Family sleepovers: a tribute to my 1970s childhood

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 Photo: Getty Images

I often contemplate how different things were in my 1970s childhood. From the minute we could walk, we spent the daylight hours roaming the sewers and climbing electricity poles.

All right, maybe it wasn't that extreme, but it certainly felt more free-range than the life my children lead. I'm not going to rehash the overscheduling and the overprotectiveness our generation of parenting have been repeatedly accused of. I am, however, going to charge my cocktail glass of 'Grasshopper' and honour one part of my childhood I'm trying to recreate: the family sleepover.

Let me explain.

More times than I can remember, my parents would get together with friends for dinner. We'd trundle along, and the older kids would "go play" while the babies would be propped somewhere within view. There was no feed/play/sleep routine being adhered to. The parents ate, drank, talked, laughed and were, for all intents and purposes, oblivious to us. Bigger kids were off running a muck, with very little supervision, so didn't care what the parents were doing. The adults occasionally threw food in our general direction. If we were lucky, we may have been granted a Dixie Cup for dessert.

There was no stressing about babies needing to sleep at a certain time. An unsettled baby was passed around from adult to adult, nursed in the warmth of somebody's arms until they dozed off. When the older children got tired, we slept where we fell. It may have been in the bed belonging to the parents of the house, or it could've have been on the couch, or on a bunch of cushions on the floor. It may possibly have been on a mattress in the back of the Commodore station wagon as they drove home at some ungodly hour (before the days of 0.05 BAC limits). Someone would throw a blanket over us and Bob's your uncle. These nights were not kid-centric. They were about the adults.

To say that out loud these days is to expose yourself to a public caning. If your child is not at the epicentre of your world you're risking being branded as the bad parent, selfish parent, neglectful parent.

Strangely, my memories of those nights in my childhood are all about fun. Sleepover excitement, staying up late with other kids, watching movies we probably weren't supposed to watch and eating whatever was on offer ... freedom.

So I tread carefully as I admit we tried to reinvent the adult-centric world for just one night. It was spurred by a dinner recently, where friends came over with their kids but the children rolled in every 15 minutes or so, from 8pm, telling their parents they were tired. By 9pm, the parents were sick of the kids hassling them and decided it would be easier to pack up and go home. We'd barely sat down and eaten and were unable to finish a bottle of wine between the four of us. Conversation was truncated in regular intervals thanks to interrupting children needing something.

It's a scene that's played out numerous times since I've had children. As much as you send the kids off to watch the movie, or have a rest on the couch, they are not trained for the random collapse somewhere other than their own bed. So I decided it was time to induct our kids into the world of 1970s family sleepovers.

With modern day life, impromptu nights are rare so we had to schedule it in. Another family locked in a date with us for the big sleepover. Bags were packed, beds were made up. It wasn't as spontaneous as our childhood sleepovers but the sentiment was the same: kids, entertain yourselves so we, too, can have a night of fun.

Although we didn't eat a prawn cocktail, apricot chicken or crepes Suzette, we did manage eating, drinking, talking and laughing without persistent disruptions and requests to go home. The kids knew we weren't going anywhere so they played old fashioned games, like hide and seek and Uno. I forgot to crack out the Etch-a-sketch and the elastics, but as it turned out, they weren't needed.

The kids went to bed way too late, and we hit the pillow even later. With sore heads in the morning over a cooked breakfast, we agreed we should do it more often. So as I skip down memory lane, I'm excited about our modern take on the 1970s family sleepover. I look forward to continuing the training program with my children.