A Note on Showers

How do you feel about bridal and baby showers? I’ve noticed that even people who love parties and get excited about something like a birthday invitation can have a severe aversion to showers. Birthday party: woo! Baby shower: puke/snore. I sometimes have a mild strain of the “snore” response, but I have several friends who are vehemently in the “puke” camp.

A lot of showers feel like (and are) a present-getting formality—a completely transactional experience. Someone needs presents and so their friends guilt or bribe people with cake in order to get them presents. Everybody sits around and watches them unwrap those presents, eats cake, talks to a bunch of ladies they probably don’t know, and leaves on a weird, midday sugar-high. Boring. I mean, I like cake as much as the next person but I don’t want to bore a whole afternoon away for it. I do want to celebrate my friends’ Important Life Events, but the whole shower vibe reeks of obligation, awkward combinations of people, and games that either make me uncomfortable or don’t quite work out in practice.

Babies marrying babies: my friend Alex's lingerie shower in 2007.

Babies marrying babies: my friend Alex’s lingerie shower in 2007.

Babies having babies: Alex's baby shower last year.

Babies having babies: Alex and Hutch’s joint baby shower/reunion weekend in 2012.

Does all this negativity mean I’m anti-shower? No way (duh). I don’t think I’ve ever been to a shower that I didn’t enjoy for at least one moment—I mean, we’re talking about Important Life Events here—it’s just that a lot of showers are a mixed bag, heavy on the snore side. However! There are ways to make the shower experience consistently pleasant for everyone involved. I’m pro-fun shower. Like I said, I really do want to celebrate my friends’ Important Life Events; I also want to throw fun parties (nothing puke- or snore-worthy) and those two things should not be in any sort of tension. People treat showers like a checklist of hoops to jump through and man does it show.

Killing my MOH duties at my sister's beautiful bridal shower thrown by our good family friend.

Killing my MOH duties at my sister’s beautiful bridal shower.

The first time I attended a shower I felt like a kid accidentally seated at the grown-ups’ table. The first time I threw a shower I felt like everything absolutely had to look Pinterest-worthy (and this was before Pinterest even existed). I spent weeks looking for champagne flutes at local thrift shops, researched stupid games, made all of the paper invitations myself, acted like hydrangeas were important, and searched forever to find frozen cranberries—because for some reason I didn’t want any Craisins in my elaborate, from-scratch chicken salad (claaaassic shower food). (Sidenote: never use frozen cranberries to replace fresh cranberries in a chicken salad. They were insanely bitter and their color bled all over the place. This was a million years ago, and I think the only reason I remember the chicken salad is because of those horrible bites with cranberry. Also because I regret throwing away perfectly good stock from the chicken salad process (I was an idiot). Anyway, Craisins would have been way better option).

So. That shower was a success (though unfortunately I can’t find any photos) and I learned a few things. First of all, that I had NO PLACE spending that kind of money; I had just graduated from college and did not have a real job. Secondly, the shower was a good time not for the Pinterest reasons—everything looked pretty and the food was delicious, but those things could have been more or less accomplished with far less insane effort. The shower was a success because of the fun people who were there. I had no idea what I was doing (22ish years old, first time being in a wedding) and I didn’t want to screw anything up, which is fair; but I should have known that a good shower doesn’t depend on what kind of glasses you’re using. I mean, unless you’re friends with assholes. In which case…I don’t know. Sorry.

Julie's San Antonio bachelorette weekend.

Julie’s San Antonio bachelorette weekend.

Since then, my shower-throwing mentality has changed quite a bit. Getting older, watching marriage and babies become less alien and terrifying to the people around me (thus, watching people become more aware of what they need and want during Important times), seeing things done well and not-so-well, throwing a party or two myself, have all helped me distinguish between “what I’m supposed to do” and what I should do for any given shower. I think the simplest piece of advice I can offer is that you have to treat a shower like a party. Think about the specific person you’re celebrating—don’t put any hoops ahead of what they would want or enjoy: plan around personality more than custom. If your friends play games, then play games. If your friends never play games, please don’t force them because you feel like you’re supposed to. If the mother or bride is a big recycler, then don’t buy disposable decorations, etc.

The Moore's Manalive themed baby shower I threw for for Isaac.

The Manalive themed baby shower I threw for the Moores.

Beyond that, don’t let what should be a celebration (something that generally involves having a good time) turn into a transaction. When I throw a shower I have the guest of honor in mind, but I am also thinking about my other guests. Making sure that everyone enjoys themselves is not going to take any fun away from the bride or mother or father—it should in fact make those honored guests have an even better time. Somehow, shower-throwers tend to miss this memo. It’s cool to have several hosts—that’s normal—but you can’t act like everyone who is not the bride- or mother-to-be is a host. I’ve had women I don’t know ask me to help with a shower I didn’t even want to go to—with several references to money. I am all about asking for help and group efforts and potluck informality—however, there are appropriate ways to do that. If you’re too poor to throw a shower, then don’t throw a freaking shower—throw a potluck dinner party, presents welcome. I’ve also been to showers that were fancier than most weddings—with caterers and expensive favors and a loony number of flowers. If you have loads of money I suppose it’s nice to spend it on treats and pretties for your friends’ Important Life Events (and I always appreciate those nicer bottles of champagne), but remember that throwing money around does not make for a guaranteed good time—and you can definitely put together a good shower without spending outrageously.

Jenny's lingerie shower just a few weeks ago.

Jenny’s lingerie shower just a few weeks ago.

In either case, don’t let a party become more about you than about your guests. I don’t know why people who have no contact with formal etiquette 99% of their lives suddenly dive into the social shoulds and have-tos when tulle gets involved. I don’t know all that much about the formal rules of etiquette, but I believe manners exist for a reason: to serve us. To provide people with a set of shared expectations by which to respect one another and in which to operate gracefully. So, if you find yourself enslaved by them—bleeding money, feeling like a bumpkin, and treating other people decidedly un-gracefully—I say throw ‘em out.

A bar-stocking dinner I hosted for Jenny, also just a few weeks ago.

A bar-stocking shower I hosted for Jenny.

Again, good parties are primarily about good people. I assume it’s clear by now how much I like food and drinks and pretty things like paper invitations. These are obviously part of a successful shower, but they’re a means, not the end. All you’re trying to do is provide a time and space to join in someone’s joy and anticipation, and allow others to demonstrate their affection by contributing something useful or beautiful to a friend’s new kind of life. I make special cakes and try to get creative with hor d’oeuvres because I enjoy it and tend to show affection through food. If you hate cooking, you can still throw a great shower.

So anyway, since it is the season and all, I’m going to write a couple posts about my two favorite kinds of showers. I have thoroughly enjoyed more traditional showers, with a middle-large guest list of women who know the bride or mother; but I find that I prefer the womanly-wisdom aspect of a shower best in small groups of ladies who know each other well. Likewise, I find the celebratory enthusiasm aspect of showers best accomplished in bigger, more inclusive, generally co-ed groups. Obviously I like lady times, and it makes sense for ladies to come together for a friend who’ s about to experience serious lady-events like marriage or childbirth, but I don’t really get what that means in the context of a bunch of women who don’t know each other. So I go in one of those two extreme directions. I’ll begin with the more intimate, close-friends-dinner-party-type shower I hosted before my friend Jenny’s wedding and then I’ll tell you about the rather giant, all-are-welcome-party-type baby shower I hosted for the Moores awhile back. I guess you could call this a series. Cool.

Happy spring to you! It is May Day, after all.