Bad Baby Shower

It didn’t take long for the two of us to make a social faux pas as a married couple. It was 1981 and we were still figuring out how to divvy up chores, and so far had done so along gender lines – Nick took out the garbage and paid the bills, I folded the laundry and was in charge of our social schedule. So there we were on a warm September day sorting through the mail.

“Hey, what’s this?” Nick said. “It has a handwritten address and it’s in a fancy envelope. It must be a wedding invitation.” He slid the thick envelope toward me and I opened it.

“Well first of all it’s not a wedding,” I said, “It’s a baby shower. And second of all I don’t even know the pregnant person. Who is Peggy O’Halloran? That’s not your boss is it?”

Nick grabbed the invitation. “Wow that’s weird. My boss has invited me to her baby shower. This must be some sort of office party.”

I found the office politics of this invitation very confusing. “You know you’re supposed to bring presents to a baby shower, don’t you? Kind of strange that we’ll have to arrive bearing gifts for your boss, like a tribute or show of devotion – serf and lord of the manor kind of thing. Also, I’m not very experienced with baby showers, but my impression is that they’re usually an all girl’s affair. Why are you invited?”

“I have no idea,” said Nick. The next day he came home from work with the peculiar information that he was the only one in his office who was invited, none of her other direct reports or colleagues in the research or creative departments of the advertising agency were included. Just Nick. And apparently me as his companion. “The only thing I can think of is that she just likes me,” he said.

“I don’t doubt for a minute that she likes you, you’re the most likable person I know,” I said. “But if she wants to solidify a friendship, how about a picnic, a backyard barbecue, or dinner and a movie? A baby shower? What the hell are we supposed to get her?

“Well, she invited us, so we should go. She’s my boss, what else can I do?” said Nick. “Relax, you’re just overthinking things. We won’t have to do anything elaborate. Just a couple of those burp towel things. That should be enough.”

“Burp towels. That’s your idea?” I said. “I don’t care if a burp towel is as cute as a bug’s ear, a little scrap of cloth is not going to be enough. I’ll be the good corporate wife here and get the present, but you’ll have to give me some guidelines. Something that falls between perfunctory and too elaborate. You don’t want to come across as an over-the-top brown-nosy suck-up.”

“Okay, let me think about it,” said Nick. “The party is not for a couple of weeks anyway.”

It was an unseasonably sultry Sunday in June.  Nick asked, “Hey did you get the present?” said Nick. “We should probably get going in about an hour.”

I had totally forgotten my responsibility.  We stared blankly at each other as the crisis blossomed before us. It would take way too much time to work our way across the city to Toy R Us or even some overpriced children’s boutique, which might not even be open on a Sunday afternoon. We’d have to make do locally. The options were very limited – a dry cleaners, a few bars, a check-cashing store, a butcher shop.

“Why don’t we just pick up some wine on the way over?” said Nick. “That’s probably the best that we can do at this point.”

In retrospect he was absolutely correct. A bland corporate gift was just what was called for, but I also wanted to make Nick look good. After all he worked for an advertising agency, an industry that prized creativity and out-of-the box thinking. I rejected the idea of the simple safe bottle of wine. We could do better.

Then I had a brilliant idea. How about that corner butcher shop that featured very high class cuts of meat? What could be more unique than getting some deluxe steaks as a baby gift? The idea was that this would be a gift pack for the happy couple to celebrate their blessed event in the coziness of their own home. I got really fired up over the idea since I thought it would also appeal to the other men who must have been invited to the shower. Men love steaks and probably could care less about burp towels.

I steamed over to the butcher and asked for four of their best steaks. In the shop they looked beautiful, firm, proud and well-marbled. The butcher wrapped them up in that shiny white butcher paper, I added a layer of wrapping paper on my own, and off we went to the afternoon tea.

Peggy O’Halloran was large women with flaming red hair and an outgoing personality to match. She was an older mother, and in fact Nick and I were clearly the youngest couple there; all the others appeared to be experienced parents full of advice. Peggy was surrounded by a phalanx of cooing ladies who came up to assess the contour of her protuberant abdomen to hypothesize on whether a boy or girl lurked within. Sometimes they would actually touch her stomach and say cute things in baby talk and Peggy would laugh uproariously. I didn’t know Peggy, was certainly not going to touch her stomach, and didn’t know how to talk like a baby.

The men were clustered on the other side of the room and collectively looked like they would prefer to be playing golf, watching golf, or ideally napping in front of TV golf. Nick plays hockey, not golf. We knew nobody, and I don’t think that I was every introduced to the lucky father. I went over and added our steak gift to the pile of presents and then the two of us sat quietly next to each other on the couch.

