We scurry about BG’s room, gathering up various pens, pencils, metallic paint pens and scraps of paper. We WILL deliver that autograph on Monday morning. We scatter about the room, each of us intensely practicing our Olivia Newton-John autograph. Every few minutes someone will say “I got it!” and hold up their specimen only to crumple onto the floor in failure after close inspection. The problem is that all of us write like third graders because….we are third graders. We must employ someone who doesn’t write like a child. BG’s brother is out because even though he is in fifth grade, his chicken scratch looks worse than ours does, and also we don’t want to interrupt the I’ll-impress-them-with-my-weightlifting session he is doing in his room with the door open just for our benefit.
We know that BG’s mom won’t sign for us because she is a very uptight and serious woman so our only hope is her dad. We sit around and try to figure out how we will get him to sign this autograph without having to fill him in on the whole story. We know he won’t be a willing accomplice if he knows we are plotting against this particular neighbor because they are golf buddies. No one comes up with a good plan, so we continue to practice our fraudulent signatures. Our scheming is interlaced with a series of phone calls from both sides, in which the calling party quickly hangs up after the phone is answered. Two hours into the war, the phone calls mercifully come to a standstill. Lucky for us because this is the same time that BG’s mom calls us all back into the dining room for more birthday festivities.
We traipse back to our seats with the only light being the glow from the nine candles that are sticking up out of the Rainbow Brite adorned cake. We sing “Happy Birthday” to Birthday Girl and she blows out the candles, probably spraying her pizza sauce flecked spittle all over the cake, which I am now supposed to excitedly eat. It’s hard eating something that someone has spit on when your mind works the way mine does. But I know that this is all protocol and it would be rude to not partake so I try to scrape off the top layer of icing (using the real excuse that icing makes me sick) and eat the rest while distracting myself with the pile of gifts that have now been placed in the center of the table.
We chatter on, talking faster and overlapping as the sugar hits our system and the plates are taken into the kitchen to clear the way for the gift opening ritual. BG’s dad gets out his huge 35mm camera and positions himself on the opposite side of the room, ready to click every moment of unwrap. We all watch as BG’s mom picks up each gift, asking who it is from and then repeating what was just said, as if she is speaking a language that is foreign to BG and so must have an interpreter.
BG opens the first card with a look of disappointment as no money comes fluttering down. She pretends to read the card and places it on the table, making eye contact with the giver as she carefully begins to unwrap the affiliated gift.
A Hello Kitty statione
ry set! Complete with fruit-scented markers and tiny envelopes!
“Thank you so much! I love it!” says BG, a little too fervently, making me wonder if she really does love it or is trying not to hurt the giver’s feelings.
By the fifth gift, BG has thrown out all gift opening etiquette. She opens the cards just long enough to wait for the cash to fall out (if there is any) not reading the card at all and then tears into the neatly wrapped presents, barely hiding her disenchantment as she is given things that she didn’t really want. The dining room floor and table are both covered in colorfully crinkled paper.
The take was huge. Along with the stationery set, BG’s loot included: Three packages of dessert shaped novelty erasers, a stuffed unicorn, a fake gold bracelet with her named etched on it, a Hello Kitty mini purse, two ET posters, an ice cream cone pillow for her bed, a basket of various gummy candies, three pairs of Jem socks (truly outrageous), my Rainbow Brite paint by number kit, a monkey puppet with googly eyes, and from her parents, a Michael Jackson doll, complete with sequined glove (which was actually a sequined mitten. I remember this because I also got an MJ doll for my birthday and was very frustrated when I saw that not only was it a mitten, but once taken off, it was nearly impossible to put back onto his tiny microphone-clutching hand.)
We helped BG take the loot back into her bedroom. Everyone oohed and aahed and passed the presents around for post-giving examination. Having long given up our quest for the perfect autograph, we finished watching and singing along to Grease and then head back into the living room where BG’s dad has fallen asleep in his favorite recliner while watching the sports recap on the news. He jumps awake as he hears the group descending upon him like a herd of girly geese. BG asks if we can watch a movie and he says, “yes”, stumbling out of his recliner, wishing us a good night and retiring to his room.
