The Counselling of Stephanie and Keith

Doctor Gene Killgore: Ah hello hello, you must be Stephanie and Keith White! I apologize for not opening the door sooner--I was just reviewing our files on you. I am Dr. Gene Killgore.

Stephanie: Hello and good morning, doctor. Thank you for seeing us on such short notice.

Keith: Good morning, doc. Thanks again, my colleague Carl couldn't recommend you enough.

DGK: Carl Swanson? Yes yes, Carl is quite the interesting case, I'll have you know.

K: Oh?

DGK: Of course client-subject confidentiality precludes me from giving you the details, but let's just say that our models predict that Carl would make an upstanding bachelor.

K: he has gloated countless times on lunch break.

DGK: Understandably, Samantha wasn't as much of a fan of the results.

S: I've been telling Keith they were never meant to be from the day I met her.

DGK: Ha ha, I've better watch my back--with insight like that you'll soon be sitting on this side of the desk! Now, please have a seat, this morning is about Keith and Stephanie and not Carl and his ex.

DGK: As this is your first consultation with us here at Role Models, I'm going to give you a quick brief on what to expect over the next several hours. Through a complicated, extensive, and unforgiving probing into both of your bodies and lives, we have extracted near countless variables about both Keith and Stephanie and the environments they inhabit. This boon of data is crunched by a highly networked bay of computers downstairs, affectionately called the Humane Extraction And R Tool, or HEART.

S: Aw, that's sweet.

DGK: Indeed!

K: I'm sorry, doc, but "R"?

DGK: Clever Keith, I had assumed you'd notice the continued persistence of the enigmatic letter R even when the acronym HEART was decomposed. Alas, R does not stand for anything.

K: Excuse me, I don't think I understand.

DGK: You are excused. R is an unlabelled variable containing the results matrices our computer network outputs. Every chance, factor, and probability score assigned to you is contained within this result.

S: Wait, couldn't R just stand for "Result", then?

DGK: I'm afraid such an assignment wouldn't make sense to our supercomputer. Ergo, R must mean nothing.

S: I think I understand...

DGK: Moving on. Today, we will let R guide our discussion and, ultimately, your life choices.

S: R is going to tell us if it's safe for us to have a child?

DGK: Bahahaha, oh it's safe for you to have a child. We wouldn't need HEART to tell you that, a simple genetic screen would do.

K: Wait, so what is the point of R and HEART and us even being here?

DGK: The chance to learn about everything else, Keith.

K: This is crazy, do you have any idea how much this session alone costs?!

S: Keith, please.

DGK: Oh, Keith, we had assumed you might feel slighted. You've got an entire swath of alleles across the locus for the STOMP gene complex implicated in short temperedness and outburst, not to mention that carriers of the mcff2 allele such as yourself tend to have, let's say difficulty, in parting with their earnings. Furthermore, because the mcff2 gene encodes for melatonin cofactors, your abnormal circadian cycle, heavily entrained to night shifts, exacerbates all of this moodiness.

K: Oh yeah, that's it, doc, that's why I'm pissed off. Because of my cells and the tiny stuff inside them and not the overt rip-off this is looking more and more like.

DGK: Please Keith, sit back down. Your cardiopulmonary capillary system mapping suggests you are incredibly amenable to deep breathing techniques. But our social records suggest you may have never tried using such an approach. Have you tried breathing de-escalation techniques? Please, take a couple deep breaths.

K: This is bullshit.

S: Please Keith, just try.


K: ...a-alright, I admit that I feel a bit better.

S: Doctor, that's incredible! I'll have to remember that one for Keith's next flare up.

DGK: Don't look so down Keith, I've sent an alert to have an usher bring in a coffee. And don't worry, it's a dark roast, three milk, two sugar.

K: Wait, how did you know that?!

DGK: Self report via social media posts, corporate sponsorship relations with major coffee franchises, morning changes in vital signs and hormone balance. Frankly, Keith, who couldn't know your coffee order by now?

S: I didn't know his coffee order.

DGK: Ah, see? HEART rears its powerful head already, deepening the bond built with information between two lovers! This data is just the tip of the iceberg we'll unearth today. Sure, I could tell you, yes, you can have a child and you could go home and have a child, but wouldn't you be interested in knowing more?

S: I mean... I maybe want to know more...

DGK: That's the spirit, Stephanie! And don't fret, your own coffee should be in tow. Christmas Blend, venti, soy milk, and 3 shakes from the tin of cinnamon they leave on the accompaniments table. Oh, and yes, a splash of Bailey's.

K: Booze? It's 9:30AM, Stephanie.

DGK: Now now, the goals here are learning and loving, Keith. The secret will remain safe amongst the three of us. Right, Stephanie?

S: Of course, doctor.

DGK: Excellent! Ah, here are the drinks. Now settle in as I finish my introduction. Simple, traditional, and affordable solutions to compatibility screening heavily rely on genetics. They chart inheritance patterns of well-documented genetic disorders through family trees to predict any potential difficulties you might have in birthing and rearing a child. In today's technological climate, they are about as sophisticated of a tool as a rock, albeit a shapely and pretty rock, perhaps marked with fine lines of quartz. If that was all you're after, then I can gladly tell you that not only are you both more than well-equipped to have a child, but that child has a negligent chance of inheriting any known sources of genetic abnormality that might result in developmental complications and disease. The baby will be, in these simple terms, pretty good.

S: What a relief!

K: Thank god. You see, doc, I was worried as my mother's side of the family carries a gene for muscular disease.

DGK: Actually, Keith, it's an allele, not a gene. And, going back far enough, our genetic trace shows that the specific lineage from your great grandma to you has been cleansed of such alleles almost immediately after branching off from the prior generation. If anything, epigenetic clustering, dietary factors, and Keith's obsession with hockey means your baby is much more likely to be stronger than the average baby. Perhaps, even faster.

