I am a party girl.
I thrive on themes, balloons, streamers and cake.
There's even an event planning diploma with my name on it in a drawer somewhere to prove my earnest devotion to the subject. Which is a little silly because anybody who knows me very long can see word PARTY scribbled all over my calendar, scrolled lavishly across stacks of petit fours and written boldly on the banners festooning every entrance to our home on a pretty regular basis. Like anyone needs more proof than that.
The problem? I may be a some-what proficient party-planner but I really struggle as a hostess. It's all mixed up in my mind because I love the idea of having people over and I do really want to do it. I just get caught up in my insecurities over the imperfect state of my house and the picture-perfect notions in my head about how I want things to go and that gets in the way of me actually enjoying the party like I should.
Does any one else have issues like this?
Letting go of some of the neurosis revolving around hosting my kids' birthday parties has been something I've been working on this spring. My three children's special days are in fairly quick succession (wham, bam, slam) so I am getting lots of chances to practice. To boost the efforts, I made myself a rockin' stress-busting mantra and outlined the following list of gentle reminders to keep me on track.
#1 Nobody notices
The truth is, no one is as aware of your home as you are. If you are hung up on a few fingerprints on the wall or an undusted mantle, you are worrying for nothing. Think on what you noticed about a friend's house last time you were there. Was it perfect? Probably not. Did you care? No, you were to busy being thankful she had you over for some grown-up conversation and that your kids weren't tearing each other apart.
So when it comes to your home, be comfortable with where you are. Take small steps to improve your routine if it bothers you so much and tell yourself the following before you invite anyone over, "If they are my friends they will love me and my home regardless." Say it as many time as it takes until you believe it.
#2 Emotion trumps decoration
Your children will remember how stressed out you were more than they will ever remember the color of the tablecloths you used. They will remember if you impatiently shooed them out of the kitchen instead of letting them "help" frost the cupcakes. Your husband will remember the cutting way you told him to go change his shirt long after the taste of the fabulous punch you were busy making has faded from his mind. When you foster good feelings you make good memories. Better butter makes better batter.
I know this one for a rock-solid fact because I have a vivid memory of a little brown-haired girl frosting those cupcakes. In my memory she is on a stool, a small apron-wearing child, flour-dazzled and so pleased with herself as she flaps the frosting onto the little cakes with evident spirit, her glee at being given this task obvious in her every movement. The memory doesn't include details about the occasion, what the cupcakes tasted like or who they were for but that has long since ceased to matter. That little girl was me.
#3 Use camera caution
Cameras are great for taking pictures but are not for hiding behind. Ouch! I'm guilty of this way too much. It's partly because of my insatiable need to capture all the moments and preserve them and partly because it's easy to be an observer and harder to be a participant. But which do we really want to be in our kids' life (and birthdays)?
Do yourself a favor, take a minute to decide who you want to ask to take pictures at your child's party even if it only for part of the time... your brother who always catches funny little moments no one else notices? Your niece who is just graduating and is infatuated with photography? Choose someone with minimal responsibility of their own (i.e. no small children) and who you know you can be trusted to do a great job and to stay on task. Delegate and dive in. Be a part of the picture. Smile.
What happens if the idea of getting your house ready for an event is just too daunting? Take the party somewhere else. It's OK to meet up at a park, children's museum, restaurant, etc. Release yourself from the idea that things have to be a certain way. Think outside the box (or the house in this case). There are countless fun (and cheap) ways to plan a birthday party 'off-campus', so to speak. Besides, creative thinking is way more fun than housework in my book.
No one said that your whole house, garage, yard and basement have to be immaculate before you have company. If you have made this rule for yourself and you lack super-human powers, you are going to spend a whole lot of evenings with your house to yourself. Happy birthday to you.
For the rest of us there are doors to be closed, lights to be dimmed, general hot-zones to be decluttered, main surfaces to be cleaned decently. Make an objective list of the things you want to get done and then prioritize it with the things you absolutely can't leave undone (like bathrooms) at the top.
Do not fall prey to the distraction-demons. Do not give in to the sudden desire to organize the files in the file cabinet or alphabetize your spice rack. Leave those things for another day or they will sabotage your schedule, stick to your list or face the embarrassment of screaming at some-hapless member of your household to go put toilet paper in the hall bath right as your first guests are walking in the door.
Or how about this, clear a nice swath to and from the restroom and take the party to your porch, yard or patio? Trust me, prioritizing your entertaining goals and tasks will lay a film of peace, assuredness and sense of accomplishment across what can otherwise be hectic, exhausting and crazy beyond belief.
#6 Limit headcount
Use this rule with discretion. It is, of course, up to you how many people you chose to invite and different people have different family dynamics and social circles. Here are a couple things to keep in mind as you are making your guest list though. It may be easy to think of eleven-hundred people you could invite, people who would love to come, people you have been meaning to have over, people who love you and whom you care about deeply. The limit involved actually refers to your child's limited ability to be plopped in front of all those people and still have a good time.
