A dear friend of mine was recently invited to a baby shower. It seems her nephew and his wife are expecting their first child in the spring. Baby showers are fun, so my friend (I'll call her Patty, because that's her name) was excited. At first.
Then she read the fine print on the invitation.
The invitation specified that each guest was to bring three things to the shower: a main gift, something smaller for the "wishing well," and, in lieu of a card, a favorite children's book. The invitation also specified that all gifts were to be presented to the expectant mother unwrapped and accompanied by a gift receipt, which should be taped to the present.
Patty's first reaction was worry: she lives on a very tight budget, and she wasn't sure she could afford three gifts. Then puzzlement set in. Why couldn't the gifts be wrapped? Wasn't that half the fun of giving someone a gift - watching them open it? Finally, she was upset about the requirement of a gift receipt. Several months ago, when she first heard about the impending arrival of this baby, she asked me to knit a baby blanket for her to give to her nephew and his wife. I did so, and that's what Patty had been planning to give as her shower present. But it would not come with a receipt.
She called the woman who was throwing the shower and asked about the no-wrapping requirement. Maybe the new mom was an environmentalist and opposed to wasting paper? No, she was told; not wrapping the gifts, and including receipts, made it easier for the recipient to determine who had brought what, and to return gifts if necessary. Patty mentioned that she had planned to bring a custom hand-knitted blanket. "Oh," said the hostess. "We're requesting that people not bring homemade gifts, please."
Are you horrified yet?
In the olden days, when someone was expecting a baby, a friend, neighbor, or relative would throw a shower for the new mom in order to provide her with the essentials of motherhood that she probably didn't already own. New parents need all kinds of stuff not otherwise considered standard household equipment: crib sheets (and cribs), baby clothes, diapers, bottles, blankets, pacifiers, burp cloths ... you get the idea. This stuff can get expensive, so the community would chip in and spread out the cost. Someone handy with a hammer would make a cradle. Someone with a new sewing machine would make some baby clothes. A few people would knit blankets, and a few more might fill the new parents' freezer with casseroles or other easy meals. The idea was to help them be ready for the big, joyful, life-bending event.
Nowadays, showers are celebratory just as much as they are practical. They often include a nice buffet lunch, a fun baby-themed parlor game, and plenty of advice from older female relatives. Grandmas often splurge on expensive strollers. Moms register for gifts they need and want, and sometimes they spread the word about the little one's gender or name, so people can bring more personalized gifts. People throw themed showers sometimes, such as a book shower (to build the little one's library) or a linen shower (for a mom who needs or wants sheets and blankets). Gift showers were traditionally only held for a first-time mother (it was presumed that she already had the basics by the time the second baby came along), but increasingly, people have been celebrating the advent of the second baby just as enthusiastically.
A shower can be a lot of things. But there's one thing a shower should never, ever be. It should never be a fishing expedition for money.
And it sounds to me like that's what Patty has been invited to. Her niece-in-law is not going to waste any time being surprised and delighted while she opens gifts. There will be no need for a special friend to keep track with pen and paper of who gave each gift (so that the new mom can write thank-you notes to the guests after the shower). This shower has not been thrown to furnish a bride with the equipment she will need as she becomes a mother. This shower has been thrown so that she can shop without leaving her chair. She will be able to keep the gifts she wants and return the ones she doesn't. The whole thing reeks of greed.
And I - a total stranger to this new mom - am hurt that she doesn't want the blanket that I spent weeks knitting for her baby. That's a real trick, hurting the feelings of someone you don't know who wasn't even invited to the party.
Patty is planning to decline the invitation. She asked me whether I thought she should send a gift, even though she couldn't make it to the actual party. I initially thought that she should send something modest - for example, just a book, or a small-denomination savings bond. But then I had a better idea. My idea is that she should make a donation to a worthy charity that helps needy mothers, and then send her niece-in-law a card with a note that a donation has been made in her honor.
This is a gift that can't be returned, but the returns on it will be great. What do you think?