K: That's incredible...a fast baby, eh? Just like the old man. No one could catch me, doc.

DGK: But, again, these results are simply an inkling of what the R in HEART stands for. Collating data from every trackable source in your lives paints a bigger picture. With nicer colours. Art that even both of you could see in a museum and feel a sense of relief for the admission you had paid earlier. None of that "random splotches on canvas" nonsense. Believe it or not, your child is not even where our HEART results begin. And, in favour of Stephanie's love for organization and scheduling (humour us, Keith), we'll let HEART start with its earliest predictions. Each subsequent stage in the HEART report will follow chronologically, as we unveil the exciting mysteries of life before your very eyes.

K: Could I get a refill.

DGK: It's already on the way, Keith.

K: Thanks, doc.

DGK: We begin, as many stories do, with fertilization.


S: I'm sorry, but is this about sex?

DGK: Stephanie, don't let your staunch Catholic upbringing stifle you from the liberating technology of the future. We're all grown up here.

S: Right, sorry doctor.

DGK: No problem. Keith, you will impregnate Stephanie on a Thursday morning, somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00AM.

K: Uh, excuse me?! You're telling me your little HEART system can predict the moment of contraption?

S: Conception, Keith.

K: That's what I said, conception.

: Keith, you're sounding like the peer reviewers at the Annals of Probable Predictive Pregnancy. Yes, Keith, I'll have you know the HEART system can, in fact, predict the moment of conception. But let's not be dense here, it doesn't take much to figure it out. Stephanie's job at the TD Bank in Wingham impedes her accessibility between 9-5 every weekday and Keith's security night shifts at Westcast on Sunday through Tuesday remove his evening availability, not to mention they decimate his libido for each morning after--this last assertion is well-supported by Keith's unique weekly testosterone cycles. Persistent losses by the Toronto Maple Leafs write off Wednesday evenings. Workplace stress for Stephanie, which began only as a growing dread that would bloom on Sundays, has bled backwards into her Saturdays and Fridays, following years of anxiety conditioned into her psyche through years of dealing in customer service and more recent influences by her friend, let's see here...Jane?

S: Aw, Jane is such a sweetie. You know she's been doing so much volunteer work as of late.

DGK: Jane's recent efforts to publicize her volunteer efforts each weekend have, we believe, driven Stephanie to ask if she herself is not working enough, consistent with her increased social media visitation and expedient "liking" of specifically Jane's posts. This has ruined her mood across all days of the weekend. If this weekly cycle of dread were not obvious enough in Stephanie's cortisol cycling, the frequency of bedsheet wash cycles we've received from the readout of your smart washing machine suggests concurrent patterns of heavy soiling as well. We often see similar patterns of sheet-washing in subjects exhibiting an agonistic gene profile for components of the phenyl idenophil transferase, or PIT, signalling pathway underlying hyperhidrosis.

K: I'm sorry, I'm not totally familiar--

S: He's saying I sweat a lot.

DGK: A lot is an understatement, Stephanie, but I'll let it slide in the face of social acceptability, and love. Eliminating the days in which one or both of you are too tired or stressed for sexual relations, that leaves Thursday. But why not Thursday night, you may ask? Concentrated purchases at the LCBO on Wednesday and Friday highly suggest that one of you is likely too tipsy on Thursday evenings to, putting it delicately, operate.

K: Surely it couldn't be the woman sipping on a booze coffee before 10:00AM on a weekday...

S: That's rich coming from a man whose deep into his weekends by Thursday.

DGK: Oh no, I apologize, I did not aim to foster any animosity between you two. It was a rhetorical assertion. We know it's both of you.

K: I'm sorry, hun.

S: That's okay, Keith, I'm sorry for accusing you too.

DGK: Behold, the unifying power of data at work right again in front of my own eyes. How touching! And neither of you should fret, as you will always have Thursday morning from 7:00-8:00AM. That is, unless...

K and S: Unless??

DGK: Well, in addition to HEART's readouts of what will happen if we all just continue to stumble along blindly into the future, set in our ways, we also run parallel simulations in search of optimization.

K: Wait, you mean our baby could be even faster?

DGK: Keith, I mean the fastest. Well, I should say, the fastest within your limits.

S: Doctor, how do we get the fastest baby?

DGK: You create the child on Thursday between 2:00-3:00PM. Think about it. Keith is refreshed and distanced from work, eager, ready, and hasn't cracked a single beer just yet. Stephanie is still basking in the work week, happy in her societal contributions of labour and sufficiently distanced from a weekend that pitifully reminds her of Monday. Furthermore, Jane has yet to even take even a single selfie at the soup kitchen, let alone post them to her Instagram. Morning spikes in systemic cortisol have levelled out, caffeine is sufficiently washed from the system. Both of you have had time to hydrate. Even when Keith forgets to earlier in the morning, you've both taken your vitamins by 2:00PM. A perfect storm of positive moods, ion balance, and rest. Though the difference seems trivial, countless studies have shown dramatic impacts of such environmental factors in the fertilization process.

S: But I'm at work between 2:00-3:00PM.

DGK: Well, it is simply a suggestion from our HEART. A suggestion that would produce the fastest baby under these circumstances.

K: Hypothetically, how fast will our 8:00AM baby be in comparison to our 2:00PM baby?

DGK: The afternoon conception could, by our metrics, open up your baby's physical potential anywhere between 2-3% on measures of speed and agility. Of course, there will some role of parenting in best harnessing this potential, but the biological goalposts will have certainly moved.

S: 2-3%? That's it?

K: World records are broken by less.

DGK: They are.

S: But I'm at work then. Hello? Are either of you listening?

K: We'll talk about this later, Stephanie.

