“Mum, can I have a sleepover at my friend’s house?”
“Which friend is that?”
“Charles. I don’t know him or his parents, let him come round after school. When I meet him and his parents I’ll consider it.”
“But mum he can’t come here since we have a birthday party and the sleepover on Friday.”
“Too bad then.”
“Please mum, here’s his address and his mum’s number, you can call her. They’re Buddhists and are peace-loving and easy going.”
(His best friend in primary school was Buddhist and I liked their family.)
I google the address. I check zoopla for house values on their street. Too high and they might do cocaine. Too low and it might be weed. I call her and get a default text message- I’ll call back, driving.
Hmm. Responsible. She doesn’t drive and text or chat. I get a missed call and a text later, explaining she was on her way home from work. She works, Looking good.
I speak to her, she is well spoken. She begins to tell me excitedly about the plans her son has carefully made, she is proud of him.
The group of 7 children will go from school to her house, then to the party, then back to her house for a sleepover. In tents. In the woods- since they’re so many. They’ll even have a fire pit. She carries on as though she cannot contain herself, Charles said they will be leaving the party at 9pm, but she thinks if it is a good party they really should leave at about 11pm (23:00 hours. 11 at night, the hour before midnight) 14-year-old boys and at least one girl. Yes, a girl amongst boys.
I politely allow my reluctance to show, you know how sensitive women can be. One octave too high and she’ll site harassment or conclude that I think I’m better than her. An octave too low and I would have just called her a bad mother. She goes on to explain her parenting style as being liberal. She tells me she gives her son lots of freedom. Since he is responsible. She believes it is the giving of that freedom that has made him ‘a responsible young man.’ I ask if she has any other kids. I am surprised when she says ‘no.’ I nearly say in my naija accent; ‘and you’re being -what was the word- liberal, with him?’ If I did, I would have yodeled the ‘him’ to the tune of ehn-hen?
I don’t explain to her that there is a reason you won’t hear about us being trapped under layers of snow in the Himalayas. Or being hacked to death by a psycho in the woods. I don’t tell her that I don’t plan to one day sit in front of a TV crew crying and appealing for ‘justice to be brought to those evil people’. Or that he is unlikely to become paralysed from using a malfunctioning bungee jumping harness, having leapt from a 2 engine plane over the Kenyan jungle.
I simply tell her I’ll speak with my husband and let her know- that the day I let my 14 year old son attend a party to go home at 11pm at night, 23:00 hours, the hour before midnight, and then let him sleep in a tent in the woods on an autumn night without adult supervision is the day madness would have reached full bloom.