Friday, July 23, 2010

Never Met A Stranger

Shabbat #26

Guests: Dan and his wife Dana, daughter R. and son I. Dan I and sit on the Joe's Place board together. Joe's Place is a residential home for boys located in the Maplewood Richmond Heights school district. Joe's Place offers a small group of teenage boys what every kid should be able to expect from life: a warm place to sleep, regular meals, and someone to provide guidance and affection.

Menu: Baumann's Smoked Beef Tenderloin, Pasta Ponza, Roasted Asparagus, Icecream with Brown Sugar Bourbon Peach Sauce, Toby's Whole Wheat Challah

What I Learned:

The only thing more unnerving than having an event planner (we'll just call her Susan) and her award-winning BBQ king of a husband to dinner is having a child psychiatrist. Meet Dan. I half expected some kind of parenting intervention. Or at least a make shift Rosrschah inkblot test fashioned out of the grease stained tablecloth. Fortunately neither proved true.

Sitting around the table Dan and his wife did have one rather pointed question: Have any of your dinners totally bombed? The short answer is "No" ... except for maybe the one with my in-laws, but that had more to do with the offending golden raisins in the challah than the company.

And here's the reason.

Steve's never met a stranger. He'll find something to talk about with anyone. Which is fortunate for his sake since I'm the one that makes the guest list.

He's also had a lot of practice at making conversation.

When he ran for office he knocked on every door in the district repeatedly. (If you live in the 73rd you've probably met him.) Undeterred by dogs, drawn blinds or the creepy array of "stuff" that accumulates on some porches, he trudged tirelessly for months leading up to the election. He tells me that this is the reason he won, but I wonder. If it were me opening the door, I would've been questioning the judgment of a 200+ man sweating in the St. Louis summer heat standing on my porch. (I voted for him anyway.)

Sometimes I was a party to this madness, knowing that it was a rare opportunity to squeeze in some "family time" in the thick of the campaign. So I'd schlep Sarah and Ben up and down street after street mostly wondering (while sweating) how I had gotten myself into the whole mess to begin with. Truth is, Ben loved it as much as Steve did, running from one portch to the next.

Never meeting a stranger.

Steve talked about how much it meant to him to have Ben learn about the process. I think he meant the political process and public service. And not the unsolicited door to door visits.

Which apparently was what left a bigger impression on Ben.

The night after dinner with Dan, Ben and a partner in crime (who shall remain unnamed) engaged in their own little door to door campaign. Filling their water guns in the backyard (after attempting to do so in my bathtub), slipping out the backyard cut through, ringing the neighbors doorbell and then giving the resident a big dose of the super soaker. The less than amused homeowner (who of course knew Steve because he knocked on his door) along with his wife marched the offenders by their collars back to whence they came promptly delivering a stern message about safety and respect to the ever so slightly amused adults.

Not my proudest parenting moment. And I am sure a real case study for Dan.

Sunday afternoon Steve marched Ben back to the scene of the crime where Ben delivered a "respectful" apology and offered to pick up the leaves in said homeowners yard for a week.

But the gauntlet really feel when Ben got home.

I took away his T.V.

Now before you go all P.T.A. on me, let me tell you a little bit about this television. I bought it in 1993. It is a 15 inch with a built in VCR. It's not cable ready so pretty much the only thing you can do with it is watch VCR tapes ... which are about as scarce as a full night's sleep when you have two kids. A few months ago my tech-savvy brother-in-law got a load of the T.V. He immediately wanted to know when I was going to purchase Ben an IPad (umm...never) and I think even may have argued that making Ben watch a VCR was in fact punishment.

Then he asked me where our 8-track player was.

Nonetheless, Ben loved that T.V. and the VCR tapes with blockbuster titles like I Love Toy Trains and Big Diggers. Purchased resale of course.

My only mistake in my haste of discipline was telling Ben that he'd lost the T.V. for a week. And not forever. Turns out that things are going so swimmingly without it (which was secretly more of a crutch for me anyway), that I have no intention of returning it and am cracking a plan to tell him that kindergarten does not allow T.V.s in bedrooms. Maybe I'll get his kindergarten teacher (and new best pen pal) to send him a letter backing me up.

But back to Dan's question .... none of the dinners have been a bomb. Not just because Steve is an expert at making conversation, but because we have gone in with an open mind and an eagerness to learn something new about our guests and ourselves. For Steve it has been easy. For me, a person who was content to operate within my safe little circle of friends, it has been a very new experience. And an amazing one. I've met new people (who shockingly are neither runners nor politicians), found a way to connect with the parents of my children's playmates, and created a place in my own home where once a week we can slow down, have gratitude and make new friends.

In the words Martha Stewart, infamous for her entertaining prowess (and other things)...

it's a good thing.

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