the barn-raising manifesto

I’ll come out and say it: I hate baby showers. I hate the pink / blue dichotomy, the same games played with frilly lace, the gender division, the painstakingly created and promptly ignored curated theme menu and decorations, and the preponderance of diaper cakes. Something about them just makes me uncomfortable, and that something is gender roles.

I love the idea, however, of a person’s beloveds gathering to shower them in love, asked-for advice, and adorable baby clothes that make no sense for you to buy but are just too cute for all the rest of us to resist. I love the idea of multiple pregnant people gathered to commiserate under the loving eyes of the family elders, of proud parents watching their children run around together, of aunties and uncles excited to share their passions with this new family member. I love the idea of a community, a village, a reunion of family of blood and choice to share in the excitement of welcoming a new family member.

I also love the idea of feeding people, of the classic asking all your friends to help you move and feeding them massive quantities of pizza and beer in thanks. I love the idea of physically supporting your pregnant beloveds, of coming over to help them with the things that really need to be done before baby arrives that they simply cannot do.

And that is where the barn-raising* comes in.

*this is a term with strong settler / colonist associations. I considered using the term ‘bee,’ such as a sewing bee or quilting bee, and for the alliterative appeal of a ‘baby bee,’ but that term also has strong settler / colonist associations. A barn raising comes to America by way of Northern Europe, and many were harmed during the genocide that occurred during the United States expansion across the continent. If you have a better term to encapsulate this idea of community interdependence, please contact me and I will edit this post with attribution and an explanation.

In times when each family had a farm, and still today in some close-knit, rural communities, people would get together to raise a new or rebuild an old barn. It’s a lot of work that needs to be done rapidly. Many hands come together to make quick work of raising a building and feeding the hungry workers. The owners of the barn would provide all the materials and plenty of food, and perhaps pay any experts involved in particularly complicated tasks. Otherwise, community members were not paid money for the work, it was simply understood each member of the community could and would call on others and answer the call when help was needed. It was a physical monument to the interdependence of the connected families.

I propose we stop having baby showers, and move to barn-raising. If you want to do the cute themed decorations and fancy themed snacks, go for it! Enjoy yourself! But if you don’t want to, order a bunch of pizza and set out beer and juice and cider (sparkling and alcoholic), and have your guests show up ready to install childlocks, lower your bedframe, and stock your freezer with foods you can eat one-handed. Spend a few hours with your community, regardless of gender. Let them know you are there for them, and gift them your acceptance of their help.

Sit around the living room together and talk about the worst possible name combinations (Angilberct? Clothilde?) while your best friend makes sure your bookcase is earthquake proofed – you kept meaning to get around to it – and your grandparents check you have a smoke and carbon monoxide detector in the right places. Show your parents where the extra burp cloths are so they’re ready to help when you come home already sleep deprived. Watch your cousin show love by carefully cooking and freezing massive batches of your favourite foods and treats. Feel the love of your friends and family and community as they help with the last deep cleaning the bathtub will get for a long time.

Put on good music and dance together. I know very few people who like cleaning, but you know lots of people who like you and want to spend time with you and support you. Make a party and a family reunion of your family of blood and choice, and let them help you make a space you’ll be able to rest and recover in as you meet the newest member of the circle.

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