The morning I walked through the door into my friend’s second floor apartment, I wasn’t prepared. There he was, kneeling on the carpeted floor of their kitchen with a fuzzy haired baby girl whom he met only hours before. The baby’s two older brothers bounced on couch cushions and half-heartedly watched Guardians of the Galaxy in the next room while my friend attempted to wrap a diaper on the baby. He struggled. The diaper was backwards.
My friends are a married couple with no children but on this particular Thursday, they welcomed three kids under the age of five who were placed in police protective custody in the middle of the night. A queue of friends dropped off clothing, car seats and other essentials, and my friend and I arrived to help parent. In this moment, I walked in just in time to turn the diaper around the right way.
I wouldn’t expect average people with no kids to want to parent someone else’s. And I wouldn’t expect someone who isn’t familiar with diapering or bottles to want to figure it out in the middle of the night. But my friends were not ordinary people. Here he was with a real live baby and her tiny brothers his wife at work, and he had no idea the diaper tabs were supposed to fasten in the front and not the back. In that moment, I knew I’d run out of excuses.
If you peered through the open screen door of my house any given evening, you’d see my oldest son’s hoodie draped over one of the metal stools along the living room wall. Stacks of books and mail sit on the bar between the living room and the kitchen. The speakers on the entertainment center belt out John Coltrane while the Himalayan salt lamp casts its orange glow into the corner. The blankets on the couch are never folded properly and someone is always about to trip over the scattered tennis shoes in the entryway. The green paint tape from this summer’s home improvement expedition peels away from the doorway awaiting the final coat of White Sand, but perhaps it will always be waiting.
My home is never clean, never perfectly tidy. Sometimes things are put away, but only for a moment, the exact moment something else is being brought out for play or wear by one of my sons. Nothing here is as I envision it. The carpet might be as old as the house, nearly 45 years. The watercolor painting of Cannon Beach is tilted slightly to the right, but I haven’t adjusted it yet.
I keep telling myself it needs to be perfect, or at least better, before I invite people over. My neighbors, people I barely know, they can’t see it like this, not in its half-complete disarray. Not when I know what I want it to be, but I have no idea when I can get it there.
Yet when I saw my friends with no children inviting strangers into their two-bedroom apartment, saying Yes with no proper training on diaper application or formula mixing, I realized that the perfect environment or the right credentials weren’t the barrier I assumed they were.
My kitchen is still a dark blue, the kind that might not have ever been stylish. But six years ago when I lasted painted it, I liked the color. In the bathroom, a set of terrible, brown accordion doors separate the washer and dryer from the sink and shower. After eight years in our home, our bedroom has never been painted despite a fresh coat of paint in nearly every other room. We aren’t ready. But we are saying Yes to crappy hospitality.
Today I handed out cardstock invitations to the neighbors on my street, crammed a few in mailboxes or walked them up to doors with lights on. I introduced myself for the first time to some of my neighbors and talked about new countertops and paint with the ones I knew already. I have not been a good neighbor. I’ve been waiting for the right moment, and it never came.
I have never been ready, until now. And the only reason I’m ready is because I know I never will be. The house, the walls, the carpet, the kids, me. We aren’t going to be perfect or presentable. All I ever have is crappy hospitality, cold fridge water in Mason jars, warm meals served on white Corelle plates with stains on them, chairs sliding across pretend-wood floors that are actually laminate. It’s not pretty. It’s crappy. But it’s hospitality.
I’m thankful my friends taught me we don’t have to be ready to say Yes. We can just say Yes and figure it out later. Because the hospitality is all that matters anyway.