Grade school sleepovers are the first travel holidays for most of us. It’s the first time we get to pack a bag, and there’s something special about knowing you’re walking around with an entirely different costume for the next morning (or that night, if one should accidentally fall in a giant puddle of mud). I’d even dutifully pack my toothbrush, even though I knew I’d never use it unless my friend’s mom was as persistent as mine in checking for moisture on the bristles.

I remember spending the night at the Lynch family house, a magical world where children were allowed to stay up past 10 o’clock and eat brownies all night (at least, that’s what we did when we stayed over). We’d pull out the “Welcome Back Kotter” board game and play for hours in those days before the internet when one could spend more time on a TV show’s board game than actually watching the show.

Sleeping over friends’ houses was where I discovered the wonders of The Late Show with Johnny Carson, the place where all the stars from Hollywood Squares and the Match Game finally got to talk in longer than 20-second snippets. We’d struggle to stay awake as Johnny brought out the third guest, falling asleep to Buddy Hackett kibitzing with the zookeeper just before Doc Severinsen played them off for the night.

Sleepovers were like scouting missions behind the lines of other families. We gathered intel on the various bed times and chore schedules; we took note of how accommodating some mothers seemed to be when asked if we could use the blender for our makeshift spaceship. We learned that some families didn’t have “rules” so much as suggestions; it was a shock the first time I heard one of my friends refuse to take the garbage out. Growing up with parents struggling to run a household with seven kids, I naturally assumed disobeying a direct order was a crime punishable by death.

There were eye-opening discoveries like scheduled “snack time” where parents doled out various Hostess cakes and fruit drinks for no reason at all. It became like Halloween without all the dressing up; some families knew I’d magically appear on their doorstep at 3 p.m. sharp to see if Timmy wanted to play a game.

“Oh, were you in the middle of snack time?” I’d ask slyly, wiping the drool from the corner of my mouth.

Saturday night sleepovers at the Levinsons were great because they didn’t attend church services on Sunday mornings. Back at home, my mom would spend her morning corralling the rest of her kids to get to Mass and would often forget to follow up on the precarious state of my immortal soul. It was akin to that all-too-rare snow day off from religion class.

Sunday afternoons after sleepovers would find us bleary-eyed and full of pancakes as we’d watch Mom navigate the station wagon up the driveway. She let us know the fun was over by laying out our chores for the rest of the day before we even hit the main road.

As we get older, sleepovers lose some of their magic. Sure, depending on the reason, they can still be great fun. However, most things that involve packing a bag begin to lose their appeal once we get to be Mr. Kotter’s age. What doesn’t change is that list of chores we face on the road home.

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