There’s a lot to reminisce about regarding one’s childhood. Holidays, family trips, Sunday visits from grandparents, the out-of-nowhere toy purchase, and a dozen other things I could mention. But the one thing I truly miss about growing up was the sleepover. That night when a pal stays over at your place and you get to play with action figures till God knows when, eat carryout pizza and drink too much soda, and watch horror movies rented at the local video rental shop until one of your parents meanders from the hallway at 1 am and yells “Go to sleep!”
The reason I started thinking about sleepovers was because I started thinking about my own kids lack of them. Out of all of our kids, the oldest was the only one to have her friends come over on a regular basis. We were THE house for her and her friends to get together and hang out. We had the most space out of all her friends, so it was a great place where they could hang. We had a finished basement with furniture and a TV, lots of room, and they had privacy. We figured with our two youngest it’d be the same thing, but no. Not the case at all.
Our middle child, she would occasionally have a friend or two over. The sleepovers were not often, though. She would end up going to her friends houses instead. It seemed weird, but I guess we were just happy she had friends to do stuff with. Now that she’s nearing 18 an occasional friend will crash here if they were out and about kind of late, but still the sleepover is few and far between.
Our son, he seems the most against the whole thing. He had one birthday party here, and one classmate came over. That was it. No sleepovers, nothing. In the last couple of years he’s begun to go over to friends houses and hang out. He stayed over at a friend’s house twice last year with a group of guys. He has friends, but it seems his own home is off limits. It’s his sanctuary.
The sleepover for me was essential. First it was playing with toys and watching Saturday morning cartoons, but as you got older it was listening to music till the wee hours of the night, watching movies, and having those midnight conversations. The conversations were the best, man. Talking about dreams of what you wanted to do when you got older. For me, it was talking about being in a band and making music. A pal of mine and I took music lessons from the same guy, me guitar and my buddy bass. Our sophomore year every weekend I was at his place or he was at mine. Tombstone pizzas, horror movies, and us practicing guitar together fantasizing about writing some concept album about the blue collar worker(we grew up with blue collar parents.) Of course we had discovered Rush our sophomore year, so we were deep into albums like 2112, Hemispheres, and Moving Pictures. They were lofty dreams, but talking about it at 1 am on a Friday night made them feel not so lofty. They felt attainable.
I remember my first sleepover. It was my best friend, a friend I am still friends with now(our sleepovers have shifted to beers and Youtube videos on the occasional Saturday night.) I can remember him coming over in the third grade and us playing with GI Joe figures and riding our BMX bikes in the woods behind my house. We had the idea of him staying the night and it was like a fire brewing in our guts. “Think of the fun we’ll have!” we thought in my bedroom as Cobra Commander got the upper hand over Flint and the Joes. I hem-hawed around as long as I could, then went out to the kitchen and brought the idea up to my mom. She gave me a look, then said “Fine. I hope he likes homemade pizza.”
Of course he did.
We stayed up till midnight, watching Prom Night on Channel 16, the local NBC affiliate out of South Bend, Indiana. We had a great time, which led us to pretty much either being at my house or his house every weekend for the next few years. His house was for playing Atari and Commodore 64 games, making Totino’s pizzas, and running around Chapman Lake where he lived and getting into the occasional scrap with neighbor kids. We even once stole his dad’s pontoon and made like Crockett and Tubbs on Chapman Lake. It was as if we were chasing Cuban drug lords in a cigarette boat as skiers and wake board riders looked at us in disbelief. We would’ve gotten away with it had it not been for the fact we ran out of gas as we made it back to the channel where my buddy lived. His dad waited on the seawall, ready to yell “Goddammit Ty!” His dad was a state trooper, so I think we got off okay.
My house, on the other hand, was for Star Wars and GI Joe battles in the basement, along with high stakes billiards, darts, and Flying Turtle scooter races. We would also play a game where we’d get my miniature schnauzer Klaus downstairs and we’d run around the pool table in socks and the dog would chase us barking and snapping at us. It was was both hilarious and quite frightening as you’d try your hardest running in socks on a concrete floor as this little dog wants nothing more than to bite into your shin.
As we got older there was plenty of lip syncing to Ratt, Van Halen, Quiet Riot, and Prince cassettes in the basement. Tennis racket guitars and cardboard box drums with the pool table as the drum riser, we’d put on a show for imaginary crowds of screaming girls. We even created these personas, Rick and Mart. Not sure where those names came from, but they were the rock stars we wanted to be.
As teens at my buddy’s house, his dad and stepmom built a new place on a smaller lake. That house became the spot where we crashed after double dates and phone calls to girls on Friday and Saturday nights. His parents were always gone, so we had the run of the place. It was definitely a place for teen boys to have fun and get in trouble. My house was comfort. A place to melt into and regenerate. His was for the high stakes world of teenagers and the expectations that came with it.
Even as we got older the sleepover was that thing that you did after going to the movies or had dates. It was a chance to chill out and talk. It felt essential to the teen’s mind. A discussion that led to late night food, low volume music listening, and b-movie viewing till someone fell asleep.
I suppose it’s not so hard to figure out why my kids aren’t into the whole sleepover thing. Unlike me, they have that instant access to their friends via the smartphone. Text, message, social media,…there’s that feeling that you’re never really alone. You can join a party and instantly walk away from it with just a swipe of your finger. I didn’t have that. If I wanted to talk to a friend as a kid it was on a rotary dial phone that hung on the wall in the kitchen. There was no private conversation at my house. You had your conversation as mom stood four feet away doing the dishes, or as mom and dad sat at the kitchen table drinking beers and playing cards.
Those private conversations about girls and life took place in the bedroom with the music on so nobody outside the door could hear. That’s why the sleepover was so essential to me and my generation. Kids and teens seem to be in a private conversation all the time. They have an internal world we know nothing about, which sometimes scares me. My kids are old enough now that I’m not as worried about it. But younger kids and middle school age kids, it can be a messed up world online. There’s something about sharing a moment with friends in your room laughing and talking about your favorite songs or what you’d want to do with your life that an online conversation just can’t come close to. There’s an honesty and owning up to statements made that just doesn’t exist in the virtual world. Sarcasm and subtleties are lost when you can’t see a facial expression or hear how something is said.
Oh well, the world keeps moving and I just sit hear thinking I wish it’d slow down a bit. Something as simple as a frozen pizza at 11pm and a lousy horror movie on cable access are the things I sometimes pine over. Or that buzzing excitement in my gut figuring out how to word that question to my mom, “Hey, can we have a sleepover tonight?”