10/14/2012 11:20 am ET Updated Dec 14, 2012

Birthday Parties, Sleepovers And Sunday Mass

One of the great things about the middle years of grammar school was the sleepover, usually as part of someone's birthday party. By fourth and fifth grade my friends and I had become more sophisticated. We had outgrown the parties consisting of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crust cut off, Kool-Aid and pin the tail on the donkey. We no longer required naps either before or after such engagements.

Sleepover birthday parties were usually multi-part events and held on Saturday nights. Everyone would gather at the birthday boy's house, and then the lucky parents would schlep us to the movies, miniature golf or the batting cages. I preferred the batting cages; I saw some really awful movies at those parties. Then it was back to the house for pizza, pop (we don't call it soda in Chicago), junk food and little or no sleep. It was time to talk about the things that really mattered. Who was your favorite member of Kiss? Which was the better flavor of Doritos, Nacho Cheese or Taco? Who was the best Groovie Goolie? Best Wacky Races car? How come Devlin never crashed like Evel Knievel? There were contests to see who could say the entire alphabet during one prolonged belch, and unadulterated admiration for the kid who ripped the grossest fart. And, when it got late and we were overtired: our first, tentative discussions about girls.

Permission to attend such parties in my house was based on practical matters. Did my mom know the kid and his parents? What was the activity? If it was a movie, was it Mom-approved? And the most important: I had to be home in time to get ready to attend Sunday Mass. Going to church was non-negotiable. Mom wanted me clean, wearing the clothes that she selected and ready to go before she would get ready herself.

One year a friend of mine who lived just down the street had a sleepover party, and it was arranged that the next day I would go directly to church with his family. I felt like Mom was starting to loosen her grip on the reins a bit and I was determined to make a good showing. I cleaned up and even combed my hair. My friend and his family didn't fool around either; we arrived at church earlier than I was used to and were seated fairly close to the altar. Everything was going smoothly until about mid way through the service. In the pew directly in front of us was an older lady who proudly participated in every aspect of the mass and carried herself with dignity. That is, until she began to fart. I think the first one escaped as she hit a particularly high note in one of the hymns. My friend and I looked at each other like, "Did that just happen?" We stifled our giggles and returned our attention to the mass.

But she was just getting warmed up. I wondered if she had also been up all night eating pizza and Doritos. Soon my friend and I were really having trouble holding back the giggles, and were scolded by his mom. Ultimately, even his parents were overwhelmed and they started to crack up. It was one of those situations where it was funnier and harder not to laugh because you weren't allowed to. We were all red in the face and close to tears trying to hold it in. I finally had to turn my head to avoid making eye contact with my buddy.

That's when I saw the most terrifying thing I had ever laid eyes on: the look on my mother's face. She was sitting about four or five rows back and was absolutely livid. I heard a sound in my head that I can only attempt to describe as the discordant, jarring sound a grand piano might make if it were dropped off the John Hancock building. The blood drained from my face and the laughter was gone. For the first time in my life I wanted the mass to continue for hours, yet it seemed it was over in a heart beat. Mom was right on top of me. She politely thanked my friend and his family, waited until they were out of sight and then grabbed my ear, holding on and twisting it as she scolded me during the entire walk home.

From then on, the only sleepovers I attended were held on Friday nights.