Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Great Graduation Party

"The party's over..." Woo-Hoo! My youngest son, Matt, had his high school graduation open house party this past Sunday. Enter Murphy's Law. After months of planning, with attention to every detail, I thought I was ready, and expected the set-up to run like a Swiss Clock (i.e., like me). The day before was time to set up the inside of the garage; decorations, awards table, food tables, etc. It had been beautiful summer weather in Ohio for the past two weeks.

Saturday, aka "set up day," there is a Tornado warning for NE Ohio. Despite the tornado sirens, the garage set up goes well. I finish just as the local TV news station advises people to take shelter in their basements. Luckily for us, no tornado, but we do have a decent mid-afternoon thunderstorm, which I sit through on my front porch. Anxious for tomorrow's "big day," I pray that this was the end of the rain and wind, and we will have a glorious sunny day for the party tomorrow.

The rest of this tale has some slight exaggeration, but trust me, none of it is grossly off the mark. It represents me at the end of my rope, hanging with my hands tied, in front of a firing squad. I am a planner. I am efficient. I do not procrastinate. I consider problems to be merely challenges. I work very, very hard. I have a long fuse. However, when backed into a corner, I do not curl up and die. I come out kicking and scratching; verbally, not physically. When the fuse has reached its end, there will most definitely be a loud explosion. I am half Romanian. I can't help it. It's genetic.

We wake up at 8AM Sunday morning because the party-rental company is delivering the tables and chairs. The overcast weather doesn't look too promising, but at least it isn't raining. We have two large canopies set up to shelter the tables, so I figure we are safe. I open the morning paper to read that yesterday, a tornado had actually touched down in a bedroom community SW of Toledo. There was heavy damage and several people had died. Shudder. Goosebumps. Sorrow. I think "thank your lucky stars, Linda, it's all O.K. here," (albeit the yard, so lush and green, was now the consistency of a wet sponge.) Looking up at the gray skies, I think, "it'll clear up." Unbeknownst to me, this is not exactly an accurate thought.

My son and husband get the tables and chairs in place, then hubby goes inside to start cooking the rigatoni and meatballs, and the potatoes. Matt and I get ready to cover the tables with the lovely red and blue (his school colors) plastic tablecloths. The wind decides it's time for a little fun. So, here we have two people, holding 8ft. long, thin plastic table covers that the wind does not want on the tables. Strapping tape in hand, I get one end of the cover fastened under the table. "Matt, put both hands on the middle of the table and hold it down!" I madly tape one side, as the wind gets under the cover on the other side and tries to rip it off the table. Dashing like a mad woman, I run to tape down the other side, then finally the opposite end. 6 tables and almost 2 hrs. later, the six table covers are secure. Under normal conditions, it usually takes a matter of minutes to do this. No matter; time for the centerpieces! "Matt, run inside the house, and oh, take your shoes off, 'cause I just scrubbed the kitchen floor yesterday! Get that big box of framed photos and inflatable dragons (his school mascot) your brother just blew up, and bring 'em out here. Tell Todd to carry out the vases with the roses in them." Next, me in action; dragons' tails taped to tablecloths, Senior pictures on, rose vases on - tables are lookin' good!

Then it rains. Rain, rain and more rain. Rain that blows in under the canopies, soaking the ends of the tables and end chairs. Then it stops. Me, yelling (uh, yeah, by now I'm yelling), "Taaaaawd! Get some towels and start wiping off the tables and chairs!" Todd: "O.K., mom; clam down!" At which point, my firstborn receives "the look" from his dear old mom. Into the kitchen I run, and order (yep, by now I was barking orders) my poor husband to get those extra pans of rigatoni and potatoes he just made into the oven and set it on warm (these are my "backups" when the food in the roasters/crockpots run out). I order him to get more rigs on to boil and turn on one roaster and the 2 crockpots in the garage and set them on high. "Put meatballs and sauce in the roaster. When the rigs are done, put them in the sauce. Get the beans in one crockpot and potatoes in the other. Put the rest of the beans in suacepans on the stove to warm up" (backups again). I grab plates of cookies to take out to the desert table. I mix up lemonade and iced tea and carry the pitchers outside. I order Todd to go get ice for the coolers. I order Matt to start carrying up water bottles from the basement. I am General Patton, orders are being carried out with precision, and it's looking like the rain has retreated in fear. It's all good. It's only 11:30AM.

