Baby Gifts and Baby Names, Vol 12, Issue 14

This week's birth of the Prince of Cambridge has afflicted monarchists and royal-watchers with a bad case of the Goo-Goo Gagas. As Etiquetteer pointed out on his Facebook page, there are an awful lot of people who want to know what to do to celebrate the Royal Birth in terms of gift-giving, celebrating, etc. While Etiquetteer is rarely averse to lifting a glass of Champagne (the most Perfectly Proper beverage with which to celebrate a birth), Etiquetteer is obliged to remind you all that, unless you're already personally acquainted with the Royal Family, and as lovely and kind a family as they are supposed to be, they don't know you and probably won't be paying any attention to anything you happen to send their way, whether a tangible gift or a Lovely Note.

Etiquetteer would like to suggest that those who are not personal friends of the Family, or current Heads of State, acknowledge the Prince of Cambridge's birth by doing something for a newborn in their own community. Plenty of babies come into this world with nothing, including responsible parents. Whether making a donation of money, handmade Little Garments, or other Things Infants Need, you'll make a greater difference where it counts. And you may always send with your donation a Little Note indicating that your gift is made "in honor of the birth of the Prince of Cambridge." Search the Web or call your local hospital for specific organizations and guidelines.

You may then reward yourself with a glass of Champagne (use your nicest crystal) and a slice of white cake iced in white with the royal monogram.

Some expectant parents are a little too eager to suggest gifts for Baby, but Etiquetteer always believes that a copy of that essential volume Pat the Bunny is appropriate. (Come to think of it, Etiquetteer still has the two-volume Winnie-the-Pooh he received at birth from an uncle.) There are many novelty onesies in the shops; choose wisely and tastefully from among them. Pride in schools and sports teams rates high, and you would not, for instance, send a Yale onesie to a Harvard family, or Boston Red Sox booties to those who hold season tickets to Yankee Stadium. Godparents should give a piece of sterling silver engraved with Baby's initials. No, not an epergne or candelabra! (One Liberace was enough, thank you.) A sterling silver rattle or teething ring is most Perfectly Proper, and practical, too. When teething, chilled silver is soothing to Baby's hot gums.

Perhaps motivated by the birth of the Prince, GQ has joined the fun with this list of rules for how not to name a baby. Etiquetteer has deplored the vogue in recent years to alter the spelling of established names, which will only condemn the Poor Child to endless spellings and reminders of "No, it's with a Y" or something of that sort. The GQ rule #7 is well taken. It would be interesting to hear from the many men and women born in the mid-1970s named "Kunta Kinte" or "Kizzy" after Alex Haley's blockbuster Roots was published and televised. How have they used, adapted, or rejected their names that were fashionable when they were born but almost unfamiliar now?

And yet Fashion has affected the naming of babies as it affects everything, and the popularity of certain names comes and goes. In the 17th and 18th centuries Biblical and allegorical names were popular. Indeed, Etiquetteer can count four Obadiahs, three Shubaels, two Pentecosts, a Freedom, and a Desire in his own family tree. But the best advice is the simplest, and comes from the world of clothes shopping: you can never go wrong with a classic.

Hacked Hand-Me-Downs, Vol. 10, Issue 5

Dear Etiqueteer: I have a question about hand-me-downs - a particularly thorny issue to begin with.

In my family, infant clothing is passed down. It is commonly understood and practiced without discussion. My daughter, Effie, is currently in line between two of my cousins who are sisters. We will call them Abby and BeBe. Their daughters are Cici and Deedee, respectively. Cici is a year old, Effie is four months old, and Deedee is currently wearing newborn sizes. In theory, this works very well.

In practice, to be short, it does not. Cici's clothing is generally off-season. Whether the print is sunflowers or snowmen matters less than whether it is a sundress or snowsuit. More importantly, the clothing is not wearable. It is stained, tattered, threadbare, and paint is peeling off of snaps. Goodwill and Salvation Army would not sell clothing so worn. I do not use this clothing. Currently, everything Abby has given me is in a box in the closet.

On one occasion, Abby borrowed a bib from me. She had it for only a few hours and returned it stained.

To further complicate things, Abby is pregnant. This child would very reasonably follow Deedee. The clothing that I pass on to BeBe would be passed on to Abby again within a matter of months.

BeBe and I take very good care of our things. The clothing that I pass on to BeBe is nearly new. When I see Deedee, I can tell that BeBe is treating these hand-me-downs as well as if they were freshly store-bought. We have also both received very nice gifts, and so our daughters each have beautiful clothing.

