Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thank U

In those days – before I had babies of my own – I would arrive at the hospital, atremble with excitement at the beauty and fragility of new life, armed with the Inevitable Teddy Bear. It wasn’t always a bear, necessarily; on at least one occasion it was a large plush moose bearing a "Made in Canada" t-shirt. And then I had my own babies and realized that if there is one thing a newborn does not need it’s another smothering hazard to throw in the crib. To be sure, the Pie adores stuffed animals – she dives on them with a gleeful bellow, and buries her head in their soft tummies, or holds them up against my cheek so I can sneak in a little snuggle as well. Nevertheless, plush toys are not exactly in short supply around my house, and they are far less coveted gifts than a few soft Carter’s sleepers smuggled in from the U.S., or, more patriotically, a nice new pair of Robeez (the dark green ones with the bear cubs, or a summery turquoise pair with an octopus).

In the post-baby era, my gift-giving strategies have changed. I look for that irresistibly cute outfit – the one that I simply cannot bear to leave on the rack – or a copy of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? to tuck into the gift bag. But the best gifts by far are not the books or the clothes or even the diapers – they are the hot meals delivered to your door in those early post-partum days when every bowl of Cheerios is a victory.

Four days after the Pie was born, there was a knock on my screen door – open to let the fresh breezes in for the first time in that hot, humid summer – and it was Marilyn from my church bearing a little pink bag containing a Cookie Monster t-shirt and matching blue-and-green plaid shorts. "How are you doing for meals?" she asked, adding, "I’ve circulated the sign-up sheet, and we can cover the upcoming week." By "cover," what she meant was that a full three-course dinner would be delivered between five and five-thirty for the next eight days. Each afternoon, just before five, hubby and I would pull out the church directory and place bets on who it would be – the friendly airline pilot who always stops to tell Bub a story? The music director? The talkative lady who keeps telling us that Bub is ready for promotion out of the nursery and into Sunday School? And then a car would pull up, and after a brief conversation – long enough for the visitors to exclaim over the Pie’s unparalleled cuteness – hubby and I would retire to the back porch with our booty: homemade rotisserie chicken, or pork chops, or a mixed green salad with slivered almonds and mandarin oranges. Home-baked cookies would appear on our doorstep covered in plastic wrap, alongside not one but two whole bundt cakes – one double chocolate and one lemon poppyseed. On one occasion, Bub’s would-be Sunday School teacher arrived with hot buttered green beans, picked fresh from her garden that morning.

Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for these tangible expressions of love and support. And, as it happens, words did not express my gratitude. For now we come to the confessional portion of this post, the part that led me to wonder whether I ought to move this on over to Her Bad Mother’s Basement.

I have not sent out thank-you cards for any of the gifts I received. For either of my babies. Not one.

I have my excuses. Both my babies were born just as I was almost – but not quite – finished teaching a course. I arranged for a friend to take over the remaining lectures, but I still had stacks of essays and exams to mark during every moment I could steal away. Rather than napping when the baby napped, I raced to my desk to make a dent in the pile. And I don’t have a reliable catalogue of exactly what came from whom. My in-laws would arrive in my hospital room bearing armfuls of pink or blue gift bags stuffed with hand-knit ponchos or soft, fuzzy blankets from people I’ve never met. Realistically I was not in a position to leap from my bed to grab a pen and jot down the names. But still.

I have tried to make up for this lapse, this appalling rudeness, by thanking people in person. "I bought this Snugli carrier with the gift certificate you sent," I’ll say: "It’s been a life saver!" But this tactic has been known to backfire badly, most memorably when I thanked my mom’s friend Lynn for the cute cable-knit sweater she gave the Bub, only to realize from the horror-stricken look on my mother’s face that the sweater was from Carol, and Lynn had given the Bub the CCM hockey hoodie.

I will occasionally forbid my friends to write me thank-you notes for the baby gifts I give them. But this is rank selfishness of course – I want to avoid the searing hot wave of shame that engulfs me whenever I open my mailbox to find one of those small envelopes, and glance guiltily at the two unopened boxes of thank-you notes that still sit patiently on my coffee table. It is tempting to blame the victims of my rudeness, as if the act of selecting and wrapping a beautiful blanket, or sweater, or onesie were some kind of imposition.

