When I was in high school, I would often observe, with a smile, the mother of one of my friends and the rhythms of her everyday life. My favorite thing to observe was the way she gathered with her girlfriends - casually, joyfully, and ad hoc - often with a bottle of wine and some crackers on the back deck. Together, they would talk, laugh, and catch up on the happenings of their days. Their gatherings radiated joy and love - the perfect picture of women coming together, of female friendship, of connection.
At the time, I knew that was how I wanted to gather with my girlfriends when I was older…when I had a house, a back deck, and a neighborhood of my own. I loved the impromptu nature of their gatherings. I loved the laughter and conversation that floated from the deck, through the screen door, and into the house. I loved the way that when they gathered, it seemed as though they didn’t have a care in the world or anywhere else to be.
Now that I’m older, I realize that they had plenty of cares in the world and many other places that they could have been. But they chose to be there - on that back deck, together, with wine and crackers and conversation and laughter.
Since then, our lives have only gotten busier. At that time, there weren’t cell phones or Slack channels or Instagram Stories. There were landlines. There was slow dial-up internet and AIM Instant Messenger for the tech savvy. My parents called me home for dinner via a bell on the back deck that I could hear from the neighbor’s house.
I hear many people say that this impromptu way of gathering is no longer possible today. We are simply too busy. Schedules are simply too hard. There are the kids’ sports schedules and the baby’s bedtime. There’s the work trip next week and the conference the week after that. There are schedules and meal plans and agendas and chores. There are the shared calendars and the shared reminders and the agility classes with the dog, and it just doesn’t look like there’s going to be any free space until next quarter.
But what if, even amidst the schedules and the shared calendars and the text messages and the demands of everyday life, we can still create time to come together - to gather, in friendship, with the people who are most dear to us?
What if it doesn’t have to be so hard?
What if, instead of a dinner scheduled out six months on the calendar, it can be a random stop-by for 20 minutes - between the baby’s nap and the kiddo’s soccer game and the pup’s agility class?
What if, instead of a five course dinner, it can be some pizzas on the back deck?
And what if, instead of the get-together that’s been rescheduled six times now due to unexpected conflicts, it can be a random visit with a bottle of wine and a box of crackers - to be shared together, alongside laughter and connection and love on the back deck?
These are some questions I’ve been pondering lately.
With a few friends, we have, in the spirit of this pondering, been piloting what we’re calling the #stopby. In short, the definition of the #stopby is: stop by at friends’ houses when a) in the neighborhood or when b) one could be in the neighborhood with just a bit of creativity. This might mean while running an errand, while out on a dog walk (in our case), or while walking with the baby (in theirs).
The overall #stopby success could be summarized as “mixed.” Oftentimes, the folks at the destination are out and about and therefore not available for the visit. Sometimes, I have just gotten out of the shower at the exact time of our friends’ #stopby and am in a towel or bathrobe - arguably not the best #stopby attire. But success metrics aside, the intention behind the #stopby has sparked creativity and fun, in addition to seeing friends more. It has led to music videos and pranks taking place on our front stoop; staged photo shoots on theirs; and plenty of smiles while finding a baby stroller (baby inside) parked on randomly on our front sidewalk (don’t worry - her parents were right around the corner).
The #stopby has been a fun and easy way to see friends more frequently in a manner that doesn’t need to be scheduled on the calendar or planned six months in advance. The #stopbys create a sense of community, a feeling of joy and lightness. And, one could argue that the #stopbys might even lead to the house being a tiny bit cleaner, since subconsciously you might never know who might drop by in any given moment…
What do you think? Does the #stopby sound delightful, or terrifying to you? Do you love, or loathe, the idea of unannounced visitors?
For those who are interested in increasing the #stopby activity at your house, here are a few possibilities to explore.
Add a Little Free Library. There is nothing better than seeing our little “frequent patrons” of the Little Free Library walk, skip, bike, or scooter up to check out the latest selection. Adding a Little Free Library has helped us get to know far more neighbors, more dogs, and more kiddos in the neighborhood.
Move to the front yard. While we spend most of our time out back, I’m always delighted by the impromptu conversations with neighbors and friends that occur while spending time in the front yard.
Throw out the invitation, “stop by anytime!” (and mean it).
If random #stopbys are the things that your nightmares are made of, I recommend doing the opposite of everything written above, while turning off the lights and drawing the blinds. I write this last section with a loving and slightly mischievous smile aimed at my most wonderfully introverted friends, who have likely been cringing throughout this entire post.
Here’s to #stopbys and simplicity.
Photo Credit: Christopher Harris. This is neither my front door nor my bike, but aren’t they both charming?