The Hostest with the Mostest… Hip Pain
I bustle around the kitchen prepping food. It’s my daughter’s birthday, and we’ve invited several families over for a backyard barbecue to celebrate. The guest list was made and invites sent out weeks ago. My husband and I spent the weekend prior sprucing up the yard. I carefully made the shopping list, and in trips to three different stores I crossed all the items off of it. The favor bags have been filled, the decorations are up, and the cupcakes are ready to be gobbled up by happy children. The weather is gorgeous, and everything seems to be lining up perfectly. All that remains is to prep the food, tidy a few areas of the house, and put the drinks and snacks out just before the guests arrive. Standing at the counter chopping vegetables, I’m feeling very on top of things . . . until my hip seizes up. I am gripped in pain that shoots tension through my entire body. Releasing the knife, I lean over the counter and take some deep breaths, and then begin trying to swing my leg in small arcs until my hip will move freely again. Slowly, movement returns to my hip, but the pain is still searing. Suddenly, I have no idea how I am going to pull this party off.
I used to love throwing parties. Back in high school I opted for theme parties complete with costumes and thematic food and drink over the backyard keg parties most teenagers preferred. Once I moved out in college, I frequently hosted all kinds of soirees. On my first date with my now-husband, he asked me what I liked to do in my free time, and one of the things I listed was hosting get-togethers. Now that I’m a working mom with rheumatoid arthritis in my late thirties, my relationship with parties has changed. Whereas the idea of them is still appealing, the thoughts of all the work involved quickly flood in. I have to balance my extroverted need to socialize with my arthritic need to not overdo it. In college I would have done all the shopping in the morning, cleaned the house before lunchtime, then launched straight into food preparation before showering and putting on makeup and a cocktail dress. By the time guests arrived, I would have been on my feet the entire day.
Ever since my RA went into full force, I have not been able to pull off party-prep in a day. Instead, I start cleaning a week ahead of time, spreading the chores over a few days, and I always shop at least a day or two before a party, as I am all too familiar with the ramifications of doing all that lifting, bending, pushing, and carrying for hours on end. Unlike my college days, I wouldn’t dream of hosting anything but the smallest of get-togethers solo. My ever-helpful husband is so used to the drill that now early on the day of an event he will ask, “Where’s the list?” in reference to the tasks I assign him. If I try to do it all alone, it simply won’t get done because I’ll start hurting too much to get through. Cooking is the hardest part, because not everything can be made ahead of time. Although we don’t have an island or bar seating, I still have a stool in my kitchen so that I can perch there while I peel and chop. However, that only reduces the strain a little, as I always have to get down from the stool to go to the fridge, sink, cabinets, or oven, and getting on and off the stool multiple times offsets the strain-reduction of sitting part of the time. Also, my knees ache from the awkward way I have to sit on the stool in order to be close enough to the cutting board. Usually by the time I’m finished cooking, it is nearly time for guests to arrive and I only have time to change clothes, foregoing makeup or a shower; I no longer look fabulous at the events I host.
I’ve also drastically changed the menus I serve. Before RA, my primary concern was with what food would best complement the other components of the party. Now when deciding on an event menu, most of my consideration goes into how much prep time each dish will require. Simple recipes that feature veggies I can buy prewashed and precut have become my party staples. And that’s when I cook at all. We host our extended family for Christmas Eve each year, and I physically can’t handle a day on my feet cooking after the hectic weeks of shopping, wrapping, crafts, Christmas parties and children’s events. Instead, I’ve started ordering catered food from stores or restaurants. While it is more expensive than cooking at home, the savings in pain and exhaustion is worth it. After all, I want to spend Christmas morning with my children with a smile on my face, not a grimace.
Hosting now, like most aspects of living with RA, requires a reduction in my expectations, which is a challenge for my perfectionist tendencies. In addition to no longer cooking elaborate meals or wearing cocktail dresses, I no longer use decorations that will involve lots of reaching to put up and take down, I often shove things in closets or the garage at the last minute rather than cleaning properly, and I avoid hosting on Sundays, as I feel wrecked the day after hosting an event and usually need to spend some or most of it in bed. All of that being said, while I’m keenly aware of all the finishing touches that I’m no longer putting on my parties, I can’t say that my friends and family ever notice a difference. While I may feel awful the following day, spending time with people I love still feels worth it. After all, it should be the laughs shared with our loved ones, and not the flourishes, that make a party truly memorable.