Houseguests for Parents 101 - March 21, 2004—
This weekend we had houseguests, the parents of one of my husband's friends. Some of my most awestruck moments in my life have been thanks to the selfless and overwhelmingly generous hospitality of my coolest friends, so I totally aspire to be a wonderful, warm, perfect host, with soaps on pillows and a full tray of hot coffee and baked goodies on the table first thing in the morning. I have dreams of providing mobile guests with a little guide to Portland when they arrive, written by myself and my husband. Of dinners at our favorite restaurants and bottles of local wine.
Unfortunately, the dream is decidely NOT the reality. On Sunday my poor houseguests were responsible for entertaining Everett after I changed his dripping diaper at 7 a.m., turned on PBS Kids, and went back to bed. Oh what a delicious 2 hour nap I had while they ate breakfast bars and drank Coke. Coke! In my house? I read my husband the riot act when he brings home the bread made with a teaspoon of high fructose corn syrup. But this weekend, we had enough high fructose to turn a whole kindergarten class into a metabolically-challenged herd of lunatics. I dragged myself out of bed in time to wake up my husband and get dressed for Sunday school. Evidently eggs were eaten around 11 a.m. I ate stale doughnuts at the church coffee hour and drank the whole pot of coffee I had made (that our guests, Mormons, wouldn't touch).
Around noon, I rushed to make a birthday card, packed the guests in the car, and had my husband drop me off late to a 5-year-old's birthday party. Once again the guests were left to their own devices as we ate pizza and sugary cupcakes and sang off-key (missing part of my husband's friend's concert - one of the reasons the guests were in town). The day ended on a bit of a better note with a delicious dinner cooked up by my husband and myself - of course, our guests were forced to watch four cycles of "Baby Beethoven" while we chopped, mixed, sauteed and blackened. After being woken up every 2 hours to refill the "milka" that night I was barely able to smile a half-baked goodbye in the morning.
Sure, I have all the excuses in the world; I work, I'm overly committed on the volunteer front, we're in the very slow and painful process of renovating our 1912 house ourselves, and I have a great and active group of mama friends (hence playdates and parties galore). Oh yeah, and I'm a mama.
Even when I had working, volunteering, household duties and friends galore, I could rearrange my life a little more seamlessly for houseguest time. I guess the lesson here is that parents of young kids make terrible hosts. Thinking back, I can't remember a time when I stayed with the parents of babies that I was blown away by the hospitality. Don't get me wrong - they were sweet, and generous, and eternally grateful of our presence. They just weren't those awesome idols of hostfulness that so impress me. In fact, I think that when parents invite people into your home at all - to eat macaroni & cheese and read board books, to watch a movie, or for an entire weekend - that is the real act of sacrifice and shouldn't be belittled by the expectation of a spa-like (or even sane) environment. For a parent to invite someone into their home is to lay bare all your family's secrets, foibles, and strange parenting practices. Let's face it, no one really has a completely uncontroversial parenting style. We all have the power to shock and amuse.
So parents, recognize that a somewhat clean house and children that occasionally smile at the guests and take regular naps is a Herculean achievement. If you can manage to cook a three-course meal or ask how someone slept, wow, you're a star.
And guests, we love you, but please remember how we were before we were parents. Remember those lovely times when our biggest snub was to make you wait at the bar downstairs while we wrapped up our meeting with the managing directors, before we took you hobnobbing to the trendiest restaurants and the coolest museums, and how you were our special guest at a hip (and adult-only) party. They won't happen again for many years. Want to respond to "whassat?" fifty times before sunup? Want to have "milka" spilled all over your favorite travelling pantsuit? Want to get kicke in the arm by cute little Converse sneakers for the entire weekend? Our arms are open.