Beads of perspiration started welling up on my forehead as the preamble to the gift giving stretched on. As the first presents were finally opened, I realized my novelty steaks were simply all wrong. I had violated a basic principle that any performer should know, whether the setting is in front of a vast audience or in this case, in a stuffy over-crowded basement apartment full of strangers – Know Your Audience!

My mother was a master at writing little ditties that she would perform at various family functions, such as weddings or birthdays, and I remember one such performance at an out of town Cleveland wedding, my father’s hometown, when she made this basic mistake. She had written what she thought was a rippingly funny song to sing at the bridal dinner about the compromises inherent in any marriage and the importance of keeping a few inviolate rules. As she launched into it, she looked out at the audience and could see that this group was way too staid for the next verse. The key line was, “there is one thing with which I cannot cope, and that is pubic hair upon the soap.” There was nothing she could do but forge ahead and endure the awkward silence and nervous laughter that ensued.

I felt the same intensifying doom as each successive cuteness was unveiled. A rainbow of onesies provoked squeals of delight. Someone gave Peggy a stack of books, and she started reading “Goodnight Moon” to appreciative “Aws,” and murmurs of “I love that book.” I had never heard of the book, but it sounded repetitive and lame. There were satin blankets, and one terry cloth outfit prompted a lady to say, “Oh it’s a ‘Petit Bateau,’ that’s the best line of French clothing. I have the same thing for my little Skyler.” Petit Bateau? I reached into the dusty recesses of my high school French and came up with “Little Boat,” but beyond that I was still at sea.

The men were losing interest in the unveiling and as they gradually drifted to the back row, I realized that I was losing my target audience. I nudged Nick, “We’re in trouble. I don’t think that these women are a raw meat kind of crowd. We’re in BIG TROUBLE.”

There was our gift at the bottom of the pile. I desperately wanted to leap up, snatch it and run like mad, but there was nothing I could do but watch the disaster unfold. The steaks that had been so lovely in the cool butcher shop had changed in the heat. No longer firm and proud, they looked weary, limp and raggedy. It actually looked like we had repurposed road kill for our present. My innovative gift had the disastrous effect of jolting everyone from the abstract joy of birth to the uncomfortable reality that the oncoming labor was going to be painful and bloody. Peggy jumped away in fear and astonishment.

The group gasped at the saggy mess and the room became deathly quiet. Time seemed to stop in the way it does when disasters unfold.  I looked down in shame at a small drop of blood, not the lively red color of a pricked finger, but a burnished brick red color that said either death or at the very least, au jus. It was a cohesive bead, comfortably cosseted in the sharp crease of the butcher paper, but in the awkward silence it slowly started rolling, gathering speed as it reached the edge of the paper. There the bead hung for a moment, gradually transforming from perfect sphere to teardrop and then elongating to a tenacious pendant valiantly struggling against the gravitational pull of the white rug below. In an agonizing moment, the drop broke free and plummeted into the beckoning tendrils of the thick shag carpet. In unison, all eyes turned to me with horror and disgust.

The aftermath is hazy, except that I was forever grateful to the the hostess who scooped up the meat and said, “You know, this really belongs in the fridge.” The party broke up quickly. Fortunately, I don’t think Nick’s career suffered. Perhaps as a boss Peggy was impressed that Nick was a risk-taker willing to fail and fail spectacularly. Or perhaps she felt sorry that he was saddled with such a clueless wife. In either case, she went on maternity leave and after that left the company. We never heard from her again.

Now some thirty years later, I am very experienced in baby showers and always show up with appropriate gifts. I loved that Petit Bateau outfit that I received at my own baby shower. My children loved the book Goodnight Moon, but I still don’t understand its appeal. However, I still stand by my concept of gourmet steaks as a present for nesting parents.  The steaks themselves were not the issue.  The problem was our utter failure of marketing. We should have accompanied the meat with a bottle of wine or scotch, and then introduced the gift with a cute story.  I do have one piece of advice.  Always refrigerate your steaks. That was an error that no act of marketing wizardry could overcome.


The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like spot, post, stop) and the number of asterisks indicates the number of letters. Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rules and the context of the poem. Scroll down for answers.

Baby showers are great, but here is my one complaint,

All that cooing as if the baby will be the next pope or *****

Then there are all those clothes that everyone thinks are so cute,

But you won’t use that ***** blanket or that precious linen suit.

So I thought a gift of high class steaks would be a nice change of pace,

But when blood dripped out and made a ***** I was totally disgraced.









Answers: satin, saint, stain

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