DGK: And with that, the great fertilization has begun. HEART speeds us ahead by 9 months or, more likely, we believe, 9 months 4 days and 16 hours to stage 2, Birth.

K: Wait doc, that's a huge jump. Isn't there something we could do diet- or workwise during all those months to help the pregnancy?

S: I've heard that raspberries are important. Antioxidants, right? Should I be eating raspberries, doctor? What about yogurt? ....almonds?

DGK: I apologize to both of you for the confusion. You've paid for the Premium Parenting Package at Role Models, which excludes both the Pre-Fertilization and Pregnancy stages of analysis.

S: Wait, pre-fertilization? Like right now? Are we supposed to be doing something different right now?

DGK: Onward to birth!

***STAGE 2: BIRTH***

DGK: I know what both of you are thinking, "Birth? That seems like a pretty acute event in the big scheme of things! Shouldn't we be more worried about the preceding 9 months 4 days and 16 hours of pregnancy or maybe even the important lifestyle changes we could be making right now to further improve fertilization results?"

K: What dietary changes? Doc, please.

S: I bet it's raspberries. Don't worry, Keith, I know a guy at the farmer's market.

DGK: But you would both be wrong. Traditional genetic screening will implore you not to worry about the moment of birth since the genes deeply woven into your baby's DNA won't change. What this approach ignores is that the expression of those genes can change and that a baby's first few moments in the sensory world are incredibly powerful in shaping how many of these genes will be expressed for the rest of the child's life. Central to many of the changes in gene expression that HEART has classified as "good" to "very good" is the need for an immediate and clear sensory experience from both parents, in this case "mama" and "papa" as you have selected in your consultation application.

For an example to understand the impact of the moment of birth, we look to Stephanie. Hospital records show that Stephanie's mother, Uriel, failed to hug her for at least 30 seconds immediately following birth. Our very own research has since found that a lack of sufficient maternal physical contact upon entrance into the outside world fails to induce a cascade of epigenetic regulators that, to this day, we believe have fostered a deep-seated, but largely passive aggressive, disdain in Stephanie for her mother.

S: I fucking knew it. Doc, can you write that down? I'm going to need to take this one with me.

DGK: Don't worry, it will all be in the report. Genetic researchers believe this form of perinatal epigenetic regulation primarily affects the oxytocin pathway through intermediary receptor proteins called hemylation ubiquitous grenulates, or HUGs (I know, I know). We further believe these changes are inheritable, becoming self-perpetuating across generations. Accordingly, we have reason to believe Stephanie will also not immediately hug your baby.

K: How could you, Steph?

S: What?! No no no, I'll hug the baby, I'll hug it immediately and well.

DGK: It's easy to say that now, Stephanie, but what we believe will be 32 hours of natural labour combined with growing anger at Keith's inability to share that pain as he stands idly by will erode that will.

K: Can I hug the baby, doc? I'll hug the baby!

DGK: Whoah now, Keith, what makes you think a father stepping in to deliver this almighty contact could drive the permanent downregulation of HUG receptors? I'll have you know that much of this molecular regulation relies on odour cues that, in this situation, must originate from the mother. Are you going to breastfeed the baby, too, Keith? Hmm, actually, that's an interesting concept. I may make a note of that for our next update.

K: Please tell me there is some way this baby will get the hug, doc.

S: I'll hug the baby, I'll remember to hug the baby!

DGK: No need, Stephanie! HEART has, in a most exciting fashion, suggested a simple compromise that should satisfy all parties and break the chain of inherited maternal disdain. Really, it's quite simple in its beauty. Keith, you will get to hug the baby upon delivery, saving Stephanie from what we believe she will view as a chore and allowing her a first sense of relief after an extensive labour.

K: But you said...

DGK: I lied. Well, I regulated the truth. The plan only begins here, Keith, for you will hug the baby while wearing one of Stephanie's shirts, ripe with her odours, providing a multimodal and holistic sense of "mama" immediately upon birth.

S: That seems rather absurd, doctor.

K: It's genius!

DGK: I've tried to add notes along the printed report in handwriting. Here, I have mentioned that the shirt should ideally be sheer and soft, I personally suggest a nightie. Our research shows that cue salience for a newborn is incredibly heightened by smooth fabric. Furthermore, please notice that I have suggested dampening the shirt immediately before wearing, this can be accomplished by either spritzing the shirt with water or briefly dunking it into a full basin. Such moisture will ensure the baby learns to encompass Stephanie's sweating problems into it's psychological schema of "mama".

S: This is so embarrassing. So what do I do? Just sit there and watch my baby being tricked by Keith into loving me?

DGK: Not at all! For you, too, play an important role in the immediate parental imprinting your baby needs. Remember, Keith is busy playing Stephanie. So who, pray tell, is going to tell the baby about Keith? Research has long shown the importance of an identifiable paternal figure being present at birth. However, in the scene we have painted so far, Keith's image will be suppressed, as he is undercover as Stephanie.

K: Oh god, please tell me someone is going to tell the baby about me, doc!

DGK: Not just someone, but Stephanie. Stephanie, you will play the role of Keith and, following the initial 30 second hug delivered by your husband to your baby, you will then awkwardly and stiffly hold the baby for upwards of 10 seconds before it is returned to Keith for longer term cuddling, after which you will have another 10 seconds with the baby. The schedule of alternately holding the baby is a bit complicated, but there will be an easy-to-follow table included in the report file.

S: But I look nothing like Keith! And I certainly don't smell like him.

