When my children were young, they were always excited to have a friend sleep over or to go elsewhere for a sleepover. In many large families, often with cousins the same age, it is a regular occurrence during holidays, vacations, and even with no special occasion, that siblings and cousins stay at each other’s place. But our family was small, and had no cousins nearby. Families have dispersed, and no longer live close together in the same village or neighborhood. In fact, it is much more common nowadays to have parents living in one country, and their children and grandchildren in another country, sometimes on the other side of the world. The organized sleepover may compensate for the missing family contacts and closeness. Pajama parties with a group of same-gender friends on the occasion of a birthday, became popular as the children became a bit older. Then came the all-night parties as they hit the teenage years.
I missed all that in my childhood.
As an immigrant family to a young and still-forming country, we had a very small number of relatives around, none with children close to my age. The small community consisted entirely of immigrants. The groups of children congregated together on the streets, and the doors were always open to drop in on any of the families. No one needed an invitation. You dropped in, and if the family was having dinner, you simply joined. As with all children, there were sometimes feuds, or a “war” broke out, but pretty soon we again found a way to connect. We were a cohesive bunch, and I felt the support and compassion when my brother was killed. We did not need sleepovers in order to know each other better or have fun. We were street urchins.
I spent most of my high school years in a boarding school, where it was a continuous “sleepover”. In fact, I was always hoping for some small intimate company or solitude. Later on, training as a nurse, I was again in a constant sleepover situation, if you do not count the times I escaped with some colleagues from the night curfew, and sneaked in very late at night. I was caught only once, and was nearly kicked out from the school. I was saved by telling the truth. My father always said that the truth is the best lie – no one will believe you if you tell it in a sarcastic way. Perhaps because of all the time spent in close quarters with a fairly large group of people, I craved privacy and my own space. It was not to be. Soon after graduating I moved in with my husband, then children were added, but it became our family space, and over the years we found ways to support personal privacy in our shared family space.
The first time I experienced a sleepover again was as a conference delegate. We were placed 2 to a room randomly, and I found myself sharing a room with a person I only vaguely knew. This is part of the fun – to see what your window of tolerance is, to be able to accommodate another person and connect. Part of the experience is the spontaneous curiosity that leads to sharing life stories and finding common interests. Since that first time I have made it my practice to look for a roommate at all the conferences I attend. Some of them were professional conferences, and others were held by the various associations I belong to. Rarely did I share with a friend, and on those occasions when I did, I always learned something new about the person. Sometimes it strengthened previously-sensed feelings, and brought out unpleasant behavior, which forced me to reflect and respond with compassion, as well as sometimes pull back in order to protect myself.
After almost 2 years of social distancing and Zoom conferences due to the pandemic, it was a real treat for me to participate last week for 2 days in a live conference. The biennial Israeli Arts Therapies conference happened at a perfect location: a spacious area of gardens and public buildings by the seashore, with bird song and large groups of feral green parakeets, good food, and the main thing, hundreds of therapists meeting, greeting, and smiling (with their eyes) over their masks. Yes, we still had to wear a mask indoors, since the cursed Corona has reared its ugly head again. The keynote lectures, the scientific sessions, and the workshops were of a very high caliber and the exchange of information was valuable. My roommate this time was someone I consider a friend, but we’d never had the opportunity to spend intimate time together. It was amazing how comfortable we felt with each other. We actually were like an old couple, accommodating to each other’s needs. I guess the time we spent watching the glorious sunset over the sea, eating pizza and drinking some beer added to the comfortable atmosphere.
Comfort in relationships is one of the ingredients that can lead to creating a lasting friendship. This happened by chance at a 3-day workshop. I did not register for the hotel, since my niece lived in town. But after the first night at her place, I realized it was too far for me to go back and forth, and asked if there was by chance someone who needed a roommate. I was placed with a lovely young woman who was an English speaker. When we introduced ourselves, we asked each other “where are you from?” It turned out we’d been living 3 houses down from each other for the past 10 years, and had not so much as said hello to each other – we could not get over it! We spent hours talking and finding we had so many things in common. We felt as if we’d known each other for years. When we returned home, our husbands found that they enjoyed each other’s company as well. We are now friends, colleagues and very close neighbors.
Sometimes you need to trust and be open to adventure. Sleepovers are not only for children and teens. They may bring fresh insights and appreciation of the human experience of connection.