Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Reckless Guide to Slumber Party Survival

I have hosted two slumber parties at my home in so many weeks. With two girls, I have held many, many more slumber parties over the years and could not begin to count the sleepovers with one or two friends. And then, I have taken fifteen girls camping in tents. Slept in a museum with another bunch. Counseled a group of ten for a week at summer camp. I have survived. Thus far. Barely. You can to.

As I have related our slumber party stories to friends over the past few weeks, several of you have commented in person that you are concerned for that moment when your little darling asks if she can have a slumber party.

Fear not, young mommies. Reckless to the rescue! While I would not consider myself an expert, I do have some words of wisdom and knowledge I can offer you on this subject. Learn from my pitfalls, avoid my mistakes, and use the lessons I have had to learn the hard way to host the slumber party that makes and keeps everyone happy.

The Rules
1. Never, and I do mean never, over-invite for a slumber party. You may think that if you invite fifteen kids over that surely at least four of them will decline your invite outright and that an additional six will only come for a late-over because you don't know the parents.


All fifteen will say yes. Parents you have never seen before will be dropping their daughters at the curb and booking it out of there at break-neck speed. You will completely understand why they didn't not hesitate to leave their eight year old daughter at a COMPLETE STRANGER'S HOME when you you discover this child wide awake playing loudly with Fisher Price Little People. In the dark. By herself. At four in the morning.

Invite only the ideal number of children. If you listen to nothing else, obey this rule. It is crucial. It will preserve your sanity.

2. Under no circumstances should you think it a fun idea to serve nachos, Dr. Pepper and gummy bears in the same evening. This combination apparently equates to vomit at 1:30 in the morning. I just learned this last Friday night.

However, should you choose to serve this combination of foods or a similar smorgasbord of gastronomical delights, be prepared to be awakened to the sounds of retching, the stench of puke, and a precious little child in tears wanting to go home. All kidding aside, I was so upset that this particular child was not feeling well in my home. She is a doll, and we would have her any time.

My advice here is to not be afraid to call the parents if the child wants to go home to her own mom and her own bed. And ix-nay on the second Dr. Pepper. Even if they are twelve and thirteen.

3. No caffeine. None. No hot chocolate. No colas. And don't forget to read the labels on Sunkist, Sun Drop, Cheerwine, and Barq's root beer. Read all labels.

Eight year olds will literally bounce off the wall and each other until two in the morning if you serve Coke. And since they hear their parents saying that caffeine gets them all hopped up, at your home they will pull out all the stops on this. Some of you may be saying that this is common sense. My kids don't really act like maniacs when they have a Coke because I have allowed them to drink Coke. However, if the children at your home for this slumber party are rarely, if ever, allowed to have a caffeinated beverage, they will be throwing the Cokes back like there is no tomorrow. Trust me. Serve lemonade, Sprite and sneak in some milk and water if you can.

As your child gets older, you can choose to deviate from this rule. However, you must follow it until the majority of the party guests are eleven. Even then, try to monitor the consumption.

4. Do not be naive and think you will actually get some sleep. Be prepared to be up for most of the night. There are some evil parents out there who will tell their children, "You can stay up as late as you want" before they bring them to your home. Ahem... Not at my house, you little disrespectful imp sweetie.

Until they hit ten, you have to warn them that everyone will be expected to stay in her sleeping bag after a certain time. I like midnight, but I do start a movie around 11:30. Midnight is a magic number that eight year olds think ushers them in as big kids. Generally, you will lose one or two as soon as you turn off the lights.

5. And while we are talking about movies... Do not show the movie they are all dying to see. They will stay awake for the whole movie. Choose wisely. Show nothing with even a tinge of scary or creepy. One kid will cry and ask to turn every light in the house on. For the younger set, my personal favorites are the Mary Kate and Ashley "You're Invited" Party series. Order early because these are getting harder and harder to find. Check Amazon and eBay. Or you can borrow from me if you plan in advance. If the kids are exceptionally bad challenging, pull out all the stops and put in Bambi II. It is guaranteed to make them beg to go to sleep.

