Tag Archives: Sleepovers

Sleepovers and The Importance of Inclusion

Emma has asked to have a sleepover for months now.  She doesn’t want to have ‘a’ sleepover, as in a single sleepover, she wants to have sleepovers, the way her brother Nic does, almost every weekend.  She wants to have time away from us, where she is with another family and their children.  She wants to have the experience most parents and children take as a matter of course.  I’ve had parents say to me, “Oh sleepovers and play dates are highly over rated, she’s not missing much.”  But the truth is she IS missing a lot and the fact that she so desperately wants to have a sleepover is something I would assume ALL children desire.  I doubt any child doesn’t hope for this, whatever their neurology.  My guess is those who don’t ask for a sleepover are doing so not because they don’t want one, but because they do not have the ability to ask or communicate their wish.

The question has been how to orchestrate sleepovers for Emma when she’s never been invited to have a play date, forget a sleepover.   We have tried to have kids over to our house, but they all end up playing with Nic and while we’ve been able to get everyone to play a few games of duck, duck, goose, it still ends up being mostly a play date for Nic.  Last spring, Emma’s therapist, Joe invited Em over to his house for a sleepover with his wife’s god-daughter, and Emma had a great time.  But Emma wants more than a one time event and increasingly Richard and I have discussed how to get Emma over to people’s houses who have children Emma considers her friends on a more regular basis.

So while I was away at the AutCom Conference this weekend, Richard decided to do what he does best – take matters into his own hands.  He picked up the phone and called our friends asking them if Emma could have a sleepover at their house.  This is not something I feel comfortable doing.  It feels like an enormous imposition, I wouldn’t want to put people in an uncomfortable situation.  I wouldn’t want them to feel uncomfortable saying no, I wouldn’t want to feel the sadness I would feel if they did choose to say no.  Just as I cannot use restrooms in restaurants or stores unless I’ve actually bought something, I cannot call friends and ask if my child can come to their home for a sleepover…  but Richard can and did.  And they said they would be thrilled, in fact they said they were really honored that Em had asked to come to their house.

These are good friends, friends with twins, Nic’s age.  The twins, J & G have known Emma her entire life.  We adore all of them and have spent many a Sunday hanging out together.  When Emma heard that they’d invited her, she jumped up and down, threw her arms up in the air and twirled around while saying, “You get to have a sleepover at J & G’s house!   So excited to see J & G!”  Then she ran into her bedroom and came back out with her backpack filled with her nightie and a blanket.  Sunday night Richard and I received a text with these photographs.  (We have been given permission to post these photos.)

Emma used her skills of persuasion to get everyone to play a rousing game of Duck, duck, goose.

J & G & Em

The sleepover was a wild success!

When Emma came home the next day she ran over to me, threw her arms around my neck and said, “Do you want to know Emma’s sleepover was so much fun?”

“Yes!  I do want to know that!” I said.

“Emma had fun at Emma’s sleepover!”  She said and then ran into the other room to find her dad.  A few minutes later she came back and said, “Go to Gabby’s house?  Have a sleepover with Gabby?”  (Gabby is one of Emma’s cousins.)

I will have to take a page from Richard’s book, gulp down my nervousness and do something I would normally never do.  I will have to call my cousins and ask.  Maybe they’ll say no.  Maybe they’ll say yes.  Either way I have to ask because my daughter needs to do this.  She needs to have these experiences, they are important and my shyness and concerns have to take a back seat to the more important issue here, which is to do what I can to have Emma included.  The Autcom Conference gave me a glimpse into how important inclusion is, not just to those who are routinely excluded, but to all people; we all benefit from inclusion.

It’s A Man’s World – The Cabin, Outhouses, Peeing & Bladders

I have the bladder of a camel.  Only now that I think of it, this may be factually incorrect as I’m not certain camels really do have exceptionally large bladders, for all I know, they just pee where ever they are because they can, and that I’m confusing this with the fact that they go for long periods of time without drinking water, but that first sentence has a certain power to it and it gets the point across.  Okay, moving right along here…

You may wonder why I bring this up.  You may be thinking, this is not the sort of post I am interested in reading.  You may be thinking I don’t care about camels or bladders in general and particularly not hers and anyway what has this got to do with autism?  Or you may be thinking – Oh DO get on with it.. or you may be heading over to google because now you want to know all about camels, or you may be..  okay, okay.

Allow me to explain.  Both my children have, it appears, inherited my ability to not pee for inordinately long periods of time.  I can also go for long periods of time not drinking any liquids, coupled with my excruciatingly slow metabolism I could basically out live anyone should I ever be stranded somewhere, like a broken elevator, where there was access to neither.  (Oh I know.  Welcome to my mind.)  This ability to go long periods without having to pee comes in handy: long car trips, aversions to using public restrooms, and sleepovers at our cabin.

I’ve mentioned our cabin before.  It’s a rustic, one room log cabin, which my family built (literally) in the late 70’s.  It has no electricity or running water.  There is a sink with cold water piped in from the creek that runs nearby, but I think we turned that off and since no one lives in the cabin, it’s not something we bother with.  My father dug and built an open sided outhouse just up the mountain.  The outhouse is far enough away that you definitely do not want to try to go there in the middle of the night or at any time of the day or night during the winter because of the snow drifts, unless you’re wearing neck high gators.  Trust me, post-holing up the mountain at 3AM, while trying to locate the outhouse because you forgot to bring a flashlight (and toilet paper) in below zero temperatures to pee is not a good idea.  I speak from experience.

