Monday, May 23, 2011

Not-quite-full house

Tim was thrilled with the plan for his friend Austin’s 12th birthday party on Saturday night: laser tag at a nearby entertainment facility, pizza and ice cream for dinner, flashlight tag in the yard after dinner, and then hunkering down in sleeping bags with a bunch of his favorite guys. Past experience caused him to suspect waffles and bacon would likely appear at breakfast time, too.

So I can’t use any apprehensions on Tim’s part as an excuse for my own edginess as I locked up our house before going to bed on Saturday. I always get a little edgy when either of the kids is away for the night, even though I tell myself I shouldn’t.

Tim wasn’t far away, and he was in a house I knew well with a family I knew well. He was just as safe and sound there as at home, and I’m not by nature a worrier anyway. Besides, I love the idea of sleepovers. I have so many happy memories of sleepovers with friends from my own childhood. I should celebrate Tim’s opportunity to do this.

And yet when one family member is out of the house for the night, things just don’t feel quite right.

It’s a little hypocritical of me, because in theory I love the idea of the kids going off to do things without us. Not because I want to be rid of them but because I want them to have that kind of life, one replete with outside influences and opportunities to try different options. Growing up, even without traveling far I learned so much about diversity on the most granular level by spending time with families other than my own: families I babysat for, friends’ families, even relatives. I like it when my kids come home from sleepovers with interesting observations about a household practice or tradition different from our own.

But at the same time, it unnerves me just a little when I don’t know where they are or how they are doing. Walking past their empty bedrooms at night gives me a pang of anxiety: why aren’t they here at home in bed? Well, because they’re sleeping somewhere else for one night. And there’s really nothing wrong with that. Some parents whose children cannot experience simple joys like sleepovers, for any of a variety of reasons, yearn for the pleasure of knowing their child has been invited to a slumber party.

So I try to suppress my mild anxiety as I lock the front door and check that the oven is off. Barring unforeseen problems, Tim will be home in the morning, happy and tired, brimming with tales of the party but also glad to be home. I’ll be glad to have him home, too. Seeing your children head out for a night or two is a positive thing, but welcoming them home is even better, and it’s wonderful to know that chances are, all four of us will go to sleep under the same roof tonight.

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