You've never hosted a family dinner at your home and you're in a panic! But, think about it, what's the worst thing that can happen (excluding family dynamics): you burn everything, the dog gets the perfectly roasted chicken when it slides off the serving dish, or you drink so much wine to calm your nerves that you fall asleep with you head on the kitchen table before the guests arrive? Simple solution: order pizza. It would certainly make for fun family memories (even though you could possibly be so humiliated you'd hide in the broom closet until the guests leave).
Newbie dinner hosts have gone all kinds of crazy before company arrives. I know a gal who racked up hundreds on her credit card buying all new china, glasses, silverware, and linens to impress the in-laws before hosting her first Thanksgiving dinner. What's the point to making ourselves a nervous, anxious wreck before hosting dinner with people we feel we need to impress? We can be so hung up on perfectionism that we turn a dinner gathering into an anxiety attack.
Admittedly I grew up cooking and I owned a catering company for eleven years, so guests always expected to be wowed when they came to dinner. Yet the first time I entertained my future mother-in-law I was beside myself with fear and deer-in-headlights paralysis. I was having terrible allergies (damn that ragweed and goldenrod in October) and my Benedryl-fogged brain couldn't figure out how I could possible organize dinner, feeling as poorly as I did, but it was the first time she was coming to our home and I was determined not to cancel. My future husband thought the best solution could be found in the Whole Foods prepared food section. With a Rudolph-red nose, runny swollen eyes, and a box of Kleenex under my arm, I decided his idea was my best solution. I came back laden with a three-course meal, set the table, and put an icy washcloth on my face hoping to calm my sinuses and my nerves.
Nancy and her beau arrived and dinner was served. She was very impressed with the potato leek soup and bragged to her partner about the wonderful cook I was. I fessed up and told her I didn't make the soup. Then came the main course, and again she told her boyfriend of my culinary prowess, and again, I explained that I had nothing to do with the meal except reheating it in the microwave. By the time we hit dessert it was a foregone conclusion that I had nothing to do with it except putting it on a pretty dessert plate.
And to add insult to injury, I looked like a bad excuse for a Halloween pumpkin...swollen red nose, splotchy complexion, sneezing, snotty, and teary-eyed. I didn't even bother to put on makeup; mascara would have been running down my cheeks and lipstick smeared across my face. And Nancy was always so perfectly put together: coiffed hair, makeup, classic outfit. I felt sure she was wondering why her son chose this ugly mad woman to spend the rest of his life with?
But Nancy wasn't thinking any of those things. In truth she was so very happy that David and I found one another and that we were building a life together. The fact that dinner was prepared by some anonymous Whole Foods' chef didn't matter a lick to her. That we could share a meal in our home and be together as a family mattered. All my shame, fear, and worry was a lot of wasted energy.
I came to really love Nancy. I knew she adored me as I did her. On our wedding day when we were in front of all our friends and family, she caught my eye from her seat in the front row and mouthed, "I love you." That is one of the sweetest memories from that very special day. Sadly Nancy passed suddenly with pancreatic cancer. She went to the ER with a stomach ache, was diagnosed, and passed within a week. I was with her in hospice when her beautiful spirit passed from her body into the ethers. "Fly with the angels, Mom," I whispered.
Bottom line: it doesn't really matter if you burn everything or if the dog gets the perfectly roasted chicken. And if your guests think it matters, don't invite them to dinner again, and don't even bother to order that pizza, because sharing a dinner has less to do with the food you serve than it does with the love that flows around the table.