At noon, the crockpots and one roaster in the garage are full of food, and the other roaster is on warm, waiting for the chicken. It's time to get the cake, fruit tray, bread, and chicken. This is my husband and eldest son's job. Off they go. I check the backup foods on my electric stove and in the electric oven. Nothing's burning, everything's fine. I run upstairs to take a quick bath, wash my hair, and change clothes. Zip, zoom, badda-boom. Now to do hair and makeup. I blow dry my hair, and decide to check the food outside before I put my face on. It's 1:00, and the party starts at 3. I take the lid off the roaster full of rigs and meatballs, and poke one meatball with my finger. Ice cold. Panic. I check the setting; it's on high. Looking like a word balloon with "Duh?" on it should be coming out of my mouth, I run in and grab a couple of spoons. Spoon takes a quick dip the spaghetti sauce, which is as cold as the meatballs. The beans and potatoes in the two crockpots are cold as the sauce. Me: "WTF! The food's been in there for an hour and a half!"

Let me interrupt myself to mention that I normally do not like the acronym "WTF," nor do I ever use it in my posts on line. However, in this instance, the letters do represent a direct quote. Cold food 2 hrs. befor the party starts will do that to me. Let me also explain that our house was built in 1919. There is just one double-plug electrical outlet in the garage that operates the garage door opener and the light. It's fine for that. The two plugs for these items were removed and one was replaced with a 6-outlet surge strip to accommodate the roasters, crockpots, and the chocolate fountain and coffee maker (the last two as of yet had not been plugged in). I look at the surge strip. The switch is not on.

My fuse is lit and burning and no one is here to stomp it out. OMG! Did my hubby NOT turn the stupid surge strip ON?! Never mind makeup now, there is no foundation thick enough to mask the redness of my face. I flip the switch on the surge strip. It gives a red glow, and my face returns to it's normal color. I rationalize that there are still 2 hours before guests arrive; the food should get plenty warm by then. My blood pressure stabilizes. Then I hear "Click." The surge stip has tripped; the switch's red light is gone. I flip it on again. "Click." Again. The sound of doom, "Click." My Swiss Clock has been sledge-hammered. General Patton is now, at best, a Private, 1st class, and the best laid plans of mice and mom's...

As the tears start to flow, my husband and son return with the food. I become a babbling idiot. "No Power! no power! The surge strip keeps tripping, the food is ice cold, what'll we do? what'll we do?" Whaaaaaaaa!

Hubby runs in to flip the switch on the surge strip. Now, may I pause here to reflect upon this oddity. When a woman says something isn't working, why does a man immediately do just what she did to prove that the whole problem is her. I can flip a switch as easily as you can. Why do you think the switch will stay on for you when it didn't stay on for me several times. Are you magical? Do you have some unknown power over electrical appliances that I haven't been aware of for 20 years? Or, do you just think I'm dumb as dirt and didn't flip the switch correctly? No matter, the switch trips. Hubby tells me that the line from the outlet isn't made for that much power. He brilliantly decides to put a second surge strip in the other outlet plug-in, and split the appliances on the two surge strips. For a moment, I think he is brilliant. He plugs in the second surge strip, transfers one roaster and one crockpot to the new strip, and flips both switches. Eureka! They are on! As I reach to hug him...."click, click." Both surge strips trip. Me: "Whaaaaaaaa!" Hubby mutters the "s" word. No vocal outbursts for him. Strangely, personality-wise, he is Yin, I am Yang. Then, his voice of reason says, "well, what we'll have to do is get the cold food out of the roasters, and put the hot food from the kitchen in them. It'll be O.K. We'll just put the food that's already out here into the oven and on the stove, and you'll have backup food by the time we need it. The great food-switch is under way. Plan B has never been more welcome. All is not lost!

