowadays there are a lot of things that work better than Botox, but they aren't cheap.

"We're Janet and Ben Hosker." says Ben in a relaxed way, "We are semi-retired now. We have seen a lot, and now it's time to tell some children about what we've seen."

That was it. Short and sweet. It caught me off guard, "I'm sure we'll hear a lot more as we all get better acquainted," I say, and point to the next student.

The next student is Rubyzin. She was sitting at the far end of the table. As I point to her, she looks around in a friendly, peer-to-peer way.

There is directness, not drama in her talking, "Hi, I'm Rubyzin, and it's a pleasure to meet all of you. I'm in the entertainment business. I sing for a living, but I take the business part of my business seriously, too. I'm looking forward to getting to know all of you better."

I hope she is sincere about the last part. This is one of the perks of teaching at Child Champs. It is the best in the city, so the city's best often show up here. Knowing a popular star is going to look good on my resume.

"And you're planning on raising a child because..." I prompt her to continue.

She looks at me a moment before replying, "Because now is the right time," She says it as if this were a terribly obvious answer. She's giving us the no-answer answer. We'll find out more with time. I motion to the student sitting next to her. It's the businessman who was yakking in the hall.

The man starts in a friendly but direct way, "Hi everyone. I'm Adrian Messenger, CEO of Gene Editors Inc. We make some of the machines that are used to make the babies. Like Rubyzin, I'm here because now is the right time."

Hmm, nice. The handsome president of a high tech startup. He's a hot prospect, if he's not already attached. I look discretely, and he's not wearing a ring. I really, really, really want to ask, "Are you in play?" but I don't, but at some point, I will! Instead I motion to the next student.

The next student is the nondescript man. He continues his nondescriptness by acting shy and starting his introduction slowly, "... Hi everyone, I'm Jaden Larkin. I teach at Obama middle school for my day job, and I moonlight at writing entertainment scripts -- commercials, videos, music videos... things like that. I haven't had my big break yet, but that will come."

"Do you do song writing?" Asks Rubyzin.

"... Why yes, a little," He says.

"Didn't you do the song on the Peach car commercial? That's nice work."

Jaden's smile beams across the room, "Why thank you, Ruby, may I call you that?" Clearly, she has made his day, and I'm impressed, too, Ruby is no slouch at her work if she's up on that kind of industry trivia.

Jaden continues, "To finish, I'm planning on raising a child to supplement my income. Freelance entertainment writing is very feast and famine."

I motion to the next student. She's wearing a Neopunk outfit, including the weird colored hair, inch-thick makeup, piercings and she's been steadily chewing a piece of gum while the others were talking.

"Hi all," she waves, "I'm... a... kinda like here to learn about kids. I dropped out of City Tech and my... um... folks really want me to get some kind of good work. They are paying me to come here... I mean paying for me to come here. I think raising kids is... like... really important for our society. If we don't raise them well, we'll get lots of punks and criminals on the streets. ...That's all."

"And your name?" I ask. I hope it doesn't show, but I think this punky girl is likely to be the class pill -- the one that is hard to take. She sounds like a just-out-of-high school class loser with rich parents. I hope, I really hope, I'm wrong. God! I hate those types with a passion!

"Jaina Baskin," She says.

"Anything to do with Baskin Robbins?" I ask. I'm trying to make a joke.

"I'm a great grandchild of Burt Baskin," She replies, as if she is somewhat embarrassed by the answer. I know I am! I was expecting a laugh and, "No Way!" answer. Uh-oh, now I have to find out if I'm dealing with an old-money spoiled brat, or a poor ignorant punk from a no-inheritance side of the family who is as loser as she looks to be. I will find that out later.

