Having a sleepover is a little like giving birth. While you are going through it, you swear there is nothing that could convince you to ever do it again, but once it's over the pain fades from your memory in degrees, until you're finally able to say, "I might consider trying that once more. It wasn't so bad." Why would parents -- who seem to be sane according to every standard measure of rational behavior -- invite 10 children to their house, all together at the same time, to eat cake, drink soda, toast marshmallows, and then stay the whole night? Clearly, there is no reasonable explanation for such a stunning lack of prudence.
My husband and I are particularly easy marks for the sleepover custom, having hosted 11 birthday sleepovers and many other impromptu all-night events in our home. This year, however, as we started to throw around ideas for our youngest son's birthday, my husband almost cried when I told him it would probably be a sleepover.
"No sleepovers this year, please," he begged. "Let's just have them for a few hours, some cake and ice cream and out the door."
"We can't do that," I countered. "His brother got a sleepover for every birthday for seven years."
"We were younger," my husband reminded me. "We had more energy."
"We have to," I said. "It's the only fair thing to do."
Our fate had been set in motion years ago, when our eldest son invited 12 8-year-old boys to come live with us for 18 Pepsi-infused hours. That was the year of the soda fight, which began in the playroom and proceeded gleefully throughout the house. It is hard to decide whether that was worse, though, than the year of the Airsoft gun party.
"Everyone is having Airsoft gun parties," our youngest said, and it appeared to be true, with the one exception that the other Airsoft gun parties in his crowd had been limited to one short afternoon. This one would involve 16 hours of 11-year-olds playing out their Mortal Kombat fantasies in our back yard.
I remember how that party began. I stood in the yard surrounded by boys carrying their [airsoft] guns and enumerated three rules.
"One: Aim below the face! Two: Wear your goggles! Three: No Airsoft guns in the house!"
They listened, somber and attentive.
"OK," they said. "Can we play now?"
"Let's kill Jacob!" one boy yelled.
"Where is he?" someone else asked.
"In the house," another shouted, and they were off, my rules no more substantial than dandelions in the wind.
I am still finding little yellow [airsoft] pellets under the beds, in the corners, clacking around in my vacuum cleaner. I often step on them in the middle of the night as I make my way to the bathroom.
The best thing about a sleepover is when the last child leaves. As my son's guests were vanishing after this year's fete, I could not help but reflect that there is no quiet as sweet as the one that settles on a home after a sleepover.
"Bye, Everett's Mom," the last boy said, no trace left of the child who only hours earlier had flooded my laundry room in an attempt to create an indoor slip 'n' slide. He slung his unused sleeping bag over his shoulder. "Thanks for inviting me."
"It's always a pleasure," I said, the pain already fading from my memory. I watched him as he stepped jauntily into the morning light, climbed into a car, and was spirited away.
The cats came out of hiding, peered around, and joined the household once again. The dogs, worn out from trying to keep up with the night's debauchery, sighed, padded to the living room, and began their daylong slumber.
My husband wandered in.
"They all gone?' he asked, a hopeful lilt in his voice.
"Yes," I said.
"Thank God. Let's not do that again," he said, collapsing on the couch.
"Oh, I don't know," I answered. It had been a rough night, but my house was still standing. "It wasn't that bad."
"You're right," he decided. And then we just sat for a long time, enjoying the silence.