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Kristin Dunning

For the past fifteen years, teaching has been a constant in Kristin Dunning's life. She has travelled all over the country as an educator, only to end up working at the school district she once attended. She lives in Delaware County , not far from where she was born. Family and in laws are a few miles away. As a writer she's explored the rewards and set backs of working mothers, parenthood, community life, schools and daily creativity. Lately, Kristin Dunning has also found an antidote to suburban isolation.

I believe spaghetti can change a person's life.

As working parents, my peers and I often feel like the world is telling us that we need to be experts ...in our professions, our parenting, and our domestic skills. We must keep fit, maintain healthy marriages and partnerships, volunteer, pursue creativity and be socially active. We dutifully recycle and tend to the compost pile. And don't forget book club.

This is, of course, absurd. Letting go of those expectations is no mean feat, and as a result we often feel inadequate and dissatisfied.

My friend Lora once invited me to a weekly gathering at her house. Every Wednesday, she hosts a small group of women for a pasta dinner as a way to put into action something she believes: the importance of gathering to share a meal and conversation and, thereby, build a stronger community.

When we moved into a new neighborhood and my husband and I were working harder than ever, I felt like my family had no anchor in this new place. We were surrounded by great schools, safe streets, and wonderful people, yet I felt disconnected. Though I could not fathom squeezing in a regular dinner event at my house, I vowed to try.

So when it was time to host my first Wednesday Spaghetti, I scrubbed my house, ironed cloth napkins, counted RSVPs, made homemade marinara and drove my family nuts for days. In a classic episode of miscommunication, my husband expected eight friends and was incredulous when close to fifty people joined us... on a school night. When, however, a Type A overachieving working mother attempts to entertain the masses on a Wednesday night, something has to give. And give it did.

Cloth napkins are out. I stock up on pasta and sauce when it's on sale. I ask for forgiveness from Mother Nature and use paper plates, napkins, and cups. Sometimes I buy bread. People bring things...if they want. Some nights we've had eight salads and no dessert, once we had no salad and ten plates of brownies; nobody cares what's missing. I pick up socks, sweep dog hair from the sofa, but I do not clean my house. We've had as few as 30 guests and as many as 100. Friends bring friends. All are welcome.

What to people "do" at Wednesday Spaghetti? Well, they eat dinner. And they talk about whatever people talk about on a weeknight over a communal table. It's a family meal, a picnic, a play group...it's the village green. We've been hosting once-a-month Wednesday Spaghetti's for almost two years now, and guests often tell me how much it means to them. What they don't know is what it has taught me about letting go of the feeling that I need to be an expert in everything. On the village green of Wednesday Spaghetti, the much more important stuff happens, exchange of ideas, building of community, establishing of friendships.

I believe in acknowledging the value of that "important stuff" by meeting the nutritional, emotional, intellectual, and social needs of my family, my friends, and myself. One box of spaghetti at a time.