I have never been a huge fan of sleepovers. I can still recall (when I was a young girl, of prime sleepover age) the niggling feeling that would begin to creep over me, like a bad flu starting to take hold, those few hours before I was to depart from the safety of my own home to the vast unknown of a friend’s house. What sounded like a good idea the day before, when I had graciously accepted the sleepover invitation, now had me tied up in knots of worry and apprehension. My father and I would depart from our house, familiar cooking smells wafting out of our kitchen window as the dinner hour approached. Mysterious meats, questionable sauces and overcooked vegetables were likely to be placed before me at my friend’s home, presented with flourish on a flowery Cornet plate, while I sat nervously in the guest spot at the dinner table. My friend’s bedroom would surely have a different smell from my own and if there were no extra bed, the floor might prove too hard and too dusty for a good night’s sleep. I squeezed my pillow and sleeping bag tightly as I climbed the front steps and knocked on the door. My friend’s parents and my father exchanged kindnesses on the stoop, my father smiled and placed a quick kiss on the top of my head before walking back to his car. The front door closed; the sleepover had begun.
Much of my college experience was like one extremely long sleepover that I was forced to endure, particularly during freshman year when the homesickness so overwhelmed me that I was barely able to attend to my classes and my new college friends. I longed for my sweet, safe home, where I’d find familiar dialogue, comforting smells, the gravelly sounds of cars rolling by on the dirt road outside my bedroom window in New Hampshire. The waves of homesickness would crash over me most harshly in the early evening hours, as dusk darkened the edges of the lush campus grounds beneath my dorm window. The fall breezes that cooled my face as it pressed against the window screen carried different smells in this Massachusetts town. Gone was the wet leaf odor I knew so well from the fields and forests surrounding our house back home. I’d smell the strange “college” air and wonder anxiously about the food that was going to be served in the house dining room shortly. My stomach was so bound up in knots, I wasn’t sure I would be able to eat anyway.
Fortunately, my kids have no problems with sleepovers. This is a huge relief to me, that the sleepover hang-ups that have plagued me throughout my forty plus years have not affected this most important coming of age pasttime for them. Charlie, in particular, is a huge fan of any brief time away from his usual home routine. He did admit to me once, as we lay together in his bed to settle into sleep, that on many sleepovers, he misses me for a few seconds when he’s first trying to fall asleep. “Without you scratching my back, it’s hard to go to sleep,” he explained. “That’s why I bring a lot of stuffed animals, Mom. That’s why.”
Nothing pleases Charlie more, though, than hosting a sleepover in his own home, for one or two friends. Back in New Jersey, a sleepover at our house with his beloved cousins, Sami and Stella, was considered cause for celebration. He’d plan for weeks in advance before the weekend when his cousins would finally arrive for the overnight. I’d find a schedule for all that was to be accomplished during the sleepover hours (an agenda of sorts) tacked onto the bulletin board in his room:
1. Do art or costooms (costumes)
2. Have snack
3. Do microscope/science experaments with test tubes and die (dye), wear lab coat, show slides of Dad’s bloud (blood) and my spit
4. Dinner – Kraft macaroni & cheese – NOT HOM MADE (HOMEMADE) – and chicken tenders
5. Bed time stories with lantern in tent and sleeping bags (storys cann’t be too scary)
6. Puppet show or majick show with tikets if enuf time
7. Desert – ice cream in cone or boll (bowl)
9. Good night – in my room becuz the tent in play room will be too scary for Stella, so we cann’t sleep there the hole night
Charlie’s agendas were often a topic of conversation for the whole family during the days leading up to the event.
COMMENT FROM OLDER BROTHER: “There’s no way you’ll get everything on your list done, you know.”
COUNTER COMMENT FROM SLEEPOVER PLANNER: “We will. Mom and Dad will let us stay up late so we can do everything on the list. Sleepovers are special. You get to stay up very late.”
COMMENT FROM OLDER SISTER: “I don’t think Stella will want to see your spit slide in the microscope, Charlie. That’s pretty disgusting!”
COUNTER COMMENT FROM SLEEPOVER PLANNER: “She can just play with your old Barbies during the microscope section of the schedule if she’s grossed out by my slides. That’s not a problem.”
COMMENT FROM YOUNGER SISTER: “I’m going to play with you during your sleepover with Sami and Stella!”
COUNTER COMMENT FROM THE SLEEPOVER PLANNER: “You can play with Stella. Sami’s mine.”
