M

arcel was invited to a sleepover today. He wanted to be asked. I’m just not sure he really wants to go all that much.

This makes twice in as many months that an invitation to a birthday party has come in only to be received less-than-enthusiastically by my son. This is how things play out:

Marcel comes home from school, excited about an upcoming party that he has been told about at school. He reminds me of his storied history with the child in question and tells me to expect a call from their parents. And this part is important: He knows the party will be a sleepover. The call does, in fact, come in at which point Marcel says, ‘Mmm, I don’t feel like it.’

(And can we not adequately celebrate a child’s birthday anymore without staying the night with them? Is this the only way the celebrant can feel sufficiently feted? The whole thing makes me tired.)

There is definitely one aspect of these parties in which he wants to be included, but I have begun to suspect that it is only the guest list. He has successfully spent the night at a friend’s home in the past, but not often and not for awhile. It is less his inexperience with these overnight forays than his own preference for the familiar, for his place and his things and his routine that I believe to be the life and breath of this persistent reluctance to participate.

This is one of those rare parenting opportunities that I can identify, even as it’s moving out in the wilds of my son’s daily life. It is the problem of sussing out what it is that you actually want from what it is that you believe you’re supposed to want and it’s hardly contained within the institutional confines of middle and high school.

Hell, at someone else’s party-style sleepover, you don’t even get to control who you have to spend all night with. I don’t think I’d sign up for that.

I missed today’s phone call from the birthday boy’s father, the one with details of Friday night’s party. Scott listened to it and dutifully relayed the information to Marcel who, again, had told us that this call would be coming. His reaction? None at all. Crickets.

But this? This is one of those rare parenting opportunities that I can identify, even as it’s moving out in the wilds of my son’s daily life. It is the problem of sussing out what it is that you actually want from what it is that you believe you’re supposed to want and it’s hardly contained within the institutional confines of middle and high school.

Sometimes I think, “I want a job,” when what I really mean is, “I want someone else to be responsible for all of this when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to,” or “I really want to buy those green, knee-high leather boots reduced to $100 because they’re fabulous and will make me feel similarly.” Either one of those three sentiments are fine but they certainly aren’t the same thing and pretending that they are just muddies the waters.

Whether you’re 11 or 41, discernment is hard. Sometimes we get better at it over the course of a life but I can’t imagine any case in which it isn’t easier to sort someone else’s wants and desires out better than our own, especially when you’ve got 30 years on them.

So I called the dad and told him that Marcel would really like to be a part of some of his son’s birthday party, but that he wasn’t so sure about the sleeping over part. The dad was awfully nice and I hung up the phone happy but wistful, wishing someone could do my discerning for me, too.