DGK: It's a large gap to bridge, but HEART has provided several solutions. Two months before predicted labour, Keith will shave his head bare and mail us the hair in the pre-addressed bubble envelope included in the printed report. We will refashion these loose hairs into a wig and baldcap Stephanie will wear in preparation for birth. For the week prior to predicted labour, Keith will wear his favourite Leafs jersey all day and night, slowly but surely imprinting it with his pleasant, albeit comparatively weak, odours. Stephanie will don this jersey and wig immediately following birth, as to limit the time in which her own odours invade the fabric and wig and while the baby is distracted by Keith-Stephanie. HEART has specifically suggested that the rough texture and visually sharp edges of the Maple Leafs logo will provide interesting and new sensory experiences for the baby to promote brain growth in primary cortices right out of the gate.

S: Thank god.

K: What a relief.

DGK: Would you two like a minute?

S: It's just a lot to take in, doctor. I'm just so happy the baby is going to learn about us correctly. A full idea of Keith and Stephanie. And the baby will be hugged.

K: I can't believe I'm going to get to hug the baby.

S: Aw, Keith, it's okay, it's a big moment.

DGK: May I mention here that the tissues on your edge of the desk are here for a reason. I'm going to slip out for a couple minutes and let you two bask in this moment.

*DGK leaves the room as Keith hugs Stephanie while she counts to 30*

S: Aw, Keith, the baby is going to love this.

K: Thanks, hun. I'm going to have to practice some different grips at home, because you're a little tall for a baby. How big do you think the baby is going to be? Maybe a football? A football-sized baby sounds right.

*Upon reaching 30, Stephanie then stiffly holds Keith about his shoulders while he counts to 10, aloud*

K: This is perfectly awkward, hun. An ideal combination of love and diffidence and fear of dropping me.

: I think I shouldn't practice anymore, I don't wanna get too good at it.

K: I like that, very natural.

*DGK returns*

DGK: How are you two feeling?

S: Frankly, doc, I'm exhausted.

K: Aw, babe, I'm excited too, it's going to be amazing ...Right, doc, it's going to be amazing, right?

DGK: It's going to be amazing, Keith. Although...

S and K: Although?!

DGK: Although, it could be even more amazing, if HEART is to be believed.

S: We believe it, doctor, tell us what we could improve!

DGK: Well, as I mentioned, the feel and look of Keith's Leafs jersey is, indeed, some interesting tactile and visual stimuli for a new baby, whose brain and sensory systems will be eager to gobble up the sights, feels, and sounds of a new world. But it's still, shall we say, simple? For this very reason, we here at Role Models offer our own line of shirts for expecting parents--you know what? Let me just show you the catalog. As you can see, each shirt is embroidered with complex patterns of hard edges, angles, curves, gradients, and advanced geometry. Printed in the entire rainbow of colours. No section of the shirt is quite the same, providing the baby immediate experience with lines, corners, edges, arcs, parallelograms, splotches, polka dots, and popular cultural touchstones including the logos for some of our loving and caring sponsors, such as Disney, Pixar, Hyatt, Chevrolet, and BP Oil. Finally, patches of fur, metal fencing, and light grain sandpaper complete the look, offering a multitude of somatosensory information to that plastic, gooey brain.

S: These prices, though, doctor.

K: What is the battery pack for?

DGK: Ahhh, excellent catch again, Keith. The shirt is wired to emit a low level current throughout all of it's stitching. Although electroreception in humans is relatively understudied and assumed to be vestigial to our evolutionary histories, we have found that transient low level exposure to current fields can awaken unique talents in a small proportion of newborns.

K: Talents?

DGK: Your baby may be able to sense electrical disruptions in the air!

S: But why, doctor?

DGK: But why not, Stephanie? Though the mechanisms are far from understood, several correlative relationships between latent realized electroreception and cognitive variables suggest that such "electrokin", as we like to call them, far outperform classmates in tests of math, predictive meteorology, seismography, and polygraph interpretation.

S: A smarter baby?

DGK: The smartest baby, Stephanie. Well, given the conditions.

K: I dunno, doc, my entire wardrobe costs less.

S: We have lots of time, we'll find the money, Keith.

DGK: And with that, you've brought a brand new baby into the world, immediately implanted with a strong, multisensory understanding of "mama" and "papa", emotional stability, and, if you're lucky, an incredibly advanced understanding of spatial relationships and electrical current flow. Alas, the work has only begun, for now you gotta raise the dang thing!


DGK: After a brief stint in the hospital, it's time to take your new baby home. In this stage, we will focus our criticisms regarding the rearing environment. And here, I'm going to be frank with you both. HEART is concerned about your house.

K: What's wrong with our house? It's a nice house, doc.

S: It's because it's only one story, isn't it, doctor?

DGK: I'm afraid you've hit the nail on the head, Stephanie.

K: Wait, what's wrong with a one-story house? I grew up in a one-story house.

DGK: We had figured as much, Keith, but let me enter that into our system for confirmation and inclusion in the final modeling. There's nothing, per say, wrong with a one-story house.

K: See, Steph? Nothing wrong with a one-story house.

DGK: But...

and S: But?!

DGK: Well, perhaps an exercise in imagination will help illuminate the point I wish to make. Imagine, if you will, that you and your baby are birds.

K: I'm imagining, doc.

S: Me too.

DGK: Excellent, you didn't have to close your eyes but if it helps you, please continue to. What types of birds are you?

K: I'm a duck.

S: I'm an indigo bunting.

DGK: And the baby?

K: Quack quack.

S: The baby is a ruby-throated hummingbird. It's the smallest bird I know.

DGK: Good, good. I'll be a barn owl, I think. Now, imagine growing up as a young bird. What do we all have to learn how to do?

K: I would have to learn how to quack, I suppose.

S: And I would learn how to harvest the small yet nutritionally valuable seeds off of thistle plants. When they are in season, of course. And I guess our baby will have to learn how to drink nectar out of flowers, right doctor?

DGK: Yes and I guess I would have to hone my rodent-hunting skills, but I'm afraid we're losing the plot here. What would ALL of us birds have to learn how to do?

K: Should I assume we already know how to quack?

