Monday, October 13, 2008

Baby Showers - Thanks but No Thanks: A Satire, Sort Of

Who invented baby showers? Don’t answer. I’m sure it’s the same person who invented bridal showers.

They should be shot.

I never liked going to either.

This is how I see them:

You are forced into a room with a bunch of women, no doubt indoors on what is the most beautiful day of the decade. You dress in “feminine” clothes and act all girly and grownup as you nibble on pastel M&Ms and nuts from tiny cups on a table festooned with silk flowers, balloons or both.

You play silly games. Like a fill-in-the-blank on how well you know the bride- or mother-to-be. Or create a wedding gown out of a roll of toilet paper, then vote on which table did the best job.

It's at this point I usually wonder: “Why don’t they have any alcohol?”

Now do not get me wrong. I love my friends and I’ve been to many showers. I don’t particularly look forward to them but I go to be supportive. I actually have fun sometimes. Mostly, I believe these things, these rituals, you simply must do if you can. If this was my shower, as it once was, I’d certainly want my friends to be there. (Thankfully more and more showers have ditched the goofy games and include couples and drinks. But not often enough.)

I can handle dressing up. I can handle being around all that estrogen. I can handle being in a church rec room on the most-gorgeous-day-of-the-decade (think of the sun damage I’m not getting). I can even smile through the games.

What I wish I could bypass is sitting through what seems like hours of gift opening.

I did this last weekend. And I deserve a medal. I had a migraine, one that barely budged after taking a prescription drug that morning. Nevertheless, I arrived in a pretty blouse at my former work mate’s baby shower a half hour late — which let me off the hook from playing some game, I was told. Darn it.

I adore my friend, who is due in November and looks glorious. I wanted to see her and help her celebrate. But she's more like a sister. We do not socialize regularly so we don't have many friends in common.

“Is Colleen or Julie here?” I asked when I first arrived, hoping to at least sneak in some conversation with other former coworkers.

“They couldn’t make it,” she said. “I don’t think you know anyone.”

“Well, then,” I said cheerfully as I affixed my name tag while wondering what hugely important things Colleen and Julie had to do that they could not make it, “It doesn’t matter where I sit.” I grabbed a chair at a table with four women in the front and introduced myself.

“What is your connection to My Friend?” I asked of two aunts on her husband’s side who had not seen her since her wedding 10 years earlier and had no idea what she even did for a living. I filled them in. To my left was a sister-in-law and her daughter, a cute tween who documented every moment with her digital camera.

After lunch — buffet style with chicken breasts, salad, cooked carrots, rolls and white noodles with marinara sauce plus a delicious sheet cake — the gift table was ready for action.

I should insert here that my first move, a mistake really, turned out fabulously well. I ordered her gift online from her registry — I have no idea what it was — and shipped it directly to her. I later realized that during the gift opening ceremony — where we would look like Stepford wives offering occasional “ohhs” and “ahhhs” as she opened every single gift and pulled out every single item for all of us to see in case we missed it — that there would be nothing from me.

When I emailed her that this occurred to me, mainly thinking of her and the fun she was going to have opening gifts, she offered to bring whatever it was that I got her.

“You certainly don’t have to do it for my sake,” I emphasized. She later realized it would be one more gift to schlep back to their home. So she thanked me for all to hear before the gift opening commenced.

Unfortunately, I was the only one who did this.

The room was packed with maybe 40 or 50 women meaning the gift tables were overflowing with pink boxes and bags. Mercifully my friend’s husband was there to expedite — er, help — with the process.

As my friend opened the gifts, her sister, who was keeping notes on who gave her what, managed a kind of raffle after every third gift, using envelopes we’d pre-addressed for the Thank You notes as the raffle tickets. I see this as evidence that they know we need a little bribery to stick around.

My friend would pull a name and the winner got to choose from various Avon products on a table. I kept spying the goods, certain my name would come up. When I realized I didn’t want anything, I imagined myself magnanimously offering my place to the nice tween at my table and how sweet she’d think I was. Unfortunately, my name never came up.