The better response – the only possible reparation I can make – is to pay those gifts forward: to be grateful, as I am, and to express that in the form of steaming crock pots full of ham and sweet potatoes, or a pink gingham dress, or a foil-wrapped packet of grilled carrots and green beans. And if I’m very lucky, perhaps some of the recipients of these gestures will forget to thank me, and let me off the hook, just a little bit, so that even if Emily Post can’t forgive me, I can begin to forgive myself.


Mrs. Chicky said...

I am as bad as you when it comes to thank you's. Worse probably. I got an obscene amount of gifts from friends, family, customers from my previous job, third cousins twice removed... To tell the truth, I have no idea where half the gifts came from. I started to write notes to these people but I would be interupted by my colicky newborn and had to abort that mission. I always meant to return to that task but I never did. Just wanted to let you know you're in good (or bad!) company.

Mayberry said...

I was just talking about this with some friends the other day and we agreed that new moms should not ever be expected to send thank-yous! So there you have it. Anyone who's been a mom totally forgives you.

Having moved to the country between babies, I benefited from the food gifts--amazing. We coasted for about 6 weeks on stuff people gave us, pizza, and one or two big meals my husband cooked.

kate said...

sometimes you just hafta let yourself off the hook and realize you could have done better or maybe you did the best you could.

people must know you're not an grateful jerk or you wouldn't have so many people george bailey-ing you in the first place.

a friend of mine had a baby 3 mos. before i did. when mine had just been born she came by with a gift and said to my husband, "if i don't have to gift wrap it, you don't have to write a thank you." deal.

that same friend just had her 2nd baby less than a month ago. this week i gave her and her hubby a food care package--quiches, pesto pasta salad, cherry cobbler because i know how hard it is to feed yourself when there's a newborn around. so, yeah, pay it forward. it's the best way.

Christina said...

I'm also just as bad with thank you notes. I got the thank you notes out from my baby shower, but once the baby was here, no cards were sent out because I was simply too overwhelmed. I thanked people when possible and figured, if they couldn't forgive me for not sending a thank you card when dealing with a newborn, then they clearly had a heart of stone.

I love the idea of getting hot meals delivered after a birth. What a great idea!

lildb said...

yeah. while I was once the quintessential thank-you-note-writer, I have now officially not only dropped the ball, I've lost it completely. it may have rolled under the bed, or out the door and been crushed under the wheel of a passing monster truck; I wouldn't know. nor would I begin to care, except for when the baby wakes me up at some godawful hour of night and my mind won't blink back off, and I stew over the thank-yous I have yet to -- etc.

this is a lovely post, and I'm so glad you didn't basement it. I think it's wonderful, your truth. don't you see - your truth is universal, and it alleviates my guilt, and probably others, to know that we have OTHER STUFF TO DO besides sit around writing frilly thank you notes. I think paying it forward, in this crazy day/age, is the only feasible way to resolve the issue.

heart you, G. xoxoxo

oh, and p.s. (b/c I couldn't comment w/out one) I got teary during your description of those lovely meals. and those lovely people who gave those meals. geesh. what a gesture. that is manna, baby. manna.

Kristin said...

As a woman who wrote thank you notes on her honeymoon and who can now barely fire off a smiley face icon giving the "thumbs up" sign in an IM, I hear you.

We suck.

But, you are 100% right... pay it forward and include a note which reads,"No thanks necessary!"

penelopeto said...

yikes, my heart sank in that 'guilty, i'm guilty' kind of way reading that. thank you notes have been the bane of my existence since i got engaged in 2000. everyone that attended our engagement party got a thank you note (3 months later). 2 wedding showers yeilded say, 50 addressed envelopes, 10 notes to go in them, and maybe 6 that actually ended up being posted. Things went downhill from there.
for the wedding, i came up with a plan: 10 cards a day, starting with the fussiest, most gossip-y, and oldest guests. that way i knew that by time my motivation wore off (like, day 2), i would have covered the people that would have mentioned not getting one.

