Who invented sleepovers, anyway? When I can sense that one of my kids is going to beg me to invite so-and-so over for a sleepover, or a parent calls and says that her kid wants one of mine to come over to spend the night, I find myself automatically spewing out a slew of excuses about why it’s not a good time.
In my opinion, there’s never a good time for a sleepover.
Some of my most vivid memories from childhood are of sleepovers. They weren’t good memories, necessarily. But they definitely embedded themselves into the recesses of my brain, some of them as strong and clear as if they happened last night instead of thirty-some years ago.
There was the time that I stayed up at a sleepover until the wee hours of the night watching, mesmerized, as my best friend’s hamsters (or maybe they were gerbils, or mice) ate one another until there was nothing left in the cage but a few tufts of fur. I kid you not. I was captivated by their bizarre behavior, which ironically proved to be a perfect metaphor for us bigger animals occupying the same space. Only difference is that us 10-year-girls were cocooned in sleeping bags instead of a cage.
The poor girl who was foolish enough to fall asleep before the rest of us was not unlike that first poor rodent eaten by its peers. We dipped her hand in a bowl of water; according to seventies suburban lore, doing so would make her pee in her underwear. The rest of the evening’s antics have become fuzzy over time, but I have no doubt that we talked about the girl behind her back or, more precisely, while she was on her back. Likely there was some bickering, pairing off in twos and threes and, finally, mercifully, passing out just before the sun came up.
The sleepover hangover is just as bad as an adult hangover. It produces the same foggy feeling and irritability brought on by lack of good solid R.E.M. sleep. But, while the majority of adult hangovers probably occur on weekends where, presumably, the sufferer’s schedule is lighter and may allow for an afternoon nap to ease the ill effects of the previous night’s imbibing, the same can’t be said for most kids these days. Sports practices, games, tournaments, music recitals, and other extra-curricular activities tend to dominate children’s weekends, making post-sleepover shut-eye an unlikely event.
Although I believe the sleepover to have not a single redeeming quality, in a moment of weakness I agreed to allow my then 8-year-old daughter to celebrate her birthday with a sleepover. How bad could a gaggle of 7- and 8-year-old girls be, I asked myself. Pretty bad, it turns out.
On the night of the sleepover I started out playing the nice mom. Beginning around 11, I warned the girls sweetly that they needed to settle down soon. At midnight, I got serious, turned off the light, and called it a night. Or so I thought.
At 3:00a.m., I heard a loud boom. I shot out of bed like a rocket and ran downstairs to the basement to find the party in full swing, save for a few girls who somehow slept through the dancing, screams, and giggles (my daughter, annoyed by the shenanigans, had dragged her pillow up three flights of steps at some point during the night to sleep peacefully in her own bed).
In full mean-mommy mode, I screamed at them. Loudly. I’m not sure what exactly I said, but they got the message, scrambling into their sleeping bags once and for all. They finally went to sleep, but by this point my adrenaline was pumping and I lay in bed tossing and turning, wondering how these seemingly good little girls could be so bad. As I stared into the darkness until it turned light, I told myself: Never again. Sleepovers are from hell.