Dishes are stacked high in both sinks, spilling over onto the countertops. Of course, there are also the stock pots on the stove, waiting to be scrubbed down.
Trails of bread crumbs meander through the house, evidence of children who found the table to be too crowded with adult conversation. Hardened, dried spaghetti noodles litter the floor beneath the dining room chairs, and I quickly swipe one fossilized piece of angel hair from my toddler’s sticky hand.
It’s an hour past bedtime, and my husband is wrangling the oldest child up the stairs to take that shower we’ve discussed for the past twenty minutes. The toddler protests my noodle intervention and pulls on my pants legs while I try to wipe up the puddles of sticky pasta sauce on the table.
Soon, the kids will be in bed and my house will be (mostly) restored to order. I’ve got the routine down after a year of hosting weekly dinners for our church small group. It’s a tall order for a girl who struggles to delegate, who would prefer to be home alone in her pajamas, and who has nervy control issues. But when I discovered, quite by accident, that people are more apt to talk when there is a plate of food in front of them, I felt I had unearthed a secret to living more deeply in community. Serving up a meal for anywhere from ten to twenty people on a weeknight isn’t something I necessarily look forward to or excel at on the best of terms, but it’s especially challenging when teething toddlers or grumpy third-graders infiltrate the kitchen while I’m tying up loose ends before guests arrive. Some nights call for a brief time-out so I can gather my sanity while we wait for Daddy to come home from work and intercept the pregame chaos. What I’ve learned about opening my home while parenting young kids would barely fill a thimble, but through trial and error, I’ve found that simplicity reigns as the queen of surviving and enjoying the full house, overflowing trash cans, and paths of garlic breadcrumbs.
When it comes to hosting people in my home, perfection is my enemy. Simplicity, however, gives me freedom to enjoy my family and hungry friends and to ignore the mess until later. Simplicity means paper plates and plastic cups. Simplicity means I rotate foods that most people eat without (too much) fuss: spaghetti, tacos, burgers, soup. I make the main course early in the day, knowing everyone else will fill in the gaps with side dishes. I have to be realistic about what I can feasibly handle between parenting, teaching, and writing. Sometimes I send out a quick memo saying, “it’s just dessert and coffee, but please come anyway!” Still, they come, because it’s not about what I’m serving. It’s about how easily the front door opens. My attitude is the hinge, and admittedly it is rusty with resistance sometimes. But if I ask the eight-year-old to pick up the toys, if I put the toddler in the high chair with a snack, if my husband pulls out all the spare chairs from their nooks and crannies around the house, then we learn to grease that hinge with a little more kindness and a lot less self-awareness. Simplicity means I stop worrying about the toddler pestering the adults because the last time the adults held a squishy baby was probably the last time they came for dinner, and squishy babies are meant to be enjoyed. Simplicity means I let my third grader wear his basketball jersey because he wants to talk to the other kids from the group about his game on Saturday. Simplicity means I don’t rush to clean up while guests are still gathering up their things before leaving.
Motherhood is where I’m living, and I’m learning to allow it to unapologetically entwine with the other parts of my life. Tantrums or spilled sippy cups typically happen while I’m finishing up the spaghetti sauce. Blow-out diapers or belated after-school meltdowns are usually punctuated with the first knock on the front door. But authentic simplicity makes the hinge to my front door move more easily. Simplicity means we present the real versions of ourselves and our home and the chaos that comes from being a real, regular family. Simplicity lets us be who we are, and when we are the tired parents with active children underfoot, then we are recognizable, relatable people whose front door is guaranteed to swing wide open to other tired parents and active children. Community thrives in the simplicity of a door oiled with authenticity.
Glenna Marshall is a pastor’s wife, adoptive mom, infertility veteran, musician, and writer. She writes to connect the difficult and challenging circumstances in life to the truths found in the Word of God. Glenna enjoys music, coffee, and reading when she’s not writing and parenting.