The lovely Esther Walker recently wrote on these pages about why she doesn’t invite her children’s friends round for tea. Children under five don’t really like eating at other people’s houses, she says, and so she invites people round from 3-4.30pm, in time for them to get back to their own homes for fish fingers, and to avoid dinner table meltdowns.
I know Esther a little bit, and she may well be right about the children not liking to eat at other people’s houses thing (she is very wise). However, I have to say that on this one, I will continue to ignore her advice, and carry on inviting other children to tea at our house, and inviting myself to tea at theirs.
This is why. For me, one of the great joys of hanging out with your friends and their children in the afternoon, is the prospect of getting through some, or if you’re lucky all, of that awful 5-7pm stint in the company of others.
I’m pretty relaxed about a beans on toast, boiled egg or, in extremis, peanut butter sandwich afternoon menu.
Tea, in our house, has always been a rather causal affair – I followed Gina Ford’s advice about making lunch the main meal, and so as long as they’ve eaten well then, I’m pretty relaxed about a beans on toast, boiled egg or, in extremis, peanut butter sandwich afternoon menu.
This makes tea an ideal meal for sharing – there’s no pressure to produce something really gourmet to show off, and there are generally some great leftovers for the grownups to snack on/join in with.
My youngest also still has a lunchtime sleep, generally until about 3pm. This means afternoon plans for us start at about 3.30. Trying to then get home in time to make, then serve, a meal at 5pm is just too much – and the times I have attempted it have resulted in chaos and meltdown.
The kids can pick away, the adults can drink tea and gossip and then everyone can return home, bellies replete and ready to be thrown into the bath and thence into bed.
Far better, in my opinion, to roll back from the park together, heat some beans, boil an egg, put the kettle on and enjoy some companionable munching. The kids can pick away, the adults can drink tea and gossip and then everyone can return home, bellies replete and ready to be thrown into the bath and thence into bed.
With really good friends, and the ones who live close by, I have also been known to take pyjamas to afternoon play dates. That way you can move seamlessly from tea to a glass of wine while the children all splash together in the bath, and go home with them fed and in their pjs – sleepy and ready for stories.
Alas, this may mean that Esther will never invite me round for an afternoon play date again.
But she’s very welcome to come to mine any time – and stay for tea if she wants to.