Recently my wife suggested to me that our kids should not be participating in the age-old tradition of sleepovers. Her reasoning was that the world is not as innocent a place as it used to be and you just can’t trust your child’s well-being to another parent’s sense of “acceptable behavior”. At first I couldn’t wrap my head around her idea, but there really was no response I could come up with that didn’t translate to “Come on, let’s put our children in danger so they can have a little fun”. Ultimately I agreed with this, though I can’t say my first thought wasn’t something along the lines of, “But it’s pretty much the best part of having friends! We can’t deprive our kids of one of THE seminal childhood experiences!” This reaction was based on how I had romanticized the experience of the sleepovers from my youth, but what wasn’t to love?
As a kid, the invitation to a sleepover was a joyous experience rivaled only by getting free tickets to Disneyland. It was a sign of true friendship for a buddy to want to spend 12+ hours hanging out, with no promise of how many of those dozen we would spend sleeping. By the same token, if a “friend” rejected the idea of sleeping over at my house because “there’s nothing to do there”, it could be a hard blow. But the situation could just as quickly be turned around if they suggested bringing your sleeping bag to their place. Yeah, scheduling the sleepover was a real rollercoaster ride. The one on one sleepovers with my buddy Erik usually went something like this.
My Mom would drop me off at Erik’s house around 6pm with a change of clothes and my green Coleman sleeping bag, which was really more appropriate for camping than a sleepover (most kids had an awesome Super Mario Brothers or Ninja Turtles bag), but it got the job done. From there we would either go into his kitchen (they had an ice & water dispenser in their fridge door, so fancy!) where a pizza would be waiting or we would head out to a restaurant for our meal (what luxury!). I have to say I couldn’t wait to go out to dinner with them, as my Mom lovingly supplied home-cooked meals the majority of my life, so even McDonald’s was a real treat.
I remember one outing to a McDonald’s with a 50’s theme that had just been built down the street. When we got our Happy Meals an awesome surprise was found within, Super Looney Tunes figures! This was an amazing series of toys that reimagined Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Taz and the obscure, Petunia Pig as Superman, Batman, The Flash and Wonder Woman respectively. You started with normal figure of the famous animated characters, then snapped-on the super hero costume over the top. Plus they came with a short comic you could color in that showed the cartoon heroes in action. It was probably the most unique set of Happy Meal toys next to the Changeables, in my opinion. I got Taz-Flash that night and was pretty excited. Anyway, once we got our toys we headed back to home base to play video games.
Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Robocop were always the top choices for Nintendo time. There was something about playing violent video games at 9pm that just seemed so dangerous, even if Robocop’s power-ups consisted of baby food jars. Hey, weekday bed time was 8:30pm, so every minute passed was a walk on the wild side! When we got tired of bashing pixelated bad guys, the next stop was Erik’s action figure closet. I’m not kidding, the kid had a literal half of a 2 sided closet stacked with action figures!
Everything from Silverhawks, to Aliens, to Sky Riders were at our disposal. We usually went with G.I. Joes, where Erik would choose Snake Eyes and I chose his nemesis, Storm Shadow. I had never really paid attention to the white-clad ninja’s allegiance during my sporadic viewings of the cartoon. He wore white so he was a good guy in my mind and the silent ninja-in-black was obviously the evil martial arts master. It didn’t matter much because the real fun was the ultimate playset, the waterfall Jacuzzi!
I can’t count how many “Jungle Ops” we engaged in while immersed in the watery wonderland. It looked like a set out of Predator (which we were too young to watch, but his parent’s were much more lenient) with tropical plant surrounding the water as steam rose from the water. Scuba Viper and Toxo-Viper would be hiding behind the waterfall, but Wetsuit and Deep Six would be waiting on the ledge above ready to get the drop on those Cobra bozos. If the fight with the Real American Heroes found the Vipers caught in the water jet whirlpool, they could always count on Undertow to swoop in and pull them out to fight another day. It was seriously the most fun I’ve had with action figures in my life. By the time we were done saving the world from Cobra Commander and Serpentor’s goons, we were pruney and tired, so we made our way to Erik’s room.
