I began to sense that there was something contagious in the air that made everyone around me wants a baby to call her own. And there was something in the water making those babies, to the specific joy of their fathers, all boys. I found myself on support staff for the race for babies. All the wives of my spouse’s college friends either had babies, were pregnant with babies or where praying unceasingly for babies, wondering what was wrong with them for having to try for so long. This was not a game I was partaking in. I love babies. They are clearly the personification of God’s grace. They offer love without even realizing it. They are fascinating to watch as they eagerly learn and change, things adults do not like much. But my uterus in no way is yearning to be occupied. Still, when people around you jump on the baby train, somehow the young, waiting, single and barren ones get dragged along for the ride.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and I pulled myself away from my writing to shower and primp. It was time to go to yet another baby shower. And it was at said baby shower that I started thinking about what it meant to be a woman, a white woman, a partnered white woman, and a partnered rich white woman in the US. You see, generations ago, our ancestors came to the US from places like France, Bohemia, Ireland and Germany. It was the melting pot, and quickly our ancestors learned that to survive here, one must assimilate as quickly as possible. So they dropped language, religion, food, art and celebrations from their countries of origins to fit in with the other people in power who had white skin as well. Now, we are left, rich and white, with no sense of what to eat, how to worship or how to celebrate huge rites of passage. Having a baby is a really big deal. But we did not take the time to learn ritual surrounding this transition of the Native Americans, and we were told to leave European tradition at the coast and cling to white power. In 2010, we are striving to make meaning of life, to celebrate it in a significant way, and we have absolutely no idea what to do.
The men in my life do very little to celebrate the baby life mark, but let’s look at other rituals they have created out of thin air. The twenty-first birthday consists of taking shots until he is unconscious or projectile vomiting. The initiation into a fraternity may consist of drinking pickle juice with vodka and headcheese, rolling in the mud, carrying blocks of ice for miles or tampering with goats. A bachelor party calls for golfing, eating barbequed meat, gambling away money and being entertained by a woman who comes to take her clothes off to the beat of their cheering. Now, this is not every man, by any means. But the above information has come from wonderful men of integrity in my life, so it does happen.
Women tend to mark turning points a little more peacefully. And although there is less destruction involved, it can also tend to be extremely boring. And taxing. And consumer driven. The women throwing this baby shower that I attended on the beautiful Saturday afternoon had difficulty figuring out what to do. We have no sense or history of ritual. The thing I find most odd is because we are making this up as we go, the guest always have to be told what to do, what comes next, because it is always different, one of the fundamental problems. First, we ate. Now being women, we ate light of course, because God help us if the pregnant woman of honor were to gain too much weight while with child. So food was light croissants, salads and a fruit dessert. I kind of wish women would embrace eating food that hits the soul a bit, you know, really celebrating. Salads just don’t cut it for me. Next, there were games. There are always games, like dress the bride in toilet paper or unscramble words with a baby theme. The games on this day were a multiple choice quiz about celebrities and their baby’s names followed by a matching of adult animals to what they call their baby counterpart. A baby hippo is called a calf. Really? Then we proceeded to the kitchen table where we all made scrapbook pages for the mother to be so that she could just slip pictures in the pages without worrying about the stickers, crazy scissors or mushy quotes corresponding to the theme of the page. And finally, like always, there were gifts. She opened bag after bag of things she had registered for at Target, Babies R Us and the like. We cooed and mooed as she displayed things like bottles and spoons, burp rags and pumping bags that just did not seem coo worthy at all to me. I cooed along, even for the little socks and onesies, all pink so we could socialize the baby to her gender as quickly as possible. Then ice cream was served with cake, defeating the whole idea of the light lunch, pictures were taken, and people headed home. Three hours later, I felt like I wanted to shower, or, I don’t know, take off my baby shower attire and drink a beer with some guys.
I try not to let others in on the internal struggle that happens during these made up rituals that we have. I am, in fact, as rich and white as they come. But I can’t help thinking about my ancestors and wishing that they had kept their real last names, stayed bi-lingual and taught each other the old, time-tested celebrations surrounding life’s big moments. I come back to this so many times a year. We have no cultural identity, so we just continue to assert our power, our access in our rituals. When we should be talking about the genocide that happened when the Europeans came to settle in the US, we instead stuff ourselves with food and pass out to big guys tackling each other on our flat screen digital televisions. To celebrate the fact that Jesus, a man killed because of his radical political and relational power, was born to a poor peasant in a barn we get dressed up and give each other presents from Best Buy. Birthdays, baptisms and bar mitzvahs all come with gifts and more gifts, a showering of presents. The average wedding in my state puts the couple and their parents back $20,000. Graduating from high school? You guessed it, money, gifts and buffets. Knowing little else, we lean on what we do know to mark our coming of age. We eat lots of food and spend a lot of money on stuff. For me, it is not enough. It makes me feel empty and sad.
I don’t know what the answer is. All I know is that I hate going to baby showers. I think part of it is claiming our ancestry even if it means claiming the ugliness that comes with the history of being white in the US. It is creating rituals that do not center on consumerism. We could stop being so self-centered and learn other languages, learn about other religions and rituals and food and art. We need to decide what we stand for and make sure we stand for something that is life-sustaining.