Everyday Hospitality

Head’s Up: Sponsored by Nest

This is how it would go: the doorbell rings and the dogs bark and I shush the kids, army-crawl over to the corner of my kitchen where I sneak onto my tiptoes to peek above the half-wall – ever-slowly – so I can see the doorbell-ringer but the doorbell-ringer can’t see me.

I wouldn’t call it efficient, this predisposition toward screening solicitors or unannounced guests. Inevitably, the toddler trots right up to the front door, waves happily and I’m outed, left powerless to purchase Boy Scout popcorn or a fundraiser magazine, flip through the Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet.

I am well aware I could say, “No, thank you; we’re not interested.” Or simply point to the friendlyNo Soliciting sign with a smile. Draw the shades, come what may. But for some reason, the crawl-and-peek is what it had come to, though it rarely worked.

What, again, was Einstein’s definition of insanity?

Years ago, a girlfriend witnessed this waltz of avoidance while over for a visit, and she laughed incredulously, offered her best impression of the whole song-and-dance during our next dinner party.

It did look rather silly, now that I was seeing someone else do it.

And yet, if the alternative is unanticipated confrontation with a stranger in which I must decline their product/service/God, I’ll take the song-and-dance every time.

But about a year ago, something shifted and I began vowing to leave my door ajar, in the metaphorical sense. I welcomed absolute strangers into my home, offered dinner invitations to random acquaintances I’d see in the coffee shop, or mothers I ran into in the library parking lot. People I’d see regularly but didn’t know. People I’d known forever but didn’t see.

Come over, I’d say, open invite. The one with the yellow door. Yes, anytime.

The why is clear; we all know the benefits of extending our social circle, of eating communally, of swapping stories and serving dishes with those who are like us, with those who are not. We know there is much to learn from each other. We know that, in an increasingly wired world, many of us are floating around relatively alone, connected, but tetherless.

We know there is pain, hurt, longing. We know a friendly face can’t solve it all, but we know that sometimes hibiscus tea can.

Still, the how can get fuzzy for me, an introvert predisposed to spending any stretch of free time on the sofa with a Joan Didion spine. How to do it? How to swing the door open wide, wide, wider still, amidst crazed schedules or last-minute commitments or, for me, sheer selfishness?

A few tips I’m learning as of late:

It’s not about you.

Surprise, surprise. You’d think we’d have this down by now, yes? Still, the mornings in which I’m unshowered, braless, and flipping pancakes are certainly the times in which a visitor or neighbor will drop in. Whenever I fret over the state of my home/hair/etc, I’m always reminded of Haven Kimmel’s writing: “But I think that what you’ll discover more and more as you get older is that most people aren’t thinking about you at all.”

What people are thinking about? Themselves, of course. How they’re feeling. If they’re warmed, if they’re safe, if they’re loved.

Forget the bra and offer a hug, a welcome, a pancake or three.

Be as prepared as you can.

Our doorbell, surprisingly, is a master at this, anticipating even the most unanticipated guests. Designed to show you everything at your front door – from people to packages –  The Nestdetects motion even before anyone rings the bell, so I have plenty of time to usher the dogs outside and avoid a barkfest. Or, if we’re in the backyard kicking around a soccer ball, I can switch on a pre-recorded response for visitors: Come around back! (And maybe duck.)

Beyond that? A well-stocked supply of tea will do just fine.

No need for apologies.

Yep, no one’s coming to see your toilets. Our house is relatively clean (relatively = loose interpretation), but on any given Tuesday there’s likely a string of blocks littering the hallway, laundry piled high on the dining room table. Half-eaten crayons on the office floor, sticky syrup on the counter. Currently, as I type this, there are three power drills lining the basement stairs. It’s a home, not a house, so I am forever resisting the temptation to apologize for the very stuff of life.

Be honest.

love a good pop-in visit, but there are days the timing just doesn’t work. We often rely on Nest’s Quiet Time when Scout is napping – a simple Do Not Disturb mode that keeps the doorbell from ringing (which keeps the dogs from barking, which keeps the baby from waking!) and sends an alert to our phone instead.

Alternately, my friend lives on a beautiful, sprawling farm, and she’s often fielding drive-by visitors who are curious, pining for “a quick tour” of her gardens. Sure, she wants to be hospitable, but as a busy mother of 6, she doesn’t always have the capacity. Her solution? Thursdays. She tells passersby that she’s “open” on Thursday, that they’re welcome to come back as often or as little as they’d like.

Perhaps you work from home, or have an infant in the house, or an aging parent who needs rest. Perhaps you live with a whole slew of introverts who’d like an ample head’s up before guests march in. Whatever the case, be honest about said limitations with those on either sides of the front door.

Attitude is everything.

When Bee was a newborn, I used to stroll her in loops around the neighborhood nightly to stave off the infamous witching hour tears. Once, a neighbor flagged me over and invited us into her backyard, where we talked and talked and talked while the crickets grew loud and the moon grew high. When Bee finally fell asleep, my neighbor asked if I wanted to come inside and stay for family dinner. Ever of the “I don’t want to impose!” school of thought, I nearly declined. But then she says, with absolute excitement: It’s cereal night! Her kids jump up and down, run to grab spoons, and twenty minutes later, I am amazed at how fed I feel from a bare bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Try it once.

That’s all it takes – one time.

A few weeks ago, during a rousing game of Snap with Bee in the kitchen, the Nest chimed. Right there on my front stoop stood a new acquaintance with her even-newer baby. I welcomed her in, set the car seat on our kitchen counter, warmed water for tea.

I’m sorry to barge in, she’d said tearfully. It was this or Target.

We laughed. I have rarely felt more honored.

I suppose it comes down to this: it has been no small thing for an introvert like me to swing open the door so wide. It has made our home infinitely richer. (It has made our home infinitely louder.)

And even though I haven’t needed to perform my crawl-and-peek in forever, I’m unsurprised to report Bee has picked up my old habit of dodging knocks, hiding from the mailman.

I’m giving her time.

Turns out it can take decades to understand the mere beauty of opening your own front door.

This post was written for Nest Hello, a genius doorbell we use and love in our own home. Thanks for reading!

Source: Everyday Hospitality

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