I motion to the final student. She’s the quiet one in the long dress and scarf. She was quiet and demure coming in, but now she speaks with authority, “I’m Annette Bushkov. I’m part of the Reaching for Paradise commune. I’m here because I’m infertile, but my husband and I still want to do our part in bringing forth the next generation,” And she’s finished. The story smells like limburger in a perfume factory –- incurable infertility is rare these days and these closed-commune-types usually handle this kind of domestic problem among themselves -- so we’re going to find out a lot more later, I’m sure of that!

"OK, now that we've all been introduced, lets talk about what the class will be about." I begin my spiel.

To start the class, I hand around a flyer.

The Ad

Our babies are 98% Einstein! You're looking for the best baby to raise, and our babies are the best. We have spared no expense to prepare the best gene package you can get for the money, and our incubators are state-of-the-art. They will prepare you a cuddly bundle of love that has everything it needs to grow into a world shaker!


It's on glossy paper and five years ago it was passed out in the local shopping malls once a week.

I pass the ad around to the class.

"OK," I ask the students, "What's wrong with this ad? How is it misleading?"

Ben Hosker snorts a laugh. "Even chimpanzees have 98% Einstein genes!"

"Very good." I say, "Advertisers for baby labs are no more scrupulous than those for any other consumer product. If an ad like this sells a baby, they win. These days some advertising standards have been agreed upon by the baby labs, so this ad no longer appears. Still, you need to know your product basics if you are going to make an intelligent choice. That is the subject of Unit One of the PAT..."

PAT's: What's at Stake?

From human prehistory up until the late 21st century, child rearing started when a man and a woman formed a family unit through a marriage of some kind. It continued when they made love with each other -- in other words, the man and the woman of the marriage provided the genetic material for the child, and they used providing that material as the signal to start the child rearing process. After the child was born they personally did most of the things involved with child rearing.

This wasn't the only way to make and raise children, as evidenced by the huge interest in "drama" in human story telling about families -- stories about adoption, nannies and infidelity -- but it was a common way the world over. These days this method is still practiced by rural families in poor nations, some fundamentalist religious groups, and those living in Neolithic Parks. (Neolithic Parks are our current best insurance program that humans survive a civilization-disturbing disaster such as an asteroid strike.)

One of the new challenges that faces humans in this 22nd century of ours is that not enough people want to raise families in this traditional way. In the first decade of the 21st century most humans became urban people. It turns out that there are so many interesting ways for urban people to fill their time that family raising has been pushed out of many civilized urban lives. This phenomenon -- that prosperous city people don't have enough children to sustain the population -- was noted as early as the nineteenth century by British demographers. But it didn't matter until the 21st century because before then most humans lived on the farm. Around 2008 the split was even, and the percentage has been steadily rising.

These days a majority of rural people still raise their own children, but these days there aren't a lot of rural people. They are only ten percent of the population. The only urban people who consistently raise more children than the replacement level are those religious groups which take the "be fruitful and multiply" commandments seriously.

Having enough babies to keep the population stable is not easy for the average urban community member because of all the distractions of modern life. Plus, doing it the traditional way is tedious, painful and dangerous -- many traditionalist mother baby raisers still die each year because of the physical defects that come from bad genes, and from the discomfort and diseases of pregnancy and early child rearing, too.

Among Neolithic Park people, the death rate for women during childbirth is about 1 in 200. One in two hundred! It's amazing! The program would be shut down instantly for tolerating that kind of barbarism if it weren't clearly part of the Neolithic Park Charter that the humans who live there have to go it alone, and take all the risks of doing so -- that's the only way that the people in the program can insure that they can survive without a supporting civilization. And, as constantly gets pointed out, it is an insurance program. It's going to look like a constant money and people drain until there's a civilization-collapsing disaster.

The solution to this declining population problem has been the creation of baby-making laboratories to make the needed babies, and "baby villages" as places to raise them.

The "baby labs" gather the best of eggs and sperm, add everything modern science can add in the way of diagnostics and gene enhancements, go through a couple more steps that people don't like to talk about, and produce the best of babies that are ready to be raised by loving parents.

