Monday, October 10, 2016

Showers, Engagements and Weddings - Oh My!

"Oh, one more thing," Liza said.
I looked away from my computer screen for a second so that I could concentrate on whatever came next. She'd been talking nonstop for more than 15 minutes.  
"Oh my God!  I really must have baby brain!" she giggled.
I grew bored again and started to check my emails.
Ooh -  Madison is having a sale! I love their boots.
"Yeah, that's what happens when you're pregnant," I said absentmindedly.   "Okay, I think I have to jump..."
"Oh right!" she interrupted.  I could hear her snap her fingers.
"I wanted to make sure that you knew that I'm sending you a save-the-date for my baby shower next month!"
I squinched my eyes shut and closed my lips against the heavy, exasperated sigh that was rising in my throat.  My mind raced for an excuse.  
Oh, I can't,  Scottie and I have tickets to a matinee that day.  Or  Oh, I'm so sorry but he's taking me away that weekend.
But I'd made decision a little over eight year's ago to try and live my life as honestly as possible, and as result, my days of making false excuses are over.
"Okay great!" I said out loud, hoping that it sounded like I meant it.
The phone felt heavy in my hand when once we'd hung up.  I swiped open my calendar, praying to the "powers that be" like one mumbles words over dice before rolling them.
Please let there be something -- something legitimate.
But no dice (as it were) -- the date in question was completely blank. I was free to go to the shower.

Why this aversion to honoring these life-events?  Why do I 'pre-stress' about these celebratory gatherings of women?

"So what's this about, sweet girl?"
Although I knew that I'd caught Beverly just she was leaving the house, she lovingly assured me that she "had all the time in the world." After expressing deep appreciation and gratitude for her graciousness I started in with my plight.
"It's just that this same thing keeps coming up — every time I open my email there's another floral-patterned 'Paperless Post' announcing 'Come celebrate' (fill-in-the-blank)".
"Oh!" Beverly laughed.  "Did you get yours from Liza?  I just got it too."
"I just think I'm missing that gene," I said.
"I'm sorry, tell me again  -- what gene?"
"THE gene --  that gene that makes women want to shop and gossip.  The gene that makes women like getting their nails and hair done.  I'm missing that gene that makes women love 'all things baby' and baby showers — and bridal showers -- and weddings!  It's like when people get starry-eyed talking about baby registries and excited when they say things like 'Lets do a spa day!'  When those subjects come up, I don't get starry-eyed or excited. I want to disappear into the walls."
By the way — a spa day?  I have such a hard time wrapping my head around spending an entire day with a gaggle of women getting mani-pedi's, massages and facials.  I honestly don't like the idea of group ANYTHING.  It feels confining.  Like, I want to plan my exit strategy before I get there.

Beverly laughed, jolting me out of my reverie.  "Baby, I think I feel more like you than those women you're talking about.  I have the same reaction to shower invitations."
"And the baby shower games!"  I said, happy to have a sympathizer.  "Aren't they the worst?!"
She laughed again and then cleared her throat.  
"You know it's okay that you aren't excited by the prospect of going to a shower or a wedding.  It doesn't mean anything."
"It means I'm missing that gene," I pouted.
"Maybe," she said.  "Or maybe it means that you are one of many people in the world who wants to celebrate love in a less, uh, traditional way."
"But I feel guilty," I continued.  "I feel like I should want to celebrate the baby, the engagement, the marriage..."
"You know what they say," she said.  "Women always should all over themselves."
Now it was my turn to laugh. "Yes, okay, but it would be nice for once to want to attend one of these 'blessed events.'"
I sat down in my office chair and closed my eyes, listening to the sound of her tea kettle coming to a boil while I waited for her to speak.
"Why don't you just try and practice letting go of your old ideas about these kind of events," she said finally.  "Try giving yourself the space to have a new experience each time."

Ugh.  I'm SO tired of letting go of my old ideas about everything.  I want to hold on to some of them.

The next day I got a call from Barbara.  She had been busy planning a late fall wedding.  Normally I'm skittish around friends of mine who are planning these types of events (for fear of being asked to participate in some way).  But with Barbara I was completely relaxed  because:

1) She knows how I am about such things.  
2) She was far enough along in the planning that there really wasn't anything left for me to do but buy gifts and show up on the day(s) in question.

