One by one, I heard their parents peel off with a "beep beep" and what sounded like a "so long, suckers." One by one, the kids piled into their respective sleeping bags. We had been planning the great sleepover of 2014 for months. Our daughter had been asking forever. We hoped she'd trip up or slip up and lose the sleepover due to bad behavior, but she didn't. And so a bunch of 8 and 9-year-olds arrived... many to their very first sleepover. I had been warned to be on my best behavior. I had been warned by my daughter to literally not use the bathroom -- at all -- or to fart in front of her friends. I had a huge pile of beans for breakfast that day and waited to exact my revenge.
What is it about sleepovers that makes everyone neurotic? My wife told me our street cred was on the line. She wasn't kidding. We could forever be labeled the "cool parents" or the "square parents" based on what happened within the walls of our house in the next 16 hours. I knew she was serious. And truthfully, I remember going through the same thing as a kid. My sister and I rarely had anyone over at our house because my parents -- especially my dad -- could be embarrassing. So, on a March night in 2014, my wife and I set out to defeat the demons of the past and pave a new, "cool parents" road going forward. Our kids' entire future could come down to whether all these kids had fun.
The girls couldn't wait to get rid of their parents. Right away, they designed bags with puffy paint and made lanyards... oh, and they ate... and ate more... and ate more. They did make-your-own pizzas, which "seemed" like a good idea when it was first suggested... until our kitchen ended up looking like a dusty war zone by the end of the experience. They had candy and ice cream cake. They watched TV.... and more TV... and more TV. And they ate popcorn. They did some dancing and some singing. They laid out sleeping bags and bargained for better sleeping bag spots. They stayed up later... and later... and later. Nine o'clock went by. Ten o'clock. Eleven o'clock. I'd peek my head out every now and then, but otherwise followed through on the request to make myself scarce. The sound level was deafening. The decibel level was ear-shattering.
I could only imagine what all the other parents were up to. Their parents were probably having drinks and nookie and high-fiving each other at their good fortune to have a night away without the cost of a babysitter and no time limit for when to head home. How I hate those other parents... at least temporarily.
The kids finally fell asleep sometime after midnight. Morning came and revealed the trail of destruction. Sleeping bags all over the place. A kitchen still covered in dishes from the night before. A heroic wife with bags under her eyes who had been the glue who kept it all together. I still hadn't used the bathroom. The beans built up like a brewing explosion. I could have blasted the kids right out of the house. Part of me wanted to say "screw it" to the cool parents thing. Take us or leave us. We are who we are. But I didn't. I put the cannon away and tried to play cool dad for a couple of more hours until all the parents arrived. They came and it was like the cartoons when people fall in love with birds chirping and singing. They were refreshed and happy and bright-eyed. I wanted to blast them with the bean explosion right then and there. But I didn't. Truthfully, the kids were really well-behaved. I think they had a good time. I think we passed the cool test, but only time will tell. And as soon as everyone cleared the house and we were all alone, I blasted a bean-fueled rocket pent up inside that shattered the walls and rocked the house to the foundation. It was the exclamation point on a successful sleepover.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 things I learned about hosting a sleepover:
1. Never have an extra large plate of beans just before being banned from the bathroom.
2. DIY pizza is a very misguided and messy sleepover idea. Don't do it.
3. The "sleep" in "sleepover" is a farce.
4. Kids will never agree on something to watch on TV at a sleepover, so don't even bother with any type of democratic voting process.
5. Don't daydream about what the "other" parents are doing on their kid-free night.
6. Count on one full day of prep and one full day to recover from the sleepover.
7. It costs WAYYY more to hold a sleepover party than to just have a "normal" birthday party.
8. Set a clear "departure time" so parents don't eat up your entire Sunday after the sleepover.
9. The world's loudest rock bands have nothing on a group of raucous kids.
10. Being the cool parents, even for one night, really does matter.
I know some folks will disagree with the last line. Part of me disagrees with the last line, too. But on one night in 2014 my wife and I conquered the demons of sleepovers past and started down a new road for our kids. Now we're going to sleep.
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