When I was little, my parents weren’t very strict, but Mama did have two rules:
1) Don’t play with the hose without permission.
2) Don’t spend the night at a friend’s house until age 12.
My childhood coincided with the advent of the VCR, so every slumber party involved a rented movie at the end of the night. Because of Mama’s second rule, I saw only the beginnings of a lot of popular films. It never failed that just when I started to get into a story, my mother would knock on the front door to take me home. For me, Marty McFly never made it back to the future. The Goonies ended after the first truffle shuffle. E.T. never phoned home, and The NeverEnding Story had only just begun.
It wasn’t just classic ’80s movie endings that I missed. I also didn’t get to have one of those trendy little sleeping bags adorned with cartoon characters that surrounded me at these parties. I envied the other girls who rolled out their beds featuring Smurfs and Care Bears, as I sat on the floor without so much as a pillow, waiting for a movie I’d only partially be able to enjoy.
But when I was seven years old, I went to a slumber party where the host actually started the movie early. I was excited. It was just starting to get dark outside, and no one had unfurled her sleeping bag yet. Maybe this time I’d actually get to see the whole show.
I sat on the carpeted floor with the rest of the girls as the movie began. I was riveted. It was the story of a girl who had a terrifying nightmare. It was a little scary, but I could relate. I’d had many bad dreams. But when this girl woke up, she had scratches on her arm, scratches that had occurred in the dream. Her terrifying nightmare was real! I didn’t know how this movie was going to end. I hoped the girl would have a good dream next, and all the bad stuff would go away, but the more I watched, the more I felt like this wasn’t a happily-ever-after kind of story. For the first time ever, I hoped Mama would show up early.
After a particularly gory scene in which a spring of blood shot out of a bed, my friend Cherie nudged me. “Do you want to get some pizza?” she asked.
“Yes,” I whispered, barely able to talk.
We went into the dining room where pizza and soft drinks sat on the table. As we put pizza slices onto our paper plates, we heard a loud scream from all the girls in the living room. That’s when my friend Sarah appeared in the dining room with us. Her face was red, and she looked like she was about to cry. “I … I … need something to drink,” she stammered.
“Me too,” I said, wanting any excuse to stay in the dining room a little longer.
We heard another scream.
“Stop screaming,” shouted the mother who was hosting the party. “If you girls keep screaming like that, I’m going to turn off the movie.”
I secretly prayed that the girls in the living room would scream again so the movie would get turned off.
Cherie, Sarah, and I slowly started to walk back to the living room, carrying our pizza and drinks.
“Do you want to just sit behind the couch?” Cherie asked.
“Yes,” Sarah and I simultaneously answered.
So we hid behind the couch where we ate our pizza and drank our Cokes. Nightmare on Elm Street played loud enough for us to hear the gravelly voice of Freddy Kruger threatening to do things like “split you in two” or “kill you slow.”
I looked down at my pizza and was almost afraid to eat it. “My pizza looks like blood,” I said.
Cherie looked at her drink. “This Coke looks like blood,” she said.
I looked at my Coke. “Yeah, it looks like the dark blood that was shooting out of the bed!”
In the quieter moments, one of us would peer over the couch to see if the movie had gotten any better, but there was only more horror and gore.
“I want to go home,” said Sarah, and she started to sob. “I’m going to call my mom.”
“I bet my mom can give you a ride,” I said. “She should be here soon, anyway.”
I was right, and I’d never been so happy to see Mama at the door. Sarah called her mother, who said it was alright for my mom to take her home. The other kids saw Sarah grabbing her sleeping bag and one by one, they started to line up by the phone to call their parents. By the time we walked out, the movie was ending, and apparently, so was the party.
Sarah and I got into the car with Mama and told her all about what we’d seen.
“What kind of a mother would show that movie to a bunch of seven-year-olds?” Mama said.
“Not my mother,” said Sarah.
“Mine either,” I said.
Three years later, when I was only 10, Mama suspended her rule and let me spend the night at Sarah’s slumber party. I suppose it was alright because we already knew what kind of mother Sarah had.
I wished I could get a nice new sleeping bag for the occasion. Instead, I had a well-worn, pink, floral hand-me-down that had been used by all three of my older sisters before me.
At Sarah’s sleepover, one girl unveiled a pristine New Kids on the Block sleeping bag and scoffed at the girl next to her who still had Care Bears on hers. Suddenly, I was grateful for my old pink floral hand-me-down.
A few short years later, that New Kids on the Block sleeping bag would be the laughing stock of the party, and I’d still have my well-worn, comfortable, pink floral one, noticed by no one. It had been in the family for years and wasn’t going anywhere.
To this day, Mama still has that tattered old thing. Because that’s the kind of mother I have.