When you are already planning a celebration it may seem easier to just have all the people at once. Just add a few more chicken wings to the platter and you've got it covered, right? Just be careful not to forget the real reason for the party and that the more people you have the busier you will be as a hostess. If you hope to have any time to chat and relax with your guests than be selective on how many there are. Include the people who really should be there and save the others for another time. Besides, Once you see how much fun this is going to be, you'll be rearing to open your home again and guess who'll be right at the top of the 'have-over' list.
#7 Plan ahead
First, take all the time you will have the day of your party for last-minute preparations, cut that in half and then into quarters and then into eighths. Drop all but one little piece onto the floor. The sliver you have left in your hand is how much time you will feel like you actually have on that day. Plan accordingly. Do absolutely everything you can ahead of time.
Choose food, decor, entertainment and any other party element by asking this question: Can it be done ahead? The cool head you will sport the day of your party will be worth any and all the effort put in behind the scenes. One should still avoid going over-board. My own rule of thumb when it comes to my children's parties is if it needs to be worked-on\put-together more than a week in advance then I need to forget it and come up with something simpler.
Find some middle ground. Avoid spending a month getting everything ready and therefore being too burned out to enjoy the real thing. But don't try to squeeze too many elaborate plans into too short of a time-frame and end up freaking out when things fall apart or don't get done either.
This is such a fail-proof stress-buster that I'm not sure how it ended up way down here at number seven. Maybe because seven is lucky and you will be too if you put this idea into practice.
#8 Comfort vs. Class
Put twice as much effort into making your guests comfortable as you do trying to impress them. The success of a party is directly connected to how your guests feel. While it may be important to you to have fabulous art bedecking your walls, the people you invite into your home are a lot more likely to notice that there are no napkins for discretely mopping unexpected ice cream drips or that your couch (while stylish) is very hard to sit on while balancing a plate on your knees.
I do not expect you to alter the way you decorate your home in order to have people over just be conscious of the human needs of those people you invite. Is there napkins, coasters, trash cans, places to sit or set plates/drinks, extra ice, etc in areas they are likely to be needed? Has your creative energy brought in so much brouhaha that the masses are stunned by the magnitude of your celebration style and sit uncomfortably wondering what is expected of them at such a splashy gala? Does your super-structured schedule for the evening cut out all possibility for spontaneous fun such as eruptions of show-tune singing or a sudden jaunt into the kitchen for a knife demonstration from that cool cousin who is fresh from culinary school? You are the hostess, you gotta think about these things.
Most of us like to feel needed and we really like feeling appreciated. One way to help your-self during a party-plan phase and to make somebody else feel good at the same time is to ask for help. Not big things or things that include expense, just things that would really help you not to have to worry about, things you know that person does really well and likes doing. Ask in an open-ended way (in case they need to refuse), be specific about what you want them to do and let them know why you thought of asking them. Most importantly, after the balloons are popped and streamers strung-out be sure to thank them properly.
#10 Wing it!
There are times in life when impromptu gatherings are unarguably Divine Providence. Maybe it's shortly after a new baby or a move, or maybe it's just how you are feeling at the time, maybe you feel like that all the time. It can be done and it can be fun.
Call a few special people to come over, put out some easy food, let the kids fall into whatever mode of play comes first, relax, smile (there's that word again) and if your 2 year old refuses to open any more gifts after putting his chubby hands on the 1st flashy dollar-store noisemaker that came out of the bag, let it go! He can ope the rest another day when he needs a distraction. It's only as big a deal as you make it.
This is supposed to be a celebration, not a straitjacket.
Each of these mental notes leads to an easier-going birthday-mama around here. I feel better about how everything goes and there's the added perk of probably being easier to be around. You'll have to ask my husband about that part.
In keeping with my mantra, it was simple fare for both boy this year. When T-boy's day rolled around, I whipped up some no-stress tower cupcakes and brownies (from the box), we had some family over and celebrated our boy turning six. The only real effort I put in was on some fun fighter-jet invitations I mailed-out the week before. We spiffed up the house, shut the doors to the bedrooms and sent the kids outside after they ate cake. Tboy had a great time and so did I.
Pip's was much the same, a small party at Keybrook Hollow with my family and a few friends, little to no planning and plenty of time for him to ride around on his new scooter.
Then another informal gathering the following day at the park with my inlaws, a watermelon cut like a cake, three candles and a few extra friends to hang-out with with as the sun faded.
It felt free and easy and fun.
I didn't feel nearly as pressured or piratical.
In fact, it felt like a party.
And I guess that's what we were going for.
Just Right in NE