For me, one of the best parts of being an adult is getting to finally respond in kind, to turn around with all the generosity and love that’s been showered on me, and pour it back out.
Last night was one of those nights. We had over J’s research students in the evening, and the morning before was spent vacuuming and baking bread and quiche and brownies, waffling about whether to say grace at dinner (yes) and whether to get fancy sodas for the kids, since we wouldn’t be serving alcohol (also yes). Should I introduce myself as Katherine? Mrs. Bowers? Mrs. Grimm Bowers? It was all new territory for us.
As a college student at a lovely, tiny college, I enjoyed the same occasional hospitality from my professors. Though I loved my college years, I was terribly, incurably homesick, and being a part of a family for an evening meal, or stopping by for tea, or attending a backyard cookout, helped me feel more a part of the wider world, not some untethered dorm-dweller, wild and free.
The best parts of parenting are the same. I remember my dad’s voice hoarse from bedtime renditions of Frog and Toad Are Friends, and recently we snagged our own copy at Goodwill. I remember the feeling of surest safety as my mom or dad carried me not-quite-sleeping into the house, and now I heave my own children, limp with sleep, onto my shoulder. People, older people, pour out their loving kindness to you, and you, in turn, pour that same kindness out to others when you grow up.
Hosting students was one of the things we talked about in fall 2014, as we started to position our family for the endless hurdles of academic applications, unaware the situation would instantly get stickier with the sweet surprise of Eleanor Ruth. I had these visions that followed me as I lay morning sick on the couch and J left for interview after interview in places I could only imagine. (Iowa!) Someday, we’d have a house of warmth and hospitality, humble and homey, people coming and going, always room at the table for one more.
Last night, as we sat in our living room 500 miles from those dreams, surrounded by young voices, eating brownies and discussing Narnia and Hogwarts, I felt the satisfaction of a dream achieved.
It was a good feeling, and one that sustains me this morning, in the wreckage of dirty dishes and alluring leftover brownies. Maybe it’s different for you. Maybe you’ll love the world with your medical expertise, or your lawn mower. But be sure that you do. You’ve been loved, and you owe it to the world.