6. Prepare to have a child who is afraid of the dark and wants all the lights on while the rest of the party is grumbling that they can't go to sleep because so-and-so is a big baby and needs to have all the lights on. Wiggle on down to Walmart or the Dollar Tree and purchase a small flashlight for each party guest. Let them take them to bed with them. They can make cool hand shadows on the wall, and the one kid who is afraid of the dark will feel secure in your home and not be called out by the one little monster you should have known not to invite child who is exceptionally outspoken. The novelty of the flashlight wears off fairly quickly. Make sure to remind the kids not to shine them in one another's eyes.

7. For goodness sake, don't put them to bed without a drink of water. You will get every kid visiting your bedroom threshold one at a time for the next hour and a half telling you that they are thirsty. It's a ploy to stay up later. Don't fall prey to this rookie mistake.

Send each kid to bed with a water bottle with her name on it. If you need a short activity earlier in the evening, you can have them decorate their water bottles with Sharpies and stickers. Be watching for the one child who wants to use the Sharpies to draw herself a mustache and color the entire bottle. I assure you, there will be one.

8.  Don't be afraid to send them outside if it is nice.  Actually, don't be afraid to send them outside even if it is not so nice...  For the younger crew, flashlight tag around 9:00 pm is a really exciting adventure.  Or a flashlight walk around the block or neighborhood.  They are able to get some energy out, and you are able to save your home from an hour or two of destruction.  Making giant sidewalk chalk birthday greetings for the birthday girl is an activity we recently enjoyed.  Treasure hunts with many clues hidden throughout the neighborhood are especially popular.  Have the last clue take them full circle back to your home.      

Scavenger hunts are great for the older set, but be sure to give them specific rules about the number of items they can get from each home and a list that is both lengthy and difficult.  Otherwise, they will be back in fifteen minutes...

9.  Before bedtime and before breakfast, have the kids do a "round up" of personal belongings.  I have never had a slumber party or camp out where something did not get left behind, but helping them straighten up and contain their stuff at least twice does prevent you from having to call every mom asking who is missing a pair of black shoes, Gap panties, a purple hairbrush, DS stylus, and navy soccer shorts. 

10. Get your striped shirt and whistle out because you are going to have to play referee several times throughout the evening.  Slumber parties are replete with drama.  You may have to encourage two or more parties to agree to an armistice for the sake of the birthday girl.  If one of the parties is resisting your well-intentioned mediation attempts, do not be afraid to threaten to call her parents for a pick-up.  The threat is generally all you need to secure peace.

11.  Sometimes you have a group of children who want to go to sleep earlier than the rest of the crowd.  Establish a quiet room.  This room is for the sole purpose of sleeping.  Explain to the girls that the people who enter that room are choosing to go to sleep and do not need to be checked on or visited.

When my twelve year old had a rowdy group of fifteen girls over for her eighth birthday, by the end of the night, we ended up having three different rooms: a ten o'clock quiet room, a midnight quiet room, and the true party animals room.

For camping trips, if you can have a quiet cabin and a not-so-quiet cabin (or tents), this works beautifully.  Make sure all your campers know in advance that they can't complain about noise if they choose the loud cabin nor can they complain about people asking them to be quiet if they choose the quiet cabin.  When they begin to tattle on each other, remind them of the choice they made.  

12. Send them home early.  Don't delude yourself into thinking they will sleep in after they have stayed up until 4:00 am.  They will be up at 6:00.  Do doughnuts, juice, and milk, and get them to packing.  Have them out the door with flashlights and goodie bags in hand by 9:00 am. 

Once the children reach 5th grade, you can extend the party until 11:00 am.  The older girls will generally sleep in if they have stayed up all night.  I give you no guarantees on this though.  Last weekend, two twelve year olds who stayed up until 1:30 am were wide awake at 7:30.  They didn't really get moving until 10, but they were awake. 

There's your basics.  You can do it.  One sleepless, chaos-filled night is worth it for all the smiles and giggles!

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