I get rags from Abby. Because the only hand-me-downs Effie gets are those previously worn by Cici, she effectively does not have hand-me-downs. Therefore, everything passed from Effie to Deedee is new. Everything BeBe passes down after Deedee has outgrown it, I'm sure, will still be in very good condition.

There is a social issue with Abby as well, in that she constantly requests my professional services without hesitating to point out that they are not worth what I am asking. When I stopped discounting, she stopped patronizing- but not requesting.

I am not at all comfortable with that clothing being passed on to Abby, who clearly lacks appreciation for a variety of things. I am also sad to know that anything she gets will be ruined.

I have another friend who is pregnant, but passing clothing to her would mean that BeBe would not get my hand-me-downs. Deedee would instead only get Cici's clothing. I would not wish on BeBe what I am I trying to escape.

It is important to note that my husband and I have decided that Effie will be our only child.

Question One: What to do with the box.

Question Two: How to avoid receiving more.

Question Three: What to do with my hand-me-downs.

I have been struggling with this for weeks now. Thank you.

Dear Gigi:

Let's see if Etiquetteer can untangle the path of the baby clothes through your Family of Alphabetical Pseudonyms. Three cousins share hand-me-downs as needed. Currently they begin with Abby, for her year-old daughter Cici; then to you, Gigi, for your four-month-old daughter Effie; and then to BeBe for her newborn daughter Deedee. They will then return to Abby for her expected newborn (probably Heeheeheeheehee).

Because the hand-me-downs you're receiving from Abby are no longer fit to wear, Etiquetteer assumes that you are having to buy new baby clothes and/or acquire hand-me-downs from another source which will then go into the family's collective bassinet. You resent the expense and the necessity for this, and would like to spare BeBe your troubles by eliminating Abby from this silently operating Family Tradition.

Etiquetteer suggests ending this Family Tradition because it is not equally respected by all the participants. Since you and your husband are not planning to have any more children, pass on the box to BeBe (Question One) and declare to all that you are Out of the Loop (Question Two). This then becomes BeBe's problem, to manage with her sister Abby in any way she sees fit. Which means that you should say nothing about it evermore unless BeBe asks you.

As for your own hand-me-downs (Question Three), since they're yours, direct them where you think they will be most appreciated and cared for: either to BeBe or to your friend, or divide the lot and send some to each.

And should you and your husband end up having another child - which has been known to happen - make it clear from the beginning that you won't resume the Family Tradition.

Baby Showers and Pregnancy, Vol. 6, Issue 39

Dear Etiquetteer:

My husband and I are expecting our first child. He is preparing to send out a birth announcement with photos to close family and friends by email (and we'll send out cards to people offline). A few people have offered to throw a shower after the baby is born, but we are not really comfortable with being the center of attention and will probably just throw some kind of regular party instead.

But that does not solve the question of gifts from people who will want to get us something. Our dilemma is this: We are going organic (from bedding to clothing to food) and are not buying anything for the baby from China or other places with suspect environmental or regulatory standards. (A lead-painted rubber duck, anyone?) We also don't want to do a formal registry telling people what to get us! But we know gifts are inevitable from some people.

We thought the best thing to do would be to add a link to the announcement to a Web page for those who want to give gifts. On that page is a note saying that gifts are not necessary, etc., but explaining that we are going organic and offering a selection of ideas with live links to organic baby stores, independent book stores, two charities, and other ideas. This way, we won't get a few dozen China-made things we can't or won't use from the big baby stores like [Insert Name of Colossal Chain Store here]. But we will make life easy for people who don't have the time or inclination to ferret out creative outlets without our making a registry of and asking for specific gifts.

So, Etiquetteer, what do you think of this? Is it proper etiquette to send mention of the link to our gift page with the announcement? Should we instead wait for people to ask us about gifts and just return or deal with the ones we can't use from people who didn't? Should a friend or family member be the one to circulate the gift ideas site instead of us? We want to be practical and considerate without being crass. We look forward to your response.

Dear Mother to Be:

First, allow Etiquetteer to congratulate you and your husband on the impending birth of your Little One. Etiquetteer wishes Your Baby a Long and Happy Life of Perfect Propriety.

