On Sunday I attended my very first baby shower -- my own. This is a monumental baby step for someone who suffers from showerphobia. But thanks to a timely intervention by my wonderful mother-in-law Judy, I am now in recovery. It's not that I have a lot of irrational fears -- okay, maybe a few -- but I defy anybody to tell me they are not afraid of dentists, spiders, clowns and ventriloquist dummies! While those fears are fairly self-explanatory, it's a little harder to explain my long-held aversion to such an innocuous female ritual. The basic premise is simple and sweet enough: a bunch of women get together to shower a bride or expectant mother with gifts. I have no problem with the gifts part, I'm a self-admitted materialist. But somewhere along the way, the traditional shower goes horribly wrong. Usually, it's because there's long held idea that women can't gather together in a room without some carefully supervised activity like games to occupy and entertain them.
Like any woman, I've reluctantly been to a shower or two, and inevitably I feel like a Romper Room inmate after playing a round or two of some stupid game only a sadistic preschool teacher could have dreamed up. On the upside, if I'm really really good I can get cake and ice cream and an occasional prize. If the games aren't bad enough, the gift opening as entertainment is a torture exquisitely honed over the centuries. It's a call and response ritual with the gift recipient opens the gift and on cue, the guests ooh and ahh appropriately. In turn, the recipient attempts to coo and exclaim with delight and surprise at all the loot she has already registered for. But mix the highly volatile hormone of estrogen with the baby paraphernalia and the atmosphere can quickly become uninhabitable as the decibel of squeals, shrieks and giggles reaches dangerous levels.
Don't get me wrong, I love being a woman and I sincerely believe that we are the superior sex. But I've always felt a little out of place as a girly-girl. I'm definitely missing some sugar, spice and everything nice because I can't squeal or titter to save my life. Maybe it's because I was such a tomboy growing up. But since then, I've come a long way and like any self-respecting woman I love makeup, clothes, jewelry and have more shoes than I know what to do with. My three favorite words in the English language are "gift with purchase." Yet I didn't have a bridal shower and I didn't do the bouquet toss at my own wedding because the very idea of seeing a bunch of women desperately shoving and scrabbling over a cheap bunch of flowers filled me with deep dismay. By the way, my husband has never forgiven me for denying him this singular show of female carnage.
So when my mother-in-law Judy and her best friend Jo Ann offered to throw me a baby shower, I was a little worried. Not that I doubted their ability to throw a fabulous shower, but I doubted my own ability to be a charming, appropriately perky guest of honor. Would I be able to say, "Ohhh, how adorable!" or "Ohhh, how cuuute!" over and over with any degree of credibility? Or would I be exposed as the girly-girl imposter I really am? As the day approached, my performance anxiety increased. But the weekend of my shower arrived and to my surprise and happiness, my best friends from my college days at Berkeley made the long drive just to be at my shower. Their unbridled enthusiasm and excitement was contagious. Unfortunately, that wasn't all that was contagious. I ended up catching my husband's cold and by the morning of the shower I had become Typhoid Minsun, losing most of my voice just when I needed it the most.
But when I arrived at the restaurant the shower was being held I instantly relaxed. We were fortunate to pick a small, neighborhood Italian cafe that closed down just for our party. So the atmosphere was relaxed, cozy and very intimate. Lunch was a casual affair and once we were done eating, I took center stage to attack the huge mountain of presents. Ironically, I had no trouble squealing or squeaking in delight because by that point, it was the only sound I could generate. I sounded like Flipper the Dolphin. To my relief, the whole present-opening ritual was a very relaxed affair because instead of being under intense scrutiny, everybody chatted amongst themselves at different tables and looked up every once in a while to see what I was opening. I had no idea opening so many presents could be so exhausting. After that orgy of unwrapping, I was spent and needed a drink.
To my pleasant surprise, I had a fantastic time at my shower. I was surrounded by my friends and the people I love and everyone was genuinely excited and happy for me. Besides the obvious allure of being surrounded by lots of baby booty, it's a tangible landmark that this is for real. The baby is going to be here very soon and all this stuff is just waiting for his arrival. For the first time I understood the appeal of baby showers and why they endure. When Teddy arrived to help me load the car, he couldn't believe his eyes. Our previously empty nursery is now overflowing with packages and I don't know where to begin sorting all this stuff.
I'm relieved that I didn't have to undergo a twelve step program to cure my showerphobia and that my mother-in-law and her friend helped me confront my fears by showing me a kinder baby shower. Now if only I could see a ventriloquist dummy without going hot and cold with terror, I'd be well on the road to perfect mental health.