Hospitality with Little Ones
Showing hospitality is one of those things I like to have done, but the preparation is, well… let me tell you about it.
We were planning to have guests for dinner. I always underestimate how much time it will take to get ready for dinner guests. Maybe THIS time I could get it right—be prepared in plenty of time, children all dressed and combed, my husband and I smiling graciously at the door, totally unruffled, a delicious meal prepared and waiting.
I would clean the bathroom first thing in the morning. I would make food a day before—or two! I would keep the menu simple. One mother told me she made only a few things when her children were small, but made sure there was plenty. It seemed like a good strategy.
I noticed that my passport needed to be stamped the same day we were expecting guests. Oh well, I’d do it in the morning. It didn’t need to wreck my day—which it didn’t, but after I dropped the children at a babysitter, stamped my passport, got a few groceries, and picked up the children again, my morning was gone.
Nap time came, and I was feeling good. House mostly clean, cake for dessert just needed frosting, chicken seasoned and ready to fry, tortilla balls ready to bake. I’d relax a little while the children napped.
Nap time ended, and I was in full preparation mode. Finish cleaning up, sweep the floor, then work at food. I didn’t have a lot of extra wiggle room, but if the children cooperated and all went as planned, we’d be ready when our guests arrived at 6:00.
“Evening, Miss Crystal,” called a voice from the porch. I recognized that voice—Tori, one of the village girls, and her little sister. “I came to see if you could help with my homework.” No, no, no. I had NOT figured time for this. Tori was unpacking her papers and settling at the table while her little sister squealed “A doll house!” and started playing. Please don’t notice the Lincoln Logs.
I looked at the homework sheets. Fifty social studies questions, all about the economic, political, and geographical structure of Belize. I didn’t know the answers to a generous half of them. “Do you have a text book? Where are you supposed to find the answers?” I asked.
“On the internet,” she said. Great. Just great. I don’t let the village children use my phone or computer, so if she needed anything on the internet, I’d have to help her.
Keeping an eye on the clock, I had her read the questions, and then I rephrased them in everyday language. She filled in the answers. Ten minutes passed. Maybe I could just change into a fresh dress instead of showering. Fifteen minutes. It’s not about the house anyway. It’s about people, and wouldn’t it be ironic to chase one person out to be hospitable to the next?
Whoever said it’s not about the house didn’t have a banana peel lying on their living room rug. I left the homework session to toss it into the garbage. And—oh help—was that smashed banana on the couch? A rag, a rag, where is a rag when I need it?
I thought cleaning the bathroom in the morning was brilliant, but I was not counting on little chocolate handprints on the tub, toilet, and sink. Could a six-year-old clean a toilet? Something had inspired my oldest daughter, and she was going through the bedrooms tidying. But seriously, the bedrooms? We could shut the doors! Tidy the porch, please!
“Read the questions to me while I put dishes away,” I said to Tori, attacking the drainer full of (mercifully) clean dishes. She read the question, stumbling through “democratic” and “population.”
“When is this due?” I asked. “Could we work at it tomorrow afternoon?”
“I have to hand it in tomorrow morning,” she said. Great.
A wail came from outside. Two children wanted the same buggy. I ran out to settle the dispute and glanced at the clock again. I was planning to do a cream layer and then frosting on the cake. Just frosting would work, wouldn’t it?
Dishes away, I started chopping a tomato. “What does UNICEF stand for?” Tori asked. One of the VSers came in and said she’d help Tori look up answers online. I took advantage of that to run back to the bedroom and change my dress and comb my hair. It would be okay if I was still chopping a tomato when our dinner guests arrived, but I should probably have my hair combed.
I combed my three girls, telling this one to straighten up the shoes, that one to pick up the dirty laundry, the next one to put away the doll house. The bathroom sink looked mostly cleaned. If the toilet was flushed, that would have to work. Can a six-year-old light a candle? Probably not.
Back to the kitchen. Pat out tortillas. Slice a green pepper. “More,” my baby said. I handed him a piece of pepper. “More,” he said again. “More.” He pointed at the tomatoes, at the tortillas, at anything. He started wailing when I didn’t keep the food coming fast enough.
More fussing from the yard. Everyone wanted to ride the same swing.
The VSer had given up on helping with Operation Homework and was sweeping the kitchen floor and straightening up the living room (bless her). She threw the last of the toys into the box in the corner and said she’d be leaving.
I dumped the chicken into a frying pan and turned the burner on. Any minute our guests would arrive.
Tori was putting her homework back into her bag. “I’ll be leaving now,” she said. Oh good.
Someone was hailing from the gate. Can a six-year-old fry chicken? “Make sure this doesn’t burn,” I said as I ran out the door, down the steps, and across the yard to our neighbor standing at the gate.
“Could I have a call?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said.
Back up the stairs. Find my phone. Back down the stairs and across the yard. Hand her the phone.
The call was short, thankfully, but my neighbor was in a chatty mood. “My daughter needs to take seeds to school on Friday,” she said.
“Like flower seeds?” I asked.
“Any seeds. They’re going to plant a garden.” I pulled some seed pods off my plants and gave them to her. Our guests pulled up to the gate, and the neighbor said she’d come the next day.
I walked in the door with my guests. The house was in basic order, but supper certainly wasn’t ready. Soon one of our guests had our children gathered around her, entertaining them with her stories. Another pulled plates out of the cupboard and started filling cups as we chatted. The smells of chicken fajitas in the making filled the house, adding to the sounds of chatter and laughter. I relaxed and pulled sour cream and hot sauce out of the fridge, giving the chicken in the frying pan another stir. Ah, hospitality. I guess being lined up smiling by the door is overrated anyway.