Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Spontaneous end game

Many parents aren't as enthused by their tweens' tendency toward "spontaneity." Usually because their spontaneous good ideas tend to have a rather calculated feel.

EB is notorious for the spontaneous "let's have a sleepover!" I'm told by other moms that this sudden inspiration happens in their homes too. I contend the "let's have a sleepover" sudden idea is as authentic as those old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movies where the "let's put on a show!" idea improbably spits out a full-fledged Broadway-caliber, effortless production. Or closer to this century, the Glee run-throughs where everything is pitch and picture perfect the first time.

But our children are clever in their devious designs. One friend, who is Chinese, picked up her daughter and a friend from school, only to have her daughter address her in Mandarin to ask about having her friend over. My friend was so shocked, she answered her in English, "Why are you speaking to me in Chinese?" Because said daughter never, ever, spoke to her parents in Chinese, although she knows it. But she wanted to pull a fast one with inviting a friend without prior permission.

EB did a number like that recently when she called me at work to ask about having a friend sleep over that night. Now, she and her friend had just gone to the movies and come back to the house, door-to-door service, movie tickets and amenities courtesy of dear old Dad. But Ariel's parents had gone to a party that night and fully expected to have their daughter dropped off at her house. EB felt badly about Ariel being alone and the two decided it was a perfect night for a sleepover.

Now I have solid rules for sleepovers. I have to know the parents, they have to know me, and everyone needs to be on board with drop off and pick up times. And if there isn't so much as a toothbrush packed, there is no sleepover. Ariel didn't have any extra clothes or pajamas, which wouldn't have been a problem  (and truthfully we also keep extra new toothbrushes), but although Dad had met the parents that evening, I hadn't. And EB knew she was violating the rules. Still, she wouldn't ask her dad, who would have been the one in charge. She pulled a end-around, figuring I would say yes and then she could make her case to the other parent who was actually home.

Yet, when I said no, she wanted to argue. Now I'm in a deadline business and I wasn't wasting time explaining the rules she's known her whole life. Plus, she was sneaky in that she didn't trust her dad would say yes. For her it's a balancing act. She has to figure out which parent at what time will be the softer touch. Just as my husband and I take turns being the bad guy, we also take turns being the pushover. But I wasn't budging on this one. Ariel went home after her parents returned (after the drama of leaving her keys and phone at our house and initially having no way to get in).

The next day, I told EB I was well aware of her little plan. She just smiled, then acknowledged she didn't think her dad would say yes, so she tried me first. Truth be told, unless it's a relative or a friend she's known forever, I would never approve a sleepover if I'm not there. I need to know the parents. Period. And we're not pulling off a production in 10 minutes. We've had this conversation many times.

I understand the sentiment. They were having a great time together and didn't want the good time to end. Ariel is a new friend, but these things don't always end well. Once I was talked into a spontaneous sleepover at a friend's house after they had spent the day at an amusement park. By the time EB got home the next day, she was barely speaking to her former BFF. Her friend insisted on sleeping with the television on all night, so EB couldn't get a decent night's sleep, was rude to her, etc. Truthfully, they were both overtired and should have called it a day after the amusement park. There is wisdom in leaving people wanting more, not less.

One day there will undoubtedly be a sleepover with Ariel, and any of her other new friends. After I've met the parents, and after it's been in the works for more than 10 seconds. And I have to be home. That little end-around game of going to the parent who won't be affected for permission? I'm sure I'll see that maneuver many more times. That's OK. She'll start getting better at calculated "spontaneity." But then, so will we.

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