by Meg Ferrante
Issue 118, May/June 2003
The invitation came by e-mail with only a few days' warning: Would I like to bring my son, my sleeping bags, and my snack food of choice, and join two of my son's friends and their moms for an overnight party?
I scrolled back to the top of the message to make sure it hadn't been misdelivered. A slumber party? You're probably picturing scavenger hunts, flashlight tag, and classic ghost stories. But our sons had all turned one just a few months before. I pictured pandemonium.
It seemed like a really bad idea.
For the record, I'm all about adventure. I'm a glass-half-full kind of gal, except that, around our house, that glass is almost always getting spilled. I hate to inflict that on someone else and their clean kitchen floor. Carried overnight, to include two different meals, that's a whole heap of mess to mop.
Part of me felt that an all-night party for not-even-two-year-olds was really rushing things. Everything in its own time, I reasoned. Part of me couldn't help but think about bedtime. We have enough trouble sleeping in our own bed - how would we manage to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor? How could we possibly settle down with not one, but two other partners-in-crime bounding around together? Finally, the biggest part of me just didn't know how to suspend operations for 16 hours, let go, and relax.
While I pondered the preponderance of motives to excuse myself, a flurry of messages arrived in which Katy and Amy planned the menu, proposed toddler-friendly activities, and plotted the evening of bliss we gals would share once we'd nursed our exhausted rapscallions off to la-la land. Finally, a chance for us - ours of adult talk uninterrupted by phone or computer or by staccato statements as we pass each other in the halls, chasing the kids around each other's houses. Katy even suggested a good chick flick in case we got bored of chatting. Amy shot back an e-snort: "Merciful heavens, girl! Bite your tongue. Movie? Bored? As if there could be any way . . . " They had no idea I was hesitating. And by then, I had no idea why. So we went.
It didn't live up to a single one of my expectations.
We kicked off the gathering with a hearty and lively sit-down breakfast-for-dinner of whole-grain French toast, fresh berries, and sauteed sweet potatoes. In an effort to emulate their buddies, all of the boys ate pretty well for a change. They then helped sweep the floor, feed the fish, give the dogs treats, and even water the garden with leftover puddles from the backyard wading pool. They all hopped in the tub for a big, bubbly family bath, and then the mischief-making got underway as they bounced on the bed in their matching bathrobes - a surprise gift Amy had bartered for on www.mothering.com.
Snacks were next, followed by truck races, silly dances, and - unbelievably - patient turns waiting to ride the rocking horse. A fall and scrape led to sympathy nursing all around - and finally, with bedtime long past, floor spins and couch leaps gave way to eye rubs and glassy stares. We bundled up and headed outside for some sleep-inducing stargazing. It worked - for two of the three boys, anyway, which left the house quiet enough for me to coax my little hanger-on to at last get some shut-eye. Compared to my vivid imaginings, all relatively easy.
As it turned out, though, we'd trashed the place. Dropping that half-full glass would have probably been an almost welcome relief compared to the popcorn kernels, sesame cookies, and apple pieces our free-range roosters trooped all over the house. The cleanup was like weeding - how can you pull just one? Picking up kernels led to scrubbing the kitchen floor led to wiping down the stove led to rearranging and cleaning out Katy's pantry. But what would have taken one of us all day was finished in an hour - in no time, we were camped out on the couches with cold beverages. Now the real fun began.
We started with an icebreaker: "If" questions. As in, "If you could destroy a single invention, what would it be, and why?" I voted for guns. Katy and Amy couldn't decide among TV, circumcision, and pantyhose. "If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?" All of us liked the thought of building a commune-style neighborhood and paying likeminded people to live there. "If you could meet one person who has passed away, who would it be?" led to discussions about dead relatives and then, inevitably, hashing and rehashing stories of the ones still living.
Over the hours and words that followed, these women who were mothers to my child's friends became my friends. We shared thoughts and dreams in long, flowing monologues, entirely uninterrupted by squabbles, spills, or strange sounds from our boys. We told the stories of how we met and wooed our husbands, debated the best way to store compost in the kitchen, diverged into our relationships with our mothers, and agreed that to live an examined life means, by definition, to live a more simplified life. We said things we'd wanted to for months but had never found the time or presence of mind to divulge during playground pursuits. We laughed and, yes, we got so sappy we almost cried, especially when Katy confided that if anything ever happened to her, she'd instructed her husband to place the first phone calls to Amy and me so we could share some comforting milk with her son. We talked as if we'd known each other for years, and promised that we'd know each other for years to come. We even let ourselves imagine what the boys would be like as they grew up together. "I think what got me," Amy said later, in an e-mail reminiscing about the evening, "is when you commented, 'Just picture itâ€”the three of them out driving around together when they're 16 . . .' Oh, my heart!"
The slumber parties of my memory were always noisy, kid-only affairs that, without fail, rousted a grumpy parent around 3 a.m. and invariably ended with the barbaric practice of pumping frosted donuts and sugary juice into multiple exhausted young bodies. Not this time. Oh, we had the noise in the beginning, and, come to think of it, each of the boys cried out to nurse right around 3 o'clock. But at this slumber party we had healthy food and happy parents. The adults stayed up and partied while the kids did the sleeping.
In three decades of celebrations, friendly gatherings, bashes, and general merrymaking, I've never experienced anything quite like it. The surprise 25th-birthday party my husband threw for me was unbelievable, but couldn't hold a candle to this night. New Year's Eve has always been my favorite, but all the ball-dropping and midnight kissing in the world can't compare to the clan that formed in the quiet of Katy's living room.
It was beyond slumber-party nirvana. We talked much, slept little, shared everything. And all of us - even the boys - left fast friends. What better party favor than that?
Meg Ferrante is a writer and natural childbirth instructor who lives near Atlanta. She and her son, Robby, have since enjoyed several more "slumber" parties with their tribe, which has grown to include two more babies and another on the way. All three women live with their respective slumber-party appreciative husbands, of whom two travel often and one is working on a Master's degree.