I never dreaded bedtime there, because in the morning I knew a special treat was waiting, sugar cereal! The only morning meal I ever got to splash milk on at home was Cheerios, Corn Flakes or if I was lucky, Rice Krispies, so the promise of something with flavor and color was a big deal. Cap’n Crunch! Fruit Loops! Frosted Flakes! I had seen the commercials, now I could join the fun. It was even better when we got to choose our own sample sized box to eat from.
To close out our sleepover adventure we tuned in to a couple of our favorite Saturday Morning cartoons. First up was usually something like Captain N or the oddly-titled, The Adventures of Super Mario Brothers 3 that lead into an episode of ProStars. The animated adventures of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Bo Jackson wasn’t my first choice, but Erik was the real sports fan rooting for the Denver Broncos and L.A. Kings. The show did eventually hook me by virtue of the fact that their sports equipment doubled as weapons. I have to admit that “The Great One” making a hockey stick appear from his bracelet was pretty cool.
By 11am it was pretty obvious we’d had enough of each other, since Erik would start giving me dead arms to pass the time. My Mom would pick me up and we’d say good-bye until the school bell rang on Monday morning. Fast food, video games, action figures, cartoons and sugar cereal, this is literally the top 5 on any kids top 10 list, with the rest of the list consisting mostly of different types of candy. The sleepover was the best of the best. I do think I should clarify that girls participated in “Slumber Parties”, while boys wouldn’t be caught dead referring to their overnight event in any such terms. But if there was an equivalent to a Slumber Party for boys, it was definitely the birthday party sleepover.
One on one was awesome, but getting 6 or more pre-teen boys together fueled by root beer and pizza was the elementary school equivalent of a frat party. Every kid there is trying to outdo the other in belching contests, wrestling moves and high scores on video games. Of course you were also trying to keep your buddy’s little sister from ruining the fun. Not that anything they were doing was actually spoiling the party, but just the presence of a girl was threatening at that age. Really though, it was all about getting into trouble and this where I realized my wife’s concerns were totally valid.
Every “bad influence” in my life was introduced to me at a sleepover. Dirty jokes, yep. You ever hear the one about the 3 guys who wanted to marry the farmer’s daughter? Ultra-violent Rated R movies? Oh yeah. You know Robocop is fine for kids…WAITAMINUTE, did that guy just get his hand blown off?! Is that guy melting in toxic waste then getting splattered by a car?! Yeah, totally fine. Playboy magazine? You better believe it. You say your Dad has a whole stack of them in his night stand? Now I’m not saying this is the only place a kid is going to get exposed to stuff that’s inappropriate, but I dare you to ask my wife what happened at the 2nd grade slumber party she attended when the topic of “Sex” came up. Little girls are total pervs, is all I can say.
In Junior High it got even more dangerous as in addition to the “naughty stuff” above, I was actually threatened with legal action at one point for activities taking place during an overnight hangout with friends. See there was this girl I had a major crush on and she knew it, but her daily eye rolls made it clear I had no chance. Unfortunately my buddies knew it too, so that night while I took a bathroom break they looked up her number in the school directory and left a message on the family voice mail expressing my love for her! When I returned to our session of Mortal Kombat II, they were snickering in-between decapitations with Kung Lao’s razor hat. Soon they couldn’t hold it in any longer and jokingly told me that I might have a date on Monday morning, but the reality was far from it.
I spent the weekend embarrassed, but it was nothing compared to the moment during first period when my crush stormed up to me and shouted, “Don’t you ever call my house again. My mom says that if you do we’ll call the police!”. Thanks a lot, jerks! I didn’t have a chance to begin with, but now I was on the “creepers” list too. Of course those jokesters still thought it was hilarious. I can only imagine how much worse it would have gotten if they had actually spoken to her. I might have had a visit from the fuzz that night!
So yeah, maybe my wife’s got the right idea. I can always treasure the memories of those rambunctious nights spent with my trouble making friends, but maybe we’ll let our kids get rowdy in the daylight hours under a little more supervision. Still, the magic of the sleepover and the unknown adventures to come is something I’m glad I got a chance to experience for myself, even if my kids will be slightly sheltered in that regard.
How about you, what kind of trouble did you get into during your childhood sleepovers? What are your best memories?