Baby showers are goyish. I’m sorry, they just are, like mayonnaise, St. Barts and baton-twirling. I say this despite the fact that legions of Jews (me included) are having them.
In the past, showers were a no-no because they tempted the ayin hara, the evil eye. Not only were you not supposed to bring any baby stuff into your house before the baby was born, you didn’t even tell people the new baby’s name until the bris (for a boy) or aliya in synagogue (for a girl). Then you could have some rugelach and presents while discussing, ad nauseam, the duration of labor, the baby’s weight, the baby’s hair or lack thereof and the baby’s uncanny resemblance to the father. (There are no other topics.)
Some Jews, primarily observant ones, still say ptui-ptui-ptui to the shower. But for others, the naked desire for Diaper Genies, Gyminis and itty-bitty onesies trumps any ancient superstition. The demon Lilith may well be hanging out hoping to steal infants’ souls, but surely she’ll be distracted by all the brightly colored wrapping paper.
Today’s Jewish women often want not only the presents, but also the public opening of them. They want the community’s acknowledgment of their pregnancy. By the time you’re eight and a half months pregnant, life has slowed to a crawl. A shower is a much-needed glimmer of excitement, a last chance to sip punch, talk about your swollen ankles and be the focus of attention before you give birth and become invisible. It’s not necessarily even about the gifts; even non-consumerist hippies have baby showers. In San Francisco I went to one where we all helped make a plaster cast of the mom’s giant belly. As we stroked and rubbed her belly, we thought of blessings for the mom-to-be and her baby. When the cast dried, we all painted it in brilliant colors and swirly designs. The mom put it up on her wall, and a fabulous, if crunchy-granola, time was had by all.
Still, I wanted to go shower-free. I wasn’t trippy-dippy enough to want all those people caressing my naked body (anyone who does that has to buy me dinner first). And I didn’t want anyone to feel forced to buy me things. I also didn’t want any of my childless friends to feel I was flaunting my fecundity. I know what it’s like to be broke, and I know what it’s like to have to celebrate a friend’s simcha when you have Issues.
But this was a party my friend Mikki really wanted to throw. As a former punk rocker, zine creator and all-around non-conformist, she loved the idea of having an ultra-girlie, ironic, Pepto Bismal-pink gathering. A few years earlier, she’d thrown me a surprise bridal shower (after I’d insisted I didn’t want one of those, either) that totally satisfied my desire for quality time with my girlfriends without making me feel like a greedy piglet. (She called it a “crafts shower” and invited everyone over to drink wine and paint old-school barrettes.) I knew that if anyone could make this event fun, Mikki could.
And the idea grew on me. In our crazed, busy world, we hardly get a chance to see our friends, let alone force them all to gather in the same room to play “Bobbing for Nipples.” Mikki taunted and enticed me with descriptions of themes and games she read about on the Internet. These were so retro and cloying, they made cheerleading tryouts look as progressive as a NOW convention. “Guess the Girth” involves measuring the pregnant woman’s belly. The guest who comes closest to estimating the correct number gets a prize. (I referred to this game as “Guess How Many of Your Teeth I’m Going To Knock Out.”) Then there’s Diaper Derby, a relay race in which guests have to use toilet paper to “diaper” one member of their team and the mom-to-be picks the best diaper. All these activities sounded so infantilizing and cutesy, I thought they might prevent as-yet-childless attendees from ever breeding, thereby eventually ensuring the destruction of the Jewish people.
But Mikki didn’t let me down. There were no dippy games, just yummy salads and cupcakes. There were about 10 of my favorite pals and relatives, many of whom met each other for the first time that day. If I’d waited until after the birth to have this party, I’d have been far too stressed and exhausted to enjoy it. But now, I contentedly watched my loved ones sit in the sun and chat and nosh.
My friend Lynn gave me a book of horrid, hostile poetry by teenage girls, just so I’d know what I had to look forward to. My sister-in-law gave me an amusing yellow terry-cloth diaper cover with a duck face (including a 3-D beak) protruding from the butt region. The one guest who was superstitious about baby showers gave me a present (bath and beauty supplies) instead of the baby, which worked well for me. The afternoon was the perfect mix of quirky and sappy. Two days later, the Twin Towers fell. Given the challenges of travel in lower Manhattan, I didn’t see most of those friends until after I’d given birth. Trapped at home, I was happy I had that bright afternoon to think about.
And yes, I got a Gymini.