Growing up I couldn’t wait to have a home of my own so that I could host family dinners, parties and holiday events. It all seemed so elegant and glamorous to have people gathered together socializing, laughing, and having a great time. Such a ridiculous misconception on my part as the reality of being the hostess is nothing like the idyllic picture that I had created in my head off my obviously skewed childhood memories. Clearly I had never ventured into and spent time in the kitchen with either my mother or my grandmother to learn the truth behind what it took to pull off one of these events.
Anyone who has hosted any sort of family get-together knows that it is work, and a lot of it. I experienced this first hand again just yesterday when we had a birthday celebration for my eldest son. There is little enjoyment for the hostess whose hostessing role begins long before the event itself, and ends way after everyone leaves. First, there is the preparation phase which includes cleaning your house from top to bottom. Quite often this phase starts several days prior to the event and may even continue right up until the moment before people start walking through your door. Depending on who you are having over will often influence the degree of cleanliness you are aiming for. That is, if you are having guests over who have been to your home before, you will do the “basic” cleaning – you will make sure everything is neat and in order, you will vacuum, straighten up your bathroom(s), mow the lawn, and in general make sure everything is as presentable as possible. If you are having a mix of guests, that is, some who have seen your house before and others who have not, (or even all guests who have never been to your house before) you most likely will step it up a notch and attempt the supreme cleaning effort. You’ll still vacuum, clean the bathroom(s), mow the lawn, and make everything presentable; however now you’ll dust everything in sight, scrub toilets and bathtubs, mop floors, make beds, put away any stray baskets of laundry, and clean bedrooms (just in case someone wants a house tour – and god forbid your house look like you actually live in it).
The prep phase also includes deciding on a menu; which is most likely influenced both by who is coming and what the occasions is. Do you cook, do you order food, do you do a potluck? How much do you make or order? Do you do a little bit of everything?
Then there is the day of the event itself. As I already stated there is a good chance that while you are in food prep mode you are also still in “last-minute” cleaning mode in those final hours before guests arrive. If you are anything like me, children are ordered outside or into the basement play area so as to keep any upstairs messes at a minimum and my husbands opportunity to shave ends if I have already cleaned the bathroom sink (the problem when you only have one bathroom in your house).
As guests begin to arrive you are putting on a smile and moving into service mode. Offering drinks and hors d’Oeuvres – who needs what? Exchanging pleasantries as people file through the door… You gently steer people to those certain areas of your house which you are hoping they will congregate in, knowing all too well that despite your best efforts you’ll have 15 people crammed in your kitchen while you are attempting to assemble the main course. And simultaneously, while you are attempting to maintain the flow of the day you also are constantly scanning each room for potential problems and asking yourself…. “Is there enough toilet paper? Why are the bathroom hand towels missing ? How did dip get on the floor? Who takes a who bottle of water, opens it, drinks 1/4 and then leaves it unattended and later unclaimed? Why are my children running through the house when its beautiful outside?” You get my point.
While you are doing your best to enjoy yourself, you remember that as the hostess there is little time to relax as you need to clear out those hors d’Oeuvres trays and move on with the main course – which may or may not be a formal sit-down depending on the occasion. Dishes are collected and meals are swapped out. If you are lucky you will eat with the group and the food will still be hot, but depending on the flow of your event chances are that you might never make it out of the kitchen. The good news is usually you are stuck in there with a few close relatives or friends who, because they love you and feel your “hostessing pain” offer to eat with you and then help with the dishes and clean-up – which out of necessity must be started as each prior course ends – otherwise your kitchen will look like a bomb went off in it (even though the reality is that it still will look like that – but on a smaller scale)
You muddle through your event, stealing away moments to visit with your guests, have a few laughs, probably have a cocktail or two just because your bound and determined to get some type of socialization in….and then before your know it people start to leave. You thank everyone for coming and glance around your home thinking how you are so not forward to cleaning up. Once everyone leaves, you go into full cleaning mode once again. Re-vacuuming, re-cleaning the bathrooms, scrubbing down your kitchen after washing and drying the dishes (even if you used paper plates there is still a mess to be cleaned up), and taking out the overflowing garbage that no one else seemed to notice throughout the day. And while you are doing all of this you think to yourself “I’d rather be a guest.”
My Disclaimer….If you read this and wondered where my husband was throughout this whole day, to his credit he was very helpful in other ways both before, during, and after the party. I didn’t write this to in anyway diminish his efforts; however as most women know, the hostessing role for women takes on a very different connotation as we (or at least I know for myself) want to ensure a certain level of perfection that most men will never quite understand. And in doing so we often set the bar of expectation very high.