Sleepovers offer reprieve for weary parents

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Dec. 19, 2013

Sleepovers offer parents full reprieve

For those who aren’t raising a “spirited” child, there is no way to understand the power of a simple phone call or text to change the course of a day, if not an entire weekend.

“Can little Susie spend the night?”

It’s the sleepover, that magical night of furlough. It’s as though the governor has called with a full pardon and the noose of parenthood has been lifted from our exhausted necks. The sleepover is what allows us to unbuckle and move about the cabin at will.

My daughter’s name isn’t even “Susie,” but I’m willing to let her go with whomever this is on the other end of the line if it means I can eat dinner out without so much as a glance at the children’s menu, if I can watch prime-time television without interruption, if I can read through an entire chapter of a book without a single footnote of exasperation.

I see all of this as possibility when my wife reads the text and then holds it out to me like the winning lottery ticket, the glow from the phone warm and welcome on my face.

“Who is Susie?” I ask.

“Tonight, our daughter is Susie.”

And we’re off to the races. Or to Overton Square for a cocktail at the newest bar. Or to the opening reception at an art gallery. What do people without such a child do? Movie? Dinner and drinks? Or maybe just sit in my house and listen to so much silence all around me, stream a movie without the buffering of need that presents itself every 10 minutes. Who knew the volume on a television could go down?

What about simultaneous sleepovers with all four children? Let’s not even get my hopes up. The three children left behind are inconsequential in the spirited sense, anyway. Mostly self-sufficient, they can reach the food and operate a microwave with minimal trouble. They’re content with their own books, their own television shows and, truth be told, with the silence granted by those other unselfish parents.

It’s reciprocal on our part as well. We’ve bestowed such child-free nights on others with a simple text requesting their own little Susie’s presence. It is an awesome power to be able to resuscitate another couple’s life and imagine the economic stimulation we’re injecting into the local entertainment economy.

My wife’s phone is scarcely back in her purse before tires screech in the driveway and an urgent knock sounds at the door. We open it to find someone else’s sweet and spirited child on the front porch, a toothbrush dangling from a cord around her neck and pillow under her arm. The parents are already in line for popcorn at the nearest Malco theater.

We don’t blame them; everyone needs a break. It’s hard and tiring work being a parent. And it’s good to be the compassionate governor for a night. We’ll get our turn again in a week. Two weeks? Please?

You never know when the call may come; it’s like a shooting star or a celebrity sighting. It shouldn’t be taken for granted because it could be revoked at any time. Until it comes again, I’ll be reading little Susie a book, singing her a song, telling her a story or . . . was that my phone?

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal