His question was simple. It was my answer that got complicated. It all started when my then 7-year-old son came home with an invitation to yet another birthday party. I opened the tiny envelope wondering which trampoline park or backyard was on deck for the fun and games this time around. Then I saw it: blah-blah-blah and sleepover.
Wait. What? They're 7-year-old kids. Babies, basically. How did we get to this point already? Why add a sleepover to the mix and make this complicated? The jumping on inflatable stuff sounded good. Even an unstructured let's-just-run-around-high-on-pizza-and-cake-and-yelling-in-the basement works for these kids. This is personal, isn't it? You are intentionally pushing me to step out of my Chill Mom zone, clearly, and shoving me right into Mean Mom territory; I thought I had at least five more years before I donned that spiky sash and lopsided tiara. Yeah, my blanket answer to all sleepovers — for at least the next four years to possibly forever — is no.
To back it up a bit, in case it's not already clear: I'm anti-sleepover, especially for school-age kids — staunchly so. Does it have something to do with my not being allowed to sleep over at friends' houses as a kid? Sure. But mainly, it's about the fact that adult human people are super weird. There are many poignant examples of this; my most recent being the Apple Pie, blond-hair-blue-eyed family of former neighbors in my quiet, New England town that turned out to be doused in scandal and salaciousness. I'd get into the details there if this were a different time and we had fine china mugs between us because it is some piping hot tea to spill! The overarching moral of that story is: We're all kind of strangers and you don't know what's going on in someone else's home.
You, Exhibit A Parent, could be perfectly nice at school pick-ups, nice at birthday party drop-offs, nice at the school open house nights, and even nice at those awkward, random run-ins at the grocery store. But in the privacy of your own home and within circle of your family, you could also have some deeply quirky habits or wildly inappropriate proclivities. And, on the more serious side, you could have firearms in your home that are not even halfway properly locked away from children.
But it's not just the bizarre behaviors of us parents that keep me side-eyeing sleepovers for the under-10 set. The "babies" are not wholly unimpeachable either. Real talk? Some of our kids are mini weirdos — adorable, yes, but also quirky and offbeat as hell. It's no secret that youngsters — ages 6, 7, 8 — are very into their routines. They will only wear the orange, Nike shirt on Mondays and Thursdays. They will only eat waffles with syrup dribbled into the tiny squares. They will only rest well at night after a certain book is read, a particular song is sung and the sound machine is set to tropical forest.
For little ones, having routines helps them make sense of the world.
Whether these specific practices develop organically or they are (ahem) nurtured by parents just letting their kids be who they are, for little ones, having routines and ensuring that things are the same exact way every day, seems to help them make sense of the world and how they can best negotiate it. And when any of these tent poles are moved or even angled the other way, their entire sense of comfort folds in on itself like a wet blanket. This is when parents get the middle of the night call from the sleepover house with a shaky-voiced kid on the other end of the line asking to come home. Or, worse, you — the sleepover house parent — crack open a blurry eye to find a young stranger at the edge of your bed. "Henry's Mom? I had a really bad dream." Yeah. How you feeling about the sleepover idea now, Henry's Mom?
Of course I didn't tell my son all of this when he asked about the sleepover. I went the more level-headed route with a simple no and followed it with "because I don't think you're ready for that just yet, sweetheart." It worked (for now, anyway), and he hasn't really buzzed back around with the sleepover question since then. Maybe some part of him recognized that I was right, that he's not all the way ready to sleep at a friend's house.
Or maybe he's just in plotting mode, and the next sleepover invite will come with a PowerPoint deck he's created illustrating all the reasons why I am oh-so wrong. And I'll be ready. My used-car-salesman-detector game is strong.
Nicole Blades is a novelist and freelance journalist. Her latest novel, Have You Met Nora?, is out October 31.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors