Olivia Folmar Ard

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What Pregnancy Taught Me About Hospitality

My house is, quite frankly, a wreck. 

When I admit this out loud, people are quick to say, "Well, that's okay. You have a baby." But I can't blame the mess on my daughter. She's not yet mobile, she doesn't generate that much waste, and honestly, she's the reason the house is even a little bit clean. After she was born, something inside me snapped in place and propelled me headlong into adulting. I want to throw out clutter, cull my wardrobe, scrub floors, fold flat our pile of boxes courtesy of the holiday season and Amazon Prime, organize everything, but my flagging energy and needy baby allow for only the necessities. 

So as it stands, forgotten stacks of junk mail litter the furniture and half-eaten bags of low-fat popcorn and chocolate chip cookies lie in wait on the coffee table. The living room is in desperate need of a good vacuuming. The laundry (most of it clean, it should be noted) forms a mountain range I'm too tired to hike. The kitchen table is snowed under with tiny blankets, hats, and socks I dig through in a frantic scramble before leaving the house. 

But I'm still inviting friends over for Easter brunch. 

Will the impending arrival of outsiders inspire me to clean the house from top to bottom this week? Maybe. It's happened before, and I'm sure it'll happen again. Motivation never hurts. 

But even if all I manage to do is clear away enough baby gear to create extra seating on the living room floor and have the kitchen clean enough to cook in, I'll be satisfied. I would rather fill these four walls with laughter and love than wait, in tomb-like silence, for my home to be perfect. Because honestly, I'd be waiting forever. And that wouldn't be very hospitable. 

 

I wanted to be a mother so much, I sought out lots of unpleasant tests and doctor's appointments and medications. But even after all that, a not so small part of myself panicked when "pregnant" popped up on that tiny digital screen last February. Not long before that moment, I'd accepted that I might have to wait a long time (maybe forever) for a child. As part of the acceptance process, I had constructed a nice, long list of things I wanted to accomplish before becoming pregnant anyway, as a hedge against disappointment. (Have I mentioned I'm a control freak?)

Lose lots and lots of weight. Be in the best shape imaginable. Finish a master's degree. Finish another novel. Achieve perfection. You know, little things like that. 

After the ecstasy of the positive subsided, dismay flooded in. I wondered if we'd made a mistake. There I was, still overweight, still out of shape, still trying to figure out what my career goals were, still struggling to write again. Still imperfect. And there I was, sharing space with a baby who would spend almost ten months depending on that imperfect body to stay alive. 

But here's the thing: having a less than perfect body didn't ruin anything. I had a great pregnancy, despite my starting weight and the gestational diabetes I developed later on. I felt great, and more importantly, I gave birth to a healthy baby. That baby continues to grow big and strong, and she adores me without concern over my weight or how long I can plank or the fact that my eyebrows are in desperate need of attention.

If I'd waited for perfection, I would have missed out on a beautiful relationship. I'd have missed out on an entire person. And when I think about it that way, my scruples seem the vainest kind of silly.

 

I remember the first time we visited some of our friends at their home for the first time. They dd not tidy up for us. Toys and clutter abounded amid a delicious smelling meal. Life, love, and reality were on full display.

I didn't judge the state of the house. I didn't spend the whole time thinking "they really should have prepared for their guests."

Instead, I was honored by their vulnerability, their lovingkindness, their hospitality. I went home that evening and decided I was done waiting for everything to be perfect. So what if all our walls are beige and mostly bare? So what if our furniture is old, out-of-date, mismatched? I was tired of the pride, the fear, the reservation. 

We're fortunate to have a home that keeps us warm, cool, dry, cozy, and protected. And sure, it could stand to be tidier, more attractive. But when you spend ten hours a week in traffic, forty hours behind a desk, and another forty or so sleeping, you want to make the most of the leftovers. Sometimes that means scrubbing the toilets. Sometimes that means ignoring the mess, ordering a pizza, and opening your doors to the people you love. 

Don't bow down to the elusive idol of perfection. Its path is lonely, quiet, and sterile. Your friends likely won't remember your dusty shelves or your greasy stove top. What they will remember are the laughs, the tears, the conversations, the fellowship. Let the sunshine in.

 

Olivia ArdComment