You may wish to read “this” first.
I decide it's not a misnomer afterall. It is completely accurate. Someone visits your home to have a sleepover and sleep is… well and truly over. My typical girl and her pal do not sleep during the night. My atypical boys are out cold by 10. They share the same bed, parked like railway coaches on sleepers. I sleep briefly here and there, in between whiles. I should be far better at this but I'm not.
I awake, dash down stairs, but I've missed them. The telly is still on, the couch is still warm, but they're back upstairs again. I can hear the floorboards creak as they jump from the mattress on the bed to the mattress on the floor. I run back upstairs to curb the gymnastics. I'm happy for them to expend the energy but I worry about broken limbs.
I learn something new. Having spent half my childhood in Boarding school I thought I was fully equipped with extensive knowledge of what a sleepover entails. My version of an imaginary sleepover would consist of lots of whispering and giggling in the dark, sneaking food out of your tuck box, sweeties under the bedclothes, which all comes to a premature halt with the arrival of Sister in the doorframe. The main problem for me now, is that the current nightmare is not imaginary.
When spouse returns from work at three in the morning, they are still awake. I am semi conscious or more probably semi comatose. He keels over into bed and I dash downstairs again. I've missed it. The evidence of midnight snacks at 2 in the morning is obvious.
I forget that we have lots of 'cool stuff' like the trampolene and a plethora of therapy equipment. By four in the morning I am in need of some serious therapy myself.
I learn a new fact, an unfamiliar definition of being a girl. I fold her Calvin Klein bra and her other discarded clothing stuffed in the corner of the room under a soggy blanket, empty honey stick wrappers and a crushed water bottle. I am perplexed that there should be such a thing as a bra for an eight year old chest, as flat as an ironing board. I am silent on the definition that 'every girl has one! I mean, isn't that what being a girl is all about?' I am fashion challenged and take a dim view of the industry as a whole. Who in their right mind would truss up a child in an additional piece of elastic? I decide that I am even more of a dinosaur that I realized. Caverns of ignorance are opening up to swallow me and we've another seven and a half hours to go.
Later, the same morning, after dawn, daylight approaches.
I spot clean the carpet with my two helpers, as I don't have enough time to shampoo the whole thing.
“What's that one?”
“Honey? You were eating honey last night?”
“We thought it would be less messy.” Less messy that what? Tar and feathers? Her father will be here to collect her shortly. We are ready. I have a sudden flashback. I recall a time when I truly believed that biscuits were a safe and unmessy food, the ideal snack for under the covers and only a few crumbs to worry about. I must have been about twelve. I failed to take account of the fact that they were also made of chocolate and that chocolate was indeed in the messy category. These were the cookie kind of a biscuits rather than the' biscuits and gravy,' kind of a biscuit. I believe I was a bit of a late developer.
The girls sit neatly on the bed coordinating the clean up operation. They are both squeaky clean after their showers. The hot water tank is empty. I think of it as an early warning prior to the teenage years, or if I'm really unlucky, the tween years.
“You missed a bit.” I look up at her from my position on the floor, on all fours with a scrubbing brush in one hand and a bottle of spray cleaner on the other, but the door bell rings. I push the brush into one small pair of hands and the bottle into the other small pair of hands, “there you go, keep it up and you'll be able to be together for another five minutes.” I scarper downstairs to the front door to pick up my props, a shovel and gardening gloves. Just in time I remember to shove on my dark glasses, prescription lenses, as I open the door to greet him.
“Hello! Do come in, they'll be just a couple of moments.” He stands by his daughter's suitcase with all the essentials of existence for 24 hours away from home, when you are eight. I chatter away and avoid eye contact. I call to the girls upstairs at intervals in an annoying sing song tone, “your Dad's here!” but there is no response. I whip of the gloves and drop the shovel, “I'll just go and check how they're getting on,” I add as I escape upstairs.
The girls clutch each other, exchanging the fond farewells of those about to be parted by continents of distance and decades of time. The boys emerge from their bedroom. I can tell that a question is traveling from his brain to his lips. I want to transition the girls out before I can attend to his question, because his questions are always a challenge and I have enough challenges to juggle at the moment.
“Mom?” Too late. He looks at the doll in his hands. His hands pass the doll back to the visitor before she departs. He stands completely still wearing only a pair of Y fronts. The Y is directly in line with his spine. I am so glad that our guest has a brother
“Mom?” Oh no. How long is this going to take?
“If boys…….play……if boys play wiv……….if boys play wiv girlz fings……..” I wait. I try not to hop from one foot to the other. I obliterate the image of the Dad waiting downstairs by the front door wondering if we have all been abducted by aliens in the attic, or alternatively, that we are the aliens that have abducted his daughter. “Do boyz turn…..into girlz?”
“No. No never.” I avoid the trap of 'there is no such thing as girls and boys toys,' as I scurry the girls downstairs. He smiles to greet us. I want to draw him aside and whisper “she told me everything but it's o.k.,” but I don't want to confirm that I am both foreign and mad in one sentence.
“I think your cat is trying to get in?” He points at the glass door. I dash over to the door and out, grab the cat and take two steps to the right where his little personal cat door awaits him. He hates the flap on his delicate little nose. I give him a gentle shove but he goes all Garfield on me, an X splayed on the outside of entrance. I pout as he whips around behind me and furballs through the human door. I follow in defeat.
I remember Dad is still there with his suitcase and his daughter. “Ooo sorry about that,” I blunder.
“It looks like your glasses aren't working.” I blink behind my sunglasses. I suspect I have been caught out. My son appears on the staircase.
“Reactolight!” continues the Dad. Re acto what? The front of my son's body is three steps ahead of his feet, his head is three stairs lower than his toes, the Y front on his bottom is inverted. The Dad glances across at him before explaining, “you glasses aren't responding to the changes in light, they're still dark!” I can already see that my son is brewing up to be both sociable and amiable to our guest. The Dad raises his own glasses to demonstrate what thickie thickie dumb dumb is failing to understand, “when you're outside the glass darkens, when you come back inside they should become light.” He pushes his own glasses back onto the top of his head like a hair band. He massages the back of his neck from the wait and scratches just above his ear. My son presents himself to the Dad, “hi! Do you have “headlights” too?”