Copyright 2004 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved

Crank's Corner

                                       I Need an Umbrella

    My stepdaughter-in-law had a baby shower yesterday afternoon, but I
didn't go to it; she didn't mind, because she understands that I don't go to that
sort of thing, and that's one of the many reasons I like her.  I'll buy things for
the baby once the baby gets here, but, until then, I know that she already has
all the immediately necessary basics covered, and the rest of the stuff is just
going into the storage unit for the time being.  I've been to enough baby
showers to know that I don't like them; I went to one for my stepdaughter's
first child, but I showed up wearing a pointy black hat, as befits a Wicked
Stepmother.
    I grew up thousands of miles away from all of my relatives except my
mother and stepfather, and he wasn't what anyone would call a "sociable"
person, so we didn't have many friends.  My mother didn't drive, and there
was no public transportation where we lived, so if he didn't want us to go
somewhere, we didn't.  Maybe the other secretaries at the office where my
mother worked invited her to their weddings and showers, but she had no
way to get to them.
    As a result of this isolation, I didn't get exposed to weddings,
receptions, graduation parties, or bridal and baby showers at an early age,
which is when normal people learn that they are supposed to enjoy and
participate in these rituals.  At any gathering of an extended family, there's
always a mob of kids, from babies to teenagers, whose parents have dragged
them to the event.  They watch their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles,
cousins, and in-laws do things like the Chicken Dance, and thereby they
develop a tolerance for the practice.
    I missed the boat on that early immunization; at most of these
functions, I usually feel like an anthropologist observing the rituals of some
obscure tribe, not quite understanding it, but trying to fit in and trying not to
embarrass myself or the folks who invited me.  I've gotten pretty good at
making my way through the co-ed events, celebrations where guests might
or might not bring a gift, as they please, but the traditionally females-only
"shower of gifts" still freaks me out.  I don't want to make a bridal gown out
of toilet paper, or race to put a diaper on a doll while blindfolded, or try to
guess what baby foods are in unmarked jars, and I can't imagine why anyone
would, just in order to give someone a present.
    Bridal showers make sense if the bride-to-be has been living with her
parents all of her life before the wedding, and the newlyweds are going to be
setting up housekeeping for the first time.  They need stuff: pots and pans,
linens, appliances, dishes, silverware, the works.  Bridal showers don't make
sense, to me at least, if the bride and groom have each been living on their
own for years, or if they've been living together before the wedding; they
have everything they need, and a shower is just an excuse to get new stuff, at
the expense of family and friends.
    Baby showers make sense if a woman is having her first child; again,
she needs the basic baby infrastructure, crib, playpen, bottles, diapers, and
all the other luggage that will accompany Junior through his first few years
of life.  Unless Kid Two comes along before the elder sibling is out of the
crib, most of this ordnance shouldn't need duplication, and a shower is just
an opportunity to grab some fresh loot.
    If I sound like a cynical cheapskate, it's probably because I am.  I've
seen too many people invite anyone they could think of to showers, inviting
co-workers and seldom-seen relatives that they'd never think of having over
for dinner to show up, bearing gifts, at a party for someone they barely
know.  Does everyone but me think this is okay?  Is this the girly equivalent
of a barn-raising, and do the guests gladly shell out for shower after shower,
knowing that, when it's their own turn to grab the goodies, others will do the
same for them?  And do the older women at showers participate out of a
sense of cosmic pay-back, and because they know that, if they go to the
shower for Betty's granddaughter, Betty will respond in kind?
    Gift showers are a tradition held over from the days when people
didn't have nearly as much money or as many expectations as they do now;
they were meant to insure that newlyweds and first-time parents had the
necessities that their new circumstances demanded.  Marriages and families
contributed to the stability of Society as a whole, so it was in Society's best
interest to help them succeed.  However, in our culture of ever-increasing
consumerism and greed, we seem to have lost sight of this simple idea; with
the divorce rate at fifty percent, does the bride who receives six sets of
cookware at her shower have a better chance of staying married than the
bride who receives only one?  Or is all that extra stuff just getting in the
way, piling up in the sink, or gathering dust in the attic?  Is a baby who has a
Jolly Jumper, a rolling activity table, and a Fisher-Price Aquarium happier
than a baby with none of those things, and is his mother less harried?  Or
will he develop Attention Deficit Disorder, while she bruises her shins on
the toys that occupy three-fourths of the living room?
    A relationship is a boatload of relatives, but I'd probably have a better
idea of what "family" means if I'd been raised by a pack of wolves.  Am I
related, in theory, to my husband's cousins, or to his ex-wife's son by her
second marriage?  I don't get it, and I doubt that I ever will.  I wish all those
folks well, but I don't feel any obligation to contribute to their present or
future household goods.  When the dust settles from my stepdaughter-in-
law's second shower for her first baby (her relatives live farther away than
was convenient for the first shower), I'll ask her if there is anything else she
needs.  If there isn't, I'll start buying boxes of disposable diapers, not a
glamorous gift, but practical, and one that will be needed long after the
parties are over.  Everyone else, save your stamps and take me off your
invitation list, because, family or not, when it comes to showers, I need an
umbrella.

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