My son just left for college. Being a bit helicopter-y, I immediately set about planning for the next break. I suggested that he invite his buddies over for a sleepover, and I got the “You’re an idiot” glare. I felt like saying, “I’m so sorry for trying to be a good father.” Instead, I realized that the sleepover was another one of those grown and flown losses, which bummed me out because I really liked them. They gave me a chance to hang with my sons’ friends and do something nice for my kid.
These things slip away as kids get older. It’s predictable, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less jarring. And the new experiences that replace the old experiences are often less profound — or less joyful in obvious ways. My attempt to replicate the sleepover experience was no exception.
I so thoroughly enjoyed the sleepover experience when my son was young that I made sure we had regular guests. The target audience was boys and the contentment bar is low. Very low. It doesn’t take much to make humans with a Y-chromosomes happy. Feed them. Let them talk about their genitals. Give them something to kick, throw, or destroy. Feed again. Also, provide video games. During sleepovers, the guests were glued to their chairs and controllers for the entire evening.
The morning was my sleepover highlight. I started by blasting music – the Marine Corp reveille followed by the Wiggles’ Fruit Salad. Breakfast was a chocolate chip version of the Uncle Buck giant pancake. Then the sleepover ended with the guests helping my son clean the teen cave and other parents expressing thanks.
I missed all that so I was eager to convince my son to reconsider what I thought was a well-meaning offer. I asked if he’d be interested in having his friends over to hang out in the basement.
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll see if the guys will crash here.”
Crashing and sleeping over turned out to be very different propositions. Crashing made me feel like I was in the hospitality industry – a Motel Six with an 11AM express check out. My set set the house rules. Daddy was banned from the basement, except to bring down the pizza. If I had questions, I was required to text.The only domestic chore completed by the crashers was picking up their Juul pods. Their departure was like a Walking Dead scene except the zombies could drive. Sure, I planned a breakfast for crashing, but that was pointless. Each guest got up at different times and no one wanted food. The morning requests were mouthwash, Febreeze, and Red Bull.
This was significantly less fun for me than having kids sleepover. But at least I learned something. With my kid in college, I’d retained my title, Dad, and kept some of the bigger responsibilities (money, automobile care), but lost the smaller stuff. I wasn’t going to play sports or make breakfast or host sleepovers anymore. I hadn’t changed, but my kid was no longer around or dependent in the same sense and fatherhood, though still a great gig, is drastically different without dependency.
Once the kids start crashing in the basement, you find yourself locked out. It’s hard, but probably for the best. At least they picked up the Juul pods.