There are three ways I could start this post:
Option 1: Emma sort of had a party in the condo last night.
Option 2: Our three-bedroom condo slept six last night and will sleep seven tonight. Three are in the smallest bedroom, and tonight’s extra guest will be on a couch.
Option 3: The doorman texted me at 11:15 last night to let me know Jack was bringing two ladies upstairs and at 11:17 to let me know cookies had been delivered for Emma. I was asleep for both messages.
Emma has friends visiting. She is both thrilled and a little stressed. I am delighted. Not because I am financing a West Village restaurant meal for six tonight (Mom: Do you, Dad and Jack want to come to dinner with us?). Not because I had to buy an aero bed and sheet/comforter set to be able to sleep this many in our condo. But because Emma has invited her college friends to meet us in our home and is excited about their visit and our evening together.
Yesterday though, she was also a little off kilter. Calling me from work, she was finishing something for her two o’clock meeting, working on a final presentation for her summer school class, making a list of calls for the train ride home, and worrying about the third friend (the seventh bed) who had asked to join the two-day visit the week before and had now just texted last minute to see if he could also join for dinner out. Emma’s reservation was for six people, not seven. She was calling to ask what she should do.
There have been moments like this throughout my experience as a parent. They are the times when your child needs help or advice and you know exactly where they are and what to do because you went through it too. They are the times when we bring our own life lessons to the next generation, and these moments feel so important and satisfying precisely because we know the lessons to be true so deeply from personal experience.
It was eighth grade when I managed through the mean girl stage. I wasn’t the queen bee -- I was a scapegoat. One lifelong friend wouldn’t speak to me in the school hall but would secretly call me in the evening. Another girl refused to be my partner in a class even when the teacher paired us. I was miserable. And while it all blew over by freshman year, before I landed new REAL friends, I latched onto a popular twosome. At the time, I thought we were a threesome, but my mom knew better.
For months, I would complain to her. Why was I always the one who had to make plans with Eve and Jessie (names changed – we are all better people at age 50+ than at age 15!)? Why weren’t my invitations ever reciprocated? And for months, my mother quietly and diplomatically told me that nice friends always include, even when it may not be their first choice, because it’s just the right thing to do. I didn’t listen. Eve and Jessie were super pretty with nice clothes and cool permissive moms, and they did include me some of the time. But more often, they didn’t. Eventually I gave up, moved on and found friends who I remain in touch with today, at least in part because we all followed my mother’s philosophy.
Sadly, the same thing happened to Emma in high school. It wasn’t queen bee syndrome, but her supposed good friends left her out of some key graduation moments for who knows what reason, and it was truly traumatic at the time. The pain I felt watching her manage through this meanness was almost unbearable, and it was only when she herself decided to be mad versus sad that I felt she had started to come out of the experience the better for it.
Since my awful eighth and ninth grade experiences, I have lived by my mother’s lesson. So my answer for Emma was easy. Add the seventh person to our table as long as the restaurant can accommodate us. Our family operates under The More the Merrier Principle. I felt palpable relief on the other end of the line.
I believe in that moment Emma was also recalling her own experiences on the wrong side of inclusivity, the times her friends had been anything but thoughtful. She didn’t need it, but I had given her permission to do what she knew to be the better course. And I felt very parental – the life lesson had clearly been successfully passed on.
As it turns out, the restaurant could not add a seat to our table, but Emma had tried. She included. So, we dine with six tonight and then we will sleep seven, and both Emma’s gut reaction and her ensuing behavior make me proud.