Some are calling it the economic miracle of Essex County, New York. Many claim it as the experience of two lifetimes. Reservations are full until June of 2015. Pilgrims from all over the world swarm to a piece of land that less than two year’s ago was empty pasture. In the process, well-heeled visitors are transforming the downtown of once-sleepy DeKruif from a row of vacant storefronts and defunct bars into a thriving mix of holistic eateries, hemp clothing outlets, hot yoga emporiums, Asian medicine and therapy boutiques, New Age bookstores and sustainable gift shops.
The Child Within is bringing the most revolutionary change to the area since Benedict Arnold and his men bedded down for the night in the hillside just above DeKruif in the autumn of 1777.
Backed with more than thirty million dollars of capital supplied by polymer heir Simon Camp and his Bodhi Tree Foundation, husband-and-wife executive directors Jason and Gerre Whatley are promising not only to revitalize the economy of the region but also the very lives of their thousands of eager clients—or, as they refer to them, “global family members.”
The initial phase of the far-flung scheme was ‘First Steps.’ According to Jason Whatley, a developmental psychologist whose eighteen years of living on a commune in Humboldt County, California has stretched his British accent toward a Californian drawl, “The idea of ‘First Steps’ is quite simple really. The most basic fact of a baby’s perceptual experience is one of scale. When a baby looks up at an adult she sees a giant. All we’ve done is to make this truth apply to fully-grown humans.”
Indeed, this is a reality that would bring a look of disbelief to the face of Jonathon Swift himself. The chairs in the ‘First Steps’ house are twelve feet tall. Spoons are eighteen inches and weigh four pounds. The house, a simple three-bedroom ranch style dwelling is built on a scale of 3.14 to 1. The doorknob is the size of a Frisbee and can barely be reached by a six-foot tall man. The windows begin seven feet above the floor. The strands of the shag carpet are ten inches long. Gulliver, indeed!
“The revelations that many of our re-experiencers have are truly life-changing,” says Gerre Whatley, a former Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, with a Masters degree in aerobic physiology from Texas State University.
A virtual reality, holographic tabby cat as large as a lion comes prowling across the living room, purring thunderously, then puts his head into a bathtub-sized bowl and eats a kidney treat the size of a Dior handbag. Patrons are put down for a nap in a crib as big as a California King leisure bed.
Five adult babies are allowed into the house at a time. A fifty-year-old man, with a beard and hairy back wears only a cloth diaper and crawls from the carpet onto the kitchen linoleum. He picks up a crayon the size of a rolling pin and uses a towering waste paper basket to pull himself up. He totters towards a cabinet then flaps at the handle in an awkward attempt to draw.
The menacing words “NO, JIMMY” uttered by a female voice sound somewhere far above a holographic pair of tree-like legs encased in pantyhose. This stern command is followed by the strangely indecipherable mumbles of a language that sounds like it could be English. Only a few words — “NO” and “DON’T and “CAN’T” — are clearly understandable.
A patent lawyer from Akron and divorced father of three teenagers, Jimmy, drops the crayon and pulls a Sears and Roebuck catalog six inches thick and four feet wide from the waste basket and begins ripping at its pages. Chided by the woman’s voice once again, Jimmy drops the giant mag and begins to blubber uncontrollably.
Jason Whatley explains: “Most of our clients are Baby Boomers, and we want them to be able to experience aspects of childhood closely approximating their own. Crucial to this is not only the re-creation of the physical dimension of their world, but of the regressive child-rearing techniques and environmental features that negatively impacted baby’s development.”
Back at First Steps, Tom Sinclair, a school superintendent from Yakima, Washington, sits in a high chair the size of a Cape Cod lifeguard lookout and dips his fingers into a large bowl of Gerber ham-mash with a fist-sized dollop of Velveeta cheese-product on top. When he throws a gob of the pap on the floor, a quick slap to the hand is administered by a large silicone hand.
But such outdated modes of living are not the only offering at the complex.
