There's A Reason They Call It A 'Sleepover'

by Nicole Leigh Shaw
Originally Published: 

It’s not like I meant to break anything. It was only partially my fault; I was but a player in a series of events set in motion by sugar and adrenaline. If we’re being honest and my mother’s not in the room—we are and she’s not—what damn fool lets half of a dozen 5-year-olds sleep over, anyway?

When other 5-year-olds were having pizza place birthday parties, or creepy clown birthday parties, or bumper bowling birthday parties, I was having a Fudgie the Whale with Nesquik chaser sleepover party. After Fudgie, there’s really nowhere to go but crashing down.

Where better to land than the bathroom? Where else would a birthday princess host six girls for a zero-dark-30 game of pretend? “You, serfs, entertain us. Stand upon the edge of the bathing vessel. For our amusement, we’d have you dangle from the pole that supports the curtain of privacy.”

Five-year-old girls may not look very sturdy, but hang six of them from a shower curtain rod, the kind bolted into the tiled walls of the stall surround, and they can perform the kind of demolition found on any of your better, basic cable DIY shows.

When the rod came clattering to the floor, we scattered like vermin, with me, the rat princess, leading the way. I beat my mother to my room by 30 seconds. Snuggled into the sleeping bag, sweaty with the effort and breathing like I’d run a marathon, I pretended to have been sleeping all along. I stammered to my mother, “Wha-what was that?”

Innocent until proven guilty. Unless your mother is the judge and you actually are guilty. In that case, it’s “we’ll talk about this in the morning and if you think you’ll ever have another sleepover, you’ve got another thing coming.”

But we weren’t really sleeping, any of us, were we? We were troublemaking. As my mom learned, and I’ve come to know, there’s little about a sleepover that involves rest.

She was good for her word, my mom, only allowing me to have sleepovers with one guest at a time, and never again after a Fudgie binge. My stint as royalty, bossing my guests around during a 2 a.m. game of make believe, left an impression on my mother.

As for me, I’ve proven less capable at sticking to my guns. I’d thought I’d never let my kids have sleepovers before age 10. My oldest turned 10 back in February and has over 25 sleepovers on the record.

Back when she was on the verge of third grade—my oldest daughter had already been asking for a sleepover for some time. “Not yet,” I’d say. “When Mommy and Daddy think you’re ready,” we’d tell her. “We don’t know that family very well. They might have loaded guns on their nightstands or trans fats in their chips or eat Oreos without twisting them open for licking first,” we’d warned.

She already wanted constant togetherness with her friends. I remember that too—wanting to talk all night until the last words were half-remembered and sliding formlessly from already drowsing lips. Friendship like that is for the young, willing to squeeze every second of time into the endless talk that makes for connection and sisterhood.

As luck would have it, the year my daughter entered third grade we’d become good friends with a neighbor family who also had a soon-to-be third-grader. The girls were (and are) close; their family eats Oreos the way God intended. So when both girls came at me asking for a sleepover, I agreed.

We sent my daughter there one night. A week or so later, we hosted her friend.

At our house, events went as I expected and hoped. Copious giggles, snacks, hand-drawn posters declaring the girls’ best friendship, and a few warnings from me to “git on up to bed now.”

It was both a milestone and a non-event the way I suppose that most growing up is. When my daughter was out of the house—the first time I’d slept without her under my roof—I felt like the years were on fast-forward. I was both proud and disappointed when she didn’t phone home in the middle of the night asking to be picked up. When she was here, a hostess, I was warmed by her easy friendship and I felt ready to settle into this next stage.

The one thing I’d forgotten, however, is that at sleepovers very little sleeping happens. Arranging blankets and sleeping bags was pointless, much like my admonitions to go to sleep. The girls stayed up late and rose early, squeezing in every moment of togetherness they could. They are no longer the little children who were snatched by sleep after a long day of being bombarded by the world around them. Older girls snatch the sleeping hours instead, spending time considering how they will bombard the world.

And while they never demolished a three-piece bath, my daughter and her friend did prove that a sleepover is more aptly named a wakeover. A snoozenot. A stayuplate.

It’s like Inigo Montoya in the movie The Princess Bride exclaims to Vizzini: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Hmm, maybe a giggletogether. A chattyallnight…

This article was originally published on