Robot reincarnation

Student honors deceased grandfather for child development project


Photo by Braylen Garren

A RealCare Baby lies next to a picture of an elderly man. An anonymous students shares his experience with grief throughout a child development project.

I’ve always liked the name James.

It was classic — a name recognized for centuries without sounding pretentious enough to be out of place in 21st century America. From Monroe to Bond, it’s a name belonging to influential and moral men for hundreds of years.

The name of one of the most influential people in my life is nearly James. James is like a more primed and proper version of my grandfather’s title: “Jimmy.” The names aren’t identical, but they both bring me back to his soothing smile and selfless reputation.

One of my most stereotypical teenage girl traits is that I have a running baby name list in my IPhone’s notes app. A host of different names occupy these lines, but Jimmy always reigns supreme. If I ever dare to raise a boy, my plan is to grant him James as either a first or middle name.

I continued my motherly intentions even when naming my robotic baby for child development class. As my pen met the sheet of the naming paper, Oscar sounded like a fitting set of sounds. And Oscar James rolled off the tongue better than James Oscar, so I jotted his name down and turned it into my teacher.

Little did I know when I brought that baby to life, his namesake’s heart had already stopped beating.

After a painful battle with Parkinson’s for the last couple of years, my grandfather died a quick death last semester. He left this world that morning, hours before I had cemented my fake child’s name.

A few months later, Oscar James moved from the classroom to my home. Jimmy’s skin was very olive toned, and the baby was a bland shade of white, so this child of plastic and wires looked nothing like the deceased version. Still, the little guy was close enough to the real deal to spark memories.

I held Oscar’s hand as I remembered the ruined finger on Jimmy’s. A copier repairman for too many decades to count, he once caught his finger in one of his famed machines. For the rest of his life one of his pinkies was merely a stub with a thick, hook-like nail growing out from the middle of it. Children magnetized themselves to him for this reason.

I listened to James coo and remembered our phone calls. He would dial my number and begin our conversation like clockwork, asking who was on the other end as if he didn’t know the answer. I could hear his grin through his phone as he inquired about my day and how I was feeling. Of course, these calls faded in frequency as his condition worsened.

I coddled James as it cried, realizing that his wails weren’t much easier to understand than Jimmy’s speech patterns as his life drew to a close. His words were near indistinguishable and mushed together as his lips shook with fatigue. Not only do we start and end life in a diaper, but we start and end life with too few ways to communicate our feelings and family members to investigate every sound coming from our mouths.

I fed James his milk and realized his diet wasn’t much more appetizing than Jimmy’s in his last months of life. Both ate little amounts of substance that can barely be described as food. He ingested the blandest and mushiest of hospital food because that was all his mouth could manage. During my last visit with him, my mom asked if she could bring him baby food since even that was more flavorful than the hospital’s daily rotation.

When one Jimmy leaves, another enters. He may not be as full of life as the first, especially when the second version can be shut down with a switch, but seeing that plastic infant’s face for a weekend made me feel like he was still beside me. 

This baby’s whines gave a voice to a mouth that can no longer speak, but the time of his death brought along my most unexpected fear. Since he died when I was 18, and I do not want children of my own for at least 10 years, will I even remember him enough to feel compelled to honor my son with “James”?

This question has brought me many tears and one answer: I hope so. I hope his memory shines strong enough in my mind to always think of him at the mention of anyone fortunate to be given the name James. If you have a Jimmy or James in your life, cherish them. Appreciate each letter of names the way my Jimmy made me appreciate all two of his name’s syllables. Even though it’s not the most exciting or exotic title, some of the most mundane names can belong to the most inspiring people.