baby showers, i did ok with (crazy third trimester burst of energy), but post-baby thank-yous? not a one. who has time or energy? at least that was my excuse for not doing my least-favorite obligatory writing. m-i-l even armed me with a stack of addressed envelopes (oh, i did not like that, for many reasons) and they are still sitting in a drawer.
i hate thank you cards. i don't expect one, ever. a formality i wish would go away, as i take pains to speak with and thank everybody personally. isn't that nicer?

as for gifts, i have a standard: a meal, a magazine for mum and a classic kids' book. (i NEVER go to a new parent's house without food) and probably something cute for baby to wear. because baby shopping is way too much fun. and a hug is thanks enough.

bubandpie said...

If misery loves company, than guilt adores it with an undying passion. Thanks for letting me know I'm in good company.

And "manna," lildb? So exactly the right word.

kittenpie said...

I'm sure they get it... Just send a cute pic along at some random occasion, and they'll be fine!

My fave gifts to give are board books (I give everyone Mem Fox's Time For Bed)and Babywrappers towels, which saved my ass when Pumpkinpie was tiny.

Binkytown said...

I think paying it forward is a great idea. I'm with Mayberry- All moms get it.. it's OK.. Make a new mom a bundt cake and revel in feeling good about it!

Mommy off the Record said...

How nice that your fellow parishioners came by with food for you after you had your baby. My friend is having her baby next month and I think I will do that for her a couple nights in a row.

But on to the topic of your post: you know, I think sometimes people are OK without a thank you note. Like with the people who brought you the food. I bet they weren't expecting a thank you note for that. I'm sure that your look of relief and gratefullness when they came by with the food was thanks enough.

With regards to the other presents, I feel your pain. I HATE writing thank yous. I try to do it as much as possible, but it's NOT my favorite thing to do AT ALL. One of the best things I saw someone do at a baby shower recently was ask the guests to all write out their addresses on envelopes for the thank you notes that my friend was going to have to send out. I thought it was ingenius.

Tina C. said...

Sorry -- I totally disagree. Thank you notes are non-negotiable, IMO. Even from friends. Especially from friends. How does it feel to know your friend is writing notes to her mom's friends for gifts she got but you don't rate enough to get one??

Anyway, at this late date, i think it's still not too late to say: I'm thinking of you and how sweet you were to get a gift for my baby which you didn't have to do. Here's a picture of them now, and we love you a lot.

It's not that hard to write it. And a lot easier than feeling guilty about it for years in the future. I think people stress about the content of a thank-you note, but it's not so much about the specificity of the content, rather that there is a note which arrives in the mail and contains something at all. It's supposed to be a *note* after all - not a letter.

I realize this is one of my issues and i'm mostly alone on this. I may also be kinda compulsive, but i also have always loved receiving and sending letters. People go to the trouble of buying a gift; i go to the trouble of sending a card.

Piece of Work said...

Thanks for writing this post! Recently I went to some trouble making a lasagna and driving it some distance to an acquaintance who had just had a baby. She and her husband thanked me profusely at the door, and really, that should be enough. But I did think she might have sent me a quick email once they ate it--you know, to tell me how fabulous it was. Since she didn't, I've had to face the fact that maybe it sucked. Although now I realize from this post that it no doubt WAS fabulous, she just didn't have the time!

I do love thank you notes, though, and I always notice when I don't get one. (This does not mean I am always timely with mine. But I try.)

bubandpie said...

Binkytown & MOTR - Those are some great suggestions!

Tina C. - For the record, I'm not advocating thank-you card negligence. I'd be interested to see how you come out on the MBTI (see link a couple of posts back) - I'm betting ISFJ.

Piece of Work - You really are a sweetie, you know that? Like Mom-101 said in a comment on one of HBM's recent posts, it's all about the nuances.

Her Bad Mother said...

First of all, how awesome are gifts of food? Awesome without parallel.

Second - on the gift cards - ditto. Am ashamed, but am bad, and will never get to them. One must be truly penitent for forgiveness, right? I'm not penitent enough to actually do it.

Jenny said...