As soon as the coast is clear, BG punches the buttons on the giant remote and suddenly we are watching a horror movie about a Medusa-like villain with live snakes sticking up all over her head. We unroll our sleeping bags and huddle together, munching on gigantic bowls of chips and pretzels, even though thirty minutes earlier we had finished off two-thirds of a pizza-sauce-spittle-flecked sheetcake. At some point during the evening our numbers have dwindled for a few different reasons: someone got homesick, someone got mad and was still pouting in the bathroom, and someone threw up (I usually fell into this category if I ended up leaving the party. Pizza sauce did not and still doesn’t sit well with my stomach.) No slumber party is without drama in one or more of these categories. Someone will always be crying or sick or just grumpy.
Soon after the movie began, the weaker girls start drifting off into dreamland as the stronger ones are enraptured by the movie (or in my case, just too scared to fall asleep around this group of girls for fear that they might do something mean to me, as I have often heard rumors that this was their M.O.) Out of fear that this monster might somehow jump out of the console television and into our lives, no one says a word as our eyes are glued to the screen, periodically jerking our heads around to see what made the noise behind us.
By the end of the movie, I am the only one still alert. I look at the sleeping bodies that surround me and I am suddenly very awake and very aware of how much my tummy hurts from the acidic pizza sauce I devoured earlier. Great. Not only am I wide awake but I am also in severe pain. I lay there very still, trying not to move because one of the girls, in her sleep has taken me on as a stuffed animal and has her arm draped over my neck with her face a mere two inches from my own. I can smell her Doritos breath and I suddenly make note that Doritos breath is very similar to the breath you have after you throw up. It’s doubly horrible when it’s being piped directly into your nostrils.
Fully awake and in severe stomach pain, I lay there for the rest of the night, trying to fall asleep but unable to because my mind is now wandering around like a kid unsupervised in the hallways of my mind. My thoughts drift from focusing on remaining still to avoid an awkward moment for myself (the living teddy bear substitute) and the hugger to mentally willing the hours til morning to fly by so that I can pack up my gear and go home. Just as I am thinking I might have to initiate a move and wake her, the hugger changes position and I am free. I quickly take advantage of the freedom and get up to go use the bathroom, which I forgot to do earlier because I was trying to seem as if I was really into the movie.
Upon my return I grab a magazine out of the rack and situate myself in the recliner. It is here that I remain until morning. One by one, starting with BG, the girls begin to stir and sit up. They look around at each other, doing those slow blinks that you do when you’re not yet fully conscious. No one speaks for several minutes. Finally someone asks me how long I’ve been awake and I tell them I never went to sleep. No one says it but you can tell they all think I’m some sort of nocturnal weirdo. BG clicks the tv on and we all just settle back into staring at the Smurfs while we (or those of us who slept) are trying to gather our bearings.
Slowly we all begin to come out of our sleep stupor (although mine would be a lack of sleep stupor). The back door opens and BG’s dad pops in with a giant box of donuts from the bakery and two gallons of chocolate milk. We grab our donuts and go back to the Smurfs. After the sugary goodness of the donuts has had time to hit our system and begin to flow through our veins, we began to talk to each other. Soon everyone is chattering and laughing but no one mentions the night before.
For some reason, at every sleepover I’ve ever been to, there is that morning weirdness. Everyone remembers everything that happened the night before but there is that underlying knowingness about not talking about it. No one talks about the sudden departure of the homesick. No one talks about how we heard her dad going about his business quite loudly in the bathroom. No one mentions the lengthy conversations about boys. No one says a word about our phone war with the other sleepover. We flit around these topics the morning after and no one knows why. We all know that we remember the previous evening but we pretend, for now, not to. Secretly though, we have stored away the entire evening.
Parents begin to filter in to pick up their daughters. Girls gather their possessions and scramble to the car to wait while her mom has a long drawn-out conversation with BG’s mom. She is nearly asleep by the time her mother gets into the car and zooms home. And each and every girl will spend the afternoon recuperating in front of the tv, drifting in and out of much-needed sleep.
Sleepovers are an essential element of growing up as a girl. Love them or hate them, you must at some point participate. While the details vary, the vital elements of a sleepover NEVER change:
Someone will always end up in tears.
Someone will always go home sick.
There will always be pizza for supper and donuts for breakfast.
There will always be at least one time when the party is divided into an argument and people take sides, with the Host always being the one to be the mediator.
Boys will always be discussed.
And come Monday morning, the hallways of the school will be filled with exaggerated accounts of the party and how much fun was had (in order to make the other sleepover jealous of what they missed).
But no one will ever mention the non-existent Olivia Newton John concert.
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