Zoe just turned seven and she requested a big party and we threw her one. Parties are fun. And there's always more people you can invite - between her friends and our friends, all the brothers and sisters of her friends, people who live in town and people who live out of town - it turned into a big event.
I bought lots of food. I went to Costco and bought LOTS of snack foods and meats and paper plates and beers. I planned recipes. I spent two days prepping marinades, making gallons of potato salad, learning a new crock-pot baked bean recipe, making a gluten free cake. When I say it, it actually doesn't sound like an unreasonable amount of effort - but new recipes always feel a little harder than the tried and true ones, and cooking for thirty feels more intimidating than cooking for three. I like to cook. But it was a lot.
So on the day of the party, my sister and brother-in-law came in a little early, and my uncle. We were chatting, and laughing, and sort of slowly working on getting tables set up, and vaguely planning how the party would flow, and Steve started up the grill, and then suddenly all of the guests arrived.
And from that point on I was running. The hot dip wasn't quite ready. The cooler didn't have ice in it. Grownups who didn't want beer at 3pm were drinking juice boxes because the sparkly water was still in the basement. The burgers were up, but where were the buns? The ketchup? People were scooping potato salad onto their plates but I didn't have forks out yet. No napkins. And as each of these crises emerged, I was completely able to handle it. I HAD napkins, and water, and forks, and I even knew where they were. I was putting out fires left and right, and a little bit congratulating myself on being so on the ball that I could respond instantly to what was needed. More popcorn? Got it. Ice cream to go with the cake? Yes. Candles? Right in this drawer. Garbage bags? Under the sink. Got one. Here it is.
And I was pleased that I was able to supply everything the party needed, but I do recognize how much more smoothly everything might have gone if I'd had the napkins, say, on the table in advance. If I'd preset more of the drinks. If there had been an obvious place for ladies to drop their purses instead of everything being completely played by ear.
And then I got to thinking. In the orchestra, you should be able to take direction. So if the conductor asks you to play it softer, you should be able to do that. If the flute player asks you to make your articulation shorter, you should be able to do that.
And it would be easy to make that requested adjustment, and to make it quickly and easily, and think proudly that you'd done well. But how much better would it have been if you'd actually prepared for that special very soft moment in advance? Had noticed the bounciness of the flutist's articulation before she had to ask you with words? Had known the piece so well that all of your choices were the right ones, the first time? It's important to be able to adjust, but it's even more impressive to have everything well prepared in advance.
It's the difference between a professional caterer and ME throwing together a kids party in my backyard. It's the difference between being a good player and being a great musician.
And it's the REAL goal.