A few years ago, when Levi was still a baby, I started a little project for myself that I called “Twelve Meals”. Twelve Meals was exactly what the title implies (because I am awesomely creative), it was literally 12 different dinners that Greg and I hosted over the course of twelve months. Its purpose was threefold for me.
Number 1, as stated above, Levi was just over a year old and I was bored out of my mind. I had survived my first year as a stay at home mom, but barely, and had quickly realized that if I was going to survive the subsequent years, I needed a hobby…bad. Cooking had always interested me, mostly because of my love for good food (that I get to pick) and my love for a lively dinner table and so I decided to stretch my culinary skills. This lead to purposes 2 and 3. Number two, Greg and I were lonely. Our journey into parenthood was a first amongst our local friend group and it meant that for both budgetary and scheduling reasons, we had to bow out of a lot of our old regular hang times. Inviting people to us was really the best way to get that social shot in the arm we needed while still ensuring our child was in bed by 7pm…which was crucial to my surviving the next day of motherhood. And thirdly, I was terrified to fail. My fear of failure had kept me from pursuing many things I wish I had attempted and motherhood had brought to light all of my failure demons because now there was actual living proof of my failures or successes in the form of a bouncing baby boy who needed me to teach him how to eat and sleep and walk and sit on a potty and just generally be a human. So in an attempt to conquer the demon of failure, I required myself to cook a meal that intimidated the snot out of me and that I had never attempted before. Because if you can’t risk failure in front of people who love you, than you will never risk it in front of a world who is hoping you will fall on your face in a hilarious way.
And Twelve Meals was a great success! We had so much fun entertaining a new group of friends each month, trying new foods and staying up laughing and drinking way past our new parental bedtimes. Only one meal was a complete fiasco and I learned that I won’t actually die if I fail. I will just have to serve hamburgers instead of barbecue ribs. It was truly a magical year and I loved each meal and I loved the company even more. So when we began renovating The Virginia House, I told Greg that I wanted to bring the concept of Twelve Meals back into our lives. Because even though parenting has become a little easier (please, Jesus, don’t strike me down for my arrogance. I know tomorrow Levi could regress into a two year old for no real reason) and our budget isn’t stretched quite as thin (please, Greg, don’t strike me down for my arrogance. I know we are still poor), we find ourselves sitting once again in a lonely spot. Our once foot loose and fancy free friend group now find themselves battling the chaos of parenting and now we all feel the constraints of bedtimes and soccer schedules. This house that we love sucks just about every ounce of free time from us as there is always some wall that needs paint or some box that needs unpacking or some space that needs to be reconfigured for the eleventh time. And if Twelve Meals taught me anything its that something magic, maybe even spiritual, happens when you ask your friends over to your table for dinner.
I love eating out. I love someone else cooking for me. I love not having to clear the table. I love not having a sink full of dirty dishes. (This is actually a lie. I love a sink full of dirty dishes. It soothes my soul to tackle them one at a time, clean them until they are spotless and place them back in their rightful home in the drawer. Its a sickness, I know.) But you get the idea. Going out to eat is awesome and if we had the budget for it, at least 4 out of our 7 meals a week would be spent at Chili’s. But something else entirely happens when you gather people that you love in a home that you love and feed them food that you have created with love. Everybody relaxes just a little bit more. You don’t have that awkward stare at the menu time, where you want to dive into rich conversation but first you have to wait for everyone to decide if they will be having chicken or steak. You don’t feel the glares of a ticked off waiter when he has decided that you are done and you need to leave so he can collect the tip and start again with a new group of friends who linger for too long. And man, does the mood change when you have kids eating a meal in a home instead of a busy restaurant. If you bring your kids to my house for dinner and they would rather run around in my backyard or play in Levi’s room, then let them go! Let the kids be kids and let the adults share a glass of wine, knowing that there are very few things that can harm your kids in my house and ever fewer things they can break that I could care a flip about. Warmth happens around a dining room table. Loud chaos feels more like joyful buzz.
Here is my point: If you are lonely or feeling isolated because being an adult is hard and isolating sometimes, invite someone over for dinner. Just do it. Don’t worry that your house isn’t big enough or cool enough (my kitchen literally has two holes in the ceiling. True story. There are also two entire rooms that are just wall to wall boxes.) Don’t worry that you aren’t an awesome cook. Twelve Meals may have made me more adventurous as a cook but it didn’t make me any better. I’m not awesome. I am mediocre, at best. We have friends coming over for dinner this weekend and do you know what I am serving? Tacos. And not fancy pork belly tacos with lime-cilantro creme fraiche. No, like beef tacos with ground beef that I will mix with store bought, questionable red powdery stuff and serve on taco shells with lettuce, tomato and cheese. You know why? Because all the kids will eat it and it will take me twenty minutes to put together. You know what I served to our friends last week? Carnitas. You know what carnitas are? Pork TACOS. They sit in a crockpot all day and then get shredded into tortillas. You don’t need fancy food. You don’t need cool flatware. Mine are the finest IKEA has to offer. You just need a table and some chairs and the willingness to let the people you love into your home. I know that is scary for some people. Maybe you crave order and your home is a sanctuary, a fortress of solitude. And that’s fine! BUT if you are feeling lonely, and like life has got you cornered on every step you take towards community, then maybe you need to stop stepping outside and invite those around you to come on in. Or, you know, what? Just come to my house for dinner one night. I’m sure I’ll be serving a version of tacos. Bring wine.