06 November 2010

Don't Overthink Hospitality

I sat on the picnic bench at the playground across the street, watching my son and his friends chase each other around. “You seem to have this kid-birthday-party thing down.” said another mother. I shrugged and I think I remembered to say thank you. It was a very simple party, which is why I was able to pull it off. And that's the secret, if such a thing can be called a secret. I know my limits. I cannot pull off a four course dinner party, so I serve family style. (Though I think I once did a 3 course meal. That was before I had children.) I cannot manage a theme birthday party with handmade invitations and goody bags and decorations and a fancy cake. So I host parties on the playground and serve un-fancy cake.

It's not that I'm a simplicity snob. I don't think that my family style dinners are better than other people's four course meals. In fact I think that four course meals are marvelous and I often wish I were the kind of mother who could do the adorable themed birthday parties. I certainly wish I were the kind of person who could produce a platter full of twee cupcakes with marzipan penguins on them.

I was at a different birthday party today, hosted by a mother who also has this birthday party thing down. There was a table of snack things, a counter of drinks and there was cake and singing. My younger son managed to crumble his scone into every corner of the living room. {Sorry, (not)Maud! The offer of a crumb hunting beagle still stands.} Kids played. Parents chatted. I discovered that a good friend of (not)Maud used to be good friends with good friends of mine and that we had used the same birth educator.

That is really the goal of getting people together: to celebrate milestones and to connect with each other. That doesn't require fancy cakes or four courses. It requires that you give people something from the best that you have and that you accept something from the best that others have. If you happen to have a gift for penguin cupcakes, then sharing that is appropriate. If you happen to have a gift for finding the best Indian take-out in the area, then sharing that is appropriate. The Leftoverist makes an excellent argument that even a McDonald's apple pie can be a loving invitation to community. (If you don't already read In Praise of Leftovers you really should.)

Don't over-think your efforts to host others. Hospitality doesn't have to photograph well. It just has to create a space of welcome.

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