S: Indigo buntings don't quack, Keith.

DGK: Neither hummingbirds nor owls, Keith. Okay, how about I just tell you? Central to all of our growth is the development of flying, an act you've seen countless birds do. Birds leave the confines of the Earth and learn to truly explore space in all dimensions with no respect for boundaries, soaring in the open sky.

K: Of course! I can imagine it now, doc, carelessly swooshing over the neighbourhood.

S: It's a beautiful idea, doctor, but what about emus and penguins?

DGK: Okay, now, imagine learning how to fly inside a one-story house.

S: Doctor, I keep hitting the walls. I can't even see the sky.

K: Hey hey hey, whoah now it's not that bad, right? I mean, there's lots of places to perch on.

DGK: Ah, Keith, but we're learning to fly, not perch. And, don't forget, your baby is learning to fly too! As young humans, we focus much too much on the forward, backward, left, and right. We forget about altitude, about the unique opportunities we can seize to exist far above or below sea level. Please, look at the monitor on the wall. Here is a schematic of what we believe your house looks like, as reconstructed from cartographic mapping data collected by your Roomba and the few angles through which we could observe your home interior via Ring video doorbells owned by your neighbours across the street. I will concede that the layout is interesting and offers sufficient enrichment for crawling and toddling. There are enough twists and turns here to challenge a young child to develop balance, deftness and, for Keith, speed and acceleration. But all of this agility will only be honed along the horizontal plane. Unless we are wrong here (we aren't), your Roomba found no instances of stairs either up or down.

K: Is a basement or second floor really that important doctor? You're aware that our baby can't really fly, right? That was just a parable.

S: Keith, it's a simile.

DGK: Actually it was a metaphor. And an apt one. In very young humans and babies, the inner ear, which detects bodily movement in all directions including vertical motion, is only partially formed in the womb. Furthermore, during gestation, the baby is free to float, turn, and spin, unrestrained in their bodily movements. Prenatally, your baby's brain will think all types of movement are possible. Now imagine your baby being born, entering into the real world, and spending their first few years learning that the vertical freedom their brain was promised during pregnancy has disappeared.

S: Keith, this is basically like stealing from our baby.

K: Come on, doc, it can't be that bad.

DGK: You're correct, Keith, it's actually worse. The cell signalling pathway responsible for the development of what we have dubbed vertico-sensation acts primarily through regulating the expression of the undulated precipitase, or UP, family of proteins. Abnormal underexpression of UPs has wide implications in the young human body. Aside from the immediate role of UPs in the development of balance and vertical spatial awareness, dysregulation of this signaling pathway has been implicated in underdeveloped bravery and overdeveloped gullibility. Ultimately, if unaddressed during these early years, the child's perspective of the world will shrink as their bodies continue to grow. The child will come to look at mountains as scary heights and imagine monsters must lurk below in the basements at friends' houses.

K: Stop it, doc, why even bring this up? We could barely afford this counselling session, let alone a second story addition or new house.

S: ...unless?

DGK: Unless indeed! Stephanie's insight strikes again. HEART has provided new and exciting opportunities to meet your growing child's demands. If you continue browsing our catalog beyond the perinatal clothing section, you'll see home adaptation solutions to provide much needed verticality in a young child's life.

S: There are just a bunch of fences and ladders here, doctor.

DGK: Precisely. Through the use of child safety ladders and eaves fencing, we will reinvent the roof of your home as a second story. Excitingly, here at Role Models, our home expansion kits come fully customized to your roof area and shape, thanks to data derived via aerial satellite photography from Google Earth.

S: There's no way this can be safe.

K: Our child is going to climb onto the roof?

DGK: More than climb, Keith. Your child will run, jump, hop, skip, and dance on the roof. More importantly, your child will grow on the roof.

S: I'm sorry, doctor, but this one...

DGK: I'm not done. Our predictions, if supported, suggest that the addition of a makeshift second story will not only correct potential dysregulation of UP signalling in your growing child, but also improve concurrent cell signaling outcomes along the hemi-inulsitol g-protein heptomer, or HIGH, pathway. Potent molecular synergy between the HIGH and UP pathways are unanimously correlated with elevated childhood scores in jumping, astronomy, and, Stephanie you might like to know, birdwatching.

S: Wait, the child will like birdwatching?

DGK: Of course they will. What else are they going to watch up there on the roof all day?

S: ...and it's safe?

DGK: As safe as can be, for a weight limit up to and not including 40 pounds.

K: It still sounds a little crazy, doc.

DGK: I understand, Keith. But I assure your child will grow strong up in the heavens. They will develop to be viewed as proverbial royalty hovering over the neighbourhood, commanding social respect from neighbouring friends and family. Furthermore, our alternative strategy to home expansion, digging a pit in your backyard, is simply not compatible with either your property area or your house's alarming proximity to the Westcast car manifold factory, which, based on ground core sampling obtained from public-private interfacing contacts in the Ministry of Natural Resources, has severely compromised the soil quality in your neighbourhood. And not in a good way, either! The story might be different if you lived near a battery factory, where we've found transient but repeated exposure to cadmium can actually increase child bone density and growth, making a taller child.

K: Wait, what does all of this say about me, doc? I spent my whole childhood in a one-story house.

S: Is our child going to be short?

DGK: It won't matter, Stephanie, if you raise them with the height of a whole story below their feet!

S: That's a relief, doctor!

K: Is something wrong with me for being raised in a one-story house?

DGK: With this easy and economical solution, you will be able to raise your child to be strong, brave, fast, and very literally without a ceiling. The child will learn to think outside of boundaries, problem solve, and develop an impressive deftness and agility while combating the sloping angles of your roof surface. The child will be able to remember and point out constellations convincingly and know the difference between a house finch and a purple finch. The possibilities will be endless. Well, figuratively endless. We've actually predicted what will come next quite accurately.