I totally know what you're talking about. And every new mom that I send a gift to has the words "no thank you card necessary, really" on the bottom of the card.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post. It hits so close to home to so many people that I have sent gifts to. I have written so many thank you notes in my time. It saddens me when someone cannot take 3-5 minutes of their time to jot a quick note and throw it in the mail box for the carrier to pick up. I hope that you find the time to get around to it. Or, at the least, write a thank you letter explaining your past situations and mail it to everyone letting them know that it may be too late but you are still appreciative of all they have done for you and your family. A thank you note is never too late in my book.

Veronica Mitchell said...

I almost never do thank-you notes. I hate them. But some people get very offended when they don't get one.

When I host showers for people, I have a pile of stamped, blank thank-you notes on the table, and I require all the guests to address their own envelope. That way the hardest part is done, and the gift-receiver can dash out a note with less trouble.

sunshine scribe said...

Pay it forward sister. Anyone who gives a gift to receive a thank you card is giving for the wrong reason and doesn't get how hard it is to be a new mom.

EIGHT nights of dinners? And COOKIES? Wow wow wow. I am moving to your neck of the woods if I ever have another child. I don't think I ate anything for days if it wasn't delivered by the pizza pizza guy (and he never expected a thank you card either)

Tina C. said...

Not sure about MBTI (don't remember what I scored on that). I try to be more LNLL (live and let live) except i feel bad for friends who beat themselves up about feeling bad for not writing thank-you notes. i wish they would either write them or not feel bad about not writing them. i'm for no more additional guilt in life.

Thanks for a great blog, by the way. I really enjoy reading it.

Liz said...

For as much time as you spend writing on your blog - you could have easily written out those thank you notes....IMO. Don't write about not writing thank you notes- just do it and be done with it. This has to be the lamest excuse - I don't have time - but I do have time to write about not having time on my silly blog....whatever! Very selfish to not make it a point to thank those who spent time and money trying to help you and your family out. I hope you teach your children to be appreciative and sit down to thank those who send gifts to them. You have to make it a priority to get it done. 1 thank you note a day only takes a few minutes. Get off the computer and start writing!

bubandpie said...

Liz may have a point - could it be BLOGGING that leads to thank-you-note-negligence? An informal tally of the comments on this post would suggest that those who HAVE blogs seem to assign less importance to this issue than those who don't.

And SS - yup, cookies. I think they're right up there with the Tucks pads and the Preparation H on the list of must-have post-natal supplies.

J's Mommy said...

I suck at thank-you's and rsvp's. It's just a habit I never got into and I feel like a verbal thank you is just as good as a written one.

Nancy said...

I used to bat 1000 when it came to thank you notes. My mom drilled it into us that for every Christmas or birthday gift, we had to write a thank you before using the item. I maintained this excellent record through the wedding showers and gifts and with both babies, but my success rate has fallen dramatically.

I'm a huge believer in the "pay it forward" idea. Karma will shine on you if you bestow kindnesss to another mom in need. I really do believe that. Us old-timer moms don't expect thank you notes, anyway -- we know how it is. ;-)

Friend of B&P said...

Anyone who has been following this blog knows the ages of our dear host's children. Thus, it is somewhat foolish to suggest that she had time to write thank yous instead of blogging, since Pie is nearly a year old now! Trust me when I say there was no time for blogging or thank you cards when the babies were new, and particularly in gift-receiving mode. But, as someone in the honoured position of having a little insight into the situation, may I just say that there is No One that shows gratitude and appreciation like B and P's mom. So, IMO, it's best not to be too judgemental.

scarbie doll said...

Yo, I didn't do thank yous either. I'm not that together. I said thank you to a million people, but I did not mail out cards. I designed them, but I never actually printed any to mail out. I had some made up at Christmas, and I didn't even get many of those sent out. I suck. So don't feel bad. People either take you as you are or they don't. And if they don't love you eventhough you don't do official Thank You cards, they don't know what they're missing.

bubandpie said...

Friend! And Scarbie! You guys just made me cry!

gingajoy said...

came to this one late, but i hear you loud and clear--i am *terrible* about thank yous, and i agree that anyone who gets pissed over not getting a thank you for a baby gift is on another planet. there is an unspoken clause in these situations, i say. yep.