At first the gift ceremony was pleasant enough but soon I was wondering why they can’t open a few representational gifts and say: “Well, you get the idea. Thanks for coming!”

Soon I was struggling to feign interest after the umpteenth pink “onesie” or whatever they were. Even my friend didn’t always know for sure what each one was.

I kept looking at the time and tried to decide what was an appropriate length for a shower. It started at 1. I’d have liked to have left by 3, even factoring in my lateness.

Just as it seemed it was never going to end, my friend unwrapped the final present at precisely 4 o’clock. “Hang out,” she offered as she thanked everyone and encouraged them to have another piece of cake.

I thought about grabbing a piece to go. Instead, I just grabbed my white paper goody bag of sample-size lotion and a scented candle and went up to take advantage a few quality moments with my friend and her husband. We chatted about the baby room, yoga and her due date.

I was actually one of the last to leave.

As I made my way out, I hugged her and told her she did not have to send me a thank you card. That they are costly (cards, stamps) and use up resources (trees). And, according to the etiquette books — “I’ve looked it up,” I said — if you thank someone in person, you do not need to send a card.

They probably thought I was spoiled sport.

She’s sending a Thank You anyway.

Note to anyone reading this who is planning a baby or bridal shower and was thinking of inviting me: You better invite me because I really do want to be there. Just don't mind if I bring something to read.


Cindy L said...

Oh, you hit home here, once again ... I am not a fan of baby showers, or any type of shower, honestly. These deals have gotten out of hand, like weddings, and they are often painful to attend. I do love "gifting" new mothers, and would gladly just send a gift or drop one off privately during a visit after Baby is born, or when a birth announcement is sent.

I'm not sure, though, if everyone would agree about not sending thank-you notes. People are always complaining to Miss Manners and other etiquette experts when they don't receive them ...

Only the Half of It said...

Glad you liked. :-) I had to tone it down from my original. I was feeling a little guilty for being soooooo, uh, satirical.
As for Thank You notes, I always think when I get one that they are lovely but so perfunctory. People usually do them after such events it's the RULE. Hence, there is something missing for me.
According to etiquette books, if you tell someone thank you in person, a note is not necessary. Obviously you need to acknowledge a gift through the mail or otherwise impersonally, mostly so the person knows you go it. I'm sure some expert will disagree.
And I'm such a enviro/resource freak sometimes that I hate the waste -- although part of me still loves the old fashioned gesture.

Stacey said...

Not only do I dislike going to showers, I disliked being the showeree. I felt an incredible amount of pressure to say something witty and/or sweet about each gift as I opened it and to make sure everyone was having a good time and had someone to talk to.

I do love to support my friends, too. So it's quite a conundrum.

Only the Half of It said...

It is a conundrum. That's why someone needs to redesign these things. I suggest giving people the option to leave before the gifts are opened.

monica said...

Another great essay Ellen, and I'm totally with you on not enjoying watching someone open gifts, sigh, I'm truly happy to give one and all...
But as you mentioned there's always cake to sweeten the deal and get you to stay, teehee

Only the Half of It said...

I hope you'll invite me if you ever have a baby shower. Yours would be a riot anyway!

Claire Charlton said...

Thankfully, I've dodged many a shower in my lifetime. My circle of friends does it a bit differently: we throw mom-to-be a "Blessing Way," based on an ancient Native American ritual of gathering to offer strength and support for an upcoming birth. Instead of gifts, we bring food for her freezer, and each attendee in turn shares a poem or other beautiful, inspiring thought to share. And we each bring a bead, which we put together into a bracelet to wear during labor as a source of strength and power for a productive and beautiful birth. It's an authentic alternative and one that I NEVER want to miss.

Only the Half of It said...

Oh my god. How totally cool! Yes, I think this stuffy party setting could use a little rethinking.