If houses had names like motels, mine would be “The Dew Drop Inn.” I love having friends drop by unexpectedly. We’re a household of optimists, and we greet the doorbell accordingly. My kids dash down the stairs and skid toward the door like opportunity is literally knocking. Maybe someone sent us an I-Phone! Nickelodeon wants me on iCarly! The school burned down!
For me, having a friend stop by is simply the excuse I’m often looking for to drop everything and just hang out. A social gathering that didn’t require planning? Bliss.
So I was disappointed to discover, shortly after moving to the suburbs, that some of my friends do not share my enthusiasm for the drop-in. Their houses may look like upscale bed-and-breakfasts, but they may as well have signs outside that say “By Invitation Only.”
It took me a while to understand that it wasn’t personal, that when a neighbor stood in her doorway chatting and not inviting me in, it didn’t mean she a) didn’t really like me or b) was praying I would skedaddle before noticing the corpse on the living room floor. She just didn’t do the drop-in.
This unwelcoming tendency is partly an off-shoot of the perfectionism that rules life in suburbia, where so many of us feel that our houses and gardens, haircuts and children are supposed to appear perfectly tended at all times.
So we pretend that we don’t have dirty socks and Nerf bullets under the cushions of the living room couch and that we never leave the house without wiping the pancake syrup off the kitchen table. Someone stopping by unexpectedly might catch us living an imperfect life. Better not let them in.
But some “invitation only” people don’t have anything that needs to be swept under the rug. They’re neat freaks whose kitchen counters are not covered with piles of catalogues, bills and overdue permission slips. Their houses are always stage-set perfect, as if they were expecting company at any moment.
In their case, not wanting uninvited guests is not about being caught off-guard. It’s about being kicked off schedule. Because for all the talk about over-scheduled children in the suburbs, the parents (and yes, I’m talking mostly about mothers) are overscheduled, too. Keeping up with the house, the yard, the Pilates, the minutiae (and carpools) of our children’s lives and, of course, our jobs, is so demanding that there’s just no time for spontaneous socializing.
When I call a certain friend at 9:40 a.m. to see if she wants to meet for coffee, I can practically hear the frantic juggling going on in her head: If I don’t leave the house by 9:45, I won’t make it to the 10 a.m. spinning class, and then I’ll have to exercise later and won’t have time to get to the tile store to pick out a grout color for the bathroom before taking the boys to soccer. I could go tomorrow but then I won’t have time for a pedicure before the PTA meeting …
Unravel this tight web of scheduling to do nothing but talk with a friend? About nothing in particular?
There’s nothing wrong with sticking to one’s schedule, which brings the satisfaction at the end of the day of ticking off the boxes on the to-do list. It’s good to have high standards for our work, homes, families, and communities and to be driven by the passion for a good and full life.
But too many of us are like the well-meaning principal in the children’s book A Fine, Fine School who loves his school so much that he schedules more and more school, until there’s school on weekends and holidays and in the summer. Finally, an overwhelmed girl marches into his office and points out that with all this school, not everyone is learning what they need to—that her little brother hasn’t learned how to swing or skip and that she herself hasn’t learned how to climb very high in her tree and sit there for a whole hour.
Where I live, doing nothing is something that usually only happens at the end of yoga class, when everyone works very hard to do Savasana, or corpse pose, and feels guilty when they find themselves taking mental inventory of their refrigerator instead of achieving a blank mind.
There’s a cost to slowing down from time to time. You might end up with an overflow of dirty laundry, bathroom tile in dire need of grouting, outgrown highlights or an extra inch around the waist. But you might find that talking to a friend about what’s on her mind rather than on her agenda is worth your precious time. You might discover that the occasional drop-in derails your schedule but takes you to a better place.
By Karen Dukess for Burbia