This is the second part of an article that began with a debate over birthday party dilemmas and plans for a new kind of party.
So my 7-year-old’s sleepover party is set: the RSVPs are in (two friends will join Sofia and her sister), the groceries are bought, and the goodie bags are ready.
Compared to the weeks of preparation that usually go into a traditional party with many more guests, I love the fact that I can put off most of the work until the day of.
The morning of the party, I make a quadruple batch of bon-bons and icing.
The house doesn’t have to be spotless, but we clean the bathrooms as usual. In the afternoon, we put up a few banners, blow up some balloons, set the table, add two chairs, and set a vase of tulips in the middle.
Dinner is prepped too: I wash the kale, Sofia grates the parmesan cheese, and 6-year-old Virginia cuts up the strawberries. We are ready.
5:30 p.m. | Arrival and Free Play
Our guests arrive: the parents stay for a bit to chat, but soon they are off to enjoy a quiet(er) night. The party has officially begun.
The girls immediately start putting on all sorts of wacky get-ups from the dress-up bin and acting out a scenario where two town sisters rescue two country sisters lost in the woods. Amazing: no jumping off the bunk bed, tearing around the house, or other mischief-making.
I am busy cooking, as I usually am at that hour, and feeling almost blissful. This is great, I think: the girls are playing nicely and I’m going about my usual ways. We’re eating favorite family dishes at our normal dinnertime: so far no major hardship.
6:10 p.m. | Dinner
We are able to fit our two guests at the dinner table so we all eat together. Sofia’s friends like our creamy pasta, but don’t wolf down the kale chips “like Doritos” as Sofia and her sister do. Oh well, an effort for a balanced meal was made.
Sofia’s little sister, Virginia, is palpably thrilled about how things are going: ”This is the best night I’ve ever heard of,” she announces at the dinner table.
The conversation is civilized and even sweet:
“How many grandparents do you have?”
“Before I knew you guys, I thought you were mean.”
“I pretend pasta is money and that helps me eat faster.”
Nonetheless, dinner is a bit rushed as one of Sofia’s friends finishes quickly and is raring for the next activity. I quickly clear the plates and bring out the strawberries.
The ring-shaped raspberry jello is a hit — everyone wants seconds. (Note to self: Skip the jello molds next time, which spilled all over the counters, stovetop and fridge, and then were difficult to release from the molds.)
6:45 p.m. | Fastest Pajama Change Ever
After dinner the girls want to get into pajamas. Great! Whenever I bring up the idea, it’s like I suggested eating worms.
7:00 p.m. | Decorating Cookies
While the girls start arranging their sleeping bags on the living room floor, I get the table ready for cookie decorating: a bowl of 96 cookies and 4 small bowls of white icing, which each girl can color.
While everyone else is carefully dipping the bon-bons in icing and sprinkling daintily, our high-energy guest is almost frantic, quickly dunking cookie after cookie, then dumping as many sprinkles as possible (and even when not possible, judging by the amount that just bounce off onto the floor).
I try to smile and breathe deeply, reminding myself that fixing the situation simply means buying more sprinkles and intensifying the clean-up.
7:30 p.m. | Movie
While I clean up, the girls watch The Lion King, Sofia’s all-time favorite. Two-year-old Mark is a bit noisy, but the girls are tolerant and half-way through, I put him to bed without too much of a fuss.
Things are going so according to plan at this point that I start feeling victorious. So far everyone is well-behaved and I find the homey, familial quality of the party endearing.
I’m feeling so rosy that I even imagine how nice it would be to have my teenagers’ parties here at home, where I can keep an eye on them and, you know, be like one big happy family.
9:00 p.m. | Storytime
However, the fact that Sofia still wants me to read her a story underlines how young she still is (and how unlikely it would be that she, as a teenager, would want to have a slumber party where kids decorate cookies, eat with the family and play dress-up).
Nonetheless, it’s touching how each girl chooses a picture book for me to read together on the big couch. (Sofia wants us to climb into the master bed together, but hubby — who is working in the bedroom — puts a damper on that one.)
9:30 p.m. | Get Ready for Bed
The lightning-fast getting ready part is almost reason enough to repeat a slumber party. The toothbrushing and bathroom-going is so quick that I wonder if it is really accomplished, but I’m not about to inspect everyone. After all, it’s just one night.
9:45 p.m. | Chat (and More…)
Sofia had specified that she wanted to chat with her friends in bed, and even this seems to be going according to plan. The four girls turn out all the lights, pull out their flashlights, and get into their sleeping bags.
I should have known that the looseness of the term “chat” and the fact that there is no “next activity” to segue into would be a problem. Thinking they would just tire out and eventually fall asleep was delusional on my part.
First Sofia asks me if they can talk about “potty words” (previously outlawed in our household due to prolonged and extreme overuse). I think it’s cute that she asks my permission, and once again, I apply the “what the hay?” mantra and give it the OK.
The poopie and wee-wee talk goes on for about 1/2 hour then — instead of winding down — things start ramping up. I’m in my room trying to read when it seems they start playing with balloons, and then a game I wouldn’t have allowed if I had known: putting sleeping bags over their heads and trying to walk around.
This period also involves about 8 group trips to the bathroom.
When the increasingly rambunctious party starts to move to the girls’ bedroom, just one room away from mine, I put my foot down.
10:34 p.m. | Back to Chatting
The girls are corralled back to the living room and told they are to stick to the plan: conversation only. After all, the party has been going on for 5 hours already, and I’m ready for it to wrap up for the night.
10:58 p.m. | Only Whispering
The talk is anything but tapering off, and I’m starting to get really sleepy. Knowing I still have a big morning ahead of me, I tell them that only whispering is allowed now.
