His First Sleepover
He made it, I almost didn’t
-Julie Ryan Evans
I knew the big campout was coming. It had been on my calendar and in my 5-year-old son’s every other sentence since he learned of the big event to be held in a tent in the backyard of one of his preschool friends.
I hadn’t, however, had time to really think about or mentally prepare for it. It was one of “those” weeks in which I barely held everything together. Want evidence? Here’s the pair of shoes I wore out one day-to the bank, the grocery store and a sundry of other errands.
Yep, out in public in two TOTALLY DIFFERENT SHOES – one six-year-old ratty Reef flip flop and one brand new Tory Burch wedge-heel flip flop. How I didn’t notice until I got home, I have no clue.
So, anyway, suffice it to say the exciting event didn’t get my usual dose of worry and planning; I didn’t even start hunting for a “cool” sleeping bag for him until the actual day of the sleepover. I never did find one in my exhaustive, fruitless search, but luckily my husband had an old one that my son was unexpectedly OK with.
It was once we started packing up his toothbrush, his pillow and his pajamas, that it started hitting me. This would be the first night EVER that neither his father nor I would be under the same roof as him. I’ve left him a number of times for work trips or girls’ weekends, and my husband travels regularly for his job. But we’ve never BOTH been away from him … or he from us.
I could tell it was hitting him too. He was crabby and whiny and really acting out in the hours before we left. I knew it was all of the excitement and anticipation, but after a couple of outbursts I sent him to his room. When I went up to let him out, he was in tears. After a little probing, he told me how nervous he was.
“What if I have to ask his mom a question?” he said through his tears.
We talked through what he would do if that was the case, what he would do if he was hungry or thirsty, needed help in the restroom, or anything came up. I then let him know that if at any time, no matter how late or early, he wanted to come home, he just had to tell the mom, and we would come get him.
I told how when I was a little girl I was probably 12 before I was able to spend the night at someone’s house. Over and over and over again I tried, but when darkness set in and bedtime approached, I just couldn’t do it. My parents were called in the middle of the night, and always came and got me.
He seemed reassured by that, and I was doing everything I could to mask my anxiety and act like it was no big deal.
When we got to the sleepover, the moms were milling around talking about their plans for this night of free babysitting. The mother of one of Nolan’s favorite friends told me that she was coming back around 9 p.m. to get her son because he had an early basketball game the next morning.
I immediately jumped on this. If he was leaving, then that would give me Nolan an out, and he wouldn’t have to worry about admitting he wanted to leave and being scared. He could have all the fun of the party, then I’d come back and get him right as everyone was going to bed. I felt an enormous rush of relief.
When I was getting ready to leave I pried Nolan away from the action and told him of the new plan. He kind of grunted yes before running off to play. I thought maybe I saw some relief in his eyes too.
I went home feeling lighter, relieved that my baby would be home with me, under my roof that night. I went for a run, did a few errands and relaxed a bit before it was time to go get him. I was so excited driving back there, imagining snuggling up in his bed when we got home and hearing the recount of the party.
Only when I got there, his face fell. He didn’t want to go home. He was having too much fun. He was begging me to stay. I kept pointing out that his good buddy was leaving too; we’d walk out with him. But he was having none of it. “I won’t be nervous at all. I promise,” he told me.
I looked at the other mothers, who I’m quite sure think I’m as crazy and overprotective as … I am, and asked them what I should do.
“What’s the worst that’s going to happen, he’s going to cry?” one threw out.
The thought of my little boy huddled up in his daddy’s sleeping bag crying himself to sleep was about enough for me to drag him out of there and never let him leave me again. But then I thought, she’s right. I can’t take this opportunity away from him, this chance to be brave, to try something new, because I’m afraid.
So I found his pajamas, helped him get dressed and made sure he used the bathroom. I held back my tears as I hugged him and told him one more time to call me if he wanted to.
Back home I drove once again, wondering how long it would be until I turned around and did it all over again. I had the phone on my bedside table waiting for it to ring, driving directions on the counter for my husband in case he needed to go. I slept fitfully and woke up repeatedly checking the time, each time imagining what he was doing at that moment.
The phone never rang.
He did it. I did it.
I picked him up that morning and hugged him about a thousand times. He told me of the food they ate, the movies watched and the pillow fight had. The host mother told me he did great, didn’t shed a tear, had a great time and was the first one asleep. I could tell he was really proud of himself, and I swear he grew a couple of inches over night.
It was such a success that we’re having another sleepover next weekend with his friend who had to leave early. But this time, it’s going to be at MY house…