It seems like we always have someone in our lives who is expecting a baby. If you are planning to throw a shower for a friend or relative, Writer Marianne Hales Harding offers some insight into this tradition.
Marianne Hales Harding

Rich with cultural heritage
Sentimental thing that I am, I realize that a baby shower is more than just a free lunch. It's a gathering rich with cultural heritage. Even the most disparate of parties follows, at its core, the ancient baby shower formula.

Perhaps it is the stage of life I'm in, but it seems to me that there is a major baby boom going on. My occasional baby sweater project has turned into a small cottage industry. My emergency stash of baby booties (last minute gifts) is running dangerously low. When visiting friends in maternity wards, open beds seem to be a very scarce commodity. Everyone is having a baby. What that means to those of us not currently participating in the baby boom can be summed up in two words: baby shower. A baby shower is an interesting thing. Like most women's events it is a context for socializing, a reason to get together and talk. There is, of course, the food aspect as well. Some of my fondest light lunch memories are baby shower lunch memories. Chicken salad. Fresh baked rolls. Chocolate cake. I must admit I'm also vain enough to truly enjoy the public display (and praise) of my crocheting handiwork, a fault distinctly suited for the baby shower format.

What I have yet to figure out, though, are the goofy games. They break up rather than enhance the socializing (and often the eating as well) but I have yet to attend a shower that eschews them entirely. I can see their usefulness in groups where people have a connection to the guest of honor but not to each other, but mostly they are something to be endured, a lingering remnant of the ancient baby shower formula.

"Formula?" you may say, "I don't want to have a party based on a formula. My party will be unique and glorious. It will be hailed by generations to come as the Great Shower of '02." Well, certainly. That goes without saying. But it will most likely have at its core the same skeleton that every other American baby shower contains. There are many variations on this theme, just as people who share the same basic features (arms, legs, etc.) can still look nothing alike. Basically a baby shower is a group of people getting together to do something nice for someone they love and the face of the party will change based on which group of people it is.

Types of showers
The neighborhood baby shower generally finds expression as a bit of a block party. This is especially true in neighborhoods where, as they say, there is "something in the water," meaning don't move there unless you're very sure of your birth control or very sure you'd like another child.

One Seattle area neighborhood has a variation of this where the husbands are invited/compelled to attend as well. This enhances the "block party" feel but turns comic during the game portion of the party where the husbands are doing everything short of diving out the windows to get out of having to pantomime "green baby poop." Can you imagine? They must not have realized that the prizes for these games are almost always chocolate.

The family shower is usually the most relaxed and freeform. After all, if Aunt Marge wants to sit by the punch bowl all afternoon we all know, by long experience, that nothing will change that. Here the socializing reaches its peak as the ebb and flow of family gossip is at its most efficient incarnation. These can be large or small depending upon family size and/or willingness to gather. My cousin's husband once tried to arrange a surprise baby shower for his wife. It was a glorious idea but very few people had the means to fly to their home, making it the smallest shower ever. When it was suggested that she could instead be flown to the family the party that resulted was the largest shower I have ever attended.

One thing I noticed about the congregation I moved into in downtown Seattle is that the women's auxiliary hosts small baby showers for expectant mothers in the congregation. These are not elaborate affairs but a nice thing to do for each other and a good way to get to know each other. The problem with them is that a congregation with many young mothers tends to burn out after the first five or 10 (five if the due dates are close enough).

I was touched, though, by a shower held at the end of the year for a woman who moved into the area in her eighth month. The turnout was due to a desire to welcome rather than a tie of personal friendship, but it led to friendships and was a lovely evening.

Co-workers, also, can host baby showers. These tend to be smaller, cake-on-a-plate gatherings, but can be larger if desired. The most low-energy of all of the party variations, office parties generally are limited to a cake from Safeway in the lunchroom and a boss sanctioned 20-minute paid break from tedious paperwork. It breaks up when people begin to return to business talk (having used up all of their small talk reserves) or when people finish their cake. Presents are optional.

Some parties encompass two or more of these groups, giving rise to the obligatory get-to-know-you games and leading to a more structured party. This is actually the most common of all showers and is probably most like the one you are contemplating. So embrace the ancient baby shower formula and enjoy this icon of American culture. Have your chicken salad. Have your socializing. Have your guests try to guess the number of candies in a giant baby bottle. It may be a little goofy, but it's also a lot of

Tags: plan shower

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