published Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Kennedy: Dealing with the first sleepover

My first sleepover at a friend's house was in second grade, and the only thing I remember is getting a volcanic tummy ache on canned barbecue.

There's something about that first night away from home -- and away from Mom and Dad -- that sticks in a child's mind.

For the last few weeks, our 7-year-old son had been lobbying to spend a night at a friend's house. Short of us calling his buddies' parents and fishing for an invitation, he had to wait for lightning to strike.

Finally, the long hoped-for text came on Saturday morning. Would he like to come over and watch movies, play at the creek and -- here's the glory part -- SLEEP OVER?

"Yes, yes, yes," my son announced, breaking into the happy dance.

As any good, caring parents would do, his mother and I seized the opportunity for extortion.

"Would he promise to try to make it all the way through the night?" we asked.

"Yes, yes, yes."

"Would he promise to be civil during the pre-departure shower and face scrub?"

"Yes, yes, yes."

"Would he brush his teeth at bedtime?"

"Yes, yes, yes."

"Would he be nice to his brother all day leading up to his departure?"

"Yes, yes, yes."

I thought about holding out for, "Will you promise to put off getting a driver's license until age 21?" But I didn't press.

Our son is at that animated age when he sometimes overflows with happiness. He has two oversized front teeth and a turned-up nose that make him look like a child of Whoville. In fact, he could pass for Cindy Lou Who's twin brother. (When I shared this observation with him, he punched me.)

An hour before he was to be off to his friend's house, he joined me on the couch and pulled up an ottoman. Then, without prompting, he neatly laid out his carefully folded sleepover clothes for inspection, like a clerk at the Gap.

Pajama top and bottom. Check.

Clean underwear. Check.

Clothes for church the next morning. Check.

Toothbrush. Check.

iPad. Check. (For those of you without small children, tablet computers are the new teddy bears.)

At about 5 p.m., his mother delivered him to the friend's house and we immediately ran for the hills -- in this case, a rare dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

"What are the odds he'll stay all night?" I asked as we waited for a table. "50-50?"

My wife was noncommittal. "I don't know," she said.

After dinner, we went shopping at Hamilton Place mall, and then headed home about 8:30 p.m. We were cresting the Ridge cut when my wife's cell phone rang.

"It's him," she said, smiling and answering the phone.

"Hey buddy, are you having fun?" she asked.

"Yes," he said meekly.

"Are you getting sleepy?" she asked.

"Yes," he said wearily.

"Are you ready to go to bed?" she asked hopefully.

Long silence.

"Buddy, are you still there?"

More silence.

"Do you need to come home?"

"Yes," he whispered grimly.

"You better go get him," I injected. "Otherwise, he'll keep them up all night."

And so he made it home by 9 p.m. and immediately fell asleep on the couch. As I looked at his angelic face, it occurred to me that this boy will be welcome on my couch at age 7 or 27. Later, I carefully carried him upstairs to his room.

A few hours later, he appeared at the foot of our king-size bed, carrying a pillow over his shoulder.

"Come on," I said, throwing back the sheets. "Get in."

I didn't even try to fake disappointment. There's something special about a youngest child. They always sense that you're not quite ready for them to grow up.

And they're always right.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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