It's been a while. The holiday season is my favorite time of year, but it is also the most stressful time of year. Mid-November heralds the annual student freakout period as well as the heaviest grading period of the semester. Holiday travel plans must be made and budgeted for, which usually involves complex family negotiations. Perhaps the most stressful thing about this fall, however, has been my volunteering to host a potluck party for the specialized academic program of which I am student chair.
While the party had seemed like a great idea at the time I proposed it, by the week before the party I was deeply regretting the decision. The program is interdisciplinary, and invitees included not just other anthropologists but students and faculty from programs across the university. Perhaps most terrifyingly, my entire doctoral committee would be in attendance. The people I look up to most in my field would be in my house, my inner sanctum. My professional relationships were about to reach a whole new level of personal, and the same part of me that seeks their approval in my research wanted to impress them with my home. This was a Code Red hostessing situation.
The day before, and of, the party my husband and I scrubbed every surface of our home: walls, baseboards, windows, and the tops of picture frames. We took the rugs and blinds outside and washed them down with the garden hose. We laundered throw pillows, curtains, and the dog beds. We washed and brushed the dogs. I sanitized and polished every square inch of the bathroom, including the toilet brush and plunger. We pruned and weeded the yard and I planted pansies to bring some color to the front porch. I rearranged the furniture about 4 times.
Less than 2 hours before guests were to arrive I had just put a cake in the oven and was about to mop the floors while David prepared to poop-scoop the backyard. I did a final wipe-down of the kitchen when, suddenly, Murphy's law struck. The sink backed up. We abandoned mopping and poop-scooping in favor of taking apart the plumbing and trying to clear the clog, but it was to no avail. The clog was somewhere in the piping back behind the wall. We reassembled everything but discovered another problem: the threading where the piping attached to the sink's base was stripped. There was no way to reconnect it tightly.
With no time to run to the hardware store, we did what we could: put a large bowl underneath the sink to catch water. There was also no time left to mop the house or de-poop the yard. My perfectionist nature was in agony. My squeaky clean baseboards were all for nought. Everyone would arrive and see our un-shiny floors and backed-up kitchen sink. Some professor I don't even know would step in dog poop on their way to the firepit. I poured myself a (rather large) glass of wine and steeled myself for our guests.
About 30 people came to the party that night and I didn't catch one person staring at my floors or peering down my sink drains. Instead, people I didn't even know complimented our home and requested tours so they could ask about particular items. Everyone gamely watched out for dog poo on their way to the firepit. Wine, beer, and whiskey flowed and much food was consumed. Our collection of musical instruments was put to good use. Professors looked nostalgically through our 1970s-heavy record collection and kept the music playing all evening. We laughed and joked and by the end of the night I had forgotten all about our unmopped floors and out-of-order sink.
A good party can bring out the best in your home. Do I regret putting in all that extra effort to make things look nice? Absolutely not. But, despite the state of my floors and plumbing, my relationships with my committee members remain excellent and I was once again reminded of the importance of embracing imperfect hostessing.