Saturday, September 11, 2010

That's Entertaining! Party Planning That Went Awry, Chapter One

by Barbara Burtoff

A friend called, needing a shoulder to cry on. She was organizing a Sunday afternoon luncheon and her party planning was not going well. Her niece, early 30s, had worked long and hard. She finally could afford to buy her own condominium and live on her own. My friend was proud of the accomplishment and thought it was worthy of a celebration. So she called her mother-in-law, the grandmother of the young woman, and asked if the party could take place at her house, which happened to be halfway between the homes of all the cousins and aunts.
My friend sent out invitations and worked on the menu. Soon after, she heard from her sister-in-law who told her to cancel the party. It was her intention to host something in honor of her daughter.

What did I think of this? That’s what my friend wanted to know. This wasn’t the first time I had heard such a story, I said, but I wanted to give the matter some thought.

Fortunately, before I got back to her, she got another call from her sister-in-law, who apologized for her outburst and said she was delighted by the gesture. She asked if she could add to the menu some longtime family favorites. In response, she got a “yes.” That turned out to be a good thing because the week of the party several sets of relatives who lived out of the area called to say they were passing through town on the way to or from a summer vacation and wanted to visit. All’s well that ended well.

Here’s another variation on this theme. A young man was graduating from medical school. His proud mom decided to have a luncheon for him at a restaurant near the school, planning to invite his friends from medical school, college, high school, all the neighbors that had watched him grow up and been a part of his life and a few of her friends.

Unfortunately, before she got going on this, she received a beautiful, printed invitation in the mail announcing a barbecue to celebrate the graduation, given by her stepdaughter, the young man’s half-sister. She had a big backyard and her home was halfway between the medical school and the town where her stepmother lived, as well as all those friends and neighbors.

That friend also needed a shoulder to cry on. She was furious, seething, but she was a true Southern belle. She knew how to be gracious. By the week of the party, she had calmed down and even got involved with the work and provided some of the funds. The weather cooperated, too, which was a good thing since the planner had a big backyard where the caterer could set up grills and tables, but a small house and no Plan B in case it rained.

I still haven’t told you what I thought of these two plans gone awry. To explain my position, I must go back a few years to a time when I served on the board of directors of a condominium association. A cable company was coming to wire our building for lots of programming -- news, movies, sports, talk shows, adult fare and telecasts from abroad in many different languages. The building, at the time, had a master antenna providing local TV. Per the bylaws, it was free to all residents. Once the cable company arrived and wired the building, adios to that master antenna system. Some of the local stations were still broadcast for free but others were not; neither was all the additional programming offered to residents. Those generated monthly bills. The amount depended on the quantity of packages chosen as well as “on demand” programs, which cost a fee each time one was turned on.

As a board member, I got calls of complaints from residents. They wanted to know why some of the formerly free, local shows now brought residents a monthly bill. I asked the local cable rep. He explained that the standard local shows were free so that the cable company could maintain the promise in the bylaws, but they had the right to charge for others because all the shows were provided through cable company wires. He called it “proprietary rights” to charge a fee for the transmission. In fairness to the provider, I have to say the reception was clearer, sharper, better.

Now getting back to the two tales above, did you notice that neither party planner thought it was a good idea to check in with the young person’s mother to let her know what they wanted to do and get her okay?

I think the two mothers also had proprietary rights. They gave birth to these children, took care of scraped knees and calls to the tooth fairy when baby teeth were lost, cheered loudly when their sports teams won first place and shed tears with them when their science projects did not wow the judges even though friends and neighbors were quite impressed.

In addition, some mothers also have the responsibility of raising a child or several children on their own because of a husband dying in a battlefield, in an explosion at the job site, in a car crash, from a fast-spreading cancer or because of divorce. These moms get through it one day at a time, maybe having to work a second job at night and, possibly, a third on the weekend. What keeps them going is the dream that some day their young boys and girls will grow into accountable adults holding down good jobs, being able to live well on their own, being kind to others and, perhaps, finding a perfectly suited partner for life -- though being modern moms they know that this is not the only alternative for happiness.

So what’s the bottom line? When it comes to celebrating milestones in a young person’s life, party planning brings a sense of joy for most moms. You may have good intentions, but don’t deny them the experience of seeing a dream fulfilled. They may welcome your interest in taking on the work and expense, but it is best to first ask and then tell what you have in mind.


Barbara Burtoff spent 10 years as a food writer and editor for the Boston Herald daily newspaper. She visited farms and markets, attended culinary schools and cooking contests, and covered parties of all sizes from large, gala fundraisers to small gatherings at home. She then left to finish an M.S. Education degree, expanded from one paper to national syndication focusing on consumer/shopping issues, nutrition and psychology of eating topics.

That's Entertaining! is published by the Cleveland Park Listserv.  (c) 2010 Barbara Burtoff

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