Against the Grain

Brigitte Bowers: Time for sleepovers to be put to bed

April 18, 2014 

I have written about birthday sleepovers in previous columns, and I am happy to report that this is the last column I will ever write on the subject.

This is not because I have run out of things to say about birthday sleepovers. Indeed, I could write a book detailing the annual bacchanalian festivities that have occurred in my home over the past 10 years. Rather, this will be my last column about birthday sleepovers because our youngest son just turned 14, and he will not want a sleepover again.

He doesn’t believe this, of course. I have told him that just around the corner – in terms of the universal space-time continuum – he will not desire a birthday sleepover, but he cannot yet imagine such a future.

“Next year, you’ll be 15 and think they’re uncool,” I told him as we were planning this year’s party.

“No,” he said. “I won’t care if they’re uncool. I’ll still want sleepovers.”

But I know my son, and I know this in particular about him and his friends: They avoid anything that lives outside of cool with the studied circumspection they would surely grant to a coiled viper in their path. Girls will be cool next year, and girls cannot spend the night, and that will be that.

Parents often rue the milestones that mark their child’s advancement toward the eventual and inescapable day when their son or daughter is finally an adult. We are overcome with nostalgia when we remove the diaper pail from the bathroom for the last time, weep during the preschool graduation, and choke up when we see our teenager drive off to the prom. But I have no such tender feelings for the passage of the sleepover birthday party. In fact, I have waited for this day, and now that it is here I am filled with joy at the prospect of a world devoid of birthday sleepovers.

I must, however, admit that in recent years, the sleepovers have gradually become less painful. On my part, this is because I have decided to overlook a lot of things. On my husband’s part, it is because he has adopted the practice of slipping off to the bedroom around 11 p.m., where he inserts foam plugs into his ears before turning out the light and closing the door.

Therefore, this year he did not mind that none of the revelers entertained the possibility of sleep until long after the bell on the clock had struck four times. And as I lay beside him in those early morning hours, with the door closed, I believed I could hear just enough of the proceedings to know if something required my attention but not enough to distract me from my book, which lulled me to sleep from time to time. (Always, though, within a few minutes, I was awakened by a scream, followed by my son hollering “Shut up! You’ll wake my parents.”)

In any case, the kids were not terrible. We had a campfire to keep them occupied, and they spent much of the night gathered peacefully about it. Before I finally drifted off to sleep around 5:30 a.m., I reflected that my son and his friends were maturing. They had not done any of the usual things, such as exploding soda cans in the fire or sneaking off to the store in the middle of the night to buy Monster energy drinks. All in all, it had been an uneventful party, and I was glad the long run of sleepovers was ending on such a high note.

I told my husband this the next day. We were drinking lattes, looking from a clean and orderly living room onto a backyard where the lawn furniture was still intact and the dogs still alive.

“I think they were really good,” I said, sipping my latte with some satisfaction.

“What’s that next to the fire?” my husband asked. “Is that the gasoline can for the mower?”

It was. It had been empty for weeks. But still, there had been a certain alarming intention when some boy placed it next to the fire.

And so the era of sleepovers has ended.

Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at the University of California at Merced. Her work will appear in an upcoming issue of Under the Gum Tree, a digital magazine.

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