Don’t Miss the Moment: Planning Life’s Celebrations
It hit me like a birthday piñata filled with too much candy; I was not ready for this party. I was en route to my son’s 11th birthday celebration this past January. I had the cake, and the guests had been invited, but other than that, I was ill prepared. I had no candles to blow out, no paper plates to serve snacks from, and for that matter, absolutely nothing for 10 ravenous pre-teen boys to eat other than a small confectionary offering that suddenly looked like it might only serve 2-3 instead of the promised 8-12 guests. After a mad dash through Target, I emerged victorious (and slightly sweaty) with mismatched paper napkins, plastic forks, Gatorade, and enough Doritos chips to feed a small army. Grabbing two #1 candles on my way to the checkout, I promised myself “Never again!” I made an oath right there in the Target parking lot that I would shop and plan weeks ahead for my next big family event, wowing our guests with handmade treats and impressive takeaway mementos of our special day. Sadly, I knew almost immediately that no matter how much I wanted to be able to plan elaborate celebrations for my loved ones, a lack of time and energy would squash my dreams of a Disney-worthy fairytale party.
The hurry-up pace of life can often distract us from truly being in the moment on important occasions in our lives. Whether it’s a birthday party, a bridal shower, or an anniversary celebration to honor 50 plus years of marriage, the weeks filled with planning and preparation leading up to the event can leave us too exhausted to enjoy the day when it finally arrives. In a culture filled with Pinterest boards and professional party planners with their own reality TV shows, it’s easy to assume that no one would be interested in attending a gathering that was anything less glamorous and put together than a red-carpet gala. However, something deep within us whispers there must be another way. Surely life’s most meaningful moments aren’t measured by the china plates they are served on, or by how many social media likes we get from the pictures that follow. How can we honor our friends and loved ones without being taken over by stress or feelings of inadequacy?
“Mindfulness” has become a buzzword in our society, an indication that unless we tell ourselves to focus on the moment at hand, we might miss it entirely. The word means “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” In the case of my son's birthday party, accepting my feelings at the moment might have meant admitting the fact that I felt like a horrible parent who had let my son down by not throwing an elaborate celebration (because we all know that 11-year-old boys are very, very concerned with THAT). As far as "bodily sensations" go, my frantically beating heart and wild-eyed glint told nearby shoppers to stay out of my way as I rushed the aisles and raced to the party location. Fortunately, I was able to acknowledge that although I could have planned ahead just a little better, the party was ultimately about celebrating our son and all that he brings to our lives. I might have missed the joy of the whole afternoon if I had allowed myself to get caught up in finding my worth as a mom in my ability to entertain my child's friends.
I knew I couldn’t be alone in my party planning adventures, and misadventures! I needed to talk with someone who had a knack for gathering people together in a way that didn't leave a wake of destruction and unmet expectations in her path.
Enter Brandi Lapito, a Billings mom of three who fills her bucket by hosting meaningful get-togethers for family and friends alike. Brandi held a baby shower for me during my pregnancy with our third child, and I will never forget how honored I felt as I entered her home. Special touches such as sugar rimmed glasses for punch and handwritten place cards identifying scrumptious food items made the afternoon seem to be made just for me. I sat down with Brandi to find out just how she manages to pull off the ultimate celebration without getting lost in the details. Brandi jumped in right away by saying, “The way I’m wired, I want to enjoy the party and not get too stressed out.” She described the pressure she sees some women put on themselves to make everything from scratch or to personally oversee every single detail of the planning process. She says, “Costco is my best friend! Presentation is the key. By displaying store-bought treats on a pretty plate, you can have things done beautifully without a lot of hassle." Delegating is also one way Brandi keeps from getting overwhelmed in preparation. “So many people really do love to help – why not use everyone’s individual giftings to come together in a community of celebration?” Entrusting others to help with the planning might mean you give up some of the control, but what you gain by not trying to handle every detail could mean the difference between enjoying the event and crying in the corner. (But hey, it’s your party and you can…well, you know.)
Brandi laughs that not all her hosted events have been picture perfect. She recalls a dinner party in her home that featured soup as the main course. Unfortunately, Brandi forgot to purchase bowls for her guests (most of the ones in her own collection were cracked), and the soup was served out of whatever dishes she could find – even mismatched Tupperware! Brandi recalls that story with a smile because she has learned not to focus on perfection when it comes to party planning. She says, “I love the sweetness of people coming together and ministering to the person that we are honoring – speaking words of encouragement over them and letting them know how much they are loved. Everyone showing up and pouring into them is where the real celebration comes for me.”
A wise quote reads, “The best way to capture moments is to pay attention.” We don’t need the fanciest camera lens or flowery Facebook posts to record all of life’s memorable moments. No amount of planning or stressing out about details that most party-goers are going to forget anyway will make ours an affair to remember. What matters is that we show up for all that there is to celebrate in this grand, messy, beautiful life. Not just show up physically, but fully immerse ourselves in the chaos of the moment. Planning and organization can go a long way towards making a party enjoyable, but once the day that you’ve worked for so hard arrives, sit back and take it all in…there is truly no greater gift than the present!
Stress-Less Party Planning Timeline
Three Weeks Before:
· Finalize the guest list and send out invitations (consider saving on postage with a digital invitation from a website such as Evites!)
· Decide on a theme for the party and purchase (or make) any decorations you might need
· Ask for help! Enlist friends or relatives to bring side dishes, help with set up or clean up, or take pictures so you can focus on enjoying all your hard work on the day of the party
Two Weeks Before:
· Do an initial grocery run. Purchase food items (especially non-perishables or frozen foods) and paper products, if needed.
· Take care of any items that need to be specially ordered (personalized cake, etc.)
· Begin to get a head count of RSVP’s
Two or Three Days Before:
· Make sure common areas of your house are clean (if you’re hosting). Refill bathroom essentials and clean out fridge/freezer to store food items
· Set out extra tables and chairs. Setting out fewer chairs than guests might encourage mingling!
· Do a final grocery run. Don’t forget about commonly overlooked items like ice, serving utensils, and garbage bags
Day of the Event:
· Finish last-minute cooking
· Chill beverages and set tables
· Take a deep breath and don’t forget to enjoy the moment!
Brooke Wagner is a southern girl at heart, but a Montanan by choice she lives just outside of Billings with her husband and three children, ages 13, 11, and 6. She is a board-certified music therapist who enjoys cooking, spending time with her family, and hiding under the covers with a good book.