I was a new mother in a new town, eager for new friends, and I remember that first playdate well: a little girl with red curls, and her pregnant mama, whose husband had just started medical school, too. I picked up. I dusted. I mopped (yes). When they arrived, the table was set with a pot of tea, a warm coffee cake, candles (I know), and–most likely–Joni Mitchell playing in the background. We did become friends. But it wasn’t my clean floors, the way I set the table, nor my baking that brought us together. Instead, we bonded over dirty laundry, and husbands who stayed up all night studying, and preschool-sized tantrums.
I’m going to be perfectly honest. I love the details. I do. I like scouring cookbooks for a new recipe. I can spend whole afternoons sketching out themed tea parties. Cupcakes and savory galettes and coordinating craft projects are the kind of things that can keep me up at night (I’ve got some creative energy to burn). One night this month I found myself–at midnight, mind you–cutting out tiny penguins to fix atop sprinkled cupcakes (a birthday treat for school), and there was a moment when I stopped and actually said to the dog, “What am I doing?!?” Strangely enough, my immediate reaction was, “Oh. I’m doing exactly what I want to do.”
The flip side, however, is that people–and a puppy–actually live in our house. Right now the contents of the art cabinet are spread out on the guest room bed, waiting to be organized (emphasis on waiting); there is laundry in various states in every room in the house, but mostly concentrated on our living room sofa; the Christmas decorations were finally wrapped up (but not yet put into the garage) last Monday, and this only happened because I paid my eldest children a dollar apiece to get the job done.
When I first moved to this town, I ended every conversation with, “If you’re ever in the neighborhood…,” and I’m still waiting for someone to take me up on it. People are considerate. They want to give you the opportunity to vacuum before descending on your doorstep. My vacuum, unfortunately, has been broken for months, and I’m realizing that I would rather have friends than dust-free exchanges over perfectly turned out coffee cake.
There are times when a themed tea party hits the spot. And it’s nice to make an effort for company. Ridding your bathroom of any scary, accidental science experiments is polite. But there’s something about sharing a cup of coffee with a friend, laughing while folding laundry, lingering over a sink of dirty dishes, or maybe ignoring the dishes altogether while you attempt an actual conversation in a child-free moment. That’s when the friend part happens, and that’s the part I’m looking for.