by Heather Bock
A month or so ago, I was invited to a dear former student’s baby shower. Now, before you start thinking about how that might show my age, I should say that I do teach adults. I regularly have pregnant students in my class–in fact, I have one now, whose surprise baby shower we’re planning–ssshhh!
Anyway, as soon as I saw the invitation, I said yes. OF COURSE I wanted to go to her baby shower–I love my student, I love learning about her Mexican culture, and I love baby showers. I knew most of the guests would probably be primarily Spanish speakers and that it would be uncomfortable trying to speak to them in my limited Spanish, but I knew it would be good practice for me.
In my Anglo-American circles, I have attended, thrown, and been the recipient of quite a few baby showers. They follow a similar pattern. They’re attended by around eight to twenty prompt, smiling
women, no, let’s say ladies, as they’re mostly moderately dressed-up in skirts or nice church or work pants with a pretty blouse. A few probably curled their hair, and you’ll definitely see some dangling earrings with a statement necklace or two to match. They sit and chat in the hostess’s living room or backyard, holding small cups of overly sweet pink or blue punch with sugary pink or blue dainties on their cute dessert plates: mini cupcakes, chocolate-covered strawberries, candy, and cookies dipped and decorated to look like tiny frosted babies.
After maybe fifteen minutes of chit-chat, the hostess will call our attention and start the games. Our chairs in a circle, we’ll play three or so games, each complete with a prize for the winner: who can diaper the balloon the fastest, who can remember the most baby items on the tray after it’s been taken away from view, or who can guess the melted candy bar in the diaper (yuck!).
We place our bets on what day we think the baby will really be born, we guess how many baby socks are in the jar, we write blessings or advice for the baby and mother-to-be, and we might play BINGO as the guest of honor opens presents. And, of course, we ooooh and aaaah and say, “How cute!” as she opens those gifts. She might even pass the gifts around so we can all admire every little, tiny item.
The whole thing lasts about two hours, tops.
Love it! Even though I was a little nervous about the unknowns of it, I couldn’t wait to attend my student’s baby shower. Of course, I knew her shower would probably be a little different from the ones I’m used to attending. After all, I teach English as a Second Language, and I’ve taught Hispanic students enough to know a bit about their culture–enough to make me think I know more than I do–enough to get me in trouble, in fact.
I dressed in a nice dress–the kind I wear for Easter. In fact, it actually was my Easter dress several times. I’ve been in situations where my Hispanic students were dressed up way more than I was (such as when I’ve had them over to my house for a potluck, and I’m barefoot while they’re in heels), and I didn’t want that to happen again, so I determined to go all out.
The shower started at 4:30. I knew I was supposed to arrive late to the shower–not on the dot like the ones in my Anglo culture. However, I thought twenty minutes was about right, but by the time I headed out, it was going to be closer to thirty. I felt a little panicked, racing across town to her house.
Finally arriving around 5:00, I immediately knew that it was going to be different than I had expected. A good 150 metal chairs stood around long white tables (with bottled soda at intervals) set up in the front yard.
145 of them were empty.
A beautiful baby shower decoration display was at the head of it all, so I knew I was in the right place, but not a dainty peeked its sugary head. The mother-to-be was nowhere in sight. The few guests who were there eyed me curiously in my mint-green concoction of a dress, while they sat on their folding chairs in much more informal attire. I greeted them in my barely-level-two Spanish and haltingly attempted conversation with these kind strangers for half an hour before anyone else arrived, before my student finally arrived after 5:30 from taking pregnancy photos in a gorgeous long, flowing, white bridal-type dress.
Those other 145 seats were not filled until around 6:00 (filled with not just ladies, mind you, but whole families–in fact, when my co-worker surprised me by showing up, she asked where my family was), when we were invited to get in line to fill large Styrofoam plates from gigantic pots filled with the kind of steaming-hot delicious food Mexicans are known for making–Mexican rice, salsa, beans, and two kinds of savory chicken that made you want to go back for more (and I did). Fresh tortillas were provided on the tables. There was no cake in sight. After a conversation in English eventually died out, I sat across from my co-worker, listening to the mariachi music in the background, trying with all my mind to understand (if not participate in) the fast-paced Spanish going on around me.
If it weren’t for the decorations on a nearby table, I wouldn’t have even remembered I was at a baby shower at all. Ok, I was also wearing a little pink woven baby carriage pin that a young tween had given me at the beginning, and at 6:30, she came around with a piece of yarn for me to wear (if I had crossed my legs while wearing it and someone had noticed it, she or he could have taken it from me–the one with the most pieces of yarn at the end would be the winner). Other than that, it could have been any other festive Mexican potluck I’ve taken part of at school.
I ended up declining the yarn because I had to leave at 6:45 to make it home for something I needed to do. I tried to inconspicuously walk past the piles of unopened gifts to my car, as guests continued to arrive even as I bumped along off the front lawn. I assume if I could have stayed longer, I would have been part of another game or two, and I just know cake would have shown up eventually. But I guess the one thing I should have learned from the shower was NOT to assume.
The shower was amazing. The support and time this community had given my former student was beautiful. The amount of food she and her family had provided was astounding. The gathering of families was something I loved to see. The baby showers I’ve attended all my life couldn’t come close in any of these areas.
However, the surprise of everything being different than expected was SUPER uncomfortable for this Anglo girl who doesn’t like to stand out, who just wants to blend in. Honestly, I want to appear like I know what I’m doing, like I have things put together, you know? When I don’t, I feel foolish, like I’ve failed. I don’t want to fail–that hurts my pride too much!
I wonder if this isn’t the reason why a lot of us don’t like to be in situations where everything is new to us–when our expectations and prior knowledge fail us miserably. Maybe at the root, it’s our wounded pride that makes us feel so uncomfortable? I’m not sure of this for others, but I know something of this is unfortunately in it for me.
How, though, if I avoided uncomfortable situations like this one (and the many more that come every Sunday as Greg and I attend a Spanish-speaking congregation at our church), would I ever learn from the beautiful Hispanic culture? My own Anglo-American culture is not superior to theirs, and I don’t want to miss out on the richness they have to offer. I would miss out on being challenged by their warm generosity both of time and money, their non-confrontational kindness, their humble respect for educational and other authority, and their incredible work ethic. Simply missing out on their delectable cooking would be shame enough!
In addition, many of these I know are my brothers and sisters in Christ, part of the Body of which I am also a member. I can’t ignore a part of Christ’s Body just because the unknowns of their culture make me uncomfortable sometimes. On top of all this, if I am truly a Christian, a “little Christ,” shouldn’t I be mimicking Christ? Didn’t He lead the way in making Himself far more than uncomfortable by giving up His heavenly comfort to show us love here?
How then do I handle this? How do WE handle this?
We must embrace the discomfort. We must fully step in, trembling with nervousness as we are, and learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. In fact, as a friend of mine from church adroitly pointed out, more than that, we should truly be uncomfortable with always being comfortable.