“We also wanted to offer our clients an example of a modern, nurturing environment so that they can fine-tune their own homes to their own children’s needs or, if they came from a dysfunctional situation, actually find out how good a childhood can really be,” says Whatley.
Over a small hill from the suburban ranch house is a contemporary structure of wood and glass: Millennium Steps. “The cutting edge in psychic sustainability,” boasts Whatley.
The patrons here are mostly young parents. They can roam the gigantic baby-proofed redwood home in recycled Earthpal disposable diapers. The toys are made of wood from sustainable forests and brightly colored with non-toxic pigments. A Mozart symphony played on period instruments emanates from the state-of-the art sound system. The voices from above praise the patrons’ every move with keywords “Good” and “Special” and “Love.” With the aid of infant-friendly software, the more advanced second-time-around toddlers can request diaper changes or refreshing smoothies at the touchscreens one of the six iPods at toddler-eye level. For those staying the night there is the warmth and security of an enormous family bed complete with virtual-reality parents.
When hungry, patrons can nurse from a giant nipple that dispenses real, pasteurized human milk. That this beverage is on offer—its distribution recently approved by the F.D.A—is an example of the revivifyingly synergistic effect the Child Within development is having on the local economy.
Just outside of DeKruif, Stewart Henderson had been barely hanging on to his family-owned dairy. Approached by the Whatleys, he retrofitted his milking equipment for human breasts, turned his pasture into a golf driving range, and converted a failing business into a thriving enterprise that employs over fifty local women. Mr. Henderson was recently cleared by the State Board of Health of allegations that his employees, who are paid $19.25 per gallon, had been encouraged to take a derivative of Bovine Growth Hormone to stimulate their milk production.
A single day in First Steps costs $2,350, not including the services offered at the Pavilion of Psychic Healing, a pagoda-like structure staffed by a range of professionals. Here, patrons receive counseling and various other forms of support for the difficulties and jubilations of their long day in diapers.
Reclining in a hammock in the scented humidification of the Welcoming Earth Room, 53-year-old Jennifer Stendle, who earlier that day had received an electric shock from a giant outlet in the First Steps 50s suburban home, is offered healing help — at $280 per hour — from one of the staff therapists.
Stendle says that the first memory she can recall from her Long Island childhood is of an electric shock, and she praises her re-experiencing of that formative incident: “This is the first step” — she giggles at the unintended pun — “towards healing myself from that early trauma. Now maybe, I can begin to get on with my life.”
A thin man with greying hair tells his personal therapist about his difficulties in play group. “Now I’m beginning to understand just how hard it really was to be a gay baby.”
Buoyed by such tremendous success, the Child Within is already planning to expand with a massive Renaissance Re-Birthing Center.
“Birth is the decisive, often shattering event in the psychic development of the infant,” says Jason Whatley. “At the Re-birthing center we will be able to meet individual needs, with a range of re-experiences, from fully anesthetized births with forceps, to caesareans, to low-trauma water births.”
The proposal, now before the local zoning board, includes the construction of an IMAX cinema complex in which patrons will be able to view films of their own re-births. Unanimous approval for the project is expected.
But just beyond the perimeter of the hill trouble is brewing as Upstate Gas and Wind—coincidentally enough, two resources that many of the visitors to Child Within have in abundance—has plans for a massive fracking project that will move forward should Governor Andrew Cuomo approve this controversial form of extraction. A local coffee shop in DeKruif’s booming Main Street is already adapting. Aside from serving up the usual array of warm beverages in nipple-topped thermal carafes, The Kids are Alright Café offers a drink they’ve baptized the Frack-a-cino®: a dark-roast cappuccino dosed with cognac, then lit on fire and served flaming.
The Whatleys are ready to meet the challenges of such newly developing Upstate realities: “We are all about detoxifying mind and body,” says Gerre Whatley. “If fracking is approved we want to prepare parent and baby for the world they’ll experience—and later re-experience. The main message of the Child Within is that even bad things can be a force for good.”