I have a condition, not yet formally acknowledged by mental health professionals, but seriously debilitating to me. I call it Acute Anxiety re: Company and Kin, or “AACK!” since that is what I say every time I have to entertain guests. As a result, I never invite anyone to my house for socializing, even though secretly I really want to. I do invite my family, in my role as Mom and Grandmother, and that is no easier, even though we are talking about MY CHILDREN, not some crabby old aunt running her white glove over the dusty mantel. On Sunday, they all came over to celebrate Chanukah: two sons, one DIL, one future DIL, one adorable grandson. This is a total of five guests, and yet it still put me into a tailspin. I got quite crazy beforehand, and then sank into a coma for hours afterward from the stress. I have been feeling bad about it ever since. I thought it was too hectic, too crowded and too boring. I know that many of you are fabulous entertainers and some of you actually enjoy and look forward to it. I am counting on you to offer me ideas that will help me conquer this debilitating problem. In order to help you in your analysis, I offer the following signs and symptoms:
- I was able to plan and pull off TWO Bar Mitzvah parties, with about 80 guests each, with no symptoms of AACK. Somehow a huge party seems easier for me than a small one. They were each held in my front yard, so there was plenty to be anxious about, e.g., the weather. Yet it was more easily doable than an 8-person gathering.
- My mother had this disorder big time, and that scares me because I dread turning into her. I wonder if it could be genetic, or is it learned behavior from watching her implode at every holiday gathering?
- My house is small and laid out in such a way that each of the areas where people would gather are kind of a tight fit, so crowding is inevitable.
- I used to be terribly concerned about having the food ready and hot when the guests arrived, but I have gotten better at that. Still, the residual anxiety remains. I also worry that the food will not be good, even though it’s usually something I’ve made 10,000 times before.
- My husband and stepson are incredibly helpful before and after, so it isn’t that I feel martyred and alone in my efforts.
- Wine seems to help a bit. My husband was horrified when I requested a glass of wine before the Chanukah gathering on Sunday, because I asked before NOON (they were scheduled to arrive at 12:30). But it really helped.
- The children and DILs all get along well, so there is no fear of someone blowing up and screaming, as there always was with my family of origin.
- I so dreaded spending holidays with my in-laws that I project that feeling onto my poor innocent DILs. I am concerned they are hating every minute of the visit and finding my little habits laughable (“OMG, who serves chicken and latkes but NO GREEN VEGETABLE?”).
- I had a work-related event at my house in August which went very well. I can’t figure out why. It was potluck, which I think was one big reason. Also, there was a well-planned agenda with a lot of ground to cover in a defined span of time, so no fear of boring silence.
- My house is always cluttered and although that embarrasses me, the best I can do is stuff everything into a box and hide it in the laundry room. But then while the guests are there, I look around and see that a chair is piled with knitting in progress and the desk in the kitchen is invisible under all kinds of un-put-away stuff. Somehow I didn’t notice this until I looked through the eyes of others.
As I am writing this, I’m realizing how intensely I want to be cured. Will you please help a fellow mom, who is hoping to grow up at last at the age of 61? All suggestions will be sincerely appreciated! I may even invite you to dinner someday.