Last night Brad and I hosted our annual wilkison holiday gathering. We have been having this party for years - maybe since before we got married. It started as a small dinner party with a few of my friends from college and has evolved over the years into a larger party with old college friends of both Brad and I, as well as new friends that we have met together. Some years our party has been wiped out by unforeseen circumstances, but it has always found it's way back. Once a few years back the flu showed up at our party like parents who show back up at home just as their teenage offspring are letting the friends in the back door and hauling out the keg. One year the weather was the culprit, showering our streets with snow and ice and limiting our guests to those who happened to live close. You never know, when you try to throw a party in December, what will happen.
This was the first annual holiday gathering we have held since we became parents. We did not host the event last year - the only year we have cancelled since we began the tradition back in Akron. Everything about getting ready to throw a party changes when you have a 2 year old in the house. I used to work very hard at creating the perfect Martha Stewartish impression. A beautiful tree, the perfect centerpiece, exactly the right candles placed in exactly the right spot. So this is what I had in mind when I began to think about this year's event.
And then something happened. We went from celebrating Thanksgiving with Brad's family to celebrating it with mine the following Saturday. Once the Thanksgivings were out of the way we had seven days to prepare for the holiday party. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving we put up the tree. A while back the box the tree came in completely fell apart, so now our branches are stored in large black trash bags. Brad hauled the bags up from the basement, after carrying down all of the patio furniture and cushions from the back yard. So, I had 4 huge bags full of branches, and one empty tree stand. What I did not have were instructions. Each branch was color coded so that the tree could easily be assembled. What I didn't have was the map explaining what color went where.
After navigating the mystery of the colors, I tackled the lights. Every year I swear that I am going to store the lights in such a way that they will just unroll themselves and dance right onto the tree. And every year I find myself facing a jumbled pile of cords and lights. HOURS later the lights are on the tree. About 45 minutes into the light untangling Matthew got up from his nap, which then created an atmosphere in which I repeated "I'vealmost gotthem untangledmatthewdon'tsteponthelightsmatthewdon'ttouchthetreehowdidtheygetsotangledMATTHEW!"
Ornaments. After a major search I finally found the box of unbreakable ornaments and handed them over to the little guy. In no time at all the bottom three rows of the tree were done. Well, a few branches were holding three ornaments each, but the box was empty. A few broken ornaments later and the entire tree was done. It wasn't until much later when I was sitting in my quiet living room, lights dimmed, tree glowing, fire in the fireplace, baby in bed... I took a deep breath and was enjoying the peace of the evening and the beauty of the tree when I saw it. About three rows from the top, there it was. Having put the tree together with no instructions I was proud of the fact that I fit the branches into the slots in precisely the right order, from smallest on top down to longest on the bottom. Except that I could now clearly see that the row about three rows from the top was definitely longer than the row below it. It looked as though my beautiful tree had some sort of growth. For a brief second I contemplated getting off the sofa and fixing it. Then I realized that meant taking off the lights and shiny balls, removing the branches, putting them back in the correct spots and stringing the lights yet again. Suddenly it didn't look so bad...
So that was Sunday. The work week found me with a horrible cold I had caught from my loving husband and 5 straight evenings of overbooking. A friend's Tastefully Simple party, which I would up missing, a day care Christmas Show, and my husband's office bowling party, to name a few of the events on my schedule this week. Each day I thought "tomorrow I will plan the menu and such for the party." Before I knew it, tomorrow had turned into Friday, when I managed to squeeze in some shopping between work and bowling. Matthew and I were back at the store Saturday morning, thanks to my lack of planning!
Saturday is when we realized the angel for the top of the tree was still sitting on the coffee table and that BOTH of the lights on our garage were burned out. And we had weeds out front. And lots of those mail bags with the local free newspaper in them hanging off our mailbox. And a summer flag on our mini flag pole. And no holiday centerpiece for our kitchen table. I am sure I could go on and on, but you get the picture. By the time our first guest arrived, over an hour early because he comes from out of town, Brad was at the store once again and I had just brought Matthew downstairs after he nearly drowned me in the bath. And by the time Brad walked through the door I had flooded our entire first floor with smoke. Seeing as what I was baking was not burning, I assumed the oven chose just that moment to announce that it needed cleaned, so I switched to the toaster oven. The tiny toaster oven. Suddenly I was cooking like a clown, with tiny ovens and tiny cookie sheets.
I am happy to tell you that by the time the rest of the guests arrived the smoke was cleared and the house had warmed back up from having all the downstairs windows opened. The tasty nibblys were all cooked and everything was ready. And while this event was not what I originally had in mind when I began thinking about this year's party. I realized right away that it didn't matter that I only drink moscato so I didn't know whether merlot was truly considered red wine. It didn't matter that all the food and drinks were squeezed onto the kitchen counter because I had the foresight to realize the kids wouldn't leave anything on the kitchen table alone. (I forgot that, however, when I put all the desserts on the dining room table, easily within reach of little hands.) Our Christmas tree had an entire section where matthew had removed every ornament and hid them in his toy box. The lights for our front bushes were still in the basement, and I wasn't wearing any makeup.
What did matter was that my best friend from college was there. What mattered was how much fun my son had playing with all the "grown ups" at the party. What mattered was the group of old friends gathered in my kitchen laughing, eating, sharing old college stories and new parenting tips. Martha Stewart would not have been comfortable at our house last night, but I sure was.