Baby labs can make babies, and mature them into fetuses ready to be born, but they can't grow them from toddlers into adult humans ready for modern life -- that growing up part still takes people willing to spend lots of time and attention on youngsters.

There are many ways to do baby raising. Some are quick and simple, some are long, elaborate and expensive. There are new ways, and there are old ways. There are dozens of magazines and web sites devoted to discussions of what makes good babies, and what makes babies grow up into good adults. In short, there are "Ferrari babies" that people would give their eye teeth to raise, "Ford babies" that the world needs raised just to keep humanity going, and dozens of kinds in between. There are also dozens of kinds of places where babies can be raised. Some are luxury, some are commodity, and many are in between. The PAT's are an important part of the process that decides who raises what, and where.

The PAT's are a standardized test that measures a person's parenting aptitude. When a person decides they want to take a baby from a baby lab and raise it, part of their qualifying dossier is their PAT test. The two other main considerations are their financial condition and their community report -- how good are their recommends from their friends, neighbors and coworkers.

Those three -- PAT's, finances and recommends -- are the heart of the parent selecting process used by the baby labs, the baby villages, and the government.



As soon as the class ends, the students gather their stuff and walk out. In the hall most start their "zombie act" -- they start phone calling, text messaging, and whatever. The only problem with that is that the hall becomes barely navigable when so many distracted callers fill it up.

My students get a ten minute lead on me in getting hooked back into "real life" because I have paperwork to fill out at the end of class. I get to report to management on who was here and what we covered in the various texts, power points, and videos -- Anton, the boss, is very picky about making sure the students get value added when they have a class here. Ten minutes later, I walk into the main lobby and do my zombie act -- I link back into real life, too. Once I have all the crises-of-the-hour covered, I head for home.

While heading home I handle the real crisis, the one that has been brewing for some time. For some reason, I like to do my "messy" calls while I'm in my car and the car is driving. I guess looking at the scenery going by soothes me from the people problems I face while making a messy call.

This messy problem is that I've decided to break up with Andy. Andy Garza, he's been nice, and he seems to like me a lot, but I just don't think he's enough of a provider. I'm ready to start "pollinating for effect", but he's still in gather-life-experiences mode. He says he's in love, and I believe that. I just don't believe he's ready to get into the child raising part of a relation, and that's what I need right now -- someone to help on the child raising.

I dial him up and he's in. We small talk for a bit and then I drop the bomb. "Andy, we need to slip our relation back to just friends mode."

There is silence on the other end for a while. "Have you started taking pills?"

The pills are "forget him" pills. They help a girl, or a guy, get over a relation that's gone sour. The pills adjust the "raging hormones of youth" brain chemistry to help the brain reprogram that a girl's object of affection isn't really that. An important secondary effect is that a woman doesn't have a big problem with being "on the rebound" after she breaks up -- ready to hook up with the next testosterone producer who asks her. Boys have their own set of pills to help them with heartbreak and rage/revenge/depression thinking.

"Not yet." I say. If I had said yes, Andy probably would just say, "OK, good bye and good luck," and that would be it. The pills cut down interest pretty quickly, and unless you like dating cold fish, you're not going to like dating someone who's taking "forget him" pills for you. I could have lied and said yes, but I didn't, so I hear...

"Want to get together for dinner and a last kiss?" He asks. He's nice, and I really do like him. So I say yes, and we set a date. When the call ends, I'm relieved, this breakup looks like it's going to go smoothly. We'll have our last kiss, and then both start on pills, and we'll be just friends for as long as our interests are mutual. My grandmother doesn't believe that this can happen, but these days it's true.

A few minutes later he calls back, "I just had a thought. Want to do this last kiss at the top of Butterfield Canyon, at sunset?"

There are some implications to that setting that send tingles to my nipples. "Umm, we can do that," I say, "But keep in mind: this is a last kiss date."

"I will, I will," He says.

Last kiss dates can sometimes be very memorable. This may be one of those times.