An edited version of this essay was published in the anthology A Cup Of Comfort for Friends (Adams Media, 2002)
"Mom, can Michelle sleep over tonight? Pleeeease?" This familiar question was asked frequently in our house while I was growing up. My best friend Michelle and I loved sleep-overs and spent many nights at each others' houses, from the time we were five or six years old until we left for college in our late teens. When she moved to a town 30 miles away during our elementary school years, we remained close by spending weekends and even entire weeks during the summer at one house or the other. We were inseparable and never seemed to tire of each other's company.
All of these wonderful memories of best friends and sleep-overs came rushing back to me recently when my oldest son, Jamie, hosted his first overnight friend. Just a week earlier, he had told me he wasn't quite ready to start sleep-overs yet, and I assured him he didn't have to until he felt comfortable. So imagine my surprise when a pleasant afternoon playing with his friend Danny ended with that as yet unheard but so familiar refrain. "Mommy, can Danny sleep over tonight? Pleeeease?" The two boys looked up at me expectantly, their faces lit up with the pleasure that comes from having so much fun you don't want it to end.
With memories of my own childhood sleep-overs dancing through my head, I tried to contain my enthusiasm while I quietly questioned him as to whether he was really ready, given the discussion we'd had just a week earlier. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" convinced me, and we asked Danny's mom. She said that Danny had just gone on his first sleep-over the previous week, and together we agreed the boys could sleep at our home that night, after a school picnic both families were attending. The boys' whoops of delight brought me back once again to that exhilarating feeling I had enjoyed with my own best friend.
I think I was as excited as Jamie as we prepared for the picnic and planned for the night ahead. Once again, my thoughts drifted back thirty years earlier. I remembered the thrill of being at my best friend's house at night or having her with me in my own house. We'd play games for hours, enjoy special snacks, and, of course, stay up late talking and giggling.
At the same time, I was also aware that I was now facing sleep-overs from an entirely new perspective. Now I'm The Mom, playing an important supporting role in the event but no longer in the center of the excitement. As this was my first time hosting a sleep-over as a parent, I wanted to start off on the right foot. My parents had always been very welcoming to my friends, effortlessly including them within the circle of our family and making them feel at home. I wanted my sons' friends to feel as comfortable and at ease in our house as my friends always had in my childhood home.
We went to the school picnic, and the boys greeted each other with big bear hugs, as if they hadn't seen each other in weeks. When it was time to leave, Danny's dad handed him his backpack and reminded us to call at any time, if things didn't go well and Danny wanted to come home. He needn't have worried.
Despite the late hour, we let the boys have ice cream and watch a video when we got home. My husband and I kept saying to each other, "It's OK, this is a special night." Finally, it was bedtime.
We pulled out the trundle bed in Jamie's room and made it up. This alone was an exciting event the first time the trundle had been used, other than Mom or Dad sleeping in it when he was sick. I read the boys a book, turned out the light, and said good-night. I could tell Danny was feeling a little apprehensive at that point. I told the boys they could talk quietly for awhile longer and left the room.
Immediately, I heard the door click softly behind me and saw the light go back on. I opened the door to see both boys sitting up, with their Pokemon cards in their laps. Their faces were lit up with excitement and laughter, where just moments before I'd seen signs of uneasiness. Remembering all those late nights with Michelle, I smiled and told them they could keep the light on a little longer. After staying up so late, I was sure they'd sleep in a little bit the next morning. I was wrong.
At 7:30 the next morning, our two-year old son, Craig, ran into our room and woke me up with, "Where Jamie and Danny?" The night before, he had been fascinated with the whole sleep-over concept and couldn't believe that Jamie's friend was actually going to sleep at our house. I glanced at the clock as I tried to wake up and told him, "Shhhh, Craig. Jamie and Danny are still sleeping in Jamie's room." Craig quickly replied, "No, they're not. I checked! Where Jamie and Danny?"
I got up and tiptoed down the hall with him. Sure enough, the bed and trundle were already empty. The older boys came running back up the stairs moments later, already wide awake and laughing together. They had woken up and just picked up right where they'd left off the night before. I recalled then, through my early morning daze, that this was one of the greatest things about having a friend stay overnight. The fun didn't end until late at night and then began again the moment you woke up in the morning. No waiting for parents to get up or delays of fun until morning routines were completed.
Their excitement continued all morning. They went from trading Pokemon cards to building with Legos to playing pirates to creating pictures together on the computer. Through it all, I didn't hear a single fight or harsh word between them. When it was time to take Danny home so that we could make it to a previous commitment on time, the boys pleaded, "Just a little longer? Please?"
Once again, I was taken back in time, recalling Michelle and I spending days on end together without tiring of each others' company. We'd play Monopoly or Clue for hours at a time or spend an entire day pretending we were grown and had an apartment together. Taping silly songs and pretend shows with our tape recorders could keep us busy for several days, as we ran around one house or the other, laughing together at our own private jokes. The warmth and love of this special friendship has remained alive for over thirty years, through long-distance moves, college, marriage, and children of our own. Now my son was embarking on this same kind of journey, cementing a friendship with special memories of times spent together that could last a lifetime.
We took Danny to his house, where the boys stood with their arms around each other, grinning like crazy, while I filled Danny's mom in on the highlights of the sleep-over. They had just spent the last 24 hours together almost constantly and both seemed exhilarated and euphoric, if a little tired. We left with promises of another sleep-over, this time at Danny's house. I watched my normally hesitant son agree wholeheartedly to stay at his friend's house sometime soon. As we pulled out of the driveway, I smiled to myself and decided to write to Michelle when I got home.