• Liz Fehlman

The Crappy Dinner Party

If community is best felt around the dinner table, does it matter if that table is full of paper plates instead of crystal?

Right beyond our front door stands a china hutch, gifted to us for a garage sale price by the previous owners of our house. On shelves rest crystal champagne flutes, ornate tea cups, and sets of historic china passed down from my grandmother. Inside carefully packed boxes sit my mom’s entire Spode Christmas collection – gravy boats, dinner plates and cocktail glasses. There is a pile of linen napkins, tablecloths and other textiles that fill the right side of the hutch, perfectly folded and collecting dust.


In our basement, there is more. There are decorative plates from Crate and Barrel and more holiday dishes than I can count. For the past few years around the holidays, I’ve gone down to pull them out. Instead, I grab what is convenient and mix it in with the collection of every day china, plastic kid plates and paper goods that litter my kitchen cupboards now. I push anything that’s fragile to the back of the shelf and safely guard it with a plastic Paw Patrol cup or anything else that won’t shatter into oblivion with the swipe of an angry toddler hand.


Obvious by my collection of breakables, there was a point in my life where I loved to host. Dinner parties, brunches, more-than-one-course meals – anything that meant I had a reason to eat off something classified as “fancy.” I remember when friends would come over and we’d eat our food. Chew it, even! The glory! More than food, we’d sit around the table until the late-night hours talking, laughing and drinking. We’d clean the dishes as we poured more wine, unaware of what the clock read. I’ve always believed the best community happens around a table, which is a testament to why I won’t get rid of our current dining table, thought it has become more of an Amazon Package Staging Area than somewhere we consume food.


Much like everything in motherhood, I know that this is a season. Someday, I’ll excavate the thousands of dollars of dishes from their safe place and we’ll party together again.

Until that day, I’ll continue to host a different type of party. A Crappy Dinner Party.


The Crappy Dinner Party, or CDP, is our new norm. It’s become a staple among my community of friends who are also knee-deep in parenthood, marching bleary-eyed to the same anthem; we’re just trying to not raise tiny assholes and keep our sanity in the process. It’s an open invitation to convene for a meal without judgement – no judgement towards your home, your food, or your ability to parent (or not to parent) on that particular day. The rules are simple:


  1. You do not clean your house.

  2. You do not prepare a menu.

  3. You do not use real dishes.


These meetups are spontaneous, which holds us true to the rules. When a CDP is proposed 4 hours before it happens, no one has time to clean. No one has the mind space to craft a well-planned meal. And certainly, no one starts polishing the silver. Instead, we show up with a half-eaten bag of chicken nuggets and some leftover pasta salad from three nights ago. Another family enters with some steaks they were going to eat anyway, and some cookies left over from their school bake sale. The last family rolls up with three boxes of unmade macaroni and a look of defeat. We are almost always that last family.

Among my community of friends who are also knee-deep in parenthood, marching bleary-eyed to the same anthem; we’re just trying to not raise tiny assholes and keep our sanity in the process.

Moms and dads get to work cutting, slicing, dicing and serving. We let the kids play while we throw together our hodge-podge CDP, convinced that what we’re about to serve is well-balanced and that we are good parents. We wrestle our kids in to high-chairs and watch as they feed everything to the dog anyway. We barter with the older ones to eat anything. We ultimately release them from the table, letting them play outside in the yard while we serve ourselves the cold remains. All the while, we drink, we laugh, we tell stories. We help each other’s kids wash their hands and we give empathetic looks to each other when tantrums ensue over broccoli. We’re almost always exhausted and one of us is almost always at our wit’s end. But we’re together.


And just like any fancy dinner party I’ve ever thrown – isn’t that the point? If community is best felt around the dinner table, does it matter if that table is full of paper plates instead of crystal? Or if I’m eating a cold chicken nugget that had been previously chewed on by my toddler? I’d argue no, but that transition from Fancy to Crappy sure did take some letting go. I’d often find myself trying to tidy before we hosted or wishing I was a better meal planner so I had something other than Kraft Blue Box to offer my friends. I’m easily lulled back into wanting to be who I was before kids.


But before I’m able to dwell on the Once Was, my front door is flung open. Other kids, who I love as my own, flood my house and their parents follow – once again marching bleary-eyed and holding that half-eaten bag of chicken nuggets I secretly can’t wait to eat. Our home is filled with laughter and jokes and conversation and warmth – and no one cares that my toilet is dirty or that I’ve pulled out the finest paper plates that AmazonFresh will deliver. We assemble those plates, we barter with tiny dictators, and we share the physical and emotional messes.


Eventually, the kids have settled into a movie and all of us have found our way to the couch. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we play games. Sometimes we sit with our noses buried deep in our phones, enjoying the silence and each other’s company simultaneously. Sometimes I think we enjoy the silence because we don’t get it very often. Other times, I’d like to think it’s because were all secretly humming that same familiar anthem, with a tiny twist: we’re not raising tiny assholes. And we’re keeping our sanity because we have each other.


The Crappy Dinner Party is ending, and I’m reminded that one day, I could probably host something fancy again. Then I look around a house full of life-long friends and sleepy kids and thankfully think…I probably won’t.

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