Growing up, there were a couple of houses where a group of us would always hang out. We would eat all the food, make all the noise, and likely make all the messes too. We sprawled out on couches and living room floors, where we controlled the TV remote. We were in and out of houses to use the bathroom or get something to drink between sweaty games of basketball or long bike rides. The parents of those houses seemed to genuinely enjoy having us there, because bags of chips and pitchers of Kool-Aid were always waiting for us. Fast forward 30 years, and my house is now one of those houses that hosts all the kids.
And I love it.
I love the little street I live on. In the last few years, the neighborhood has slowly turned over from retired folks to young families, and there are now several kids on the street. To be fair, most of them live in my house (3 kids, ages 8 and 6) or the house two doors down (4 kids, ages 5-12). Between my crew and the neighbor’s kids, the pack of them bounces from house to house, and at any given point, I have extra kids in my yard or kitchen.
And, honestly, they are usually in search of gum.
Any kid who swings by knows we keep a stash of bubble gum in the middle drawer of the kitchen counter. Sometimes they will ask for a piece, but more often than not, a child, usually one who doesn’t belong to me, will walk through the house without fanfare and begin digging through a drawer.
“Why do you only have mint gum?” the neighbor’s 5-year-old asked me the other day.
I raised my eyebrows at her. “Because you chewed all of the other kind and I haven’t been to the store yet.”
She sighed and suffered through the spearmint option, and went back outside. Don’t worry, she and the others always return, and without an invitation or even knocking or ringing the doorbell.
One of my biggest pet peeves of being “that house” is the constant in and out, opening and closing of the door as my kids and their friends enter and leave the house. It’s part distraction, part CLOSE THE DOOR BEFORE THE DOG GETS OUT, and part What do you need now?
Every time I hear the door open, my anxiety rises. Though not enough to wish my house wasn’t filled with life and happy kids, just enough to make me a little cranky and unable to focus on a specific task. Because when there are 5-8 kids cycling through your house, someone always needs something: a snack, a shoe tied, a Band-Aid, an ear to listen to the injustices of someone not sharing, or a bucket of water with no questions asked.
When the house is full, I really don’t bother doing much more than taking an hour to unload the dishwasher.
And yet, for all the hassles and inconveniences, I actually love being the house that hosts all the playdates and drop-ins. I like knowing my kids’ friends feel relaxed enough to ask what’s for dinner, knowing I will always set a place for them. Granted, kids can be mooches and often expect mac and cheese to show up on a whim, but still.
I also love that my kids’ friends feel comfortable in our home to demand sleepovers, knowing they will still get tucked in before falling asleep. I love seeing eight kids jammed into the living room to watch a movie and eat popcorn because, as much as my kids drive me batshit bonkers, I’d rather they be in or near our home than somewhere else.
It’s not just so I can keep tabs on them either—though I do get to hear some interesting stuff when no one thinks I’m listening. I get to overhear some really funny and sweet conversations. And I get to witness some pretty intense kid drama too. I mean, is there anything cuter than a 5-year-old throwing their arms up in the air and declaring they are going home because everyone is mean, only to then turn around and ask if someone wants to ride bikes with her? And while I don’t worry too much about my kids’ safety when they are hanging somewhere else, I do feel like they are safer when they are around me. I’ll blame it on a Mama Bear reaction with a side of anxiety and unfounded fear from a lack of control.
When my kids and half of the neighborhood are in my care, I know they are playing in a space that doesn’t have guns, specifically ones that are not locked up. I know my kids are not around potentially “tricky people”—those people, I tell my kids, who seem nice but are not. I know my kids are not trying to cook, cut, or reach something their bodies are just not capable of yet, but their brains tell them they are. I know accidents can happen anywhere, but I am perfectly happy being able to monitor their environment without hovering.
Really, the only downside of being “that house” where all the kids congregate (other than the constant door opening and closing) is that I need to keep up my snack game. I don’t have bags of chips at the ready, but pretzels and Goldfish crackers do the trick. Oh, and I always have cheap popsicles. And gum, of course.
I texted my friend and neighbor the other night to be sure she was okay with her kid staying at our house for dinner. Mom was fine with it but mentioned it would be her second dinner. The kid ate like a champ and then asked for dessert, which just confirmed that these kids are living their best lives, multiple meals and one piece of gum at a time.
And I’m here for it. Literally.