When you crave dishes that your friends make you know you’re living your life right.
Earlier this year I wrote this post on the plans I made for my real life back in college–you know, when the Gipper was president? We’ve come a long way, baby, to get where I’ve got to today. And, surprisingly little of those plans have played out the way I intended. For starters, I’m single–though I was briefly, and badly, married.
I’ve also written before about when a book validates some aspect of your life’s experience. Today, I’m writing about the plans for the life I wanted–the life the fictitious “we” would have lived and about a book that shows what that can look like in real life. I’m not at all sure that my last sentence is grammatically correct or makes sense, but stick with me, Ok? I’ll also be telling about a book that shows the way I want my life to be today. Sound fun? Here we go!
When my idealistic, broke, 20-something self imagined life in my future, I always saw a successful husband in the mix. I figured we’d have four boys, send them to some cool place like a Waldorf School, buy our groceries at a co-op (I’m sure we’d have grown up to be charter members in the town’s uber-hip CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] to enjoy organic everything. Yes, I was crunchy even then.) We’d have taken the boys to rugby (soccer would already have been too ordinary) and gone on FolksWalks/March/Sports meet-ups where the boys would collect patches and hubby and I would preen over our perfect parenting. When we got home is where the validating book comes in.
At home, I’d have a lasagna prepped, salad and homemade dressing ready and a cheesecake cooling. Hubby would pick out the exact stack of records (oh, sorry! VINYLS) for the background music. Our couple-friends would arrive, maybe a singleton or two, maybe someone bringing a visiting friend or relatives too, with their kids and maybe the family dog. All the kids would be friends and they’d charge down to the basement where they’d play sword fighting and make their own heraldic crests for the wooden shields hubs would have had ready for them. We’d troop down later, drinks in hands, to see a swashbuckling display worthy or Errol Flynn or to watch a Breyer horse dressage competition or to watch an original theatrical production! Quilt Photo Source
Upstairs the adults would gather in the huge kitchen with the oh-so-ahead-of-the-curve island and grab a stool. Hubs would mix cocktails and poor wine (it goes without saying, doesn’t it, that perfect hubs would be adorably–and not obnoxiously or pretentiously–into wine once he hit 30. I’m sure he’d make his own, too, even after the homemade beer fiasco at 28). We’d all be friends from rugby league or volkwalking or community activism or Waldorf school or socially active church or the co-op/Farmer’s Market/CSA.We’d value our differences, swap recipes for heirloom grains and gab about the hell of organic cotton diapering. (Yes pretention is a theme in these dreams–I just didn’t know it then).
Shauna Niequest, then, is living my planned life. Her Grand Rapids dinners, held in, your guessed it a 1920’s home (though it was tiny) in that sort of neighborhood , her cooking club (I would TOTALLY have started one!), the support group–friend-mily (friend-family) group, is how I saw my life. I thought it would be like being in the one sincerely supportive Church Small Group ever created (and I’ve been in a darned great Small Group before so I do know a thing or two about this!!).
We’d have that younger one in the group who brought dates to be checked out. We’d have a hipster oldster who weaves her own shawls or that silver fox guy who plays his flute at church in our group, too. We’d all do STIMULATING work and read the New Yorker and pass around articles and swap books and be our own book club. We’d talk about airfares to New York or Chicago for Adults Only day trip get-a-ways to great art exhibits or shows. We’d support the Arts In Our Area, do the PBS pledge drive phone bank together and watch each others’ kids in Community Theater. Sigh.
“I wanted so badly to fill it [our first home] with laughter and memories and celebration that I overlooked what it lacked, and threw the door open at every opportunity…..What people are craving isn’t perfection, people are longing to feel like they’re home. If you create a space full of character and creativity and soul, they’ll take their shoes off and curl up with gratitude and rest….it isn’t about perfection its about your performance.” (Bread and Wine… by Shauna Niequist).
This is how I saw it at my house–don’t get me wrong. I’d never want to be the house where all the kids gathered. No. Just no. I wanted to create a community of friends family, a friend-mily, for myself and MY children. I wanted to be the one who hosted the Saturday dinners where we’d sit and talk till the wee hours of the morning, kids asleep like puppies in a pile in sleeping bags and beds where ever they landed. I wanted my friends to know exactly where the plastic forks were kept and where the tampons were stashed in the downstairs bathroom. I wanted mine to be the group Settlement House, if you will. I’d be the cook, the librarian (of course) and they’d be the conversation, the bring-me-out-of-my-shell folks who might be crazy enough to read Vampire books or horror fiction, but who could have fun of the right sort and laugh at the same sorts of things I laugh at.
I know this can happen because it is the life my cousin has lived. The long-single friend who helped with everyone’s kids but finally found true love was eagerly included in the group and her happy marriage celebrated. My Aunt and Uncle and occasionally other “group” parents were included eagerly, too. All the seven kids grew up like cousins, playing, arguing, surviving trigonometry and CCD class, living thru the trials and tribulations of dating and college and coming-of-age together.
These friends gathered in one house or the other–my cousin’s home usually in the winter since another family had a pool for summer. The Moms worked it out so all could work but no one ever had to use day care centers or paid babysitters (Grandmas and other friends helped when necessary, too). When I visited I was welcomed, teased, lectured, made fun or and laughed with over and over again. They picked up each others’ kids when needed–even if their own child wasn’t at that movie or in that activity. One Dad found the comfort to return to writing songs and singing and playing his guitar at these gatherings and everyone loved it. They celebrated First Communion and graduation, and, yes, they came together fabulously to morn and support my cousin when her husband died suddenly and way too young. This is what I mean about friend-mily.
I’ll be writing more about Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine: A Love Letter Around the Table With Recipes in a series I’m prepping on hospitality. For now, though I just love the stories she’s told about gathering her friends and about her Cooking Club supporting each other and about making friend-mily (family of friends) and serving good, unpretentious food. I love how she shares her friends milestones and enjoys them.
Lisa Scottoline’s new essay collection, written with her daughter Francesca Serrittella, is called I’ve Got Sand In All The Wrong Places. In it she tells the story of a group of friends she loves. The meet a couple of times a year at the same house for dinners they’ve come to love out of that friend’s cooking repertoire. All were horse moms. If you’re a horse person, you know this can bring together very disparate types of people!
While they did the American version of Princes William and Harry’s Diana-approved Pony Club, don’t for a moment think that means they all go fox hunting! It just means their kids were serious about horses. Like I was as a kid (you can read about that here.) These Moms, many of whom are no longer even involved with horses, have stayed bonded together and supportive. The quote at the top of this post is about them.
Life is what happens when we’re making other plans. Today, I live just “too far” from my group of friends to do much in the way of gathering. But I came very close to this for a few years just before and right after I adopted my kids. I loved that time in my life. Loved the fun of it. I want that again for whatever I’ll call my retirement.