I want to entertain others in our home easily and effortlessly. While my hostess skills are light years ahead of where they used to be, I still get anxious when friends come over to share a meal. While I’m usually eager to invite, as the day draws closer, I begin to panic about having the time and energy to cook, clean, shop and prepare a picture-perfect meal (emphasis on “picture perfect”).
I love the idea of entertaining. I enjoy pouring over cookbooks and online cooking sites searching for delicious-looking recipes. Unfortunately, I like the idea of cooking a beautiful meal more than the actual act. While I love food, I don’t like to work so hard for my supper.
Entertaining often brings out my worst qualities. I’m learning to let go and enjoy a messier house with our family, but once we’ve invited guests over, no matter how good of friends, my need for order and control trumps all. And the big question becomes, how angry will Mike (my husband) and I get with each other this time? Typically, by the time our guests arrive, I’m thinking: ”If I’m going to let all of these other people into our home, I need to make room. Mike, you’re out.”
For years, Mike and I have argued whenever we entertain, usually the day of. While I typically really enjoy myself once our guests arrive, our my pre-party tension can rob all the enthusiasm from the day.
Last weekend we invited another family over for dinner. I obsessed about the menu for days, collecting recipes from magazines and on the internet. I found upwards of ten recipes I was excited to prepare clip (and add to my bulging recipe file). I wisely reminded myself that I wouldn’t enjoy making ten recipes; one or two is my sweet spot. I then ignored my own wisdom and shopped at four stores to ensure we had ingredients for a fusion feast to feed 37 people. And most of their ancestors twice removed.
The morning of the party, my husband I started our usual argument:
Me: Mike, I’m feeling anxious about our dinner party tonight. Can you help me?
Mike: Sure, honey. How can I help?
Me: How about if you’re in charge of the kids today plus straightening up the house and sweeping the floor, and I’ll cook, set the table and clean the bathrooms?
Mike: Sounds good. Are you going to enjoy this or just survive your way through it?
Me: I want to enjoy it. Not sure I can.
Mike: The entire point of having these parties is to enjoy ourselves. How can you build fun into your day so you’re ready to enjoy yourself tonight?
Me: (Snippy Tone Alert) What would be really fun for me is for you do your part quickly, without me having to remind you and without waiting until the last minute. (Danger. Danger. When my enjoyment depends on his actions, even I know that’s a “recipe for trouble.” Yep, bad pun intended.)
Mike: That’s a good strategy. Pay attention to what I’m doing all day. Make sure you let me know if you think I’m sitting on the couch too long or not doing my share quickly enough. That should ensure you have a great day. (His eye rolls are a-l-m-o-s-t as professional as mine.)
Me: Good. That’s settled. Thank you. Can you start now?
About to enjoy some self-righteous anger (my favorite kind!) and a cry disguised as onion-chopping tears, instead I had a moment of grace. I realized our entertaining strategies don’t work any better after ten years of marriage than they did when we threw our first dinner party.
I was ready for a change. And ready to enjoy my day. And my husband.
Mike and I regrouped and decided he would be in charge of the food. Carry out is his specialty. I did only the things I enjoy doing: arranging the food on attractive platters, slicing lemons for the water pitcher, manipulating vegetables into this gorgeous centerpiece:
Just kidding about the centerpiece. I’m not that handy with glue guns or asparagus. With the time I saved not making an imaginative table arrangement, I cleaned the dried toothpaste spit out of the sink and shoved the girls toys into closets. Time well spent.
With an hour before our guests arrived, Mike decided to replace the lock on our front door, electric drill and all. And I practiced letting go, biting my tongue and refolding the towels in the guest bathroom (while making phone calls to friends for hyperventilation relief).
Wanna know how it went? Smashingly well, thank you. I’ve rarely been more charming or relaxed. And Mike was a consummate host (despite the drill shavings on his jeans).
Now that Mike and I have a foolproof system in place for dinner parties, perhaps you’ll see an invite from us soon! I’ll start working on the centerpiece …