The sleepovers of my youth were very girly affairs marked by hushed conversations, giggling, and cute pajamas. When I was very little I slept at my best friend Leslie’s house, where we did not sleep in her much-envied pink canopy bed, but in “the guest room,” because it had twin beds so I wouldn’t be scared or lonely. Leslie’s mother would tuck us both in, and although I felt a little strange about being away from home, I was comforted by the fact that it was always the same, from the satin-edged blue blanket to the smell of her perfume. Later, there were frequent sleepovers at my house and elsewhere, my preference being “elsewhere” because there were different toys and a much higher probability that morning would bring sugared cereal. There is no way to overstate the ecstatic bliss that came from savoring a bowl of Sugar Smacks or Apple Jacks instead of slogging through yet another pile of Oat Flakes, Cheerios, or other livestock-friendly breakfast cereal.
I am now on the parental end of the sleepover, and it’s an entirely different scene. I have only a boy, and although I vaguely recall my brother sleeping at Kevin H.’s house and finding out how to tune in porn on the basement TV, I had very little preparation for the nightlife of pre-adolescent boys. There are no pajamas, cute or otherwise; they drop, exhausted, where they fall, fully dressed and carelessly swathed in unopened sleeping bags and sofa throws. A grayish white sock peeks out, here and there, and the living room is strewn with Tostitos bags, bowls rimmed with ossified queso dip, and the odd retainer.
Before passing out, there is a round of activity befitting a Cruise Director with a penchant for warfare, carbs and French whorehouses. There is often an Airsoft gun skirmish outdoors, with boys creeping stealthily around the DMZ surrounding our house wearing gigantic masks and ambushing one another in the general vicinity of the untrimmed boxwood hedge. Next, there is the viewing of a free Netflix movie involving, probably, more guns, fighter planes and an endless supply of cutting-edge ammo; this entertainment is accompanied by heavy consumption of soda, chips and chewing gum, wads of which are traditionally left clinging to various end tables, plates and orthodontic appliances. Cheap incense is burned, and the house smells not like the Christmas tree, or the remains of dinner, but like corn chips and musk. It is a smell that could probably be sold to the military as a kind of olfactory weapon calculated to drive our enemies swiftly to their collective knees.
After we have made the token gesture of providing pillows and blankets and suggesting that a bedtime earlier than 2:00AM might be in everyone’s best interests, the really mysterious stuff begins to happen. I don’t actually see this part; I know about it only from wading through the morning midden and making archaeological finds. Every computer, mouse, Xbox controller, wire and DVD that has ever come into this house is somehow carried into the living room, and cords are connected in a Booby trappery of Death, partially obscured by blankets and chip bags. A nozzle appears in the cat’s water dish, apparently from a can of spray cheese, but I didn’t buy spray cheese. There is a wad of small bills and change left under an empty can of Mountain Dew. (My tip?)
I can hear them now, debating whether 9:00 is too early to get up, and competing, even as they pick sleep from the corners of their eyes, for status as the person who slept the least. They shuffle to the bathroom, forage for waffles and resume game play among the wreckage, fresh-faced zombies of the digital age. I will have to spend rather more time than I would like cleaning Airsoft pellets and sour cream & onion crumbs out of the couch, and there will be a pervasive air of sleep-deprived grumpitude abroad in the land, but it’s okay. No matter how strange these boy sleepovers are to my delicate and feminine self, I like knowing that they are here, and safe, and young enough to be goofy. Next come dates and girls and broken hearts, and driving cars and PSATs and college and…I’d rather deal with this, at least for now.