Until we go into the kitchen. The clock on the oven is flicking 12:00, 12:00, 12:00. The oven light is off. The light on the stovetop is off. Hmm, in fact, all the lights in the house are off. Not only did the surge strips trip, the whole darn breaker did; the main breaker. The food in the oven and on the stove is warm, but certainly not hot. All the electricity in the house gave up the ghost when the garage appliances were turned on. Here, I interject a positive word for gas ranges and ovens. Electric ones...well, no need to say it. Hubby runs to the basement to turn the breaker back on. We hear a much louder click. He turns it on again. Click.

He says the "s" word again, only it is much louder and much more discernible this time. Maybe he is becoming Yang, while I become Scarlett O'Hara. Shaking my fist at the heavens and screaming, "I spent 3 weeks scrubbing this house, top to bottom! I washed walls, windows, sinks, toilets, tubs, floors, blinds, curtains, every picture on the walls and every knick-nack! I scrubbed down and set up the front porch. I weeded the flower beds and planted flowers! I ordered all the food, made and sent out the invitations, got all the decorations and party supplies. I ran to 6 stores for food and planned the menu! I ordered the cake, the chicken, and the tables and chairs. I worked my butt off for this party! I want my son to have a nice party. He deserves it and I killed myself to give him one! And this, this is how I'm paid back? The weather sucks, and now a freakin' stupid power shortage in this stupid old house? With God as my witness, I will never have another party at my house again!" The shaking has spread from my fist and is now throughout my entire body. Still without a drop of makeup on, I run into the house as my son, the honors graduate, whose guests will undoubtedly enjoy the cold food we offer, tries to console me.

And then the sun comes out. Literally and figuratively. Hubby reports that he had to unplug the large roaster for the chicken, but if we get the hot chicken in it now, and put the lid on, it should keep the food warm enough for the party (which, at this point, begins in one hour.) We do the food-switch, and I plug in the chocolate fountain in the spot vacated by the chicken roaster. I decide to leave the coffee maker plugged in inside the house. I have already mentally asked God's forgiveness for my anger, but don't want to push my luck. Tempt not the fates. I would rather have coffee-seeking people track mud across my clean kitchen floor than plug one more thing into that darn surge strip. Besides, my spotless kitchen now has empty pans with remnants of spaghetti sauce, parsley potatoes, and beans stacked on every counter from the great food switch. I just don't care anymore about the "pass the white-glove inspection" cleanliness of my dwelling. My neatness perspective has been drastically altered. I never do get makeup on, and realized my vanity is the least of my worries. Besides, I have just been through a little taste of hell, and I want it to show. Twenty minutes before 3:00, I spend consecutive five minute intervals asking hubby if the food is hot yet. He always replied that it was warm enough. "Warm enough" would usually send me into a tizz, but I now considered it a vast improvement from "it's still cold."

With the first non-perfectionist frame of mind I ever posessed in my life, I greet the first guests to my youngest son's, my baby's, graduation party. I laughingly tell them the tales of the foul-wether set-up and the tripping breakers. Everyone laughs and says "Linda, never a dull moment with you!" I agreed wholeheartedly. Our guests eat the warm-enough food, drink the perfectly cold beverages outside, and those wanting hot coffee, track beautiful black Ohio mud and wet grass into my kitchen. They all hug and congratulate a grinning Matthew, and they remain at the party much longer than people who are not having a good time. The sun stays out, and we have over 50 guests from the 60 we invited. Seventeen of Matt's school friends come, and several of them tell me it was the best graduation party they had ever been to. Four of Matt's friends stay well past ten o'clock at night, and his best friend spends the night on the family room sofa. When Matt wakes up the next afternoon ;) he tells me he had a great time at his party and I get a nice big "thanks, Mom" a hug, and a kiss.

Is there a lesson here? Of course. Many, in fact. All's well that ends well is probably an apt summation. My son Todd will be graduating from college in two years. Hubby and I agreed to have his college graduation party at a banquet hall. Yes, it will be expensive; it will be indoors, with everything set up, and the food will be catered. With God as my witness, I will never have a GRADUATION party at my house again.