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Challenge: What Makes a Family?

Pasta Night: Creating family where there was none

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I was a single mother of three boys ages five and under, living in New England with no family nearby. My brother was the closest geographically, but he lived a bachelor lifestyle, never married with no kids. My mother had recently moved back to her childhood home in California to spend time with her aunts, uncle, and cousins – distant relatives I had met once or twice or only knew about from family stories. My father had passed away nearly 20 years previously. Any relatives from his side of the family were many states away and somewhat estranged, as my parents had divorced when I was six and we had lost touch.

It was scary to be on my own.

Daycare told me they needed someone to list as an emergency contact that didn’t live 3,000 miles away. Who could I ask? The fact that no one jumped to mind immediately simply served to highlight the fact that the kids and I needed some companionship.

I had an idea. I’d host a “Ladies’ Night” at my house where other single moms could come and bring their kids! I’d serve dinner and maybe have an activity for the kids so the moms could socialize.

My first Ladies’ Night was a Mardi Gras party, because it was right before Lent. I made a king cake and put a plastic baby under each piece of cake, so everyone would be a winner. I had gold, green, and purple Mardi Gras beads and matching cups and napkins. I don’t recall what else I served. Only one friend showed up with her daughter, but it was a “party!” (I knew that everything is more fun if you call it a party – even folding laundry.)

The next time I hosted Ladies’ Night, two women came. They both had daughters so I wound up getting out all of my childhood books out that I knew the boys would never read anyway. I had a ton of horse books and Little House on the Prairie books. Many of them went home with the girls that night.


“Ladies’ Night” became “Pasta Night” because the boys pointed out that it didn’t make sense to call it that because they were not ladies. And of course, it wasn’t just about me – they needed friends, too!

I held Pasta Night every Wednesday, whether anyone came over or not. More often than not, though, we had guests, even when the weather was bad.

My first regular was another single mom from our daycare. Then there was a mom from church and her two kids, a woman I met at the hairdresser’s and her two kids, and my neighbor, who sometimes just sent her kids over. Men were welcome after another neighbor broke the ice with her boyfriend, but for the most part it was women and children who came every week for crudités, pasta, meatballs, sauce, bread, and juiceboxes, or some variation thereof.


I initiated themes and activities. There was Costume Pasta Night at Halloween and I gave out prizes for “spookiest,” “most original,” and “funniest” costumes as well as any other superlative I could think of so long as everyone got an award.

Gratitude Pasta night was at Thanksgiving time. One year we made cards for people in homeless shelters; another year we made leaves on which blessings were written and then hung on my Gratitude Tree.

We had Gingerbread House making Pasta Night where the eating was an afterthought because I needed the dining room table for the construction site.

We had Valentine’s Pasta Night where we made valentines for the homeless shelter, and Egg Coloring Pasta Night at Easter time.

We also celebrated birthdays and special occasions. One time when one of my son’s baseball games was rescheduled to Wednesday night, we had Baseball Pasta Night and brought our get together to the field and then back to our house for dessert.

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It rarely crossed my mind that we lived in an older and somewhat dilapidated house, and had kind of a shabby dining room table with mismatched chairs, plates, and silverware. None of that mattered. What was important was being together with our Pasta Night family.

One of my sons had to do a heritage project at school and he chose to research and present our Scottish heritage, but he wanted to include a section about Pasta Night. Even though it has nothing at all to do with being Scottish, it was an important tradition to him. Past Night also provided stability and consistency, which I felt were important to my kids. During my own childhood, I lived in 12 different houses between the ages of two and 17, and remember being acutely aware of and embarrassed by our poverty.

My mother moved back from California and began attending Pasta Night. She brought one of her friends along who has since become very good friends with one of my friends, so Pasta Night became a networking opportunity as well as a community.

It also became a support group when nearly a year after my mother’s return, she was afflicted with a short-lived and mysterious illness, fell into a coma, and passed away three days later – ever so suddenly and unexpectedly. It was my Pasta Night family who was there to help me through that very difficult time, which was a week before Thanksgiving that year.

The Pasta Night Era ended when our kids got older and began playing more sports and being involved in activities like Boy Scouts or Chess Club. It just became harder and harder to find a conflict-free night to get together regularly, and while I do have ad hoc Ladies’ Nights, all our kids are old enough to manage their own social calendars, and some of them are old enough to drive themselves.

Being a mom is hard enough, but when you literally have no one to list as an emergency contact (ultimately, I asked my pastor), it’s scary. I can’t stress enough the importance of creating a family if there is none, for both your children and yourself.

A version of this story appeared in "The Mom Villageand on the author’s blog.

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