Emma LOVES the cabin, as do I and Richard, who couldn’t quite figure out the allure the cabin held, was converted last summer when he had his first sleepover there.  Nic…  not so much.  Every time we come out here to stay with my mother, it’s a given that we will have a sleepover at the cabin.  Emma anticipates this event days in advance.  “Sleep, wake-up, sleep, wake-up, sleep, wake-up, sleep, wake-up, have sleep over at the cabin!” she will say upon our arrival and before we’ve even had a chance to unpack.  “Yes!” one of us will confirm, while Nic looks at us with a look of Please-tell-me-I-do-not-have-to-go-too on his face.  (That kid has way too much attitude for a twelve-year old.)

I think I look forward to sleepovers in the cabin as much as Emma does.  Last night was our designated sleepover night.  After unpacking our things, sweeping out mice droppings, cobwebs, dead wasps, opening the windows and airing the place out I realized I hadn’t peed before leaving my mother’s house.  “Hey Em, do you have to pee?” I asked, figuring I’d take her with me, since I was going to make the trek to the outhouse anyway.  “No!” Emma said emphatically.  So off I went while contemplating the positioning of the outhouse, its considerable distance from the cabin, how inconveniently located it was, how Richard AND Nic have never even used the outhouse, how only a man would build an outhouse this far away and while it was certainly positioned in such a way that one could appreciate the view as one sat in it, how many people were seriously going to do that when it was freezing cold or in the middle of the night?  No, I concluded, this was the sort of outhouse only a man would build and then never use.  And then I bushwhacked my way back to my family.

Which brings me back to my bladder and the ability I, and both my children, have  in not needing to relieve ourselves for hours on end.  It’s a gift, pure and simple.  One that I was particularly grateful for last night, knowing that not only would Emma not require me to accompany her up the mountain at some ungodly hour, but that I would not need to go either.

It’s important to contemplate these things.

Bucks – there were three of them, but I was only able to capture two, the third is just to the right.

View of our ranch

Emma heading up to the cabin

View of the Rockies from the cabin’s porch

Em heading home

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Expectations and My Reluctance To See What Is

Emma’s sleepover came with some fallout.  I suppose that is to be expected. Emma had a blast , so what’s my problem?

My fear.  My expectations.  These are the issues that plague me.

I watched Emma burst through the front door.  I saw how she didn’t acknowledge or even look at the other little girl she’d just spent the night with.  I saw how in the photos and from Joe’s summary of those sixteen hours spent away, Emma and M. didn’t interact despite Angelica and Joe’s attempts to facilitate.  They co-existed.  M. seemed a little sad, I may be projecting this onto her.  But I wondered what it was like for her to have a sleepover with a child who barely acknowledged her presence.  And then I felt awful that I’d had that thought.

Emma was happy,  genuinely happy to have had her sleepover, in fact, seemed exuberant to be away from us for a night.  When she left Sunday evening, without a look back, I could see that Emma was ready for this.  Emma was ready for her little adventure, time spent away from her family.  This is as it should be.  This is what all children experience.  That initial flickering desire to venture off, to have experiences that do not involve her parents.  A flicker, which over time, will grow into a more steady, stronger, determined flame.  This is a good thing.

So why am I having a problem?  Because I have expectations.  Because I have worries and fears.  In addition to all of this, I project my own hopes and feelings of what specifically a sleepover means, onto her.  Emma’s sleepover was not the sleepover I had in mind.  A sleepover of two little girls connecting with each other, whispering secrets in each other’s ears, laughing and playing and interacting, holding hands and friendship bracelets.  But what little girl was I projecting that idea onto?  Certainly not Emma.

Eighth grade – I was invited to a huge slumber party at my “friends” house.  Unbeknownst to me several of the girls, maybe all of them, got up in the middle of the night and threw my bra into the freezer, much to their amusement and my horror, embarrassment and shame.  Shame because I did not require a bra, shame because I was singled out and didn’t fully understand why, shame because it felt mean and made me sad, but everyone else was laughing.  Laughing in a way that made me feel all the more isolated and alone.  Shame because I wanted to be included, often was included, but never felt that I really fit in.  They laughed, so I tried to laugh too, which made them laugh all the harder.  I remember.  I remember feeling so relieved when my mother came to pick me up.  “How was your sleepover darling?”  my mother asked.

“Okay,” I answered.  How could I explain?  How could I tell her about something that I hadn’t entirely understood?  How could I put into words that which I found confusing and oddly shameful?

“Did you have a good time?” my mother asked again.

“It was fine,” I said, turning my head away from her to stare out the window at the blurred landscape as we drove back home.

I am grateful knowing Emma will be spared this kind of “sleepover.”  I am grateful when I take Emma to one of the many playgrounds in New York City with various water features, and she pulls off her dress revealing her favorite two-piece bathing suit, without any self-consciousness.  Her belly prominently displayed for all to see, she tears from one water drenched shape to the next with gleeful abandon.  Emma is without inhibitions.  She is without embarrassment, she is without shame.  Female neuro-typicals could learn a thing or two from Emma.  I could learn a thing or two from Emma.

It is in those moments, at the water park, as I sit watching her that I come face to face with my perceptions, my expectations, my ideas of what should and should not occur in our daily interactions with one another.  I catch glimpses of the fallacy, the dishonesty of the words we so carelessly toss about.

“How are you?”  “Great!”  “How was the sleepover?” “Fine.”  “Did you have fun?”  “It was nice.”  “Are you okay?” “Yup, everything’s good.”

Even when we aren’t.  Even when it wasn’t.  Even when we didn’t.

My latest piece My Fear Toolkit published in the Huffington Post