COMMENT FROM MOTHER: I don’t think Sami and Stella like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. How about I make my homemade macaroni and cheese?” (The cousins’ mother, my sister-in-law, is a very good cook, able to whip up a Baked Ziti with homemade red sauce at a moment’s notice. I’m pretty sure they don’t even know what Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is.)
COUNTER COMMENT FROM THE SLEEPOVER PLANNER: “You’re homemade macaroni and cheese is too cheddar-ish. My sleepover guests won’t like it. It will be a waste. We’d better stick to the Kraft kind.”
Since our move to Saratoga last December, we’ve had a few play dates and one sleepover. Understanding his new sleepover clientele well, Charlie (the host-with-the-most) organized a much more brief agenda for his first venture out on the Saratoga Sleepover Scene. Two days before the overnight, I surveyed his schedule of events which I had found (typed neatly with only a few spelling errors) atop a pile of sketches on his desk:
1. Eat chips
2. Video games (his invitee was BIG into video games, Charlie explained)
3. Microscope and Science experaments with slides, test tubes and colored water
4. Dinner – Mac and cheese and chicken tenders
5. Milk shake and movie
6. Good Night
When Charlie’s new Saratoga friend arrived in the late afternoon one Friday, I greeted him and his mother warmly at our kitchen door. He and Charlie were off like a flash to begin making their way through the activity schedule Charlie had planned. The mother and I went through the normal procedure of ticking off phone numbers, food dislikes, food allergies (I was relieved to note that no epipen was being left behind with the child; he only had a minor allergy to peanuts) and finally, discussing the pick-up time for the next morning. “Good luck,” the mother said, as she departed from my kitchen. (Yes, good luck indeed.)
It wasn’t long into Charlie’s program of events before we had checked off “chips” and the boys were fully engrossed in the “video games” portion of the schedule. Charlie was right, this child was definitely a video game pro, but eventually, Charlie tired of the video games; he yearned to make further headway on his schedule of activities. He quickly ran upstairs and when he returned to the living room (his friend still sat in the leather chair, feverishly clicking away on the Wii remote) Charlie was wearing his lab coat. Microscope time.
“Let’s take a break from this game and do some microscope and science experiments now,” Charlie suggested.
“What?!” Not once had the little boy guest taken his eyes off of our large screen television. He was in the midst of a “dash attack” or “smash attack” on a deadly foe.
“Come on. Microscope. We can look at my Dad’s blood. I have a slide of it from when my Dad cut is finger in the workshop. It’s really cool,” Charlie urged. (I remembered that day, back in Jersey, when Charlie had seized a bloody workshop moment to gather the samples he so desired.)
The mention of blood caused the child-video-game-master to look away from the screen for a moment. He glanced at the lab coat Charlie had donned and the microscope in his hand. Charlie now had his full attention. “We’re going to look at blood?” Oh dear, I thought, as I watched this scene from the dining room. The shift into the next activity on the list might not go as smoothly as Charlie had hoped. I wondered, with alarm, if this was perhaps the same little guy from school who had fainted at the sight of blood when another kid had accidentally stapled her thumb – a story Charlie had told me about in an exclamatory rush just last week.) I hovered nearby in case it was necessary to interject a Plan B into Charlie’s Activity Schedule. Maybe looking at Scott’s blood slide wasn’t really going to work out for our visitor. The video-game-child grumbled about how he really just wanted to finish this game, but as I watched in shock, he then quietly put the remote down, followed Charlie into the kitchen and looked at the blood slide… and many other slides… before the friends sat down to their dinner.
The next night, after the sleepover, I tucked Charlie into bed and we talked about how well the sleep over the night before had gone. Charlie’s always eager to give a recap of any event, particularly one he’s hosted, and we chattered away about all the details the two of us could recall. I marveled aloud at how his friend had seemed so completely relaxed at our house and even though he clearly wanted to play video games for a lot of the time, I was impressed by his willingness…his openness to try something new and different…like the microscope. I said that his little friend had won a place in my heart forever for going along with the Sleepover Schedule without much fuss. “I wasn’t sure he really wanted to look at spit and blood in the microscope, but he did it,” I said to Charlie, “What a great kid! I was never good at sleepovers when I was your age. I was always afraid. I missed my Mom and Dad too much. Some of my friends would try to bribe me with promises of pop tarts or sugar cereal if I would just have the courage to sleep over at their house.”
“Really?” Charlie said. “Maybe your friends weren’t good enough at making you feel comfortable. You just have to know what your guests like for a good sleepover, Mom. That makes them more comfortable. And…you have to have a lot of things lined up on the schedule so they don’t get bored.”
“Like the microscope?” I asked.
“Yup,” he said. “And…you NEVER serve homemade macaroni and cheese.”