"Hey, girl," I smiled as I put the phone to my ear.
"I have something to ask you."  Her tone was serious.  I immediately went into "shrink mode". Perhaps there was trouble in paradise?
What did he do? How can I help?
"What's going on?"
"I know it's out of your comfort zone.  You can feel free to say no."
Uh-oh, this doesn't sound like pre-wedding jitters.  This is something else.
"What is it?"
"I know you don't like weddings."
"I don't necessarily dislike..."
I caught myself and took a breath.
Don't deny it.  She's right.
"Yes, okay.  But just for the record, I'm a big fan of romance.  I love love.  But I'm just not big on all of the wedding fanfare."
"I know," she said.  Her voice sounded small.  "But I want to ask you to do this anyway — it's about my wedding."
I could almost hear the three abrupt organ chords that announced the villain in old horror films --  Duhh, duh, duhhhnnn!
"Do what anyway?" Now my voice sounded small.
"Would you be one of my bridesmaids?"
I was suddenly very grateful that we were on the phone so she couldn't see my face.
"I love you" she pushed through my silence.  "My wedding day would feel really incomplete without you standing there with me when I take my vows."
My stomach felt like it did one time on an airplane that aborted a landing before touching down on the runway.
Suddenly the idea of just buying a gift and being a guest didn't sound so bad.  
Bridesmaids had to get together to "plan stuff".  Bridesmaids have to throw a bachelorette party.  Bridesmaids get to the wedding hours before everyone else so they can get their make-up and hair done on-site — together.
She wants me to be a bridesmaid!
"But I thought you were just having those 5 friends you grew up with.  Did someone drop out?"
"No," she laughed.  "No one dropped out.  I just want to add you!"
My printer startled me by resetting itself noisily on my desk.  I glanced at it angrily for interrupting my panic.
"Umm, yeah?"
"You'll do it?!" Her voice scaled up with excitement.
Give yourself space to have a new experience this time...
"Yes, Barbara." I managed.   "Of course.  I'd be honored."
I heard the words come out of my mouth and I knew they were the right ones.  But I didn't know if I could live up to them.
"It's not like I'm unhappy that she's getting married." I told Beverly a few hours later.  
"I'm ecstatic that she's getting married!"
"Yes, I know," she said. "And yet...?"  
"I'm the first person to get misty-eyed when people get engaged," I continued, ignoring her innuendo.  
"And it's not like I'm not happy when people get pregnant.  I'm  genuinely thrilled for them. Truly!  And I love babies, the way they smell, the way they feel - I love holding them!   But I just don't get these obligatory, contrived gatherings of people  -- most of whom seem to be as uncomfortable as I am, by the way — until they have a cocktail.  Something in which, I no longer partake."
"Lord knows some weddings would be much better with a cocktail!" She laughed.
I laughed with her for a second and then stopped abruptly.
"But seriously, maybe more people would feel like I do about weddings and showers if they couldn't drink their way through them."
She laughed again.  I could picture here nodding her curly head and pushing her glasses back on her nose with her free hand.
"You might have something there, Sister! But here you are.  You're not having a cocktail, you've agreed to be your friend's bridesmaid and we've both got Liza's baby shower to go to next month.  And guess what?  You've built a community of people whom you love and who love you back.  The floral Paperless Post-invites aren't going away any time soon.  And the reality is that those invites are the fruits of your kindness and your recovery. Maybe instead of thinking of how baby showers and weddings make you feel, you can ask yourself what you can bring to each occasion."
"Be of service," I said slowly.  My voice sounded I'd discovered something really tasty.
Be of service, okay. I know how to do that.

