For parents-to-be, the ultimate gender-reveal party
By PETULA DVORAK | The Washington Post | Published: May 17, 2018
He wanted a motorcade for the wedding. A huge one.
She was good without one, thanks.
They compromised on four black SUVs.
So when it came time for the next big life milestone, Cameron French, 34, a car guy since he was a 6-year-old in Philadelphia begging his mom to go to NASCAR races, decided he was going to try again to go big.
“The burnout, it’s pink or blue!” he explained to his wife, Johnna French, 35, a couple of months into their pregnancy.
Even before they were expecting, Cameron bookmarked the YouTube video showing special tire treatments that produce a spectacular blue or pink cloud when the driver floors the gas while keeping the parking brake on, drag-racing-style.
That, he decided, would be the ultimate gender reveal.
Maybe you’re unfamiliar with this thing, a gender reveal. It’s a relatively recent insta-tradition that’s tempting to mock for its millennial look-at-us, over-the-top revelry.
Gender-reveal parties are the public unveiling of the sex of an expecting couple’s baby, done in increasingly spectacular ways. Social media archaeology shows us that a couple uploaded a video from a gender-reveal party in 2008, where friends and family gathered as they cut into a white cake that was pink on the inside. “It’s a girl!”
I believe I inadvertently held one of the first gender-reveal parties when I was pregnant with my second child in 2006. The whole family was in one place for a grandma’s 60th birthday party, and I found a baby boutique in the area that had the hottest thing in pregnancy at the time -- a 4-D ultrasound machine.
For about 20 years, the ultrasounds that were part of prenatal care showed a scratchy black-and-white image that looked like an old TV when the rabbit ears fell over and the poltergeist was trying to talk to you. You had to believe the techs when they showed you the thing that looked like a paramecium in a bio lab and said it’s a boy.
And before those started showing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the gender reveal happened, well, at birth. Surprise!
But these new 4-D machines were clear, distinct and showed you a baby that looked like a sepia clay doll. The entire family walked through the baby boutique toward the room with the ultrasound and cooed at the adorable girls’ clothes. My son was 2. I badly wanted a girl. “It’s a boy!” the tech announced.
I know, I know. I love my sons, couldn’t imagine having anyone other than them. I was meant to have boys, and I am so lucky to have them. But, well, just being honest.
Gender-reveal parties have become as ubiquitous as baby showers. It is a curious time for such a trend, when the emerging public lives of transgender Americans are bringing the question of gender fluidity into the public conversation.
And also when the stereotypes of blue and pink -- let alone gender-reveal party themes like “Tractors or Tutus?” or “Touchdowns or Tiaras?” -- are at long last being challenged. (Remember last year’s Michigan homecoming queen who was also a football player?)
But gender-reveal bashes are irresistible. There are compilations of the most outrageous spectacles -- shattering open a plastic baseball full of blue powder or unsealing a cardboard box unleashing a cloud of pink balloons. Just last month, Bill Murray cracked open a teed-up golf ball filled with colored powder for a couple at a Murray Bros. Caddyshack Charity Golf Tournament in Florida.
And there are the gender-reveal fails -- the pinata filled with blue or pink confetti that doesn’t open (rookie mistake; every parent knows they are fickle); the baseball that doesn’t shatter but flies off the bat into the wife’s face; the big sister-to-be who bawls at the news of a brother; the car that fishtails toward the crowd during a burnout.
That brings us back to Cameron and Johnna.
Not long after the happy news that the Washington, D.C., power couple (he’s a former campaign guy, Obama administration communications official and currently a director at PR giant Burson-Marsteller; she’s a senior lawyer at U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as a food blogger who is often on TV and has tested recipes for The Washington Post) was pregnant, Cameron brought out the old bookmarked video to begin his latest campaign -- the gender-reveal burnout.
(Deadpan look from Johnna).
“She wasn’t as receptive to the idea as I thought she would be,” Cameron said at a recent dinner party, explaining the evolution of their ultimate gender-reveal on a recent Friday night.
“We live in D.C., where there’s barely room to parallel park,” she said. “It’s not like we live in Oklahoma or something.”
So with Johnna’s quite reasonable veto, like any mature man and future father would do, Cameron went to his mom.
“I thought my mother would be the one, that I could count on her support,” he said.
Robin Coward-Knight, a first-time grandma-to-be who raised a boy, was raised with boys and unabashedly wants a girl, described her reaction.
“I asked him, ’What did Johnna say?’ “ she said. “And when he told me that she wasn’t feeling it, I told him he had his answer.”
“And then I went to look it up online. It was dangerous!” Coward-Knight said. “There was this one guy who nearly killed the whole family when he lost control of the car.”
“I had taken that one as far as I could.”
So they decided on a nice dinner at one of the restaurants at National Harbor in suburban Maryland. Fine view, unlimited food, and they’d just do the cake thing, pink or blue.
As they were calling around, pricing it out, someone told them that for a lot less than a nice family dinner, they could pay to turn the giant Ferris wheel at the harbor any color they wanted. Like pink. Or blue.
Cameron would get a wheel, after all.
Turned out the folks at the Capital Wheel are pros at this.
And they worked with the couple to keep it a secret -- even from Cameron and Johnna.
When their doctor knew for certain the sex of their baby, they had the result sealed in an envelope. Cameron picked up the sealed envelope and -- quickly, before he had a weak moment -- turned it over to a trusted colleague.
“It has to be someone you trust. But they can’t be too close,” Johnna explained. “Because a close friend might drop hints or something.”
The colleague made the connection with the people at Capital Wheel and told them the color to shine at 8:45 p.m. that Friday.
At sunset, friends began to gather on the waterfront. On the Flight Deck bar beneath the wheel were blue and pink balloons, gift bags and light hors d’oeuvres. As guests arrived, they picked blue or pink stickers to wear, signaling their hopes for the couple.
Cameron said he really doesn’t care. He wants a healthy baby. And yes, he’s a car guy, but -- hello? -- Danica Patrick. “I believe, if I have a daughter, she can watch car races with me and sports with me, that women can do anything,” he said. “I don’t need a boy for that.”
Johnna wasn’t hiding anything. “I really do want a girl,” she said. “I know a boy would be easier with the hair and other things. But I really want a girl.”
At 8:40, the crowd -- most of them had no idea the Ferris wheel was involved; they thought maybe the white cakes on the tables held the answer -- were told to walk back out on the pier a bit.
And look up.
The wheel flashed blue! Then pink! Then pink-and-blue, pink-and-blue.
The woman who works for Capital Wheel, who had helped program the wheel’s colors and knew the secret, was a little worried. They had done some of these before, and once, when the woman found out she was having a boy, she just walked away from the whole party, down the pier, in tears. (I understand.)
Then ... pink!
Screams, cheers, lots of screams from grandma (shrieks, even), hugs and kisses as Cameron’s white pants reflected the pink glow and the couple embraced.
One of the guests sheepishly peeled off his blue sticker. “I feel like I’m wearing the losing team’s jersey.”
“Now we know who’s coming,” Johnna said. “Now, the name.”
And no, it will not be Danica.