The front door slammed and I heard the familiar patter of my seven-year-old daughter’s footsteps as she raced into the kitchen.
“Mommy!” Punky shouted breathlessly. “Sally asked me to have a sleepover at her house tonight! Can I do it? Oh please, Mommy, can I?” Her face shone with a mixture of delight and triumph. Sally, our next-door-neighbor, is just five days younger than Punky. They’ve grown up playing together and lately, sleepovers have become a major topic of discussion.
Sally’s mom and I agreed that letting the two girls spend the night would be the perfect first sleepover experience– If the sleepover-er got scared or homesick, it would be easy to call next door and walk her back home, no matter the hour.
But while both girls have been speculating endlessly about when they’ll have their spend the night party and what they’ll do and how late they’ll stay up and which movies they’ll watch, I wasn’t convinced they were truly ready. Looking at Punky’s hopeful eyes, though, I decided it was a good night to give it a shot.
“Okay, you can go,” I said, with a pang of wistfulness that yet another milestone was occurring right before my eyes. “Let’s get out your sleeping bag and a pair of pajamas and a toothbrush.”
“And a pillow!” Punky sang. “And a stuffed animal!” I pulled out an overnight bag and we loaded it up with all the gear she’d need for a night at the neighbors. Five minutes later, Punky and I walked next door and I hugged her goodbye.
“If she gets homesick, call me,” I told Sally’s mom, a little too anxiously. “It doesn’t matter how late it is. Just call me. I’ll have the phone by my bed.”
“Will do,” Sally’s mom said, smiling. I went back home, feeling a little bit empty inside.
“I can’t believe Punky’s spending the night out,” I said to my husband. I felt a sudden urge to hurl myself at him, sobbing.
But I resisted.
About 15 minutes later, the phone rang.
“Mommy?” Punky said when I picked up the phone.
“Yes, honey, is everything all right?” I asked.
“Yes, I just missed you a little bit and wanted to talk.”
“Okay, well what are you doing?”
“We just brushed our teeth and put on our pajamas,” she said. “What are you doing?”
“I’m cleaning up the den,” I said.
“What’s Bruiser doing?”
“He’s playing a computer game. He’s about to go to bed,” I told her.
“Oh.” She was silent for a moment.
“Okay, well have a good time,” I said.
“Mommy, wait!” Punky said. She paused. “What are you going to do next?” she asked finally.
“I’m going to put Bruiser to bed, and then I’ll read for a little while and then I’ll go to bed,” I told her.
“Okay, well, bye,” Punky said. “I love you, Mommy.”
“I love you too,” I said. We hung up.
“She just wanted to chat,” I told Hubs. He smiled and looked at the clock. It was 9:30.
“I give her until 11,” he said.
As it turned out, he was wrong. Thirty minutes later, the phone rang again.
“Punky’s decided she wants to come home,” Sally’s mom reported, chuckling. “We’ll be over in just a minute.”
I went outside and waited. A few minutes later, Sally’s mom and Punky emerged, carrying Punky’s overnight bag and sleeping roll. I met them in the driveway and walked Punky home.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said. “I just felt kind of lonely and missed you.” We got inside and I knelt down to her eye level.
“It’s okay that you came back,” I said. “You have your whole life to have sleepovers, and when you’re older, you won’t miss me so much. But Punky, never forget this. You can always come back home– any time you want.” She smiled gratefully and wrapped her arms around my neck.
“Any time you want,” I repeated, hugging her tightly.