Last week, our 11-year-old daughter Noff had a slumber party for her birthday. Since she has a birthday party every year (most of her friends do not), we decided we would try to do something different this year. She had already had one or two friends for a sleepover, but never a whole slumber party. At first, I asked her how many girls she would invite and she said 5, but when the invitation went out, I discovered she had invited 12 girls.
Hmmm… I wondered how that would work.
While I was worried if we would be able to fit 12 girls into our living room as the invitation went out, I realized that a slumber party required more than just a big living room. It comes with lots of other challenges. Some people also questioned our choice to allow this mass sleepover to take place, but I thought it was a great opportunity to give our daughter a chance to learn things about herself and others that no amount of talking could.
Challenge 1: The number of kids
The first challenge was to reduce the number of people from 24 that usually come to her parties to 7, which we thought would be a good number. Obviously, this did not work for us, because with a lot of effort, Noff only brought it down to 12. She struggled so much that we comforted each other, “We’ll manage. We always do”.
Eventually, 7 girls confirmed, we put mattresses on the floor, and as the girls came with their small suitcases, we discovered there were 9 girls there, 10 including Noff.
Challenge 2: The food
The second challenge was to choose a theme for the party and arrange the food. Noff chose Chocolate and because we are a health-conscious family, we deliberated whether to give them so much chocolate they would get sick of seeing it or serve it in symbolic amounts.
On top of it, we had to juggle with one of the girls who was on a very strict diet for medical reasons. Everything we could think of was off her list (she only had about 8 things on her list, poor girl). It was a wonderful opportunity to see what kids are willing do to go to a sleepover or a slumber party. That girl was willing to fast for 16 hours, as this was her first party. Her mother had to promise her that if she did not feel good, she would come, give her some medication and let her stay to the end. Her mother was making a big effort to allow her to come.
Challenge 3: Girls’ rivalry
This social challenge was a big surprise for us. One of the girls who were given an invitation asked Noff not to invite another girl to the party. We were a bit surprised that Noff was even contemplating what to do. While for us it was obvious that no guest could set the rules and “blackmail” you, for an 11-year-old, it was not so obvious.
Similar social blackmail had happened to Eden who is 23 years old. In fact, it had even happened to us when very good friends had stopped talking to each other and we had started juggling between them. We welcomed the challenge, because we realized that throughout life, social blackmail happens a lot and it was good for Noff to learn how to handle it.
Noff ended up inviting the other girl to the party, because she was a very good friend, but she kept worrying about it during the party.
Challenge 4: The parents
Almost all the parents told us (again) how brave we were. Some parents came and were very comfortable leaving their girls with us. They were the parents whose kids had to previous parties or for play dates. Other parents looked worried when they came in. These worried parents said their kids had never been to a sleepover or a slumber party.
The first time is always a challenge for parents, but it was also challenging for their kids. I told all of them to call in the evening if they wanted and, worst case, just come and take their daughter home.
Challenge 5: The activities
Usually, activities are not a problem at our parties. We have so many fun things planned for each party that we did not think this would be an issue. Noff said that for the Chocolate theme, we should get the video of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Gal and I got another video, just in case.
Although we took a vote on what to watch first, some girls just could not handle not doing what they wanted. Noff was unable to manage that and she started crying. At one stage, while one group was watching a video, late at night, Eden and I were in the dining room doing hair decorations for the girls who did not want to watch the movie.
At parties, there are never too many activities and improvising is often required, because we cannot expect the kids to improvise and keep themselves busy for too long.
Challenge 6: iPhones and iPods
Some girls (yes, 11-year-old girls), had their various gadgets with them and for some time during the party, they played games on them and excluding themselves from the rest. Noff, who is not allowed to have any of those gadgets, was very upset but could not do anything to stop it.
We had to step in and say, “This is a party, so we are not playing any of these games now”. We sure hope Noff understands better now why we think that gadgets are an obstacle to social interaction. 11-year-old girls do not know when it is appropriate and when it is not appropriate to put on their earpiece and listen to music or to play an electronic game.
