On Saturday, we threw our daughter Ana a sleepover party for her tenth birthday. When she first asked me about it, I thought we’d have four or five girls, and I agreed immediately, because I figured it would be cheaper and less PTSD-causing than Chuck E. Cheese, her second choice.
When every single girl RSVPed yes, I knew this would be a little more than we’d planned, and I ordered extra American Girl plates and napkins for our group of ten. Before the party, I set the tables and arranged the food. I organized a cereal bar in the basement for late-night crunchy snacking, with the — inaccurate — notion that these girls weren’t gremlins and it would be okay to feed them after midnight.
Throughout the day, I ran into people around town and online who said the same thing, “What — are you stupid?!?” Yes, yes I am. I receive that. One friend said, and I quote, “I’m going to be ON MY KNEES praying for you tonight.”
As the parents dropped off their girls, I took down cell numbers, “just in case,” and fought the urge to scream “Take me with you!!!” as they walked back down the driveway. As the volume level in my home swelled, and the shrieking rose to that pitch that scrambles bats mid-flight, my son looked at me and said, “I need to get away from this.” We loaded him into someone’s car to play Minecraft and sleep at a friends’ house.
During the pizza and cake portion of the night, the girls were amazing. Just so much preciousness and squealing over all of Ana’s new doll clothes. They settled in the basement to watch Elf, Ana’s choice, and hubby and I watched Doctor Who on the couch by ourselves. The house seemed serene, and I felt superior. Whatever were those overreactive fear-mongers talking about? Go monger elsewhere. Seven years in youth ministry has prepared me for this moment, and sleepovers ain’t got nothing on me.
Things were so quiet that I turned out the light and decided I might as well go to bed a little early. After all, I’d spent two days preparing for this party, and I was a little peaked.
And that is when The Party Started. My emotions over the next few hours went through the five stages of grief, and I know I’ve already covered The Five Stages of Grief at Bedtime, but let’s call this one The Five Stages of Grief at Bedtime: Sleepover Edition. The difference with this one is the kids are older and the mom, not the child, goes through these stages.
It’s about eleven and they’ve been quietly watching a movie for an hour. You hear them start to giggle and talk more, so you think, “Oh, the movie’s over, so I’ll go tell them lights out. This thing is in the bag. Everyone’s an idiot but me. I’m the best mom ever, and sleepovers are easy.”
(You tiptoe down the basement steps.)
You: (Using your I’m-so-sweet voice – It’s a lie, but they don’t know that.) Hey, girls, it’s time for lights out. (Smiley smiley smiley. You are the most precious mom ever. Everyone loves you, and they’re all going home to tell their moms how amazing you are and how they wish you could be their mom. Everyone’s going to want to be your daughter’s friend, because of how awesome her mom is.)
Girls: Okay, thanks!
You: I’ll leave the bathroom light on. See you in the morning!
At midnight, you still hear voices and giggling, so you creep downstairs to remind them of how you sweetly want them to be oh so quieter. You’re met with Armageddon.
Girls: We’ve been telling each other horrific ghost stories for the last hour and now we’re convinced the bathtub is filled with blood and the toilet is trying to eat us and the radiator is really a hell-beast ready to pounce and every time we hear a footstep upstairs it’s a kidnapper with an evil plot to take us away and make us do math and eat kale in a barn in the country.
You: (You’d better drop the sweet mom act a bit and let a little edge into your voice to show them who’s boss and you mean business. This is not hard, because they’re starting to piss you off.) What did I say about ghost stories? Stop being creepy and everybody just lie down and relaaaaaax. Close your eyes. Count to fifty. Breathe. Shhhh.
You walk back upstairs, lie on the couch, only to hear everything explode into chaos downstairs.
You: What’s going on?
Girls: She took my spot and I don’t have anywhere to sleep and where are we supposed to sleep and I’m cold and do you have any more blankets and I miss my mom and there was a big bug crawling over there.
Girl on couch: My stomach doesn’t feel good.
Girl on floor: I need a drink of water.
All girls in unison: I need a drink of water.
All the girls come upstairs for another drink of water, and while they’re taking turns getting water from the fridge, Girl on Couch nonchalantly opens trash can lid and hurls her entire stomach contents of pizza, caffeine-free Coke (Please, you’re not a total idiot.), ice cream cake, cucumbers, and Lucky Charms into the trash. The kitchen fills with the aroma of what can only be described as Napalm Vomit and all the other girls race to the basement.
You proceed to call her mom. Over and over and over. She’s a good friend of yours and your kids torture her back, which is why you know your friendship will survive. You switch to texting. Over and over and over. She won’t call you back. She’s dead to you. You’re breaking up with her if she would just answer her dang phone.
You finally hand the girl an ice pack and assure her that her mom does love her. She says she feels better and heads back downstairs. You get out the Clorox wipes and clean the trash can while dry heaving and trying your best not to add to the mess. You attack the downstairs with all-natural air freshener and briefly consider snorting the spray can like Nasonex.
There’s your child’s vomit. And then there’s other people’s kid’s vomit. Both bad, one worse.
You flop back on the couch and look at the clock. Okay, it’s 1am. If the girls all fall asleep now, they can still get enough sleep to function tomorrow and all the parents won’t hate you. As long as they fall asleep now.
1:10 Or now
1:15 Or now
1:55 Now dammit.
The girls erupt in shrieks of terror and all race upstairs. You meet them at the top of the stairs and get them to calm down.
You: What’s wrong?
Girls: The glow-in-the-dark necklaces you gave us broke open all over the floor and our sleeping bags and our dolls and the ceiling and the chemicals are dripping down the walls and spelling out, “Die” in glowing blood and we’ve all been poisoned and we’ll never sleep again and this sleepover has ruined our lives.
Your daughter: This is all your fault, Mom. You shouldn’t have let us have necklaces or a sleepover or friends or evil-looking dolls. This is all your fault.
You: (cleaning up the glow sticks) Give me the dolls. I’ll take them upstairs where they can have their own sleepover and perform their blood sacrifices without bothering you. If I take the dolls away, can you please get some sleep?
You start texting your friend, who’s still awake. You lament that it’s not okay to threaten other people’s children. You start using swear words that only come out when you’re extra tired and clinging to sanity and hope that she doesn’t save these texts and put them on Facebook. You’re a horrible mother. You’ve failed.
The girls erupt in more screaming. You’re too tired and despondent to do much. You open the basement door but don’t go down. Mustering up your deepest Cate Blanchett in Lord of the Rings voice, you intone, “Girls, quiet down.” As you shut the door, you hear them giggling again. It doesn’t matter. Nothing you do matters. Everyone’s parents are going to kill you and your daughter still thinks you suck.
The next morning, one of the girls’ cell phone alarms goes off at 7am. You bound off your couch of stone and decide it’s payback. Blaring Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” you send the four-year-old down to “check on” the girls, greet them in that perky voice that only passive-aggressive parents with a deep grudge can achieve, feed them donuts, and give them all back to their moms and dads. As each parent arrives, your daughter rats you out, announcing gleefully, “We were up till 4am!” You stand there and take it like a mom. “Yes, yes, it’s all true. They did. I’m awful.”
As the last friend leaves and you close the door and turn around, you’re faced with your glaring daughter, coming down off the sugar and really, really desolate that the fun is over. Her eyes brim with tears. You have ruined her life.
The biggest difference between running a youth ministry sleepover versus a sleepover for your own child, is that at the end of the former, you give them all back and let the well-rested parents deal with the overtired, sulky children. All you can do with the latter is give them a hug, pop in a movie, and pass out on the couch.