K: Doctor, am I okay?


DGK: You've raised your child well so far.

S: Thanks, doctor.

K: Yeah, thanks, doc. That means a lot.

DGK: Alas, you've noticed over the last couple months that the more your child grows, the less and less they want to do with mom and dad. They worry you might be cramping their style.

K: What no, I'm cool.

S: I am cool as well! Doctor, tell me I'm cool.

DGK: They spend more and more time at the house of a friend named Blaze or Winston or Stephanie, whose laissez faire parents don't mind if the kids use the pay-per-view channels to watch movies about cigarette smoking and bloodsport.

K: I can't believe Blaze's or Winston's or Stephanie's parents. Some people, eh doc?

S: But my name's Stephanie, doctor.

DGK: They start driving. First bikes, but then cars soon enough afterwards. They contemplate petty crimes like graffiti and libel.

K: I bet Winston put them up to this, I swear to god, if I get my hands on that kid.

S: Keith!

DGK: Stephanie and Keith, I'm afraid you've got a teenager on your hands.

K: I'm terrified, doc.

DGK: Fear is the enemy, Keith. We need you to be strong now more than ever before.

K: I'll try doc. It's just, things were so much simpler when the child was still a baby, toddling about the rooftops, bumping into the eaves fencing. Looking at the birds and stars. What happened?

DGK: The last of the major biological shifts happened. Whereas your baby was born stretchy and plastic, easily molded by the environment around them, they have hardened with time and growth. The opportunities to inflict huge changes at a biological level through experiences with textures, sights, smells, and heights are long gone. The teenage brain, slowly setting into its ways, must now be manipulated by new, psychological techniques.

S: But how, doctor?

DGK: Well, first and foremost, I must remind you of the goals of our approach. You have raised this child to be the fastest, smartest, and most confident. You have raised the best child, given the pre-existing limitations, which at this point I must admit are, in some cases, profound.

K: Doc, my parents didn't know about the roof thing.

DGK: Regardless. Your greatest fight has just begun. Will you let all your prior work crumble to the wayside or will you double your efforts, guiding your teenager through their most challenging years in the endless pursuit of optimal results?

K: My child will remain their fastest, doc!

DGK: Given the limitations.

K: Given the limitations.

S: What do we have to do, doctor?

DGK: First, let's review traditional notions of parenting, spewed ad nauseum in the offices of successful family therapists, social workers, and grandparents. This advice is largely founded in fostering trust-based familial ties and universal concepts of respect and privacy. Dr. Cudly will tell you to, "give your teenager space". Mrs. Foster will convince you to, "let your teenager learn about life at their own pace". Nana will tell you that, "all of us need the space and opportunity to make mistakes".

K: Steph, that's exactly what your mom said!

S: It's such an idyllic concept. A powerful position against panopticon parenting, letting your child grow freely to learn their role in this crazy, complicated world.

DGK: All of these practices are horrible.

S: What? No way, doctor. With all due respect, it's beautiful and life-changing advice. It's freedom, opportunity for creativity, and expression without malice.

DGK: It's wildly unscientific, Stephanie. Please direct your attention to the screen again. This line on the graph represents your baby then child then teen's development as predicted following optimal conditions by HEART. Notice how the line is always going up?

K: Look at our kid go, Steph!

DGK: Not to get too philosophical on both of you here, but do you know why the line continues to climb with age?

K: Because our kid is good and just getting better?

S: I assume some kind of coefficient of growth or?

DGK: The line continues to grow because we are here to look at it. Turn off the monitor and, oops, where did the line go?

K: Where'd our kid go, doc?!

S: Bring back the line, doctor, please.

DGK: Alright alright, here is the graph again. As long as we, or more specifically you two, are there to watch the line, it continues to travel up, up, and up. By always watching your child, you can ensure the optimal conditions posited by HEART are continually enforced on your growing child. What happens if we climb the line and here, at 13 years and 4 months of age, we decide to let the child have an afternoon away from supervision, with peers in the park?

K: The child develops a much needed sense of autonomy in a hyper-supervised world?

S: The child feels space to create and learn outside of the restrictive boundaries of institutions of the state like school, camp, and even home?

DGK: Wrong. The line disappears.

K: Where is the line, doc?

DGK: We don't know, because we are not there to observe it. All of the critical variables and factors and cofactors and co-cofactors that HEART has required you to uphold are suddenly relaxed, even nonexistent. Your child becomes free to travel. And, sure, the child may continue to travel up, but keeping in mind that our line here represents an optimum, the child is much more likely to travel down. We won't know for sure until they return under our supervision. Where will they reappear? Maybe here?

S: Doctor, that's lower than the optimum! Couldn't our child catch back up later on?

DGK: I'm afraid not, Stephanie, the entire trajectory has become compromised. The variation becomes too great for HEART's predictive power, though it overwhelmingly guesses that more falling lines will appear in the future.

S: But how can we prevent such drops?

DGK: By never looking away. I'm speaking of extreme forms of parental supervision, Stephanie. You will supervise as much of your child's life as possible. The possibilities are vaster than you think, ranging from physical presence to smartphone surveillance apps, social media, nannycams, report cards, parent-teacher conferences, parent-parent conferences, parent-grandparent conferences, neighbourhood watches, weekly newsletter polls, and even an optional subdermal GPS chip that we can implant under the guise of key-free door unlocking. All of these options are expounded upon in great detail in the next section of the catalog. Simply put the more you watch the line, the more it goes up.

K: Doc, this one is a little beyond me. The kid needs some opportunities to get away from us.

DGK: This is true, Keith. If your teenager does not achieve at least a sense of independence, regardless of its veracity, terrible social scores are predicted for the rest of their life in almost every personality variable reported by R, except...

S and K: Except?