Etiquetteer understands your reluctance to be in the spotlight at a shower opening gifts. On the other hand, you are throwing away the only opportunity you have to keep from looking crass and picky by denying your friends the chance to throw a baby shower for you. That way they end up spreading the word about your preference for lead-free organic products for Baby and not you. And as Etiquetteer thinks about it, an organic baby shower might be kind of fun! Everyone could wear hemp and unbleached linen and cotton (or at least neutral colors), eat organically grown crudités served from bamboo serving dishes, and enjoy themselves. Someone could even apply henna tattoos in the bathroom! And thank goodness Champagne is organic.

Because right now, Mother to Be, you are looking pretty picky. Etiquetteer has always said that it is rude to tell people what to get you until they ask. Including gift preferences in a birth announcement is not Perfectly Proper, even though it isn’t a registry. And your directives are sufficiently extraordinary to most people that they may feel demanding. Your friends and family members will want to do something for Baby, as long as it isn’t too difficult. As Gwendolyn Fairfax says in The Importance of Being Earnest, "If you don’t take too long, I’

ll wait all my life." So Etiquetteer hopes that you will reconsider allowing your friends to hold a baby shower for you, which is really the most elegant solution.

Dear Etiquetteer:

Recently, I was discussing the joys and woes of pregnancy with a friend who is currently expecting her first child. She bemoaned the constant health inquiries, the need for complete strangers to touch her abdominal area without so much as a by-your-leave, the insistence that she not carry large boxes, etc., While my dear friend understands that all of the inquiries as to good health, box carrying prevention comments, and so forth, all stem from The Place of Good Intentions, enough is enough. Pregnant women are not public domain, nor are they celebrities who have chosen to live a public life. And honestly, would you go around rubbing just anyone's tummy without asking? I think not. What, then, is Perfectly Proper when it comes to expressing your excitement and concern for the health of pregnant friends and strangers?

Dear Thoughtful:

Oddly enough, Pee Wee Herman has the best advice for what to do when a stranger touches you, pregnant or not. Remember what you’

re supposed to do when anyone says the Secret Word? SCREAM REAL LOUD! Etiquetteer is quite serious.

As for comments about heavy lifting, Etiquetteer hopes your friend will take them seriously. Marie Antoinette Herself miscarried after the effort of shutting a stuck carriage window! Your friend need only respond that she is grateful for their concern, varying the temperature of her response to the degree of acquaintance: frigid for total strangers, warmer for acquaintances and friends, warmest for her mother-in-law.

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A Gentleman’s Clothes and A Tricky Note, Vol. 4, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer: I favor the pocket square, and have always noted the "tips out after 6:00 PM" rule. I further favor proper attire on airplanes, in the perhaps foolish notion that one receives better regard and attention from the waiter. However, when one is crossing the Atlantic or otherwise shuffling time zones, when does "tips out" actually take effect? In other words, when is six o’clock in the evening really six o’clock in the evening? Is there a condition in which it is acceptable to have tips out prior to six o’clock, and thus spare oneself the spectacle of public readjustment?Dear Tipped Out:You will be interested to know – as Etiquetteer was when he found out – that during the day the pocket square is considered optional and not required with a suit or sport jacket. When you do wear one, make sure that it doesn’t bear the least suggestion of a spot or stain, and be careful it doesn’t look too perfect. Resembling a mannequin has never been Perfectly Proper.You may always spare yourself the spectacle of public readjustment of any portion of your apparel by retreating to the nearest men’s room, even on an airplane. Let’s not hear any more about that. As for timing, Etiquetteer will allow you to put your tips out when the stewardess brings the first rounds of evening martinis.

Dear Etiquetteer:Alas, is there no opportunity to wear one’s tuxedo to the theatre/symphony any longer? Not even to opening/closing night? I fear the only suitable venue left may be a party chez Etiquetteer - it is bittersweet.Dear Dressing:You will know it’s completely safe to wear your dinner clothes to the theatre or the symphony when you are invited to do so, either to the performance itself or to some madcap party afterward. Otherwise, Etiquetteer advises you to appear with a dark suit, an elegant tie, and a happy heart.

