Monday, January 28, 2013


Many, many years ago, when I was young, single and living in a small desert town in southern California, a tragedy happened that still leaves me cold.

A little girl convinced her protective mother to let her spend the night across the street at her best friend's house. The mother, who had always said no, finally relented and the two girls were warm and cozy in the best friend's house on the corner. A very drunk driver sped along that night, missed a curve and careened into the house, killing the friend on her first sleepover and permanently disabling the best friend, who woke from a coma days later in a full body cast, not knowing what had happened.

This tragic story has weighed on my mind for more than 30 years. Now that I'm a parent, I worry and pray for that mother who lost her child. I wonder if she blames herself for giving in. I ask her Creator to grant her peace, and let her know she did nothing wrong, but the man who decided to drink and get behind the wheel of a car is the only person responsible.

And every time Earbaby asks to sleep at a friend's house, I offer up a prayer for safety.

When EB first started having sleepovers, either here, or at a friend's or cousin's house, I knew all the players. Whether they were relatives or friends, I knew who was going to be home when my daughter was a guest in the house. And except for occasionally when her cousins slept here, I always made sure I was the person who was going to be home when EB had friends over. I wanted to assure parents in the way I wanted to be assured that everything was OK.

These terms were easy when EB was going to a small neighborhood school where you met all the parents in the schoolyard and knew who belonged to whom. Even so, there were some parents who never allowed their kids to sleep anywhere but in their own beds, and I had enormous respect for that. When EB had a sleepover birthday party, we offered a half-sleepover option. All the girls came in pajamas for the party, and the parents got a night out if they so chose. The kids who weren't staying were picked up right before the other ones headed to bed. It worked out great and no feelings got hurt.

But as EB gets older, everything gets more complicated. Friendships, even sleepovers, come with all kinds of snafus. And I've decided to put a moratorium on EB sleeping anywhere but here.

With the new bigger school, I don't know who her friends are. I know names, see their faces on Facebook, and every once in awhile get to meet them at some school function, or when I pull chauffeuring duties for some activity or another. But the constant dramatics of eighth grade girls, their fights, foibles, making up, choosing up sides, makes one's head spin. Add the drama of the sleepover and the recipe for disaster grows.

From the time when she was old enough to have playdates with school friends, the rule has always been that I have to meet the other mother. I would need to see her in person, or now that she's older and her friends live all over the city, I would have to have a conversation on the phone.

However, EB's last two sleepovers have made me less trusting. The new rule, no sleepovers at anyone's house if I don't know them. Period. Because, and this did surprise me, other mothers lie.

The first time this happened, the mother and I had a long conversation because the little girl had been begging to have EB sleep over. It was just the next town over, and the mother assured me they would be fine. What she didn't mention was that she had no intention of being there, that she was going out of town with her boyfriend. Imagine my surprise (anger) when I discovered that, although the grandmother was there all night and perfectly responsible and capable, the woman I talked to a few hours earlier never showed.

EB was banned from that house and when she got tired of making excuses for subsequent invitations, I told her to tell the truth, that since her mother didn't tell me she wasn't going to be there, I was angry and EB wasn't allowed there ever again. It worked, the invitations stopped.

The next time was more recent when the mother of a school friend called me and invited EB and another girl over. Yes, she was a single mom with another daughter, but there was no boyfriend in the house, and she would be there all night with the girls.

Except she wasn't. My husband and I got a call around 1:30 a.m. saying the other daughter had an asthma attack while staying at the grandmother's and the mom left, supposedly for 15 minutes, but had been gone an hour. The girls couldn't reach her cell phone and they were nervous about going to bed. An hour later the mother still hadn't returned, so the other guest's dad, who was five minutes' drive away, picked them up, dropped the host girl to her grandmother's (different grandmother) down the street and brought EB and his daughter to their home, where we got her the next morning.

Again, there was no explanation, no apology. I even called and left a message (and I wasn't a raving lunatic or anything, just asking for details), but the mother never got back. So I'm done.

I'm done with EB sleeping over friends' houses, unless they are friends of long history. If I can't pick them, or their parents, out of a lineup, don't even bother to ask. Parents can sound perfectly sane, lucid and responsible over the phone, and still cut out in the middle of the night and never give any apology or explanation, plausible or otherwise.

I'm not worried about drunk drivers driving through houses in the middle of the night. But in a world where we hear of drive-by shootings of innocent victims, sexual assaults and other horrible things that happen at sleepovers, I've decided to be a lot more protective, even if it makes me seem paranoid.

Subterfuge and shading the truth is something kids, and teens will do. But when you can't trust parents to be responsible and trustworthy, well, that's a nightmare.

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