Immediately after my mother gave birth to my brother, the legend goes, she demanded three things of my father: a crate of avocados, a six-pack of beer and an entire chocolate cake, which last she devoured entirely, bed-bound, before moving on the rest.
I believe and like this baby story, because, unlike so much of today's newborn lore, it is neither self-congratulatory nor solicitous of sympathy. (Unless one feels for the prospect of my father trying to locate a crate of avocados at 7 a.m. in the Bronx.) I also like it because it involves beer, and chocolate cake, two things that have historically gone great with baby.
Until now! Witness:
This is only one example of the newly ubiquitous, guilelessly documented Gender Cake Party, in which a couple hands over the obstetrician's report to the local bakery, then receives the news in a manner they firmly refuse to acknowledge as symbolic: from a newly sliced, triangle-shaped wound of tender flesh.
As a preemptive strike against being invited to any such party, and in the service of uterine cultural deconstructionists and cake-eating baby-related activists everywhere, I will herein lay out some official objections before retiring to watch these again and again.
Here's what passes for common sense around my parts: You don’t want whip out the words “cut” and “gender” and “baby” unless you’re actually planning to do something about it. I mean, them's fightin' words. Along the same lines, you also don't want to hand just anyone standing in the proximity of a very pregnant woman, in the service of discovering the gender of her baby, a knife.
And, MOST important, you don't want to give the pregnant woman a knife and act like it's not some serious performance art if, pre-pregnancy, she has to slice a gaping red maw into a convex mound. Not unless you're going to follow up with some blue-tinged, sagging Twinkies we all get to bite in half, you jerk.
Why cake? That's a question. I'm going to ask it again—why cake?¹
Think about it. First, desserts have a poor history in the announcement game in general. (HOW many beveled settings have to lose in the parfait game?) A cake is a poor vehicle for revelation unless someone's jumping out of it. Otherwise, its only surprise is its own flavor, which is always almond when you don't want it to be.
Second, cakes and babies have a terrible history in literature, as readers of Raymond Carver's "A Small, Good Thing" and Gordon Lish's mastercut "Bath" well know. In both versions, EVEN THE "CUT" ONE, a cake is prepared for a child, who then immediately dies, driving a baker around the bend. Don't even get me started on Little Jack Horner, whose delusion still reigns over decades of innocents.
Third, as any woman who has ever sat in stirrups in a gyno's office desperate for reading material can tell you, there is way too much food in fetal analogs as it is. You know what your baby looks like at 15 weeks? A navel orange. Not a Spaldeen. A navel orange. Sometimes I like to eat a navel orange. You know what I don't like to eat? Babies. But it doesn't matter, because my baby was made with "baby batter," I "cooked" my baby, and now I'm silencing it with some "baby bubbly." I hope my baby tastes great braised in butter, with a little shallot.
The Candlestick Maker
Why cake? I know I just asked that, but now I mean it because I think this is happening because CAKE IS WHAT WE USE ON A BIRTHDAY. This is lame! Why not an envelope that releases a stream of urine into the air if it's a boy; a devastatingly cruel giggle if it's a girl? Why not have the audience place bets, so that one partner can forever feel betrayed by the heretofore unacknowledged but distinct preference for what cannot be? ("We just want it to be healthy." HA HA HA!) Why not make your living child announce the gender, so he can get it wrong deliberately and fool everyone? (Oh, someone actually did this. Okay.)
Why not just invite someone dressed as Jonathan Swift to sit in the corner and sneer out how little he’s been referenced, then fold his arms and eat the announcement?
Or you could use an actual suggestion by a kindly message-boardist to a mother afraid she would be stepping on the toes of another Gender-caker:
Now, the other mothers she's invited can comment how the noise and presence of BPA will cause irreparable harm to the fetus! THIS is a party.
Knaves All Three
You know I love you guys, right? But I sat and listened to the breathless story of how you met each other. I stayed up late to talk both sides of you through the breakup, then tried to make you forget what I said when I told you it was for the best that you broke up. I came to your engagement party, your wedding shower, your wedding, your baby shower, your baby's first birthday, and I stood over the crib and made faces a lot. I LOVE your baby and I love you. I'm like IN DEBT FROM MY LOVE.² And you know what I know? There's only two bad things that could happen here: You could have a baby that was neither male nor female, or you could make me come to another party celebrating the progress of you.³
Why not instead emulate this efficient couple, who have saved everyone a Sunday and are not ashamed to show it?
¹ Right. There IS already a party in which you find a baby in a cake. It's a King Cake party for Mardi Gras, and it is awesome. This has NOTHING to do with King Cake or Mardis Gras and is therefore inherently bunk.
² You can bring me a 32-pack of condoms and a case of Aia Vecchia Toscana Lagone and we're square.
³ Doesn't apply to anyone who came to my book party.