I have heard Elizabeth Stewart speak more than once on downsizing, which is the topic of her latest book, No Thanks Mom: The Top Ten Objects Your Kids DO NOT Want. Always amusing, always spot on, Dr. Stewart is as down-to-earth as she is knowledgeable. Please enjoy her personal reminiscences and wry commentary on one aspect of today’s generation gap.
by Elizabeth Stewart, PhD
My son and daughter-in-law are expecting their first – a boy – in April. I received a beautiful invitation designed by an artist for the event, and I found it was to be held in a fine hotel. The bottom of the card gave an Amazon link to everything the kids wanted for the new baby. I mean everything! Clothing, tubs, basinets, nipple cream, books, diaper systems, strollers, and a changing table. Who knew that Amazon sold nipple cream? That was the first of my surprises that propelled me to write about the changes in baby showers from our day to now.
A little background: my first, also a boy, was carried when I was actually at home in Illinois working three jobs while my husband was working on his MBA in another state. So, my mother and her best girlfriend gave me a shower, which was held in my mom’s family room, paneled in light walnut; her girlfriend Rose had stayed up all night tying blue silk bows around the stems of champagne glasses, into which, sadly, was poured no champagne, but Martinelli’s sparkling cider, on the Sunday afternoon of the shower. The ‘old gals’ (younger than I am at moment of writing) invited all the neighborhood ‘old gals:’ they were asked to bring married daughters with kids.
We had quite a full family room. The herculon sofa was full of stockinged legs and sensible shoes. Silver plate relish dishes were polished and cute little boy’s clothing was tacked to the paneling. The event featured piles of lox and cream cheese sandwiches with the crusts removed. The ‘old gals’ brought used things, and some new things as well, but I remember a pile of wrapped gifts around my swollen ankles. Old and used were both wrapped in obligatory powder blue paper.
The event that afternoon centered around watching me open those gifts. We had no entertainment, no theme, no men, no music, no caterers, no party games, and no photography. No real money was spent. One particular gift has stayed with me to this day and is buried in a big trunk in my expensive storage locker. Mrs. Blixt, who had borne three boys, wrapped up (in blue paper) a purple pair of Oshkosh B’gosh corduroy overalls that had been washed thousands of times. Devilishly soft, they were, with the latches on the shoulders worn so that there were no sharp edges. I am looking now as I write this, at an old photo, taken 6 months after the baby boy was born, of his great- grandmother tickling his toes; he’s wearing those overalls, on her big bed in her one-room apartment in Saint Louis. Those overalls lasted him for 6 months: the strap was let out over that time to allow for more leg. How I loved those used overalls!
Today’s wedding showers typically take place (in larger cities especially), in hotels and restaurants. They are catered. They have themes. The gifts are sent to the house early when an invited guest “One Clicks” on the gift wanted. My son and daughter- in-law have already received seven-eighths of the objects they listed on the registry. Those are now set up in the nursery back East. Nothing used was received. Nothing tried and true. No purple overalls.
My sister tells me (she is 10 years younger) that she is so happy that a young expectant couple has the chance to get only what they want on Amazon. I, too, think this a great opportunity. However, each used object I received for my little shower back in Illinois came with a story about how this thing was invaluable, and why. I learned from the ‘old gals’ that kids are pretty resilient and don’t need much, especially anything too cute or colorful or fine. Those things would have never made it to kid number three. I learned something from those facts.
I just read on “What to Expect” that the average cost of a baby shower is about $1,000. And some shower-givers ask for help with the food and drink. I read also that a rule of thumb is to calculate what friends (mostly their own age) have spent on objects for the baby, and to pay attendees back with a great party costing about that much. So, this is a commercial transaction. It centers on value.
“Why not get just want you think you need?” says my sister… “Cuts down on Goodwill donations.” I agree. But it also cuts down on the opportunity to feel, and to experiment with, the usability, the philosophy, and the softness of a three-time used purple pair of overalls.
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