One Early Guest Can Throw You Off Your Game

Two Sundays ago we hosted a costume birthday party for our twins, a Monster Tea.  For the past several years we haven’t hosted the kids’ parties at our home because it is so much work and there are so many other options available that kids enjoy (Pump It Up, skating, gymnastics, fencing, climbing, Scandia, et al). However, after hosting and/or attending lots of kids’ parties at these venues, eventually the kids (not to mention the adults) grow tired of all of them.  It was time to do something different, and since our kids have reached the age when scary costumes are desirable, a Monster tea party seemed perfect.  The kids were able to use their costumes again (Halloween costumes are barely used when they are outgrown), they got to enjoy a tea party (which is a current favorite), and we could invite the whole class plus siblings (since we were less concerned with keeping below a certain number of attendees).

If there is one thing that I can be accused of, it is that I try to do too much.  I can’t keep it simple.  I wanted to make most of the food myself.  I wanted to put out a nice spread for adults so that they could enjoy some visiting time with other parents if they were inclined to stick around.  I wanted to have plenty of activities so that the kids would not be bored (the kiss of death for any party). I’ve thrown quite a few dinner parties, cocktail parties, and birthday parties, both for kids and for adults.  I tend to pride myself in knowing what to do to ensure that guests enjoy the food and company.  Throwing a really good party is a bit of an art; if it is not well-planned, people have to go looking for beverages and food, and if the event is too buttoned-up it is not usually memorable.

That morning I felt that I was pretty prepared.  I did most of my baking the day before (brownies, blondies, and two types of cupcakes), I had done all my shopping, I had organized a menu for each station (kids’ snacks outside, kids’ food for the sit-down tea, kid beverage station, adults’ food table, adult beverage station).  We had a few games pulled together (Who Am I?- with 30 people/places/things to identify; a skeleton scavenger hunt; a memory game called “At My Birthday I Want”).  We figured that some kids might want to play the dance game on the XBox upstairs, and we always have the soft swords to fight with outside.  If the party slowed down toward the end, we would make a bonfire (I bought makings for s’mores and several boxes of hot chocolate mix, just in case).

Manly Guy and I joked that *someone* would forget to change their clocks and arrive an hour early.

My family has the sense to know to avoid me in the last hour before an event.  My husband always reminds the kids to “leave Mommy alone” right before a party.  I am a raving b!&@h.  There is always a lot left to do (no matter how well-planned I think it has been), and I am very focused, not taking the time or energy for niceties.  In the last hour before the Monster Tea, I needed to finish making the tea cakes, make tea sandwiches, set up both beverage stations, put out the games and set up the bubble station.  Yes, it was going to be a busy hour, but I felt that I could get everything done as long as I stayed on task.  Then, a few minutes before 3 PM, the doorbell rings.  Really?!  More than an hour before our start time of 4 PM?  We opened the door, and there was a classmate of the twins’ with his mom.  We looked at the mom, very surprised, and said something about not changing her clocks.  She looked back at us, also very surprised.  She showed us the Evite on her phone that somehow shows a start time of 3 PM.  I run upstairs and check my computer, which definitely shows a start-time of 4.  We panic a bit, hoping that we only have one early arrival.  (Thankfully, she was the only one.)

The Mom offered to help at least, so I gave her the task of making tea sandwiches while I finished making the tea cakes.  I knew that she was trying to be helpful, but having a guest early really messed up my mindset.  I couldn’t focus on what I needed to do, as I needed to be friendly and keep her busy with stuff so that she felt useful.  I lost my momentum, forgot to set up the beverage stations, and felt utterly behind as guests started to arrive in earnest at 4.  To top off my feeling of not having my act together, we were totally swamped with kids.  Our Evite gave an estimate of 17 guests, including adults.  I knew that not everyone had responded, and assumed that we would have between 20 and 25 kids, along with a handful of adults.  In the first half-hour of the party it was clear that the 24 gift bags that I had assembled was not going to be enough (thank goodness I had additional stuff upstairs to make more).  I struggled to greet everyone, get the drink stations set-up, let go of the idea of having games, and just try to ride the wave of chaos that took over the house and the yard.   In the end, I served a sit-down tea in the backyard for about 30 kids (not all would fit at the tables), hosted at least ten adults for a wine and cheese gathering in the living room, tried to keep the kids from doing anything too crazy in the yard (much sword-fighting went on), ensured that the kids upstairs were taking turns with the XBox dance game, and gave away 34 gift bags to kids that weren’t mine.

From the feedback that I got as people were leaving, everyone had a great time.  The twins loved their birthday party.  Clean-up the next day went faster than I expected, and within twenty-four hours the house was good as new.  But I still chuckle when I think of The Mom (who arrived early) when she was leaving: “Good thing I arrived early, isn’t it?”

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