Sleepless at the sleepover

Ah, to bed. At last. Another long day, made all the longer by a teen-age son’s sleepover party.

I can still hear the boys in there, snickering and whispering. Winding down from their video-game/sugar buzzes and the random hormone surges that make them howl and punch each other. They seemed to have a great time this evening. Eventually, they’ll fall asleep.

I lay awake, listening, and thinking how sleepover parties are different now.

When they were little, sleepovers were high adventure, full of separation anxiety, trepidation and tears. We needed mule trains to haul the emotional baggage from one household to another. Not to mention changes of clothes, special treats, a blankie, a stuffed toy and one favorite plastic action figure doomed to never turn up again.

We parents regularly delivered all this stuff to another household and handed our children over to strange adults who, for all we knew, were members of a blood cult. But, hey, it’s good for the kids to socialize. And we parents always were desperate for a night off.

Not that it’s ever the whole night off. Because the host parents call at 2 a.m., saying the visiting child is scared, sick or otherwise sleepless and needs a ride home. Guaranteed.

It gets easier in the middle-school years. The kids can pack their own bags, for one thing. And they stay busy with electronic gizmos: video games, CDs, DVDs, I-Pods, cell phones, the microwave oven. The job of the host parents becomes a long night of “Turn that off and go to bed,” but that’s better than cleaning up barf.

Now that they’re older, my boys have friends sleep over all the time, mostly so they can stay up very late on weekends, playing Guitar Hero II. These days, preparation for the sleepover is virtually zero. The guests show up without so much as a toothbrush. They eat whatever they can forage in the fridge. They sleep on the carpet like dogs, if they sleep at all. Sometimes, I wonder if their parents even know where they are. And if other homeowners regularly find unfamiliar 16-year-olds eating Cocoa Puffs in their kitchens at 3 a.m.

Our sleepover visitors always seem polite enough. Sloppy and hyperactive and endlessly hungry, but polite. Hmm. Maybe they’re covering up something with those good manners.

As I lie awake, I start thinking how I don’t really know these teen-agers that well. Maybe the good manners are a ruse. Maybe they’re really felons or firebugs. Maybe they’re “casing the joint,” trying to determine where we hide our valuables. Haha, fooled them, we don’t have any valuables. But still.

Charles Manson probably attended sleepovers at other kids’ homes. Did those host parents wonder about him? Maybe they recognized him later on the news, and said, “Look, it’s Charlie. I always knew that kid was a little helter-skelter.”

The more I think about the potential danger of teen-aged strangers in my home, the more restless I become. By the time I put on my bathrobe and tiptoe down the hall, I’m expecting to find anything, up to and including the sacrificing of a goat.

I peek into my son’s room, and the boys are sound asleep. At peace. Like angels from heaven, if angels slept on the floor and wore baggy jeans and had funny haircuts. Teen angels.

I go back to bed, smiling over my silly anxieties. And lay awake until dawn.

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