Challenge 7: Gossip
While some of the girls watched a video and the rest (most of them) came to do the hair wraps with Eden and me, we heard them gossiping about one of the girls at the party. We felt uncomfortable. This was that girl’s first sleepover experience and she was overly excited, but for them, it was not acceptable and they did not even try to hide their gossip from us.
This gave us an opportunity to share with Noff how it felt to listen to such gossip and why it is better to stay away from gossiping girls.
Challenge 8: Sleep
This is my biggest protest. For two hours before bedtime, Eden and I sat with a group of girls who did not want to watch the movie and some of them were extremely anxious about going to sleep.
One of them said, “I never go to sleep away from home”. Another one said, “I’m afraid to go to sleep”. That made me think about the sleepover debate. When is the right time for a sleepover? What is the right age?
Well, at 12:30, we started getting them ready for bed and they started arguing about the mattresses. I asked them to go and brush their teeth and one of them asked (cue whiny tone), “Do we have to?” I smiled and said, “Yes” (nice try, little girl).
Four of the girls, including Noff, were extremely tired, because they had come the night before from a 3-day music tour and had not slept much. One of the first-timers said, “I’m scared”. One of Noff’s close friends, who had slept over with Noff about 20 times already, said, “There are 10 girls here. What are you scared of? What’s going to happen to you?” To reassure them, I said, “The door is locked, so you’re all safe here”.
At 2am, we went to bed, but the living room was still noisy. The first-timers were fully awake and a bit hyperactive. The two anxious girls jumped from one bed to another, screaming. Gal and I lay in bed, saying, “This is when the real fun starts”, but at 2:30am, I told Gal, “I’ll go and check up on them. Some girls are so tired, someone is going to cry soon”.
When I went down, two girls were already crying. Apparently, one had said the other was a cow. I went into bed with Noff. Behind me, the two anxious girls kept moving constantly. I felt so sorry for them. While some of the girls felt comfortable letting go and falling asleep, they did not know what to expect. After all, it was their first sleepover. After 15 minutes, I went back to bed, still hearing some noises from the living room.
At 5:30am, the noise from downstairs was so loud that Gal and I woke up. Gal went down to find the first timers being loud, while the rest begged them to stop and go to sleep.
Challenge 9: Waking up
It was 8:00am and I could hardly open my eyes. I have 3 kids and can count on my two hands the sleepless nights I have had with them. When I watched them from upstairs, they were all fast asleep. I took photos of them sleeping, but with every flash of the camera, one of them woke up.
Some woke up and started doing their hair wraps. By 8:30, they were all awake and we knew we had to feed them before their parents came to pick them up at 10am.
Breakfast was very calm, because they were exhausted. We sang birthday songs, had quizzes and ended up with our son Tsoof playing guitar and the girls singing songs together.
When their parents arrived, they were all sitting around the table, having hot chocolate, cupcakes and pancakes and singing beautifully, with no sign of the sleepless night they had experienced.
So here are my conclusions:
- Will I do it again? Sure! With some improvements, yes, but I will.
- It is better to start a bit later. We started at 4pm and I would change the starting time to 6:00, right in time for dinner and a birthday cake.
- I would limit the number of girls to 7. I think 10 girls in one room is not easy for the girls themselves and was not easy for the hosts.
- I would have an evening party with sleepover as an option. The party can go on from 6:00 to 11:00 and those who cannot stay can at least enjoy a party. This also gives boys a chance to attend.
- Set the mattresses at 11:00pm.
- As a parent, you should know that the first sleepover is always hard. The earlier your kids experience it, the easier and most natural it is for them. Save them from the anxiety and at least allow them to invite some friends to sleep over at your house. I felt sorry for the first-timers, because they did not know what to expect.
This was not the easiest party we have had in our life and we have 3 kids (23, 16 and 11), which means we have had 50 birthday parties so far, but this one was the best one to teach Noff some good lessons about life.