We have just had house guests. Friends of old from England. They have been over many times. I hope they will be back many more. I have never worried about their visits before. I always made detailed plans for each day. The filmstar exhibition at Newbridge. Clonmacnoise. Lunches in little hideouts. Drinks in olde worlde pubs. Theatre trips. This time I stressed a little. I now have two car seats. Where would they even sit when I picked them up? How would I take them out to see things? Would they even enjoy a weekend in this madhouse?
When I taught first, I lived in Essex for two years. It was a baptism of fire in the classroom but it became the most wonderful place to cut my teaching teeth. I was single when I lived there. No children. No home of my own outside of rental. I did live in a large house with many other Irish teachers but it isn’t like having your own space. I was very homesick for Ireland for quite some time despite much fun times with the housemates. Different elements helped. A wonderful school, students who endeared me, cheered me and at times made me fear them alongside some of the best teachers I have ever met, made this time very special. Being near London. I loved being able to head into the city at weekends for entertainment. At home, I couldn’t leave work at half three, get a train and be sitting watching Charles Dance in Shadowlands on stage that evening. In Essex however, I didn’t have home. I would have to leave and go home. Leaving new friends was tough. Some of the people I met there became my firm friends and we see each other still all the time. This weekend my friend Karen came over with her husband Martyn. I worked with Karen and we were and are very close friends. It was she who would pop into London with me to see Charles Dance and whoever else!
Any parents know how crazy and unpredictable life with babies can be. Teething, tiredness and tantrums can be such adversaries as to irritate and hinder the simplest activity such as making a cup of tea. You could also have gleeful giggles, gentle hugs and adorable little chitchats. Either could occur. Can you plan? No.
My friend is so easy going and placid. She just wants to see us. I know this. However I always like to organise an outing, drives, lunches or theatre; something they can see or do. This time I had nothing.
Also, Martyn and Karen have just had a bereavement. How could I cheer them up?
So here is what happened.
Manipulation of car seats and babysitting by nannas meant I could pick the guests up. Good start! We went home to eat rather than a café . Straight away we threw off boots and shoes, put the kettle on and kept putting it on for the next two days. Ham and cheese toasties, Tayto crisps. Happy people.
Terrible weather meant no outdoor strolls with the children and more cartoons than normal. You know what? There is something very relaxing about tea, friends, feet up and a few Ben and Holly episodes. Gigi made endless cups of pretend tea with milk (from an empty two litre drum that is her ‘toy’ and I am not allowed dump) and served us her cakes. Betsy took to the visitors with her trademark smiles and coos cheering everyone at a hand’s turn.
That evening the girls went to bed and us alleged grown ups all watched a movie with Indian takeaway and some wine. It was as much a treat as being out. No need for high heels and hair clips. Jim jams only.
We watched Brooklyn and despite momentary panic at a pathos filled part where I feared I had picked something very inappropriate considering my friends’ recent loss, we loved it. Everyone was hooked. I knew the story having taught the book for several years. This made it just as enjoyable waiting for everyone’s reaction. An excellent choice.
Sunday began with busy, bustling baby stuff and cooking an Irish fry. I started vegetables for dinner early too as I had invited my parents over for Sunday lunch. There are not many more jobs I hate than peeling potatoes. So I didn’t! Roasted them in their skins! By now, Gigi and Betsy had claimed my friends and spent a lot of time with them without shyness or reserve. Gigi driving her push car, playing babies and play-doh. Betsy gurgling and flapping her arms excitedly. The rain still fell hard and strong. We remained indoors. A roast beef dinner was cooked and we had a lovely time. I had bought selections of desserts, tiramisu, creme brulee, cheesecake and trifle. Pre whipped cream. Lidl and Spar! Nothing fancy. I decided to just put all out with spoons. Perfect. We had a dessert buffet. Who doesn’t like that?! Before, I would have tried a homemade dessert. Now I needed to save time. Before we would have gone out probably! This worked so well though I wonder why we felt we always had to go out? People were more relaxed at home.
The afternoon saw snoozes from all, sport on TV, some more cartoons, play-doh, cuddles and tea. Endless cups of tea.
We watched Suffragette that evening with homemade chips and burgers. More wine. Malteasers. Hankies. This eye opening tearjerker had us all googling the story and historical facts as it was such a marvellous portrayal of the gritty truth of what these women went through for the right to vote.
On Monday morning Gigi went to crèche. Mr Paper was on the fatm. Betsy, Karen, Martyn and I went to the town where they would catch the bus to the airport. Lazy lunch in a child friendly cafe. Peep through the shops. Before we had left the house, Martyn and Karen were looking for their coats and shoes. They had been put away since the morning they had arrived. We had taken a break from the world. Laughter followed as we realised we had had no need of coats for two days and we had just taken time out. Ignored the world for a few days.
Mr Paper and I missed their presence immediately when they left. We had not gone anywhere fancy, taken many photos or made big fuss. We had just had guests who felt like family we saw every day being here. It was wonderful as it had changed our environment without us noticing and felt like a warm hug had enclosed our home. House guests who bring no stress. Just the pleasure of their company.
I conclude that yes, house guests and babies can mix. It won’t be like before. Adaptation is required. There will be tears and fallouts in front of your guests. Meals could turn out any which way. Poo, pee and what stage it is at WILL be a topic of conversation on the table (not physically-we hope). Alcohol can be available but only after bedtime. Food will be a focus. Fun can be at home. It can also be twice as lovely. Good friends don’t need to see sites. You are their site! On this occasion, house guests and babies were all the better for having mixed.