By Sue Anganes
Fourteen years ago my oldest child, Cassie, became a teenager. Cassie’s friendships were expanding and her horizons were widening, and I knew she wanted to be off on her own, having fun with her friends. The oldest of six, she seemed to have wisdom beyond her years. I didn’t worry too much about the friends she chose, but I did always worry a little, as every mother does, when she was out with friends and away from home.
My husband Alan and I decided that if we wanted to know who the people our kids were hanging out with and what they were doing, we’d have to spend some time and effort getting to know them. One of the best ways to do that for us was to open up our home to their friends! It seemed like kind of a basic idea, but it definitely took some effort. It meant giving up some of our privacy, lots of our food, and portions of our time, but it was worth it; it was a fantastic way to let our kids mature under the umbrella of our home environment. Our home became the hangout.
Even though anyone who was visiting was always welcome to stay for dinner any night of the week, there were certain days a week that “the regulars” always showed up for dinner. I almost always made spaghetti and meatballs that night because it was inexpensive and super easy. I am sure a few friends thought that it was all we ever ate, but they never seemed to mind eating it here. One of Cassie’s friends in particular would always stop by in the morning before college classes and hang around for a bit and eat my homemade muffins (which were also cheap to make). I always made enough so she would be able to join us for breakfast. Some of the best conversations of the day happened over coffee and muffins.
Paloozas, or “hang out parties”, have been all the rage here for a while. All it took was a couple of liters of Pepsi, some Doritos, maybe a movie, (and once, a rubber turkey decoy), and everyone would have a blast. Occasionally someone would take out a musical instrument and singing would commence. Truly, there was no better feeling to me than knowing my kids were having so much fun at home.
Cassie had a bunk bed in her room, so her girlfriends often decided to stay the night instead of heading home late at night. My oldest sons, Andrew and Charles, had friends who stayed here, sometimes in a tent in the back yard! Lots of friends have stayed with us while visiting from other states: many have visited from Maine, Jenni and her sister drove ten hours from Michigan, Heidi flew from Washington State, and Mark (who eventually became Cassie’s husband) traveled back and forth from Virginia and had the privilege of sleeping in the playroom, surrounded by Lego’s.
A sign that a friend made me for birthday gift. We now have it posted above our front door.
As a result of having a constant flow of friends around, our kids’ friends became our friends, too. As they have grown, married and started their own families, we have kept in touch, and when we have the chance to get together we all have a blast. Once, Cassie’s friend Heidi returned from Washington with her new husband and stayed with us for a week. And others have visited with their new babies.
Opening our home was not always easy. We only have one bathroom, so with eight members in our family (and nine members when my mother-in-law lived with us for four years), and any guests staying over, everyone had to make quick use of the facilities! In our early years, we didn’t have much money to spend on extras, so feeding friends sometimes took a toll on our budget. We have also spent a lot of time listening to our kids’ friends when they needed someone to talk to. We always felt a great responsibility to live our lives as an example to all the kids, and that can sometimes be hard because we are human and often fail.
However, the rewards of us opening our house far outweighed any of the small inconveniences. Our kids were happy. We accepted them and their friends and tried our best to give our kids their own space. They lived up to our expectations and matured into sensible mature adults. And we now have lots of friends who keep us young!
This picture was taken in 2005. It was a somewhat small but memorable palooza because an elderly friend of ours had given our family a bag of hand me down clothes (which happens a lot when you have a large family). In the bag was a wide assortment of 1970’s style polyester shirts. All the guys grabbed shirts, put them on, and headed out to a local midnight madness sale.
Here are some other things that may happen or you may come to realize when you open your home:
- Extra toothbrushes appear permanently in your toothbrush holder.
- You start buying the junk food that you always vowed you’d never purchase.
- You come to realize that it is people, not things, that matter in life.
- Making spaghetti and meatballs once a week for ten or more people becomes a piece of cake.
- There’s always enough room at the dinner table for one more person.
- Mail addressed to your kids’ friends sometimes arrives at your home.
- Even if your adult children are now married and have homes of their own, they still want to return to mom and dad’s house with their friends for their paloozas (it’s always more fun).
- You notice that having fun doesn’t have to cost a lot of money
Our youngest two boys, Ray and Teddy, are now fourteen and eleven. Alan and I are waiting to see who they will eventually bring home for dinner. Hopefully, we will be able to provide them the means to form the same kind of long-lasting friendships that their adult siblings did. It’s time to boil another pot of water for spaghetti.