In July of this year, Lilah, one of my best friends in the world and I were talking about her birthing plan, when she blindsided me with those two dreaded words — "baby shower".  
I had been so engaged in the conversation that I almost forgot there would be one of "those".  
"Oh?" I said trying to keep my voice light.
"Don't worry," she said quickly, "you won't have to do anything - Laurie and Kelly are doing it."
I closed my eyes expecting relief to flood through chest cavity, but I was surprised to find that instead of relief, I was feeling prickles of something else in my abdomen, something distinctly unfamiliar.
What is this feeling?  
"Oh good!"  I said wondering why it felt false.
It was good, right?  I hated planning baby showers almost as much as I hated going to them.  So why did I feel this odd sensation of let-down?
A few days later I received a floral-patterned Paperless Post invite.  I waited before opening it.  I was surprised to realize that it wasn't just the usual "I hate baby showers" resistance I was feeling.  Again, there was another feeling that was keeping my index finger from clicking the "open" tab.
Jealousy?   I'm not jealous of Laurie and Kelly! Am I?
I clicked open the invite.  I looked over the innocent invitation and felt my eyes start to sting.  
What is going on here?
I thought about a conversation that I'd had with Laurie the year before.  The thaw...!
Maybe this is more of my defrosting! Maybe I like baby showers now and somewhere deep down inside wish that I could have helped plan this one.
I clicked the page forward and rsvp'd "yes."
Yes, I would buy a present, Yes, I would go to the baby shower.  Yes, I would be of service.

"What time will you be back?" said Scottie. It was the day of the BS (baby shower) and I had just peeled myself away from my morning decaf and the Sunday New York Times to finish getting dressed.
"Oh, I'll be out of there in an hour," I said.  "You know how I feel about baby showers."
"Who's going?"
"You know, all the usual women — and a lot of women that she grew up with too."
"All right," he smiled as he kissed my forehead.
"Try and have fun."
"Yeah right!" I deadpanned as I grabbed my keys.
As I drove up the 101 on-ramp, I thought about my revelation the month before when I had opened the invitation.  
If that was a thaw, maybe I've frosted back over now. Because I really don't want to go.  And I'm so glad that I'm not actually throwing this shower!
I shrugged my shoulders as I turned onto her street.  
Maybe I am still frosty about showers and weddings.  Who cares?
I felt myself settling into a distinctly bad mood as I crossed the threshold into her house.  I briefly thought about turning around and heading back to my car.
But there was Lilah standing in the middle of her living room surrounded by presents, cupcakes and homemade quiche.  She looked amazing — she barely looked pregnant.  
"Can you belieeeeve it?!?" she said hugging me as hard as she could with her basketball belly between us.  
"It's really happening!" she said kind of dancing me around.  "I'm having a baby!"
I felt a thin layer of top-ice crack and begin to melt under her gaze.  
"I can't believe it," I smiled.  "You look amazing."
"You have to see the nursery!" she squealed.
As we were walking hand-in-hand toward the back of the house, I suddenly lost her to two women who grabbed her for a picture as we passed the kitchen.
All at once I felt a void.  
It's so weird, I kind of feel like, like an outsider. This is ridiculous!
I was standing awkwardly near the nursery door waiting for Lilah when a friend of mine walked by who I hadn't seen in months.  
We hugged and caught up with our faces close together.  I impulsively confessed my "shower-phobia" to her and she immediately reciprocated.
"I have my exit strategy already in place," she confided to me.  "But it's real.  I actually have to get back to my kids."
Yes! I fist-pumped in my head. The exit strategy!
"I have one too," I joked.  "I have to get back to Scottie!"
We all slowly drifted in the backyard where several women were huddled around a table in the shade, painting blank, white "onesies."
Oh - here we go!  Let the BS games begin!
I pursed my lips and stood off to the side for while with my arms folded, watching the women laughing and talking over the common goal of creating a custom newborn onesie wardrobe for the soon-to-be-born guest of honor.
"This is the only group activity."
I jumped, startled to hear Lilah's voice so close to my ear.
"I told Laurie and Kelly please no games.  I know how you feel about them.  But this is okay, right?"
I hugged her harder than I intended and kissed her on the cheek.
"It's lovely," I said finally.  "But you didn't have to do that for me."
"Oh, I'm starting to kind of not like games at showers either!" she said.  "See what you started?" she smiled.
An hour came and went, my friend with the "exit strategy" was long gone and I found myself at the "onesie table" talking to Barbara and her daughter.
"I'm surprised you're here so late" she said sly smile as she painted the baby's name in flowery, pink script on a onesie.  "I know how you feel about showers."
I started to say something smart to her and I felt myself snapping it back.
"I'm surprised too," I said smiling back at her.  "You're right, I would have normally been gone by now."
"Maybe you don't hate them as much as you used to hate them," she said gently.
"Maybe not," I said picking up my glass of homemade lemonade.  "Maybe not."

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