When my husband and I first got married, we lived in a 388 sq ft studio in Washington, D.C. That tiny apartment was like a bird’s nest; we were level with blooming magnolias in spring and could see the Capitol Dome out our window.
Despite having just enough room to turn around in, we made a regular habit of hosting friends for dinner. We were young and so happy, and so we opened our doors and borrowed chairs and sat on the bed and drank wine. Acquaintances turned into lifelong friends.
Looking back, those were our greatest hosting days so far in our marriage. I think part of it was innocence; we were too young to care about our Craigslist furniture and too-spicy curries. But I think the other part was time and energy – those were the days before we (and all our friends) had kids and early bedtimes. We had no one to entertain but other young couples and friends, and we had nothing but time.
When we moved to Coronado, we dreamed of having those days again. We have a deck and patio furniture and a grill, and the weather here is perfect 364 days of the year. The scene is set for entertaining. We have so much to offer now, compared to the tiny one-room studio in D.C.
And yet months have gone by, and my husband and I realized recently that we’ve hardly had any friends over to dinner. Traveling for work, bedtime with the kids, visiting extended family, and so on and so forth – all of these things have slowed our good intentions down.
Then we made some new friends in Coronado. We only hung out with them once before we received an invitation to have dinner in their home. It was a delicious meal in their simple two-bedroom apartment on Orange Ave. Our two kids and their two kids ran wild through the three rooms of the house. Our Moscow mules chilled in copper mugs on an IKEA table. Their simple, genuine hospitality warmed us through and through. Our friends continued this spontaneous, generous welcoming, giving freely of their time and food and home, never minding the kids or the space. They offered cheerfully, and we felt at home.
Since then, my husband and I have decided to try to have friends over to dinner three times a month. It’s a lot of work for many reasons, especially because, like us, most our friends have a couple kids under five. During our meal, we all spend just as much time seated as running after our children. Also I am still the kind of disorganized person who does a whole week’s cleaning in the hour before her guests arrive. So far I only have two good go-to recipes that accommodate for allergies and children and work well on the grill. We are not yet practiced hosts.
But I almost don’t want to be. Yes, I want to serve good food and strong wine and have forks and plates at everyone’s place. I want to clean the toilet before they arrive, do some tidying, and have the meal mostly ready. I want my guests to feel special, loved, welcomed.
But I don’t want them to ever feel like they are anywhere but in a home.
When I walk into a friend’s house and see her dust bunnies and dishes in the sink and pile of laundry waiting to be folded, I see a home. I feel connection, comfort, and even relief. She didn’t hide the mess before I came! She didn’t clean for me! Her kids don’t have any clean underwear either! Being welcomed into such a home is a sign of friendship these days. It’s a way of saying, “I am who I am, and I know you will see my real life and love me for it. I trust you.” I want to spend time in homes like that, to have friends like that, to fill my life with honesty like that.
I want our guests to feel that way, too. In some ways, I never want to get so good at hosting that I lose touch with that newlywed bride stirring a pot of made-up stew with her husband, taste testing from the wooden spoon, and then welcoming guests into a one-room home with no embarrassment and so much love.
So I’ll keep sending out dinner invitations. I can’t promise my guests an immaculate house, or quiet children. I can’t even promise them a wine glass, because I break them all and I drink my wine out of juice glasses now. I’m still working on finding good recipes to feed them.
But I do promise them a clean plate and a chair to sit in. I promise them a family and a home. I promise them a heart that wants them there.
Take this bread, this wine, this friendship, and stay awhile.