DGK: It will slightly improve their chances of becoming a boss in their chosen workplace.

S: What did you mean by the veracity of independence, doctor?

DGK: It's a practice that we here at Role Models like to call, "parenting via empty space". Whereas your child's life will be largely dominated by your overt presence and communication, opportunities of freedom can be presented through after-school clubs, community outreach opportunities, and intramural sport. Though your teen will cherish these moments away from mama and papa's watchful eye, what they won't realize is that these instances of freedom have been just as carefully curated and monitored as your surveillance practices that overtly oversee the rest of their life. By ingratiating yourself to your child's peers, teachers, coaches, and community leaders, you will set up a system of report-and-feedback through which you will continue to monitor and mold your child's life via social proxy. We have great relationships with many volunteer and intramural organizations in Huron County and can promise weekly access to important figures in your child's life who will provide both reports and guidance that is ultimately overseen and controlled by you.

S: It sounds a little excessive, doctor.

K: Intramural?! I assume hockey--the kid's gonna make it to the big leagues, I know it.

DGK: Sure, hockey is...adequate. Though notice what happens to the line when I enter hockey into the HEART modeling system.

K: The line looks the same, doc.

DGK: Oh, apologies, let me just zoom in a couple times.

S: I'm still not seeing it, doctor.

DGK: A couple more times yet and, aha! Notice how the hockey trajectory falls just slightly below the optimum.

K: Doc, c'mon, that's barely a fraction of a percentage drop.

DGK: Have world records not been broken for less?

K: ....yes, doc.

DGK: Excellent, now would you like to hear the intramural sport of choice that HEART has selected?

K: I guess.

S: Keith, perk up, this is exciting!

DGK: Table tennis.

K: Ping pong? I'm sorry this fucking sucks.

S: Keith!!

K: Steph, our kid is gonna play ping pong!

DGK: Your kid is going to play table tennis. And very well.

K: Very well?

DGK: Did you know that table tennis is an olympic sport, Keith?

K: Steph, you hear that? An olympian in the family!

S: I heard!

DGK: And the benefits of table tennis do not stop there. Your child's intense horizontal agility will allow them to spring from table corner to table corner with ease. A powerful command of vertico-sensation thanks to earlier years on the roof will enable your child to follow the bouncing ball and accurately predict its future trajectory. Finally, a honed sense of touch and textures, burgeoning since birth, will hone your child's ability to deliver a dizzying array of return hits and serves to inferior opponents.

K: Alright, doc! Maybe ping pong isn't so uncool after all!

DGK: Actually Keith, it is uncool. Because table tennis is classically viewed as, "lame" by most every teenager, fostering your child's love for table tennis will also ensure your teenager faces a healthy amount of social exclusion and bullying to avoid potential conflicts with drugs, alcohol, or premarital relationships. It practically does the surveilling for you.

S: It sounds like the perfect sport, doctor!

DGK: Perfect, given our limitations. And with this, we've covered every major life decision you will need to make to create, birth, raise, and love the best child you can rear. As your child grows, you will see the fruits of their success come pouring in via accolades from their friends, teachers, supervisors, assistant trainers, coaches, neighbours, underlings, peons, and heads of industry.

K: I'm so glad we came. Doc, we wouldn't have thought of half of this stuff on our own. Thank you so much for all your help.

S: Yes, thank you doctor! I already feel so much more prepared!

DGK: Well thank you to both of you as well for interest in the HEART system here at Role Models. Ideally, here I would like to wrap things up, remind you that the full report will be in the mail, and have you perform our customer satisfaction survey, including an exhaustive listing of everyone in your life who is also considering having a child and their primary, secondary, and tertiary means of contact. However...

S and K: However?!

DGK: Recent government mandate has required that we discuss a final stage in the consultation. We like to call it, "societal impact".


K: I'm sorry, I don't think I understand. Is this about our child's adulthood?

DGK: Tangentially, Keith. But it's mostly about the bigger questions. Stage 5 is a relatively new addition to our program. We developed it to meet basic contractual governmental standards as written and addended by the Ministry of Community Building and Management.

S: The bigger questions, doctor?

DGK: Well, at least one bigger question, that question being, "Why?"

K: Sounds like a short question, eh, doc!

S: Why what, doctor?

DGK: Why do you want a child in the first place?

K: Oh.

S: Oh wow, doctor, that is a big question. I have always wanted a child. I believe family is the core of the community and how our culture and loves and hopes propagate meaningfully, with newer generations making bolder and smarter decisions to find meaningful compromise between tradition and new societal challenges, opening up doors to the betterment of all of the community, the societies they inhabit and the greater world existing beyond them.

K: Same.

DGK: Excellent, because these societies are exactly what we will be discussing, for your child, though agile and deft and height aware, does not grow in isolation, they grow inside a larger community and even larger society. In this stage, we will look to contextualize your child's development and successes, examined in isolation for the four prior stages, into this greater whole.

S: Oh. Okay. Well, where do we start?

DGK: Let's begin with the results most parents care about, academia. Your child will perform exceptionally well in physical education and introductory accounting. Your child will perform horribly in all other classes.

K: Horribly?? Doc, you said our decisions would boost our child's math and spatial abilities. Heck, you said our child might even have supernatural powers over electronics!

DGK: It's true, and the small chance of electroreception remains. Although HEART has guessed that those odds are negligible, I would still encourage you to purchase the electric shirt. It can't hurt. Actually, it will hurt, but your child will adapt to the sensation quickly.

S: Horribly?

DGK: Yes, you must remember that our predictive modeling has to account for pre-existing conditions. Namely, both of you and your lives and the lives of your relatives before you. I assume that I'm not surprising either of you for highlighting your modest achievements in school?

K: There's more to life than school, doc! That's what my folks always said.

S: I'm more of a hands-on learner, doctor, please understand, the traditional public school model simply does not account for these differences.