Dear Etiquetteer:A tragedy has struck our family and I'm at a loss to express my sympathy. A cousin's wife has just given birth to a baby diagnosed as Downs Syndrome. I'm told by those close to the couple that problems were foreseen prior to birth but they preferred not to share the information.Obviously, they have not had time to send birth announcements, etc., as the parents have been at the children's hospital where many tests are being performed. Those of us of the extended family want to show our support by the gifts bought months ago which, of course, we will send and by a note of love and concern. Etiquetteer, you have always been able to compose beautiful sensitive notes. Please give us some advice this time. Dear Concerned Cousin: Etiquetteer’s heart goes out to your cousin’s family. Children born with what are euphemistically termed "special needs" are welcomed with open arms and loving hearts into families all over the world, but they do present challenges to every family member. These new parents will certainly need your support in the years ahead.As you write to your cousins, please do not assume that they look on the birth of their child or its condition as a tragedy, especially since they were aware of the possibility that the baby might be born with this condition. In your note, say how pleased you are that the baby was delivered safely, that the mother is healthy, that you look forward to seeing the baby when they are home from the hospital, and that you are praying for each and all of them as they adjust to the new circumstances and responsibilities of parenthood. And please follow up again in a couple months with another note that you are still thinking of them. Etiquetteer knows it will be appreciated.

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Neglectful Parents, Vol. 4, Issue 7

Dear Etiquetteer: My adorable little nephew came into the world last February. I’ve offered free babysitting to my sister and brother-in-law. Until recently, there haven’t been any problems. More often than not, I care for the little tyke for an agreed-upon afternoon or overnight stay. Don’t get me wrong, I love every minute I have with my nephew, but lately my post-babysitting engagements have had to suffer on account of his parents’ over-reliance on me. Lately, my sister and brother-in-law will be late in picking up their little bundle of joy. The agreed-upon afternoon extends into an unanticipated evening or even overnight. Five times in the past six months, I have had to cancel evening plans because my nephew’s parents took it upon themselves to extend their absence. Sometimes, it’s understandable (like a delayed flight). Other times, they just assumed I had no plans and thought it was no big deal to show up several hours late to take the baby home. I’ve held my tongue thus far. Granted, I’m still a "single old maid," but I do have a life! How presumptuous of them! Rather than let this fester, I think I should say something on both counts: "You presumptuous twits! I have a life, too!" and "Your child is adorable, but 4pm means 4pm. Unless there is some emergency, I expect you to be here at the agreed-upon time to take the baby home." How do I tactfully raise the issue? Dear Barry Poppins: First of all, how fortunate for your nephew that he has someone like you in his life who actually demonstrates care and attention. His parents sound a lot like Eloise's mother in the late Kay Thompson's engaging children's book Eloise. If your sister and brother-in-law are taking you for granted then you need to be sure that they don't. The way to do this at this stage (you're a doormat and they're walking all over you) is not to be available the next two or three times they ask you to baby-sit. You don't need to tell them you've been invited on an Adriatic cruise; but you can say that you have plans to go to the movies with friends, or that you yourself are giving a party, or whatever -- you're not available to baby-sit little Galahad because you're actively having a life.Etiquetteer knows all too well the self-absorption of young parents and their needs (as opposed to the needs of their mewling infants) and can only imagine their shocked protests when you present evidence that you're not available at their beck and call. It's then that you may tell them that they get what they pay for, and their carelessness in honoring pick-up times has already led you to miss out on several of the most glittering occasions of the season (which it has).Then, and most important, make outside plans and honor them and send your Lovely Notes afterward. No one can do this for you but yourself. Otherwise you could turn into old codependent Uncle Barry babysitting little Galahad's children 20 years from now.

Dear Etiquetteer: Can you comment on the advisability of parents bringing their little darlings into quiet adult environments if the children cannot be assumed to be disciplined past the age of making piercing squeals and running rampant? Not too long ago I was studying at the library on the "quiet floor," where signs reading "Please preserve the silence of this room" appear on every table. It just so happened that a family activity was scheduled on another floor; since the "quiet floor" is quite lovely, not a few parents brought their children to see it. That would have been fine if the parents had not let the little darlings treat the place as a playground and not a library. The truth was brought home even more as I noted one truly delightful little girl, of no more advanced age than the rest, who stayed by her proud papa and examined the books with not-undue curiosity while uttering nary a peep. That was most gratifying to see (and not to hear), but it certainly showed up the behavior of the other little hellions. Dear Besieged: Etiquetteer could not agree more that children who cannot behave, and/or whose parents cannot or will not make them behave, should not be brought to places where Perfect Propriety is expected. Parents who do not realize that the rest of the world doesn’t regard their children with Unquestioned Delight should be disabused of this notion with an Icy Glare or, as the last straw, with instructions from the management to get it together.

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