It was while reading about the 7,000-plus acre El Dorado Ranch Park wildfire, started last weekend by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device, that I first heard about gender-reveal parties. Apparently, I’ve been living under a rock when it comes to current neonatal issues.
These parties have been being held since 2008 when a Chicago blogger, Jenna Karvunidis, gave birth to the party idea in the months just prior to her giving birth to a baby girl. Based on her daughter growing into a “gender-nonconforming” individual, Karvunidis has since expressed regrets about the concept. Nonconforming, in this case, means her daughter is something of a tomboy.
Obviously, I’ve never been invited to such an event. I’m grateful for that because my first inclination would be to turn down the invitation with a guffaw which could well be construed as being rude, which I try not to be. Also, I can think of better reasons to drink than to go to a party to learn the sex of some yet-to-be born kid. I figure I can read about it when the birth announcement arrives in the mail.
While there might be countless reasons to have a party, including the celebration of any day that happens to end in “y,” a gender-reveal party must rank high on the list of really dumb party themes—especially if they involve pyrotechnics in four-foot-high dry grass in California, a state that currently has more places on fire than not. Last weekend’s fire also caused a partial evacuation of nearby Yucaipa, a city of 57,000 inhabitants.
But not to be satisfied with just the mere dumbness of the party, its very concept has become controversial in that it’s a male-female binary celebration that excludes intersex, as well as other gender options—most of which are considered well after the birth of the kid whose parents are celebrating the prenatal event.
Gender, I recently learned, is a social construct.
I remember when life wasn’t this complicated.
As an aside, I should mention that Duke Ellington, the acclaimed pianist, bandleader, and composer, has been credited with having once observed that there were three sexes: “men, women and girl singers.”
The onset of these parties began as simply having some folks over and cutting into a pre-birthday cake, typically decorated with questions marks, and learning the sex of the unborn by noticing if the interior of the cake was pink or blue. Attending friends and family would then celebrate this moment by whooping it up, in one manner or another, before retreating to the bar.
The whole exercise in the gender-reveal world is that a third party learns of the baby’s sex from the doctor or technician who performs the ultrasound procedure. The parents, obviously, aren’t to know this information until that ah-ha moment when the cake is cut, or a nearby chaparral is set ablaze.
One such party, held in 2017 south of Tucson, Arizona, resulted in burning 45,000 acres and causing $8 million in property damage. There have been other parties that have resulted with exploding cars and a least one airplane crash. And a woman in Iowa died after being struck in the head by debris from an incendiary explosive.
The gender-reveal party is different from a baby shower in that men never have to go to baby showers, those benign little events that rarely involve explosives but always involve playing really stupid games. Or so I’ve been told. That might be changing, however. (Not the explosives or games parts.) There was time when a man didn’t even have to attend the actual birth of his offspring. Now we’re expected to play an active role in coaching the woman who at the very onset of labor would rather throw up on your shoes or stick a shiv into your heart than continue the delivery process. If you’ve not experienced this activity, you should know that there’s some pretty foul language involved.
When I was born, my father sat in a waiting room at Michael Reese Hospital, smoking Lucky Strikes and reading magazines. He first saw me through a window. He visited briefly with my mother and then he went back to work. He saw me a second time a few days later when he came to take my mother and me home in a car without an infant seat.
Thirty-two years later it was my turn to be a father. I had to take classes because I was expected to feel all the pain—figuratively, at least—that Geri was going to feel. We live in special times.
Although created in the 1950s by a French physician, named, oddly enough, Fernand Lamaze, his method didn’t reach its peak until the height of Yuppie-dom. It was the single most politically correct thing expectant parents could do in the 1980s, next to driving a Volvo or a BMW. The language alone tells you that: “Lamaze is a childbirth preparation method aimed at building confidence and teaching coping mechanisms for labor, including natural relaxation and emotional support strategies.”
PC drivel in all its pure perfection.
A simpler, decidedly non-PC approach would be, “this is gonna hurt like hell; ask for drugs.”
I had fun at Lamaze class, despite the implied ban on laughter. My favorite moment came during a discussion of the placenta, a discussion I couldn’t have imagined having had just a few months before. But I wanted to know what became of it. The instructor sounded like a White House press spokesperson as she tried to move the conversation away from what really happens. Though I do feel bad about making one participant bolt from the room covering his mouth, I knew that the placenta was essential to making certain cosmetics and the hospital would probably sell it to Maybelline. I either wanted it, or I wanted to be reimbursed $50, which I thought was a fair price.
When the instructor asked what I would do with it, I said, “Most likely just bury it in the backyard.” Then I mentioned that certain cultures actually cook the placenta, no doubt with shallots, lemon zest and fresh thyme in a white wine reduction, and then eat it. That was the moment the guy next to us made his desperate dash to the exit.
All of this was to Geri’s great chagrin. She then threatened to have me banned from the delivery room. Shrugging my shoulders was not the correct response.
By the time baby number two came along, all we needed was a refresher course in exaggerated breathing. In the delivery room the doctor asked me if I wanted to cut the umbilical cord, to which I replied, “I’d rather have hot tar poured up my nose.” I relented and cut the cord, wondering aloud if I should get a partial discount off the doctor’s fee.
I’ve frequently wondered how the entire animal kingdom knows how to birth its offspring while humans can’t perform this task without a line of credit.
The point of knowing our children’s gender before they were born raised some interesting reactions. The sonograms were going to be conducted and the information was going to be made available to us.
“Why wouldn’t you want to wait and be surprised?” was one frequent question posed by family and friends.
Well, if you find out the sex of the kid during the second trimester or on the day of its birth, it’s a surprise either way. The first option just gives you more time to paint the nursery.
Geri is Irish and she is more superstitious than all of major league baseball. Preparing a nursery before the child is at least a year old is taboo for people from a country that changed the runway grid—many, many times—for Shannon airport because they couldn’t bring themselves to mow down the mulberry bushes that fairies (the little people) call home.
The same goes for baby showers. Bad luck. I think the bad luck came in not getting a bunch of gifts a baby needs to start life’s journey that we didn’t have to pay for. Oh, well.
Obviously, the whole gender-reveal party concept would not have worked for us, mostly because I haven’t a clue about building incendiary devices.
Photo montage by Courtney A. Liska
I received a note from our dearest of friends, Eve Art, asking if I had ever had bublanina, a Czech sponge cake studded with fruit. We share a Bohemian ancestry, but I didn’t recognize the name. I searched for it and found several recipes. My paternal grandmother spoke several languages and frequently made up words in English. She called this “Bubblegum Cake,” and we had it often. This recipe is adapted from czechcookbook.com. Any kind of fruit—either fresh or canned—can be used. I remember my babička made this with cherries, apricots, or plums.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar + 4 tsp. for sprinkling on fruit
2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup milk
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3-4 cups (1#) fruit
Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan with oil or melted butter and dust it with flour, making sure you cover the sides as well.
Heat the oven to 350˚F.
In a large bowl, combine flour, granulated sugar, and baking powder.
Add the milk, eggs, oil, and vanilla extract. Mix until blended using an electric mixer, but do not overmix.
Pour the batter into the baking pan and spread it evenly. Arrange the fruit on top. If necessary, cut the fruit in half. Finally, sprinkle granulated sugar on top and bake bublanina at 350˚F for 45 to 50 minutes.
Let rest for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, cut into portions, and serve.