DGK: By allowing HEART to contextualize your child's success against the anonymous bank of other predicted children we have, we must face the reality that your child is not going to be very smart.

K: But...but what about ping pong, er table tennis, doc! Our child is going to excel at table tennis, right?

S: Right?

DGK: Right! Your child will be prodigious at table tennis, one of the greats.

K: olympian?

DGK: Believe it or not, Keith, yes, an olympian.

K: You hear that, Steph?! School ain't nothing when the table tennis table is where you truly learn.

DGK: A solid bronze medalist.

K: I'm sorry? As in third place?

DGK: Yes, that is traditionally where bronze sits. If all of our advice is to be followed, we believe your child's trajectory will peak, when contextualized into the greater world, around a bronze medal level.

S: Could we maybe do something to make that a silver, at least?

DGK: Absolutely not, we're really pushing bronze here. If you slip even once, this quickly falls to a fourth place.

K: No! It's okay, a medal is a medal. An olympic medal! The pride of a nation!

S: Is there anything else you can tell us about the child in greater society, doctor?

DGK: Yes, finally, we believe your child will represent the end of your lineage.

K: Our child is going to kill us?!

S: No, Keith, he means our child is not going to want a family of their own.

DGK: Precisely. While the confluent effects of sensory enrichment, violent supervision, and heavy athletic investments into an intensive table tennis curriculum will greatly improve your child's proficiency in sport, these factors do not interact well socially with the host of alleles, epigenome, and psychosocial parental profiles that your child will inherit from you. Your most successful child will age to criticize the family structure and view procreation as an outdated mode of self-propagation. We believe that your child will instead invest in technological propagation by starting their own YouTube channel featuring instructional videos of advanced table tennis maneuvers. Though wildly lucrative via advertising sponsorships, this career path will further inhibit any parental tendency the child would have had left.

S: I'm devastated, doctor.

K: I'm sorry, Steph. Remember, it's just a prediction, there's plenty of opportunity to get outside of it! Maybe we even let our child's line drop a couple times just to see what happens?

DGK: I'd strongly advise against that. Your child will have a great thing going for it in the exciting and fast-paced life of table tennis. Any deviation from that trajectory will compromise some of the only stand-out success HEART was able to uncover about your child.

S: I don't know if I can take this, doctor.

DGK: It is a tough pill to swallow, I understand. But it will help you with your anxious feelings right now, please help yourself to the water as needed.

S: Thanks, doctor.

K: Isn't there anything we can do, doc?

DGK: The Ministry of Community Building and Management is not a heartless entity. They are completely aware that discussions like this are commonplace in Stage 5. Accordingly, they have mandated important and meaningful alternatives be offered to questioning parents.

S: Alternatives?

DGK: We like to call it the Child Commendation Package. Essentially, we let HEART run wild in its predictive modeling. We let it assume that you have been the best parents possible, that the line of child development has not faltered even once. HEART then predicts all of your child's major successives in life, what we call commendations. We materialize these commendations, be they awards, letters of acceptance, or travel mementos, and mail them to you on the days HEART predicts they would naturally enter your life, had you decided to have the child.

S: Wait, so we wouldn't have the child?

DGK: I'm afraid that's a prerequisite for acceptance into the Commendations program. But think of it this way. You'll receive every major teacher note, report card, participation medal, ribbon, championship trophy, birthday cake, recommendation, promotion, and compliment your child would receive. Partners in intramural leagues can even be scheduled to come and provide face-to-face feedback on how well they believe your child would have performed in their clubs that season. Over a figurative lifetime, you will see the great achievements of your parenting efforts and love manifested. Including at least one olympic bronze medal.

K: But no child?

DGK: No child. But think about it. No crying, no sleepless nights, no diapers, no emergency room trips, no expensive table tennis equipment, no daily surveillance reports, no talks about the birds and bees, no crying, no prom, no expensive post-secondary student loans. Just commendations.

K: I mean... it doesn't sound the worst.

S: I found the page in the catalog, doctor, but this price is outrageous.

DGK: I understand and please notice that our payment plan options are both generous and flexible! Know that this costing is set for two reasons. First, despite what you may think, this is incredibly affordable when contrasted to the sum of perinatal clothing, home expansion kits, surveillance equipment, food, board, clothing, and all the other costs of a physical child you would have to raise until adulthood. Second, the Ministry has stipulated that the price must be prohibitive to actually having the child. It would simply be unfair for you to receive all of the commendations only to decide to have a child later on. Two bronze medals from the 2038 Summer Olympics? That hardly seems fair. Worse yet, what if the child doesn't even get the Bronze medal, underperforming the commendations received monthly by the digital first child? How would you explain that one to your kid?

K: would save us a lot of grief.

S: I suppose. And you're sure that our child won't want a family of their own?

DGK: Positive.

S: I just don't know.

DGK: I understand, it is a big decision. At this time, I like to take my exit from the consultation. You'll notice on the desk in front of you are both the contract for catalog ordering and a mailing address for the full report should you decide to have the physical child and the contract for the Child Commendations Package, should you raise a digital child of your very own. Please fill one out appropriately and shred the other. You may then leave the empty office and head home, knowing that we would never judge or chastise you for your decisions. As a final token of goodwill, on the screen I will now show you HEART's estimation of what your child will look like. Keep in mind this will be a fully optimized child, reminiscent of the Commendations package. If you opt to have the real child, know that we cannot predict any dings, dents, scratches, bruises, malformations, freckles, moles, or scars that may appear. And with this, thank you very much for your time and interest in Role Models, we look forward to modelling your roles for years to come.

*DGK exits. K and S marvel at the image on the monitor*

K: Steph...Steph

S: I know, Keith, they've got your eyes.

K: And your nose!

S and K: They're perfect.

Back to the beach.