Laura is one of my oldest friends. I’ve known her for as long as I can remember. We’ve both moved around a lot but now we find ourselves living in the same city, both mothers to boys of similar ages. It only makes sense that we would see each other often – except we didn’t.
I love having friends over, but with three kids, big writing dreams, and the never ending onslaught of preparing and cleaning up from breakfast/snack/lunch/snack/dinner/snack/snack/snack, having a friend over for a meal started to feel too much like work and less like the break I craved. I am not a neat freak or perfectionist by any stretch, but having company came to mean clearing a path in the explosion of crafts and creations on our floor, folding the mountain of laundry on the couch and finding the source of that questionable smell. I started to feel grumpy when preparing for a visitor, snapping at my kids to pick up their underwear and wipe the toilet seat, for crying out loud. In one part of my brain I knew that this reaction was ridiculous: my friends were coming to see me, not my home. Laura is a mom too and would completely understand the scribble marks on my hardwood and my 9 year old’s unmade bed. But the other part of my brain said that pride in ownership is a healthy thing and germs are not.
Then Laura went away, to a small community in northern Saskatchewan. When she returned two years later she told me how friends there just show up at each other’s houses, unannounced. People feed each other whatever happens to be in their fridge that day. There’s no preparation, no stress – just pure enjoyment. “Let’s try it,” she suggested. We made plans for our first crappy dinner. But because we are from southern Ontario we needed to make rules:
Crappy Dinner Rule 1. No housework is to be done prior to a guest’s arrival
Crappy Dinner Rule 2. The menu must be simple and not involve a special grocery shop
Crappy Dinner Rule 3. You must wear whatever you happen to have on
Crappy Dinner Rule 4. No hostess gifts allowed
Crappy Dinner Rule 5 (optional). You must act like you’re surprised when your friend and her family just happen to show up at your door.
Reading over the rules, my husband told me I couldn’t do it. “You’ll be cleaning and chopping frantically at the last minute,” he said. I vowed I wouldn’t. Laura and I set a date.
Minutes before the first crappy dinner at our house my 7-year-old son trudged through the house in his muddy shoes.
“I’m so cool with that,” I said to my husband. He laughed.
My 9-year-old announced she was going to begin a messy, gluey, paint filled project on the living room floor.
“No probs,” I said, sipping a glass of wine.
Then the tension that had been brewing all day between my 7-year-old and 4-year-old finally exploded and SmackDown 2015 started happening.
“Um,” I said, as Laura rang the doorbell and the boys trampled over each other to see who could answer it first.
I’ll admit that first crappy dinner required many deep breaths on my part, although of course I loved spending time with Laura and her family. Since then, we’ve had monthly crappy dinners. Perhaps the most memorable was when Laura threw her back out and couldn’t move from her couch. Instead of cancelling, she shouted out instructions as we rummaged around her kitchen and took lasagnas from her freezer. Now that’s comfy, cozy friendship.
Although we regularly break the crappy dinner rules, Laura and I are seeing each other more often, and there’s definitely nothing crappy about that. There is an old proverb that says, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” Crappy dinner is all about placing priority on what truly matters, and about accepting life –and motherhood – for all of the beautiful, crappy things it throws your way. Beans and wieners, anyone?
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This article originally appeared Mothering.com.