December 10, 2006

You could call it "One enchanted evening," but that was last year's theme

Last night was my employer's holiday party.

Every year, the company rents the ballroom of a local casino/hotel so that employees and their guests may enjoy an evening of dinner, dancing, and awkwardly introducing bored spouses to one another.

In many ways, the holiday party is like prom.

There's always a theme which could have been pulled straight out of a high school yearbook. This year, it was "An Affair to Remember." Past themes have included "Moonlight and Roses" (which I only remember because it was also the theme of my senior prom, and seemed equally banal at the time) and similar cliches with PG-rated romantic overtones. Of course, most people don't even notice the theme, since they flip straight past the invitation to the free drink coupons and raffle ticket.

There are other prom similarities. Everybody wears uncomfortable shoes. Through the magic of formal dresses and makeup, certain bland cubicle dwellers transform into glamorous divas, while others reveal their bad taste in equally dramatic fashion. The "after" parties often overshadow the event itself, since nobody can truly loosen up in the presence of school administrators and parent chaperones (i.e. managers, directors, and HR).

However, there are some critical differences, thanks to the fact that the overwhelming majority of my coworkers are not teenagers. There is a martini bar. The rental of hotel rooms is not restricted to those with highly permissive or gullible parents.

In all the years I've been working at my company, I've never missed a holiday party. I went my first year, when I had no friends at the office except for Sam. I went the year that a brutal windstorm knocked out the power in much of the Reno area, forcing me to shower by candlelight. I went the year that my dress was three inches too long and required desperate late-night alterations the day before the event.

This was my seventh holiday party, and for the first time, I didn't want to go.

I sometimes wish that pregnancy was like wearing the strap-on belly from sex ed class. I wish that I could undo the velcro, tuck the belly into a drawer, and take a night off. Yesterday, I would have done that in a heartbeat.

After taking off the belly, I would have squished myself into a corset, slipped on a ball gown, and dusted myself with body glitter. I would have filled my flask with a rich liqueur, strapped on regrettably high heels, and approached the night with reckless abandon.

But alas, Rasbaby is not detachable. She's more than just a belly. She's part of me, and the version of me that includes her wears flat shoes, stays sober, and usually goes to bed by 9 p.m. If I was going to attend the holiday party, Rasbaby had to come too.

Dressing the two of us was nearly impossible. As I hover on the cusp of the third trimester, my belly has become its own entity. Strangers now confidently ask me when I'm due, rather than assuming I've had one too many rendez-vous with the dessert cart.

Finding plus-sized maternity clothes has been a challenge. Finding plus-sized maternity formalwear that cost less than my car payment was outright impossible.

I had nothing to wear. It was a compelling reason to skip the party, to skip the pageant of drunken coworkers, chocolate martinis, and other reminders of my former life.

But then, Thursday night, I attempted one last visit to the mall, and I found a top to wear. It was gold and satiny, not as glamorous as a ball gown, but, when paired with some sharp black maternity pants, downright presentable. Plus, it cost $15. My excuse was gone.

And so we went. I remembered all the little things that I loved about the holiday party, and I embraced them. I splurged on some new makeup. I exfoliated my skin. I put in my contacts and stuck jewelry in my hair. Despite some near-meltdowns thanks to pregnancy hormones, a bad hair day, and the utter futility of false eyelashes, I made it out the door looking fairly OK.

The event itself was predictable. I recognized the buffet dinner, the off-brand cash bar, and the long line of couples posing for $40 portrait packages (yet another prom similarity). I clapped politely as people who weren't me or my friends won raffle prizes. I watched my coworkers get increasingly drunk.

I discovered some things that were probably always true, but eluded me in the past six years of holiday parties. I noticed how many people looked bored and uncomfortable. I noticed a steady line of people heading for the exit immediately after dinner. I remembered an article I had read, cautioning that these parties were business functions and needed to be treated with the same type of attitude and behavior as a day at the office.

Most people would take that advice to mean "Don't get drunk in front of your boss." Sound advice, indeed (and why Sam and I always threw after-party parties in past years).

But there's a flip side, too. Boredom and non-involvement are as lame at a holiday party as they are in the office, or anywhere else in life. Just because my uterus is the size of a basketball and I'm sober as a judge, why should I wallow in self-pity?

And so I mingled. I let my drunk coworkers rub my belly and hug me. I smiled and cheerfully answered the same questions again and again (End of March; It's a girl; It's a surprise for now). When I started to crash at 9:30, I went up to our hotel room - not for a crazy after-party party - but for some much needed recuperation. A couple of hours later, I rejoined the outside world and managed to stay up until 1:30 a.m., a feat I hadn't accomplished in months.

I lay in bed thinking about how much my life had changed since last year's party, which may have been the rowdiest one ever. This morning, I didn't wake up with booze on my breath, mascara on my cheeks, and an urge to call my friends and make sure I hadn't offended them.

I also didn't have any great, memorable moments to replay. No drunken silliness. No crazy adventures to laugh about on Monday.

Then, I felt Rasbaby kick me. I thought about all the different kinds of adventures that lay ahead for both of us. I thought about how next year's biggest party might involve a clown (although I really hope not) and bear no resemblance to prom. I wondered if someday she might consider my holiday party dresses and body glitter useful props for a game of dress-up.

So, for now, I'll take the toned-down, family friendly, early-to-bed version of fun and partying. I trust that, someday, it will be worth it.

I will have Rasbaby.

And next year, she'll be spending the evening with a babysitter.

No comments: