My son came home from college last week for Christmas break and I threw him the most wonderfully ridiculous welcome home dinner party. The welcome home party has become a tradition since he left for college – when he comes home on vacation he likes to reinsert himself into the local social scene as soon as possible. But for past parties we typically set up his XBox, PlayStation and/or GameCube in the family room, put some pizza and soda on the kitchen island, and let him and his friends go for it.
This year, as usual, I decorated the house for Christmas. I trimmed the tree and hung the stockings. I spent a whole day baking cookies. (See previous post). Then I went above and beyond. I cleaned out all the boxes in the dining room (which had become a storage space since we normally eat in the kitchen), and then decorated the room. I had my husband pull the boxes of our Spode Christmas Tree china out of the garage. I unpacked and washed the china. I cleaned out the hutch in the dining room so I could put the Spode away. I went through all the linens I’ve collected over the years, and found coordinating tablecloth and napkins. I read somewhere that it is trendy to mix and match napkins and tablecloth and china, so I was swinging for the trendy fences.
And then I went shopping. First I went to Michaels Arts and Crafts – during the workweek, which almost felt naughty. I felt an odd rush of exhilaration as I walked the aisles with hordes of women whose carts were overflowing with stuff, while Christmas carols blared over the sound system. I don’t know why I found it all so amusing, but I could barely contain myself as I watched one lady, who couldn’t have been more than five feet tall and could barely see over the mound of loot in her cart, collide with a display of snow globes. When all was said and done, the cashier refused to give me the discount on the candles I thought were 60% off, so in a moment of liberating defiance, I announced I wanted nothing in my cart and walked out the door. (I never would’ve done that when I was working because I wouldn’t have had the time to search elsewhere).
Then I headed to Stats, which is a veritable local Christmas wonderland and superstore. I wandered wide-eyed through the rooms of floral displays and wreaths and Santa Claus figurines. There I bought garlands and candles and pinecones. Then I went to World Market and found napkins and rings and bowls. After that I went to Home Goods and Pier One and Marshalls and TJ Maxx and Ross and Party City. I don’t even remember what I found where at this point. But I was a woman on a mission.
And what exactly was this mission? For goodness sake, this was a party for a group of eight to twelve 20-21 year old guys. Do you think guys that age (or any age for that matter) care whether they are sitting at the dining room table with Spode china in front of them? Do they appreciate having a decorated house? Of course not! In a moment of complete and utter lunacy, and which made me laugh out loud like a crazy woman, I raced to Big Lots the day of the party and bought a garland of poinsettias and a Santa yard stake because I decided the light fixture in the dining room and our front yard needed more decoration.
No, this wasn’t just about the boys. It was about me. For one thing, I spent the past 10 years, when I was in a senior management role, working really hard at my job and the holiday season was one of the busiest times. I didn’t have time to plan Christmas parties and it was about as much as I could handle to decorate the house and trim the tree and buy the gifts and send out the cards each year. I didn’t have time to savor the season. For another thing, I want to hone my entertaining skills. While I was busy working, my husband did most of the cooking and I have become rusty (and to tell the truth, I was never that good in the first place). In September, just for fun, I attended a party planning class with my good friend John at a local high school. The instructor advised us to practice by putting on our own dinner party, and what better guinea pigs than a group of guys who don’t know their salad plate from their dinner plate and are happy simply having something edible placed in front of them?
With my collected merchandise, I decorated and set the dining room table. Using my party planning class workbook, I developed a menu and a schedule for the party. I scoped Costco for appetizers and gave my husband a shopping list for the food. We worked together on the meal, since he is not quite ready to trust me with the keys to his kitchen kingdom. (Probably itself another post topic.)
And was all this overkill for a group of college-age guys? Absolutely! Did any of them make one peep about the decorations or the china or the music? Of course not! Did they enjoy themselves? Enormously! How do I know? By the smiles and laughter I heard from the dining room as they sat around the [beautifully decorated dining] table talking to each other, and later from the family room as they played a board game and I listened in while doing dishes. And they all thanked me before they left. Was it worth all the work? Totally! Did I have fun? You bet! And yesterday, best of all, as I was walking out the door with my son, he asked to take a picture of me in front of the tree. Then he wanted a picture of himself in front of the house. After we got in the car, he showed me the “Snapchat Story” he just made. Which is, after all, the way his generation communicates. It was a photo of my decorated dining table with a caption that read “Ready to celebrate with friends” and then a photo of me in front of the tree with the caption “Family” and a photo of him in front of our house that read “Glad to be home. Merry Christmas!”