If you had tuned into Planet Evany ten minutes before our big holiday party this past year, you would have found me standing in the middle of our kitchen, holding an epicly dripping 18-person ham in my bare hands, screaming “CAN SOMEONE GET ME A PLATE?”
If you were to drop by before our kid Desi’s last birthday party, you would have found me standing in the middle of our kitchen, covered in gangrene-green frosting, desperately trying to find a surface long enough to arrange 37 cupcakes into the shape of a pixelated Minecraft sword. “CAN SOMEONE GET ME A 6-FOOT PIECE OF CARDBOARD? AN IRONING BOARD? SURFBOARD?!!”
And if you popped by before our last big BBQ, you’d have found me covered from knees to chin in watermelon guts, the victim of an improperly screwed-on blender base. “CAN SOMEONE CALL EVERYONE WE INVITED AND TELL THEM TO JUST FORGET IT?”
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No matter how loud I yell, my husband Marco never hears me. That’s because ten minutes before any party we throw, he’s waist deep in Scrubbing Bubbles. That’s his version of my ill-advised party-prep obsession: Right before party time, he’s compulsed by an uncontrollable urge to Spring clean the bathtub. Which—much to my infinite irritation—always seems so much lower priority than whatever insane last-second project I have underway…drawing little goats on the labels for the goat cheeses! Cutting out foamcore masks of all our favorite ex presidents! Blowing up “snowdrifts” of white balloons! “WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?” I yell and yell and yell up to the ceiling.
I do try to avoid doing all these things at the last minute. I really do. I plan. I pre-prep. But no matter how big a jump I get on things, those last ten minutes before showtime always, always, always find me in the middle of a “seashells on the doorknobs”-level meltdown of sweaty party-throwing regret.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that this is just one of those delightful lifelong traits that simply never go away. I’ve given up trying to fix it. Instead, I’ve worked to find ways to at least lighten the blow of my inevitable final-moment freakouts.
Put your game face on first…
After being caught one too many times in flour-powdered sleep-pants when that perversely prompt first partygoer dongs the doorbell, finally I learned to prioritize my party dressing, brushing and lipsticking above all else. So now I put on my clothes and goop up my face before the last-minute crazies take over. My party frock may end up slicked with ham juice just as people arrive, but at least I’ve got a bra on.
Where’s my pre-party people at?
Another thing that helps temper my pre-party tantrums is inviting a few comfortingly close friends to arrive an hour or three early to help midwife things from panic mode into party mode. I’m talking the kind of close friends who happily roll up their sleeves to spin lettuce or squeeze lemons. Friends who don’t flap an eyelash when I scream oaths at the ceiling. Friends who tell the truth when I ask if I still smell like ham.
Let someone else get the dumb ice…
Ice is my undoing. Thanks to its tendency to melt from solid into liquid, ice isn’t really something you can get ahead of time. That means someone (usually Marco) has to head to our local zombie-packed Safeway, leaving me (the one who’s already too stress-drunk to drive to Safeway) all on my lonesome just as the party really starts popping. Cut to me, simultaneously answering the door and taking coats and opening wine and kissing everyone and sweating.
When it finally occurred to me that I could just ask one of our pre-party people (see above) to pick up ice on their way over, it felt like a Nobel-worthy breakthrough.
Phone some things in…
In my earlier before-becoming-an-exhausted-parent days, I would lovingly craft a whole spread of on-theme edibles and decor for each get-together I threw. But I’ve since learned that whatever joy I get out of bespoking everything (and honestly I really DO love the cooking and decorating and theme-ing that go into a good party, which is why I so easily get sucked into poorly timed projects) isn’t quite as worth the time and stress it once was.
So now, I cut corners. Maybe I bake one or two things from scratch. (Before the Minecraft sword cupcakes, there were space cupcakes, baseball cupcakes…so many cupcakes!) But then I fill in the gaps with pre-ordered spiral-cut HoneyBaked ham, and donut holes from our local bakery, and a few tubs of of crunchy whatevers from Trader Joe’s. The resulting spread may not quite impress the eyes and mouths of my guests quite as much as it once used to, but it gets the job done. More importantly, it buys me a sliver more mental energy for hanging out with the people we invited into our home. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about? (Isn’t it? Seriously, I’m actually asking.)
If I could turn back time…
There’s only been one miraculous party in my long, storied history of throwing parties that I’ve ever managed to finish getting ready for before the fateful first-guest arrival. It was when Marco accidentally put the wrong start time on the invite. So we were expecting people at 6, but no one showed until 7. And still we only finished with five minutes to spare. Five glorious minutes of just standing there, sipping wine and admiring our party-clean house before the hordes rolled in. Hosting heaven!
I’ve since fantasized about how we might duplicate that fruitful mistake. I’ve tried to fool myself into working toward the goal of an earlier start time, but it never works. I’m too smart for me! So here’s my new plan: Maybe one of you kind readers wouldn’t mind breaking into our house the night before our next party and moving all the clocks forward an hour? But don’t tell us! Just quietly sneak in our back window and creep around our house, resetting all our clocks and phones. I’m totally sure this is going to work, and nobody’s going to get arrested!
Illustration by Paul Ferney