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B.J. Hollars reads with Real Amelia, left, and Robot Amelia during a recent adventure with the Realityworks simulator.

When a father meets his child for the first time, he’s left speechless. What words, after all, could possibly speak to the majesty of such an incomprehensible experience? Thrice before, I’d been dumbstruck into silence. But on my fourth meeting with my new child, I knew exactly what to say:

“So…she’s fully charged then?”

“Fully charged,” confirmed the support technician. “Her battery should last for three and a half, maybe four days.”

I nodded from my place inside the Realityworks headquarters in Eau Claire.

More than enough time, I figured, to complete my less-than scientific study on what the Realityworks RealCare Baby® infant simulator — the world’s most advanced “robot baby” (intended for curricular-based, educational purposes only) — could teach me about real parenthood.

Not that I already didn’t know a thing or two about it. My problem was that most of what I’d known about infant care had faded during the five-year gap between our previous child and our six-week-old, daughter, Amelia. My hope was that Robot Amelia (as she came to be known) might help me brush up on a few fundamentals. Since I couldn’t pinpoint what I’d forgotten, the infant simulator’s highly advanced data collection system would do it for me, tracking my every shortcoming — from missed diapers to insufficient burping — and providing me the statistical data to make me a better dad.

Genius, I thought. Pure genius.

“Good news, honey,” I said, as I lugged Robot Amelia’s carrier into the living room, “it’s a girl!”

My wife, who was busy changing Real Amelia’s diaper, glanced wearily my way.

“So this is our life now?” she asked.

“Only for 48 hours,” I assured.

The older children entered the room.

“Are you two ready to meet your new robot baby sister?” I asked, lifting the carrier flap.

“Can I hold her?” my son begged.

“Afraid not,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because if you forget to support her head or something, Daddy will get docked points,” I explained. “Why don’t you hold your real baby sister, instead?”

My wife’s jaw hit the changing pad.

“Or…what I mean is,” I said, rethinking my logic. “Of course you can hold the robot baby. Because it’s a robot. And your real sister is real.”

My wife nodded. Correct answer.

“Just…be careful,” I reminded. “We don’t want to mess up the data.”

Before approaching Robot Amelia, the kids reached for the hand sanitizer.

Pavlov would’ve been proud.

• • •

Over the course of 48 hours, only once did the babies and I venture into the public. Nothing fancy: just a quick trip to the post office for a passport appointment.

Upon our arrival, the postal worker told us to take a seat, promising to be with us shortly.

“Sounds great,” I said, transporting both carriers to the waiting area. “As you can see, I’ve really got my hands full, so thanks for getting us out of your hair.”

But what that postal worker couldn’t see, I realized moments later, was that my hands — for all practical purposes — were only half as full as they appeared. Robot Amelia was tucked so deep into her mound of blankets that she was barely visible. To the untrained eye, I looked like a parent to twins.

What have I done? I wondered. Did I really just inadvertently exploit a baby simulator — not to mention my own baby — for speedier service?

In my defense, I hadn’t intended to mislead, and I copped to the truth moments later. But the damage had been done; that service was swift.

Thankfully, karma took decisive action against me.

While walking back to the car, Robot Amelia began to wail. The kind of wail that drew more than a few looks from passersby, and one that indicated the need for a diaper change. I ran to the car, then shivered in the subzero temperatures as my fingers fumbled with the sensored diaper. At last, the change was complete, and Robot Amelia’s wails gave way to her “happy coo.”

“I deserved that, huh?” I sighed.

That robot’s coo confirmed it.

{span}• {/span}{span}• {/span}{span}•{/span}

To the parents out there who care for multiple infants, I tip my baby bottle to you. If Robot Amelia and Real Amelia’s chorus of cries taught me anything, it’s that not all heroes wear capes; some wear burping cloths.

Fifteen minutes prior to Robot Amelia powering down, she emitted one last chirp.

“You OK over there?” I asked.

No answer.

I clicked her into her car seat, then returned her to Realityworks at the agreed upon time, where the support technician retrieved my data within minutes.

“How’d I do?” I asked nervously.

“Ninety-seven percent,” the technician said. “It looks like you had a ‘missed rocking’ just when you were getting started, and a ‘missed burp’ at six o’clock this morning.”

I nodded, guilty as charged.

“But all things considered, you did great,” the technician said, breaking down the data: only 24 minutes of total crying, and I’d fed and diapered Robot Amelia with 100% accuracy.

Despite the high score, I know better than to expect any Parent of the Year Awards in my future. Mostly because in my effort to tend to Robot Amelia’s every need, I’d neglected my other children rather spectacularly. (Much to my relief, those children lack the software to report data).

For 48 hours — while I rocked and burped and fed and diapered a robot — my wife rocked and burped and fed and diapered a flesh and blood baby. While also caring for two older children. And also putting up with me.

Parent of the Year Committee, if you’re out there, I’ve got a name for your consideration.

And it’s sure not mine.

Next Saturday: Patti See tells stories of ice fishing on Lake Hallie.