As Mr Justice was packing for his First Ever Official Sleepover yesterday afternoon, he made a point of putting his “Big Book of Knowledge” in his bag. As he did it, he turned to me and said “Do you know why I like to pack my ‘Big Book of Knowledge’ when I go on sleepovers?” (as if it’s something he does all the time).
No, I replied. Why do you pack it?
“Because if I see an animal that looks dangerous in the night, I can look it up. It might turn out to be a nice animal and it would be a shame to kill it.”
And so, after almost six and a half years of being a Mum, I found myself dropping my extremely well-prepared son off at his First Ever Official Sleepover. Of course, I’d forgotten to pack his toothbrush but that was neither here nor there as far as Mr Justice was concerned – a toothbrush wasn’t going to be much cop at ID-ing potential predators. Unless, of course, they were caught in his teeth.
In anycase, toothbrush or no, Master L (his host for the evening) greeted him with great enthusiasm at the front door. Immediately the two boys ran off to talk Vulture Droids™ and Sith Infiltrators™ or other such whimsical and heavily trade-marked Six-Year-Old Boy Stuff. Which left me to walk home by myself feeling that final tug and then sudden twang as those apron strings joining us finally snapped. Ah, I sighed. My little boy is growing up…
I guess I was feeling it all the more because it’s been a big week for First Official Sleep-Overs in our household. Just last weekend, my husband and I spent the night in a city hotel away from the kids – the first time we’d both been away from them in almost six and a half years. Now before anyone goes ringing Social Services, I should add that we left the children in the loving and diligent care of my dear friend KT – who conceived, planned, executed and even paid for part of this Ultimate Sleep-Over as a surprise for me. And all because she’s that kind of friend.
She also knows me very well. The surprise element was essential because I would never have agreed to it up front, thinking it was way too much to ask of anyone to feed, bath, read to and tuck in my children and then go on to provide through-the-night bedside service (Lord knows it’s almost too much to ask of me and my husband most evenings). Still, once she’d got me to reluctantly agree to let her mind the kids in the afternoon and at bedtime while my husband and I went out for a movie/dinner combo, getting me to agree to the Sleep-Over thing was relatively easy – especially since I only found out about it after I’d already had my first taste of freedom (if not champagne).
And in any case, once I got over the surprise, it was really very fun. And then some. We rapidly constructed ourselves a busy schedule of hedonism, including tapas and champagne at one place, nachos and margheritas at another, and sashimi and sake at a third. Slotted in there too was a trip to the cinema, though our choice of film (“I Have Loved You So Long”) was the mood-killing equivalent of seeing “Fatal Attraction” on a first date. Luckily some quirkily-named cocktails at a basement bar soon got us back in the swing of things, as quirkily-named cocktails often do.
But then later on that night, I found myself being repeatedly woken by the overwhelming silence and the thought of Tiddles McGee calling for me in the darkness and me not being there. I cursed the Mother’s Lot to endlessly yearn for our freedom but then, the minute we get it, to long even more for what we’ve left behind. Or maybe that’s just me, all tangled up in apron strings as I am.
Still, what’s done has been done and can’t be undone. I see now that my child-bearing days are behind me and my child-rearing days stretch out in a scarily finite way in front of me. The inevitable (and necessary) separation process has truly begun – it may take years and it will never really truly finish (not at my end, I suspect) but at least I know there’s some fun in it for me (thank you, dear KT). And when I go to pick up my firstborn son in a few hours time from his First Official Sleep-Over, I shall welcome him like a returning hero and hug him tight and be so very glad that he’ll be back in his bed tonight. These are such precious nights, these ones with us all under the same roof (through-the-night bedside service and all). I just hope I get enough sleep every once in a while to enjoy them more.