At approximately 10:29pm Eastern Standard Time last evening I was gathering laundry and creating Mount St. Ironing when my beloved husband said the following: “Oh, Jess is in town. We should have dinner. In fact, I invited him and I am waiting to hear back. It’s probably best that he come here rather than us going out, don’t you think?”
“Okay dear. Just let me know so I can plan accordingly and thaw meat for a meal in time.”
I looked at the house. Scattered toys and laundry had turned my living room into a minefield. Cheerio crust adhered to the freshly mopped floor. Dishes that couldn’t fit in the washer piled in the sink.
I smiled and remained calm. My sanity depended on it. You see, I am a woman. Worse, I am a southern woman. A houseguest of any kind warrants more than a quick floor sweeping and gathering the toys up at the sound of a doorbell. It’s worse than that, I’m afraid. My husband likes to give his friends house tours. Yes, long-lost friends…come see our junk drawer and laundry room.
If you’ve seen the newest version of the movie Pride and Prejudice, picture the scene where Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy unexpectedly arrive at the Bennett home. One girl sounds the alarm and 5 women burst into activity, straightening, tidying, pinching cheeks, dressing…and in about 30 seconds when the gentlemen are let into the sitting area each woman looks up serenely as if nothing had happened. Every woman I know can relate. We all know the drill.
7:00 am: Let the drill begin. The submarine warning siren wailed. Red lights flashed. The mental picture of my state of mind is that of June Cleaver in her dress and pearls shuffling her boys into a bomb shelter. Quick, evaluate assets. Time- no major outings planned. Recently purchased groceries. Diaper bag… yes, in the bottom of my diaper bag lies all that MacGyver used to save the world. I can do this.
11:00 am: Clothes sorted and put away. New hand-me-downs ready for the 18 month storage bin. Dishes washed. Floor swept. Snacks eaten. Fussy son cuddled. Clothes ironed. Trash consolidated. Lunches eaten. My little contribution to the human race was fed, washed, dressed, and exhausted from playing and ready for nap time.
As I put my son down for a nap just now I spotted a duffel bag up against the wall. It reminded me of being stationed overseas. We were advised to have an emergency bag of clothes, food, and essentials ready in case the unthinkable happened and all family members had to be evacuated from the country within 12 hours. I recalled my first lesson in keeping the essentials together in case of emergency; the night after my husband left for his first military assignment our apartment building burned to the ground. Lesson learned: always have the important documents and the essentials together and easy to grab because when there really is a fire, I didn’t think to grab 3 things. Good attempt, camp ice-breakers. Floods, fires, 24 hour deployment notices, injuries, surgeries, deaths… In the grand scheme of emergencies, this was like sitting in the ER with a cold because it’s too hard to get an appointment.
So here I sit as water floods the vessel and my inner perfectionist screams, “How could you be sitting still when there’s still such a mess?!” Because, this is only a drill. I repeat- this is only a drill. In the event of a real emergency (or on most days living with toddlers) the state of the house is secondary. Go put on your pearls and vacuum something, inner June Cleaver/Martha Stewart tormentor.
The thing is, this single soldier could walk through the door, see the aftermath of the Apocalypse in this house and declare, “Sweet honey mustard! What happened here?!” I would offer a resigned smile and say, “Life” and promptly feed the man. This is a guy who saw me an hour after childbirth and has joined us for multiple Thanksgivings. He’s seen me at my worst and best. Impressing is not the issue.
It is not about judgment, high standards, or perfection. It’s about hospitality– allowing someone to feel comfortable and welcome in your home. Able to laugh loudly, ask for seconds, and let the weight of the world be lifted. It’s about creating a home where people feel like they belong and an environment that says, “You are important. You are worth my time and effort. Please, be a part of our lives.” That is very different from, “Life is happening. Come on in and hang on… and try not to step on the Cheerios and make more of a mess.”
Now, it’s an important caveat that a good girlfriend will come over in a poop-storm and not care an iota about the mess. My southern and military sisters will come over in a natural disaster with a covered dish and a hand-written note. They use the same sweet tone to say, “Pass the sugar” and “Oh! Something seems to have died in your Frigidaire! I’ll get that out for you, my Dear.” These are the same friends that warrant the good china. Home is where the heart is- and those in your heart just naturally fit in your home.
In high school, a friend who lived across the street used to love coming over after dinner not just to see me, but because “Your house always has food and something hilarious always happens.” She was right. The kitchen was full of people, brownies, and laughter. Our house attracted people because it also felt like home to them.
When the home and land of Scarlett O’Hara was burned to the ground in Gone with the Wind, she had her desperate moment, then raised her chin and fist and declared she would never go hungry again. Now, that may be Hollywood, but it does show how a true emergency will put things in the proper perspective. The opportunity to welcome friends into my home does not constitute an emergency; it is a wonderful blessing and an opportunity to open our home and hearts a little wider. So please, come on over. As God as my witness, you will never go hungry again- not in this home.