My House Is The Neighborhood Hangout, And I Love It

by Rita Templeton

There are seven kids in my house, but only four of them mine … and there goes the doorbell again, so make that eight – no, nine. Excited voices reverberate off every wall, and somebody forgot to take their shoes off, so there are dirty footprints leading up the stairs.

I can already hear my refrigerator door opening as one of our younger guests, my kindergartner’s friend from three houses down, asks me if I have any oranges. I do, of course, because when your house is THE house, your snack game’s gotta be strong. My kids hardly even eat oranges, but I always have them on hand because I know someone’s going to ask. It’s just another afternoon around my place, where everyone naturally seems to gravitate.

Yes, it’s chaotic. Yes, it’s loud. And yes, there are days when I’m less receptive to the chatter and bleep-blooping of video games and thumping of feet. But it’s a chaos I normally don’t mind, because it’s the sound of my children (and, okay, everybody else’s) having fun together, making memories with the neighborhood kids they’ll fondly remember long into adulthood.

It’s funny, because I didn’t always practice such an open-door playdate policy. In fact, if it had been more socially acceptable, I totally would’ve hung a “GO AWAY” sign on my front door a few years back. I had very little patience for most kids, and hated the responsibility of having them over because it felt like babysitting to me. And I suppose it is, in a way – I mean, I’m still responsible for their wellbeing while they’re at my house – although unlike babysitting, I can send them home whenever I feel like it.

But two years ago we moved into a neighborhood full of families, and my kids quickly befriended their kids. I wanted them to make new friends so badly that I started allowing everyone to come over, and something changed in me: because to my surprise, it wasn’t so bad after all. My kids were bonding with their neighbors, some of whom were also their classmates. I could get a good sense of how they all treated each other – my own children included – because I was right there to witness it in person. I knew where my kids were at all times, eliminating the stress of keeping track of whose house everyone had gone to.

I knew that my children were safe, that they weren’t playing some kind of violent video game or surfing the Internet for porn because the parents weren’t home or – worst of all – in a place where an improperly stored firearm could be accessed. (My uncle was killed in an accidental shooting as a young teenager by a friend who was just trying to show him a gun, so this was a big one for me.) I realized that when my kids were at my house, I never needed to worry about their safety or who I could trust.

The more I allowed myself to relax about it, the more enjoyable it became to have a house full of kids – and now I actually like that our house is the designated hangout spot most of the time. I do have to care a little less about keeping my throw pillows neatly arranged on my couch, and going through snacks like a colony of hungry rats lives in my pantry. I find myself yelling things like “Close the door!” and “Bring down the volume!” just a little more often. But it’s a small price to pay for the benefit of letting my kids have their friends over.

They’re going to remember these times their whole lives, and I get to witness the cementing of their friendships. Plus, the benefits extend beyond my children; our home can be a haven for any friends whose own homes are lacking harmony, or who need just a little bit of extra love, a safe space for them too. And maybe one day, in a sort of ripple effect, their own childhoods will inspire them to have the same open-door policy for their own kids. I hope so. Because it’s actually a beautiful thing.

Gotta go – there’s that doorbell again. It’s like Grand Central Station around here, but oddly enough, I wouldn’t have it any other way.