"Your house is full of love"

Beautifully imperfect. Group selfie by cousin Laura, April 2023.

My house was a disaster. Busted toys festooned the family room, old food dotted the dining room floor, diaper odors lingered in the upstairs bedrooms. Despite my best effort to present a clean, calm home to my relatives visiting from Italy, I could not overcome my persistent children, and I prayed my cousins would not judge me too harshly for the clutter and commotion because I did not know enough (read: any) Italian to explain it to them.

While I have never felt pressure in my hosting life to present magazine-worthy room decor to my guests, I do consider "no visible food chunks" and "no discernible smells of excrement" to be the minimum viable product, and not being able to consistently meet even this low threshold in my current season of parenthood is a constant source of stress. My inner battles wage: Should I apologize? Should I accept it? Should I keep pouring wine until no one sees the mess? My rational side says no house is ever perfect and that people are glad just to be welcomed, but then my irrational side pipes up with a running list of imperfections that will surely ruin the visit, and the list never reaches an end.

My irrational side was in overdrive the night of my Italian relatives' visit, mainly because I wanted their first trip to the United States to be memorable for all the best reasons (and none of the gross ones). They have shown endless generosity and flexibility to us on multiple trips to Italy, and finally I had the opportunity to return the hosting favor. I knew nothing would go 100% according to plan with two kids and a work week involved, but damned if I wasn't going to give it my best shot.

After we snapped photos outside, labored over Google Translate, and ate dinner, my older child—quite taken with these friendly people who had brought him gifts and thought every science fact he shared in English to be amazing—invited them upstairs to see his bedroom with his "big bed," a source of great pride and joy. I was not prepared for this turn of events. I had stashed a lot of unfolded laundry, cords, and paperwork in various corners of the bedrooms, yet I feared it would appear the height of rudeness to run ahead of my guests, slam the doors, and let them see my son's bed only over my shoulder. So I let the impromptu tour proceed, albeit with a tense jaw.

Once we were all crowded in the upstairs hallway, the moment I'd dreaded most was upon me. There was no hiding the hair catcher in the shower drain or my purple bra on the radiator. As I stood there, frozen, convinced I was nose blind and that the pervasive stench of poop was even stronger than my worst fears, my cousin Stefano serenely surveyed the chaotic scene—the jumble of moving limbs, the din of bilingual chatter, the bursts of spontaneous laughter—and said to me, in his halting English, "Your house is full of love."

I could have cried right then and there. Not from relief (I was and am still convinced the vicinity reeked of diapers), but from gratitude. Gratitude for his genuine affection and appreciation, and also gratitude for the implicit invitation to see my home through fresh eyes, to take in the colorful books stacked on every surface, the hand-knit blankets draped over comfy chairs, the framed photos and stuffed animals and accumulated scents of homemade meals. My cousin did not see what I wanted him to see; he saw what I needed to see.

Sometimes when you're forced to use the simplest words to communicate across language barriers, you strike upon the most powerful truths. I wish I could have hosted my dear cousins for longer, and with greater attention, to see what else might have emerged from our time together. At least I can rest assured that my house said for me what I wanted to say most—that I welcome them, that I care for them, that I love them.

Prayer #388: Pasta e Fagioli

Love is a bowl of pasta fagioli ...

No, love is a bowl of pasta fasul ...

No, love is a bowl of pasta fazool ...

Oh, eff it. The pronunciation doesn't matter, nor do the ingredients. Pick a pasta, pick a bean, throw in any veggies on the edge, add your favorite herbs, serve with crusty bread and wine that's already open in the fridge, and forget what it's supposed to be and instead focus on what it is: a warm embrace, an open hand, an invitation to slurp and sip and stay as long as you'd like—forever even!—because leftovers only apply to food, and never to love.