Gertie has just experienced what by a rough calculation must be her tenth sleepover. Her fifth birthday was the turning point, and then it somehow became acceptable over night. Literally. She has two 'best' friends and they take it in turns. Last night Jessie came to stay with us. There was nail-painting, brother-baiting and hair-plaiting.
There were also some strange requests. Some things that she wouldn't dare to ask normally. Like, "Mummy, can we go and play with your make-up as Jessie's here?" And, "Mummy, is it ok if we take some food up into the bedroom while Jessie's here?" Um. Let me think about both those things for not very long. NO. And I managed to skirt the staying up late and watching a DVD issue by happily not being able to get the DVD player to work.
By midnight they were still talking. I was a little bit grumpy. This morning I have found the remnants of the feast stuffed under pillows - tell tale chocolate wrappers and crisp packets (so much for no food in the bedroom).
They then had the audacity to come running into our room at too-early o'clock because the brothers had woken them up too early in the morning. I don't think they fully appreciated the irony. Now that Jessie has gone home, Gertie is curled up on the complaining about being too tired.
Gilby is five in a few months time. He's too dependent to really enjoy a sleepover yet, I think. He got excited about it, and then when I mentioned that it would be his turn soon he quickly found lots of reasons why it shouldn't happen. I think I agree with him. I certainly don't remember sleepovers as a regular thing at that age.
As a child, sleepovers fell into two categories. The first meant staying at my grandparents' house as a matter of necessity because my parents needed childcare. This was a fairly regular occurrence, good fun, and is associated in my mind with plenty of treats, a change of books and toys, and some privileges appropriately afforded to being the eldest child. (Like being able to stay up a bit later than my siblings.)
The second kind, with friends, were rare and precious. I can remember only about five occasions, although I'm sure there must have been more. I recall late nights with my friend Liz, stashed food, the intimacy of whispered conversations, the strange noises of the fabric of someone else's house. Scary stories and giggled secrets. I must have been twelve or thirteen, I think. And I suspect that I asked of my parents things that were usually not allowed on the off-chance that they might be because Liz was there.
On my fifteenth birthday I had tickets for Bon Jovi for myself and a bunch of friends. Mum drove us up to London in a minibus, and there must have been at least eight of us. Because we would get home so late, everyone had brought sleeping bags for a sleepover on my bedroom floor. Bundles of bodies arranged haphazardly all over the room. 'Sleepover' was a misnomer, because in the adrenalin-fueled aftermath of the concert very little sleep happened. But I have never forgotten it. Come to think of it, I think my mum might have come in slightly crossly at about 2am because there was too much noise.
So perhaps the only thing that's changed about sleepovers is indeed the frequency. And perhaps not even that; maybe these magical nights seem far fewer in my own childhood just because they were so special. Sigh. And what would I do on a sleepover now? Probably catch up on some sleep...
Currently reading: Goldfinch by Donna Tartt