This “The Back Page” appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of Texoma Living!.
If you have ever shared an office workspace with women of childbearing age, you will no doubt be familiar with the office baby shower. This is not a suddenly put together affair, but one that occupies hours of planning and coordination on the part of the shower givers.
The office break room is the location of choice for these things. Its usual indifferent décor is disguised by a blue or pink bunting with a banner heralding the coming event, and the disreputable folding tables that suffice for a tuna sandwich from a brown bag at lunch time sports a paper tablecloth decorated with flowers and storks. There usually are sandwiches with the crusts cut off and chips and cookies and a nice big cake with white icing trimmed with blue or pink (technology has taken the guesswork out of color decisions) and a stack of gifts for the prospective parents and offspring to be.
Women do these things very well. The skills are imprinted by the “shower” gene, and the inclination and operational talent needed to pull off such feats grow ever stronger over the years as the memory of actually taking care of a newborn wanes.
This is not the case with the other half of the parental equation. Tossing celebrations such as baby showers is not bred in the bone. But imagine what it would be like if men gave showers on these auspicious occasions. That is a stretch I know, but try anyway.
To begin with, the event would not be held at the workplace, but in a bar, roadhouse or unsavory barbecue joint on the wrong side of the tracks, the kind of place where the peanut shells on the floor go crunch under your boots. It is an ad hoc affair, with the participants wandering in over the course of the affair in twos and threes, plopping down in empty chairs, and ordering beers and pork rinds. Someone drops a quarter in the jukebox, punches up a Bob Wills tune, and the talk turns to football.
When the honoree arrives, hot, sweaty and late from having stopped to change a tire on his pick up, his appearance is acknowledged with a few snorts, whoops and hurrahs, and then the guests get back to minding their own business, shooting darts or tilting the pinball machine. Not until the pitchers on the tables run dry and the last morsels of meat have been gnawed off the last rib does anyone recall the purpose of the gathering and suggest that it is time to open the presents.
As no one had thought about a cake, the instigator of the soiree ponies up for an armful of fried pies and spills them out on the table, first come, first served. Someone else goes out to the parking lot and returns with a two-gallon jar of pickled eggs and orders another round of beer.
Unlike the women’s gifts, which are neatly wrapped in shiny paper printed with baby slogans and teddy bears or carefully placed in the miniature shopping bags that can, indeed must, be saved and recycled for future gift giving, the offerings at the distaff shower come directly out of pants pockets or brown paper grocery sacks with yesterday’s sports section stuffed on top to hide the surprise.
At the women’s shower, the really big gift—a state of the art, space-age stroller made of titanium or something—will be wrapped in appropriately colored paper. Not so with the big gift down at the hall. It will not be disguised at all. It is not easy to wrap a case of 10w-40.
The motor oil points to a difference in mind set when it comes to gift lists. Women will opt for things that will be of immediate use, a pair of booties, blankets, clothes, a swinging baby seat and other like items. At the men’s farrago the gift list will more likely to run to a socket wrench set—for when the kid gets a car, a pocket knife with an American Eagle on the handle—for when the kid gets a pocket, or a complete football uniform for when the kid—well, this is Texas after all, and priorities must be observed. And do not forget the music for the kid in the crib—a couple of Willie Nelson CDs should do just fine, thank you.
After the women’s party, the wrapping papers are carefully folded and tucked away for another day, the leftover cake and sandwiches are set aside for a snack or an early supper, and the gifts are carried out to the car for the ride home. On the other side of town, the peanut shells are swept off the tables and onto the floor, the last of the pickled eggs, if indeed any were left, are saved to a Styrofoam cup with a little of the beet-red pickle juice, and a couple of the attendees, including perhaps the honoree his own self, are carried out to the parking lot and tossed in the back of a truck for the ride home.
So there it is. Despite what some modern propagandists contend, there is a real difference between men and women. If there were not, there would not be any baby showers, or for that matter, any babies.