Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hurtful Hospitality

©2011 Linda Goodman

When my daughter, Melanie, was seven years old, I began a tradition of allowing her to have an overnight pajama party on her birthday. The first year I allowed her to invite any and every little girl that she wanted. I even went a step further and invited girls that she did not even know. A good time was had by all, but it took me three days to clear the debris and make my apartment feel like a home again.

On the occasion of her thirteenth birthday, I decided to make a change. That year I told Melanie that she could invite on six girls to her party.

Melanie, of course, protested. She insisted that she had too many friends to invite only six. “How do I decided who to invite? Is it fair to leave someone out?” she asked.

I replied, “People get left out all the time. It’s part of growing up. Just pick the six girls you like best and be done with it!”

Melanie’s birthday brought six lovely girls to my townhouse in Baltimore. My husband and I gave them our recreation room in the basement for the night. There was plenty of food, lots of videos, loud (but not too loud) music, and, I am sure, plenty of stories exchanged as they readied their sleeping bags to settle down for the evening.

In the morning, my husband served up a nice breakfast of eggs, bacon, and pancakes. By late morning all my daughter’s guests had departed for home. I declared that this had been the best party ever. Melanie, however, was strangely and uncharacteristically silent.

In the early afternoon there was a knock at the front door. When I opened the door, I found Ruth standing there. In her hands she held a present wrapped in red paper.

Ruth had not been invited to Melanie’s party. She was a young girl who was awkward in social situations. She and Melanie got on quite well when just the two of them were together, but she grew shy, almost to the point of invisibility, when other girls joined them. Perhaps that is why Melanie chose not to include her among the six girls that she invited to the party.

When Melanie saw Ruth, the two girls ran to one another and, without speaking, hugged. The hug was followed by tears: Ruth’s because she had not been included among the favored few; Melanie’s because she had caused her friend pain; and mine, because I was ashamed of my own thoughtlessness, which had harmed, not only my daughter, but also a young girl whose life was difficult enough before she realized that she did not rank high enough on the scale of friendship to be invited to a my daughter’s party.

The gift that Ruth had brought was a musical jewelry box with a tiny ballerina dancing atop its mirrored lid. I could tell it was not new. I am sure that Melanie, too, recognized this. Ruth had brought Melanie one of her own most treasured possessions, and Melanie declared that Ruth had brought her the best birthday present she had ever gotten. Was she talking about the jewelry box? Or was she talking about Ruth’s forgiveness and unconditional friendship?

In just a few hours, I had our basement back in order. Its quick restoration to my meticulous standards, however, did not feel as good as I thought it would. To have offered no hospitality, I realized, would have been a better choice than offfering hurtful hospitality.

On Melanie’s fourteenth birthday, I allowed her to invite any and every girl that she wanted.


  1. This theme for the May/June issue of Awake Magazine is hospitality. Reading it made me think of this story.

  2. Sandi, it still makes me cry when I think about it. It is so easy to hurt someone without even realizing it until it is too late.

  3. Thoughtful and insightful post Linda. Yes, it may have been too late at that moment but you didn't lose the lesson. Bravo for making it right the next year and hugs to your daughter for realizing what was truly immportant. You raised her well.

    Warm wishes,

  4. Linda, I found this to be moving, yet complex. At 13 a LOT of learning happens for both mother and daughter. I love how reflective you are about it, but I actually saw great wisdom in your early decision. Learning to make choices will be very important for Melanie. Sure there were bumps in the road this first time for you both, but Ruth became a catalyst for you to learn together, and while some adversity was involved, that's the spot where we always learn. My guess is this story will continue to unfold, as our best life tales do, for all three of you as women. Such complex tales aren't simple fables with clear morals but multi-faceted diamonds we get to see in many lights for years to come. Thank you so much for sharing it so reverently, as a teller and as a mom. It touched my 13 year old soul as well as the woman in me who continues to learn from that girl about life.

  5. As your stories always are, Linda, this one is so thoughtful and impressive in so many ways. Beautifully wrought.

  6. Life has many lessons to teach. Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting on this post.

  7. Hi Linda,

    What a post. Very powerful. As a dad with a very willful 6 year old daughter and a powerful soulful 11 year old son, I know I have an interesting life in front of me... I love finding articles, stories like these as I find them to be like guides or lights in a darkness of 'modern' parenthood.

  8. Simon, if you learned anything from my experince, then I am glad I posted this story. Thanks for reading.