January 19, 2018
By Ekta R. Garg
Last weekend Eleven got to experience a first: her first sleepover. By some crazy coincidence, Nine will also experience the same first this coming weekend. Both girls practically ripple with excitement when they talk about these parties of their respective friends.
When we first had the kids my husband and I never imagined that the fact of letting our children spend the night in someone else’s home would become a point of discussion. It got me thinking about the larger picture here: things we were allowed to do that we emphatically don’t let our children pursue.
The sleepover question first came up when Nine got invited to one a couple of years ago. My husband issued a “no” right away, and I agreed with him. Our reasons for agreeing differed. I thought Nine was too young at the time. Her father said he liked the girls to be home at night. Sleepovers are mostly a Western concept. The idea of a celebration that constitutes solely of sending one’s children to a friend’s home for the night has slowly migrated to other places, but my husband didn’t grow up with it in India and didn’t feel comfortable with it.
As I said, I agreed with him at the time for a different reason. At that time I didn’t tell the kids that I’d had my own first sleepover around 8 or 9. They were still young enough that I could fool them with the information I withheld.
Of course, that didn’t last too long.
We finally broke down and let Eleven go on our first sleepover this past weekend because one of her best friends was hosting a spend-the-night party to celebrate turning 12. We know the family fairly well and knew Eleven would be in good hands. Another bonus: the birthday girl doesn’t have her own cell phone. That may seem like a silly qualifier, but in this day and age of the terrors of the internet parents have to face all sorts of situations that we know for sure our parents didn’t face. (After all, this isn’t the “I-walked-uphill-in-the-snow-both-ways-to-school” kind of argument we’re having here.)
Parenting tries the steeliest of decisions you’ll make. It’s so easy to decide on something before you have kids, to form an opinion or even be judgmental, but so much harder to know what’s right and wrong when you’re in the situation. I’ll admit, I had a little crisis of conscience when the kids asked me whether I was allowed to participate in sleepovers as a kid (whether as hostess or attendant) and I had to say yes.
I suppose I could have lied, but Eleven and Nine know how to FaceTime my parents.
Nine, too, is going to celebrate a birthday this weekend, and we know the family well enough to know she’ll have a great time. They also live in our neighborhood. If she gets scared in the middle of the night, going to pick her up won’t be a lengthy process (definitely a factor to consider considering the frigid temperatures and all the snow we’ve had recently.)
Some days I feel a little bad about the fact that there are things I did as a kid that I won’t even consider letting my own children do. I would spend hours at their ages biking around the neighborhood and would often cross the street to our neighbors’ home to play with their daughters. There were the sleepovers, of course, and I had my fair share of Happy Meals.
Now, though, I wouldn’t dream of letting Eleven and Nine walk through the neighborhood to their friends’ houses without a chaperone. If they mount their bikes, my husband rides close behind them. And the only time my kids have ever been to McDonalds is to get bottles of milk as part of an afternoon snack that I would have stashed in my bag beforehand.
Does all this sound ridiculous? I wonder that too. Once I took Nine to the skating rink for a birthday party, and several of us moms stood around chatting as the kids skated. Some of the less steady kids wore helmets, and the skating rink provided walkers on wheels for the skaters who felt like they really needed some extra help.
A natural break came in our conversation, and we turned towards the kids. One of the moms looked at the kids in helmets and walkers and half turned back toward us.
“I wonder if using those things actually makes the kids more scared,” she commented.
I looked at the kids again and realized just how insightful her observation was. We work so hard to protect our kids from everything that sometimes it’s possible we overdo it. Do all these measures we put into place give our children the subconscious idea that they should just go ahead and be scared of what they’re approaching even before they get there?
Would it be so awful if I let Eleven and Nine walk to the neighbors’ house? What about letting them just play in the backyard? It’s fenced in, after all.
Of course, that fence is open-ended on one side. It’s metal and designed to keep the hordes of Canadian geese out of our backyard. Anyone can glance over and see who’s there and who’s not. This fence is nothing like the tall wooden privacy fence we had around our backyard in Texas when Eleven was then two years old and Nine was (in the beginning) a newborn and eventually started toddling around back there. That fence went all the way around the yard and only had one exit that we could lock with a padlock when we left town. Our current fence is nothing like that, and my kids are older now. More appealing prey, I would imagine, for someone with perverse tendencies.
And just like that, I’m back to making sure the kids are chaperoned everywhere.
One of my favorite memories from childhood is riding my bike around the neighborhood after it rained. I would aim for the puddles with the challenge being to lift my feet from the pedals just as the wheels swished through the standing water. Sometimes I did this with those friends who lived across the street, but I also went by myself.
Like so many kids growing up in the 1980s, I did my fair share of door-to-door visits trying to sell candy bars as part of my school’s fundraiser. Again, I would go alone. The only edict Mom and Dad gave me was to make sure I came back before dark.
And then there were the sleepovers.
Now…now I can’t seem to make myself let go. Eleven and Nine will fight me on it, and on many issues I will let them win. But on others…it’s a crisis of conscience, as I said. Which is why we note going to a sleepover as a major milestone.