Will's friend Ethan is spending the night tonight. I picked up both boys after school, and they've been playing nonstop ever since (it's 8 p.m. now), with a brief break for pizza eating.
Having a sleepover guest in the house made me start thinking about how different families have different sleepover styles. We tend to take a hands-off approach when the boys have friends spend the night. Jack and his friends are marathon gamers, so they hole up in Jack's room with their computers and have at it. Will's buddies like to play--board games, sports, rolling around on the floor type frolicking--with an occasional movie or televised sports event thrown in. Either way, the Man and I usually show our faces from time to time, order pizzas, and enforce bedtimes. Otherwise, we leave them alone.
But I remember as a kid attending sleepovers that were really invitations to join someone else's family for awhile. You were asked to help set the table before dinner, you ate whatever the mom was cooking that night, and after dinner you might play a game of Monopoly with the whole clan. You didn't get to spend private time with your friend until bedtime, but somehow that private time was more special than if you'd gone off on your own all evening. You'd earned it.
When I was a young adult in college, I spent several minor breaks and holidays at friends' houses (I went to college in North Carolina, and my parents lived in Texas, much too far away to drive for only a few days), and that's when I was most involved with other people's families. Parents would sit down to have serious conversations with you about your future plans (for some reason, this was much less irritating than when your own parents wanted to have those conversations with you), and after dinner you might go out to a bar or a club with your friends' siblings. For a few short days you felt intimately connected with these families, witnessed their dramas, did their dishes (I had a reputation as a good house guest, in case you were wondering), walked their dogs.
The big deal about sleepovers when I was a kid was how different other people's houses smelled, how foreign other families' habits were. As I got older, the exciting thing about staying at friends' houses was seeing how people who seemed outwardly a lot like me could have very different ways from my own. Other families' habits seemed exotic, thrilling. My father turned on easy listening radio first thing in the morning; what an eye-opener to stay with a family whose father turned on Mozart.
I hope Ethan has a nice time tonight. I hope he doesn't think our house smells too weird. It's nice having him here. That's the flip side, as an adult. You have a kid spend the night, and all the sudden you're looking at your life through his eyes. What does he see? A house where tidiness is not prized, surely, but also, hopefully, a place where people are creative and have hobbies and listen to music and like to laugh. I hope he sees that, too.
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