11:16 p.m. | Forget Whispering, Just Be Quiet
The whispering thing doesn’t work. Given that it is past 11, I decide it’s better to use the word “quiet” instead of “whisper.”
11:32 p.m. | No Change in Noise Level: Warning 1
Pulling in the big guns: ”If you guys can’t be quiet, you’ll have to be separated.”
11:40 p.m. | Hubby Intervenes: Warning 2
Heretofore holed up in his room in front of a glowing screen, hubby goes to investigate when we hear loud talking in the girls’ bedroom. Sofia and a friend were getting electric shocks and itches from the sleeping bags, so they moved into the bunk beds.
11:52 p.m. | Warning 3: Final Intervention
More talking in the girls’ bedroom and we can’t sleep. The last guest has joined her friends in the bedroom (while Virginia is fast asleep in the living room).
11:57 p.m. | Unfamiliar Noises in the Household
A friend’s incessant coughing makes it hard to fall asleep. This one big happy family thing requires a little adjustment.
12:08 a.m. | All is Quiet
6:33 a.m. | Giggling in the Bathroom
The girls are told it’s too early, go back to sleep.
The girls are up.
7:01 a.m. | Opening Presents
Sofia opens her friends’ presents, one of them being a board game which they embark upon immediately.
I start making coffee and breakfast.
7:30 a.m. | A Schism in the Party
Two of the girls are bored with the game and want to do something else. I feel obligated to find a solution and start to get out the craft project, but backtrack when I realize we need the table, which is set for breakfast, as well as an activity to fill the rest of the morning. Luckily breakfast is almost ready.
7:45 a.m. | Breakfast
I put 8 candles in Sofia’s croissant, since she’s not a cake person and the bon-bons are too small, and we sing happy birthday and eat pancakes, fruit and croissants. The restless guest is done in 5 minutes and ready for the next thing.
We still have more than 2 hours left to go.
The girls remark at how fun it was wearing sleeping bags on their heads. I nix the activity (it’s only fun until someone loses an eye), but allow them to do it if they crawl only.
Crawling down hallways in sleeping bags and other giggly games take over.
8:45 a.m. | Mom Sneaks a Shower
Knowing I’d have to greet parents soon, I leave the party in hubby’s hands and get ready quickly.
9:00 a.m. | Dressing and Packing Up
With only an hour left of the party, I tell the girls they need to get dressed and packed up before we can do the final activity: making Valentine’s cards.
Things have somehow deteriorated, which I notice when one girl asks for a hair band and Sofia snaps at her, annoyed at her simple request. Surely tired after only 6 hours of sleep, but no excuse for being mean, I reprimand her and try to force her to shape up.
The situation worsens as the party breaks into two camps: Sofia and her best friend, and the now third-wheel friend and Virginia, who identifies with being “annoying.”
9:15 a.m. | Valentine’s Craft
Two more serious private talks from me and my husband with Sofia, who is defensive and unapologetic. The girls throw themselves into the craft activity, and just moments before the party is over, Sofia pulls it together and speaks kindly to her friend.
10:00 a.m. | Pick up & Party Over
Even though things have been rudimentarily patched up between Sofia and her friend, I feel sad as we say good-bye to the two girls. My daughter’s incomprehensible behavior (and the antics of the night before) have left me feeling both edgy and empty.
Big surprise: it is a birthday party, after all.
Same Party, Different Highlights
Clearly the best part of the party — for me — was from 5:30 to 10, when we had back-to-back planned activities. For my daughter the best part was “nighttime” — when they had more freedom to act wild and crazy.
This conflict of interest gives one pause in planning future parties.
You Can’t Beat the Cost: Under $20
With recycled decor, left-over supplies, and the minimal amount of food these little girls ate, the cost of the party was next to nothing. We did spend $7 on flowers and about $5 on the goodie bags, which my daughter made from red paper lunch bags, and which included the girls’ cookie and craft creations.
Annoyance Factor: The Piper Has to Be Paid
While requiring no schlepping, coordinating, herding kids, or putting on a show for parents, the sleepover’s length, the stickiness of small group dynamics, and the inevitable lack of sleep made it just as exhausting as any other party.
Coziness at a Price
Having the party at home also involved its pros and cons. Easy-going, comfortable and contained as it was, the party did require a lot of clean up. Between dinner, decorating cookies, breakfast and making crafts, I vacuumed three times, and still found more to sweep up days later.
What I’d Do Differently
Number of Guests
Three is a tough number. On the one hand, it meant that Sofia’s sister was not the fifth wheel, and it was quite satisfying seeing her included like one of the gang. Inviting three or more friends would have meant more to handle, but perhaps would have eased the social drama at the end.
Perhaps something to try would be to invite only one best friend, although this would change the tenor from a party to just a sleepover.
Assume kids are going to get up early and end the party earlier. A 9 a.m. end time would have been plenty.
Tire Them Out, Somehow
While this is not possible living in a New York apartment building, my mom suggested trying to expend some of that crazy energy by having the kids do some strenuous outdoor activity beforehand.
Part of the beauty of the sleepover concept is that it’s all so contained (physically, anyway), but something to consider if you have a backyard.
Final Judgment: Would I Do It Again?
I could veto birthday parties, of course, but the truth is, there’s something about parties that makes me want to fall for them over and over.
Maybe it’s my party girl past, or just that parties are frivolous and color-rich pursuits that transport us from the routine of daily life. Besides, what parent doesn’t love to make her children feel happy and special?
Given that this sleepover cost at least 10 times less than a normal party and it wasn’t that much more stressful, it’s hard to rule it out as a party concept.
I can’t say I’ll ever become one of those brave mamas who invites 12 teenagers into her house for a slumber party, but then again — I should know by now, you can never say never.
Have you ever hosted a sleepover or sleepover party? What is your take?