For a few years (quite a few, actually, since post-graduate education can take the better part of a decade!) my brother was remotely working on a doctorate program offered by a college not too far from where I live in North Carolina. This was nice, since it meant that occasionally he would have to stop by in person and he would often spend the night at my place while doing so.
These trips often wound up being a bit of a whirlwind, but despite the fact that he would arrive around 11pm and leave early in the morning before I was awake, the 11-to-11:30pm slot was our time to hang out and catch up.
After I got married and my wife and I moved into our current house, he didn’t stop by as much because our new house is enough farther away from his college that he wouldn’t have had any time at all to hang out anyway — he’d have had to go straight to bed and then leave even earlier the next morning. He stayed with a friend of his instead, coincidentally also named Nathan.
However, one day I got the following email from him (edited a bit for brevity):
“Hey Nathan! I hope you’re doing well. We are coming in to Raleigh for a few days and were wondering if we would be able to stay at your house. We will arrive on Thursday and would love to stay at your place Thursday night and leave sometime Friday during the day. I will be doing some work at the library, and Ashley has a few friends she can see during the day, so there is no need to feel like you have to entertain us, but we obviously would love to hang out with you two in the evening as you are available.”
I was excited about this, since I hadn’t seen him or his wife since Christmas. I conferred with my wife, who agreed readily, and then I emailed to confirm that we would be happy to house them. I replied:
“We’d love to host you and Ash! My wife has a meeting at school so might not be home ’til late, but we’ll be happy to hang out Thursday!”
And just like that, it was arranged!
The fateful Thursday arrived, and I’d gotten a few texts from my wife indicating that it had been a long and difficult day at work and she was not in the best mood. I knew she would be a gracious hostess regardless and would enjoy spending time with my brother and sister-in-law, but I wanted to make sure everything was settled so she didn’t have to do anything after arriving other than sit down and relax. I figured I could suggest a few nice local restaurants for dinner so nobody had to cook or clean.
I had gotten home early from work, so I was there to meet my brother at the door about 4pm when he arrived. I opened the door to the knock, and…in walked my two oldest nephews.
For me, time stopped for a second. Since the initial message had only mentioned him and his wife, I hadn’t even thought to ask whether the kids would be along too. I figured they would be at one of their grandparents’ houses while their parents enjoyed some grown-up conversation with their uncle and aunt. Seeing the kids walk in the door, I felt the weight of unexpected responsibility crashing down upon my shoulders.
But the last thing I wanted to do is make them feel unwelcome! After all, they’re family, and even though they were unexpected I was still happy to see them. So I greeted them with a smile, and asked if their younger brother and sister were along as well.
They were. So we had four unexpected guests, all under ten years old.
After my brother got in and sent the kids back to the car to grab some stuff, I figured honesty was the best policy. I said “I gotta level with you — I wasn’t expecting the kids.”
He looked like he was about as shocked as I was, but he seamlessly pivoted with the skill of an experienced parent: “kids, go play in the backyard while your uncle and I have some grown-up conversation” he said.
We sat down at the kitchen table to talk. He assured me that the kids would be fine. We could order some pizza for dinner, they had brought some toys for the younger ones, and they all had their sleeping bags and could sleep on the floor. He apologized for the miscommunication, and I assured him it was fine, just unexpected.
I knew that if my wife arrived home and found four unexpected kids running around, it would not make for a pleasing end to a stressful day for her. So I sent her a text as soon as we had sorted everything out informing her of the situation.
Fortunately, everything turned out fine. The kids loved having pizza for dinner and we were able to hang out with the whole family and entertain the kids a bit before their bedtime. I think most of them ended up “camping out” in the weirdly spacious walk-in closet of our guest room and had a great time.
Now it’s just something we laugh about; a miscommunication between parents, who assume that unless otherwise specified the whole family travels as a unit, and non-parents, who assume that if the kids are coming it will be stated explicitly.
Global events have made it such that I haven’t seen any of my family in person since Christmas of 2019. Thinking back on this event, I definitely look forward to the day when I get to see my brother and his family again! And if they end up coming to visit, we’ll make sure to prepare for more than just two guests!