Pasta Night: creating family where there was none
Actually, my brother was kind of nearby, but he lived a bachelor lifestyle, never married with no kids. My mother had recently moved back to her childhood home in California to spend time with her aunts, uncle, and cousins – distant relatives I had met once or twice or only knew about from family stories. My father had passed away nearly 20 years previously. Any relatives from his side of the family were many states away and somewhat estranged, as my parents had divorced when I was six and we were basically cast out. My mother’s younger sister and brother were also distant: We had a holiday-and-special-occasion relationship, which had been dictated by my mother up until the time she abdicated her matriarchal role and took off for the opposite coast.
So, there I was alone with my small family. I had a full-time job and had very little time to do anything besides take care of my kids and work. It was kind of scary to be on my own like that. The daycare told me they really needed someone to list as an emergency contact that didn’t live 3,000 miles away. Who could I ask? (Ultimately I asked the pastor at the church I had started attending when my youngest son was three months old.)
I knew I wasn’t truly alone, because God is everywhere, but the emergency contact quandary highlighted the fact that the kids and I needed some companionship. I had an idea. I’d host a “Ladies’ Night” at my house where other single moms could come and bring their kids! I’d serve dinner and maybe have an activity for the kids so the moms could socialize. I didn’t get out much, except for church on Sunday, and to be honest, one of the reasons I ended up in the church I did was because they had a nursery and Sunday School and other people would take care of the baby and his older brothers while I did something else like Bible Study for a whole hour before actual church. I could leave the baby in the nursery during church but the older boys could come to the sanctuary with me, which they did.
They were noisy and messy at times and we learned to sit in the front so I didn’t have to see people turning around to look at us. There were many times that having a four and five-year-old in church made me wonder why I even went to church. But as hard as it was, I was sure it the right thing to do for the boys. We had been churchgoers since they were babies – it’s just that I’d had to find a new church when I became a single mom and after home churching for a period of time, knew I needed to find a church home.
My first Ladies’ Night was a Mardi Gras party, because it was right before Lent. I made a king cake and put a plastic baby under each piece so everyone would be a winner. I had gold, green, and purple Mardi Gras beads and matching cups and napkins. I don’t recall what else I served. Only one friend showed up with her daughter, but it was a “party!” I learned that everything is more fun if you call it a party – even folding laundry.
The next time I hosted Ladies’ Night, two women came. They both had daughters so I wound up getting out all of my childhood books out that I knew the boys would never read anyway. I had a ton of horse books and Little House on the Prairie books. Many of them went home with the girls that night.
“Ladies’ Night” became “Pasta Night” because the boys pointed out that it didn’t make sense to call it that because they were not ladies. And of course, it wasn’t just about me – they needed friends, too! I held Pasta Night every Wednesday, whether anyone came over or not. More often than not, though, we had guests, even when the weather was bad.
My first regular was another single mom from our daycare. Then there was a mom from church and her two kids, a woman I met at the hairdresser and her two kids, and my neighbor, who sometimes just sent her kids over. It was mostly single women until married women from church who I’d become friends with started attending. Men were welcome after another neighbor broke the ice with her boyfriend, but for the most part it was women and children who came every week for crudités, pasta, meatballs, sauce, bread, and juiceboxes, or some variation thereof.
I initiated themes and activities. There was Costume Pasta Night at Halloween and I gave out prizes for “spookiest,” “most original,” and “funniest” costumes as well as any other superlative I could think of so long as everyone got an award. Gratitude Pasta night was at Thanksgiving time. One year we made cards for people in homeless shelters; another year we made leaves on which blessings were written and then hung on my Gratitude Tree. We had Gingerbread House making Pasta Night where the eating was an afterthought because I needed the dining room table for the construction site. We had Valentine’s Pasta Night where we made valentines for the homeless shelter, and Egg Coloring Pasta Night at Easter time. We also celebrated birthdays and special occasions. One time when one of my son’s baseball games was rescheduled to Wednesday night, we had Baseball Pasta Night and brought our get together to the field and then back to our house for dessert.
It rarely crossed my mind that we lived in an older and somewhat dilapidated house, and had kind of a shabby dining room table with mismatched chairs, plates, and silverware. None of that mattered. What was important was being together with our Pasta Night family. One of my sons had to do a heritage project at school and he chose to research and present our Scottish heritage, but he wanted to include a section about Pasta Night. Even though it has nothing at all to do with being Scottish, it was an important tradition to him. Past Night also provided stability and consistency, which I felt were important to my kids. During my own childhood, I lived in 12 different houses between the ages of two and 18, and remember being acutely aware of and embarrassed by our poverty.
My mother moved back from California and began attending Pasta Night. She brought one of her friends along who has since become very good friends with one of my friends, so Pasta Night became a networking opportunity as well as a community. It also became a support group when nearly a year after my mother’s return, she fell ill with a short-lived and mysterious illness, fell into a coma, and passed away three days later – ever so suddenly and unexpectedly. It was my Pasta Night family, along with my church family, who were there to help me through that very difficult time, which was a week before Thanksgiving that year.
The Pasta Night Era ended when our kids got older and began playing more sports and being involved in activities like Boy Scouts or Chess Club. It just became harder and harder to find a conflict-free night to get together regularly. My boys, now ages 17, 15, and 11, are on good paths today: we still go to the same church when we can, mostly depending on sports or my youngest’s hockey schedule. (Fortunately, God is everywhere, even at the hockey rink.) All three attend a Christian camp every summer and retreats throughout the year – the older two have been there for 11 years (and worked there last summer) and my youngest for seven.
Being a mom is a hard job, and it’s really scary when you have no one to list as an emergency contact at daycare. I can’t stress enough how important it is to create a family if there is none, not only for your children but also for yourself. We moms are all in this together!
This story originally appeared in “The Mom Village.”