Sleepovers are the highlight of my 9-year-old’s social life. Frankly, I’m not so thrilled. It’s not that I don’t like 9-year-old boys, because I do. I even don’t mind that the playroom gets torn apart and the dog takes a week to recover. In fact, I’m glad to have the chance to get to know my son’s friends.
It’s just that when they spend the night, I get to know them a little too well. The difference between a regular play date and a sleepover is as dramatic as the difference between casual dating and marriage. Spending the night brings with it a whole new level of intimacy and, with my son’s friends, there’s some stuff I just don’t want to know.
Last weekend, an adorable little cherub arrived on our doorstep with a sleeping bag and a stack of GameBoy™ cartridges. He was a lovely child with golden curls, an endearing smile ... and warts. At bedtime he peeled off his Pokémon socks, handed me an emery board and asked me to scrape his warty feet.
“If you don’t,” he warned, “they’ll spread.”
After I scraped and dabbed on toxic-smelling goo, he said, “My mom always dries it with a hair dryer.”
“Blow on it,” I said. There is some territory where only a mother should tread.
A sleepover gives you new insight into a child’s personality through bizarre bedtime rituals and unusual bathroom habits. If he hadn’t spent the night, I never would have guessed that the 8-year-old soccer goalie is also a hygiene freak. He came to our house with a toiletry kit stocked with a toothbrush, nail clippers, hair gel, dental floss, mouthwash and deodorant(!) – then spent most of the evening locked in the bathroom.
Without a sleepover, I’d have never known that the fourth-grade bully (who looks like he already shaves), also wets the bed, packs a blankie and usually needs to call his parents in the middle of the night. Or that the child who never flushes the toilet can’t sleep unless his shoes are lined up at an exact 45-degree angle, his pillow is facing due east and the bedroom door is cracked to exact metric calibrations (“That’s too much, open it a little more, now close it a tiny bit ...”)
When there’s a sleepover at my house, I find out which kid has double-jointed knees and who can make gross sounds with their armpits. I know whose underwear is dingy, which kid never clips his toenails and who takes what medications and why.
Hosting sleepovers doesn’t just give me the chance to get to know my son’s friends really, really well. I also find out about the friends’ families. Over the course of the last couple of sleepovers, the kids have told me whose parents are in couples therapy and which dad drinks orange juice out of the carton.
I know whose mom joined Weight Watchers (I even know her target weight), which family is being audited by the IRS and what the neighbors really think of my Christmas open house.
Next Saturday, my son is spending the night at the warty kid’s house. Maybe I should tell the parents in advance that my son talks in his sleep, that he only eats food that’s white and that my Christmas-party eggnog was from a mix.
Nah ... I don’t want to give them too much information. That’s what sleepovers are for.
From United Parenting Publications, January, 2003.