Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The first time I had a friend sleep over in high school (after years of not being allowed to have sleepover company), I remember being nervous that we would run out of things to say. For some reason, I thought you had to talk every possible moment of time together, a pause would be too awkward, and so I talked, straight, until we went to sleep. “You’re so chatty,” I heard my mother comment under her breath, and I nodded to myself, pleased at how successful I was on the sleepover.

Sleeping proved to be a much needed break from the struggle of coming up with interesting conversations, and I almost didn’t want to wake up in the morning, so appreciative was I of the ability to rest my voice. But then I figured out bathroom breaks, chewing, and announcing, “Let’s read!” were also nice alternatives to the endless pressure of dialogue. Saturday night, when she packed up and went home, I heaved a great big sigh of relief, welcomed the silence, and researched life on a monastery. I also thought I might never have anyone over again.

By the time I had my next guest, I had graduated from this misconception and became comfortable with silences, but now, almost 20 years later, this fear has resurfaced. Not with my own guests, but with my children’s. I’m not a big fan of children-sleepovers. This may stem from my own previous uncertainties, or from the fact that my mother taught me at a young age that sleepovers are a direct precursor to tantrums. “I’ll bring you your pajamas and a toothbrush, and you can get ready for bed together, and then I will pick you up,” my mom used to bargain. “It will practically be like a sleepover!”

This just wasn’t good enough for me, but I had no choice. She didn’t understand the thrill of falling asleep next to a friend and waking up next to her. Maybe she did, but she knew the consequences were far worse: The bad behavior, sore throat, whining, and tears that always ensued from lack of sleep. I took this lesson and applied it to my own kids, and tried to outlaw them myself. But every now and then, I am lax and allow a friend or two to spend the night, so that I’m not the “worst mother ever,” at least for a few hours. Tonight is one of those nights.

The girl came over after dinner, and, at bedtime, I noticed it is oddly quiet upstairs. I tiptoe into their room, the lights are off and a bedside lamp is on. Both girls are in bed, the guest is reading and my daughter is doing a math workbook for fun. (In case you are thinking, “Wow! What an amazing studious child, I might be interested in adopting her…,” please note, this is not the norm.) I was surprised too, because I could hardly convince her to do regular math homework during the school year without a combination of tears, rolling around on the floor, and many pauses to sharpen pencils. It was probably the friend’s influence, and so that may be a better adoptive option). They were not chatting, screaming, or jumping on beds as I expected. There were no feathers flying, and I didn’t have to remind them to lower their voices. It was going well…too boringly well. I wished they would talk more.

I suppose they fell asleep at some point, though I didn’t feel the need to check before winding down myself. I figured the math was probably a good sleep-soother, and began hoping to incorporate it more into our nightly bedtime routine. I heard them wake up at one point in the middle of the night and there was whispering and soft footsteps, and a toilet flushing, but after that, it was quiet. Too quiet.

My daughter seemed well rested in the morning and she behaved very nicely. She also brought a book to the breakfast table and started reading, and the friend sat quietly, eating cereal. Maybe she ran out things to say and was using my “book” trick, from my high school days, and so I allowed her to continue, as the guest sat on in pensive thought. I knew I was imposing my own “normalcies” on them, and reminded myself that this was comfortable for them, even if wouldn’t be my own standard. But still, in between chews, I felt compelled to talk to fill some of those silences. And then, I too, gave up.

Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living with her husband and four children in Teaneck. She is working on her first book. More of her essays can be read at www.writersblackout.wordpress.com. She can be reached at [email protected]

By Sarah Abenaim

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