Hip Mom: Parents who Juggle Having a Social Life and Raising Kids

So: you find yourself wanting to catch up with this friend or that friend, or maybe several friends, but find that with conflicting schedules and capricious babysitters, you can’t get together with ANYONE.  Or,  you’d love to meet all your girls for a night out, but after you pay the babysitter, you can only afford to meet at Taco Bell.  Or, the thought of getting your many persnickety children prepared for a sitter makes you want to just pop open a bottle of Shiraz and forget leaving your own premises, let alone socializing.  What is your solution here?  Do you give up on having any adult interaction until your children are in high school and can babysit themselves? NO! You do what any person hungry for a bit of social drama does, from Bixby to Santa Barbara to Barcelona — you THROW A PARTY!

WHAT, you screech?  Your walls are smeared with greasy fingerprints.  You have grotesque bruises on your feet from stepping on the same pile of forgotten Legos.  Your floors are festooned with sticky spots of Capri Sun. Yet, ironically, this is the greatest moment of your life to have a party:  the more kids you have, and the younger they are, the lower are everyone’s expectations! And really, if we all waited to open up our homes until our décor is more Perfect Country French than Early Frat House with Fries, we’d all be gray-haired post-menopausal grandmas. So invite your favorite girls, their partners and their kids, throw them some semi-palatable food, perhaps even an adult beverage, and voila! A party!

The first rule of throwing a party when you have children is do not work too hard. You will have enough on your hands already, because 16 minutes before guests arrive, your toddler will have a blow out and your other two will be having a fistfight on the floor. Now, you don’t want to offer your guests chicken nuggets and Jello, but there are plenty of easy, delicious options that won’t have you sweating and cursing in the kitchen while your guests enjoy themselves.  I happen to be terribly fortunate:  I married a guy whose secret hobby is spending the entire day in the kitchen creating spectacular Italian feasts from scratch. This of course works great for me:  I maybe toss up a salad, buy some delicious confections from the bakery, stock up on beverages, and boom – my work is done.

But even if you didn’t have the foresight to marry a guy with covert culinary skills, there are plenty of cheap, easy and excellent sources of party food. My favorite – if I can’t con PVT into cooking – is having a local Mexican joint cater. Everyone loves salsa, guacamole and tacos, and whole vats of this stuff are delicious and inexpensive. So call your favorite Mexican spot, have them prepare the food, pick it up, and on your way home, run in to a liquor store for some pre-mixed margaritas.  Just like that, you’ve got a party, and you can concentrate on sipping your beverage and laughing your head off with your friends.

Now of course there are people with much higher standards than I. Kelly P., who actually worked as an event planner, likes to have her house pretty sparkling before she invites people over.  She also likes to make her food, too, from easy snacks to more complicated recipes. In fact, Kelly is so particular about her parties that friends compare her to Monica from the TV show “Friends,” who obsessed about cleanliness and perfect recipes. But even given her high standards, Kelly doesn’t kill herself either. She’ll take a whole week before a party and clean a little something each day while her daughter naps, or even involve her daughter in the preparations. Kelly finds that when her daughter is involved in the party and the preparations, she won’t bring out all her toys or destroy anything. And she even gets to help Mom cook – stirring sugar and flour can keep a 3-year-old occupied for quite a while.

Kelly gets a lot of recipe inspiration from Pinterest – here is a bottomless source of party foods and activities. If you, like Kelly, enjoy all the planning and anticipation, then have fun! But if you have less time or inclination to make everything perfect, don’t let that stop you – I don’t. PVT and I (OK, mostly I) decide to hold a rather impromptu lasagna party – we decide on Wednesday to have a bash on Saturday. I decide to incorporate a few of Kelly’s great tips, and let the rest slide.

Our preparation starts just Friday night, when PVT runs to Wal-Mart for his lasagna ingredients. He starts chopping tomatoes that night (while watching soccer) for his famous sauce. For two hours! The next day, PVT continues to work his Italian alchemy in between kiddie soccer games, while I run a few errands:  the liquor store for wine, Tarzhay for hors d’oeuvres, fruit, salad makings, and new outdoor patio cushions (ah yes, a side bonus:  having people over is a great excuse to make some inexpensive home upgrades!) I then do some very basic damage control.  While you should expect that there will be some toys strewn about, you can minimize some of the destruction by hiding the puzzles and Legos. My actual cleaning is very limited – I make sure the potties and bathrooms are clean.

When I find myself getting annoyed with one kid for dragging out a bunch of beach towels, I hear Kelly’s words echoing in my head – include your kids. So I let my daughter place the springy paper plates wherever she wants them (she has an odd obsession with plates and napkins).  PVT involves the boys in the preparation of the lasagna and olive tapenade. This group effort, of course, is the crux of throwing a party when you have kids: You have to have FUN, or else it’s just a bunch of work. And because everyone is involved (except the 18-month-old – sheesh, she is useless), everyone has a good time anticipating the fun, too. So I take the cue:  it’s up to me to have a good time, enjoy my guests, and not go into early labor because the baby just spilled pretzels all over the kitchen.

At 4:30, people start arriving. I had invited quite a few people, thinking that of course most people have better things to do than hang out with us. But wow – I think we end up with around 20 adults and 30 kids!  So we really end up with a lasagna rave. Things get loud and rowdy quickly, but everyone seems to be having a good time (or at least not rolling their eyes openly at me).  We have plenty of food, what with my husband’s vats of lasagna, and the generosity of guests who brings sublime desserts, wine and salad. As usual, we don’t have enough seats – which is not too critical, since people sort of eat ad hoc and rotate through, oohing and aahing over PVT’s divine feast. But then we run out of cutlery, which is a bit embarrassing – I had bought paper plates and napkins, but forgot about FORKS. So I raid my grandmother’s silver – and when all of THAT has been dirtied, I resort to washing some forks by hand.

But aside from a lack of utensils, there are no broken bones or great tragedies. My own children take advantage of the ruckus and start drinking Coke (yes, even my baby). There’s a bit of mud strewn here and there, but everyone seems to be happy to let their kids run amok and talk to friends they haven’t seem for awhile.

As the party starts to wind down, some latecomers stop by and actually help us clean up while we chat, which is just crazy wonderful. And when the last guest leaves, we dump our muddy kids in the tub, then throw them in bed (how wonderful to have exhausted children!), and do a little light kitchen duty – there really isn’t all that much to do, besides a bit of trash duty and wipe up.  And then PVT and I  collapse on the couch, and toast our less-than-perfect, but wholly successful, lasagna rave.

Categories: Hip Mom