I was 11 years old before I ever spent the night away from home.
To call Mama overprotective was an understatement.
She didn’t want me spending the night with people she didn’t know or feel comfortable with. She had her reasons, as crazy and fantastical as they were.
Once, I befriended a new girl in my class and she had a spend-the-night party.
I could not go.
“I don’t know her,” Mama stated simply.
“You aren’t the one invited; I am.”
This logic went nowhere with Mama. She didn’t care.
A few months later, the girl had another spend-the-night party. This time, she made it a point to painfully exclude me, telling me quite haughtily that, “My mother is real funny about who I invite.”
I assured her my mother was even funnier about where I went, so it was not a problem as I would not have been allowed to attend anyway.
There were times I felt like she was the meanest mother in the world. Surely, she was only doing this to make me a friendless, social outcast.
Anytime someone invited me to spend the night, Mama had to know who their parents were, where they lived, and where they worked.
“Do you know the mother’s maiden name?” she would ask.
Whether I had it or not, she turned the information over to Granny.
Long before the days of Google, there was Granny. And Granny was more thorough than the FBI when it came to background checks and the vetting process.
Within fifteen minutes, that woman had found out everything to be known about the person, down to parking violations, any warts removed and what pew they sat on in church.
“You ain’t going to this gal’s house,” Granny declared. “I done found out all kinds of stuff about her distant cousins.”
“Distant cousins! What does that have to do with me spending the night?” I cried.
“You don’t know if that no-good distant cousin is gonna show up the night you’re there. A bunch of hooligans, the lot of them,” Granny said.
And with that said, I knew I was not going anywhere.
Until the Girls in Action group at church had a sleepover.
“Please. Please, please, please let me go,” I begged.
Mama had known the two women who were over the group practically all of her life; heck, she even worked with one of them!
This would be it, the first time I would get to spend the night at someone’s house other than mine.
“I am not sure I want you to go,” she said.
“You can’t use your old excuses, Mama. You know these people. Granny knows these people. We go to church with them! You have no good reason why I can’t go.”
At this, Granny snorted. She knew as well as I did, if Mama wanted an excuse as to why I couldn’t do something, she would find it.
She was the woman who told a science teacher once I couldn’t go on a 4-H trip to Jekyll Island because it may sink. The woman tried to argue with her but decided to save her time and sanity.
By some miracle, I got to go.
My first time sleeping over at someone else’s house with other girls!
Let me tell you, it was nothing like I thought.
They wanted to stay up and talk.
I wanted to sleep. I was kind of tired. Being excited was exhausting.
I was scared of the shadows in the house; it’s one thing when you know the creaks and moans of the floors in your own place but in something new, it was terrifying.
There were other sounds that I didn’t hear at home. The ice maker in the freezer sounded like a monster trying to break through the wall. Seeing the lights of neighbors bouncing on the backyard through the sliding glass doors could have been UFO’s landing for all I knew.
I laid there awake, all night, waiting for dawn to break so I could leave.
When I saw the sun creeping through the trees, I rolled up the sleeping bag and grabbed my stuff, not even bothering to change out of my pj’s and went to tell the grown-ups good bye.
“Honey, are you sure your mother is even here?” one asked.
“Oh, she’s here, don’t worry.”
And she was.
Out in the driveway sat Mama in her little blue Ford Escort, her chimney of cigarette smoke curling out of the driver’s window while she sipped a cup of coffee from a gas station.
I wondered if she had slept out there; odds are, she did.
It was fun, but, I missed home.
Over the years, I spent the night with a few other friends but not many. Mama’s rules were still just as strict, and Granny still ran background checks.
I just realized there was no place quite like home for my introverted self.
When I was much older, I realized why Mama was maybe so protective; perhaps there was a method to her madness after all.
My own child, now 13, has never spent the night away from home.
Thankfully, he hasn’t expressed any interest in it.
Maybe he knows I was trained by two of the best in the Mama-ing business and my snooping skills can rival Granny’s sometimes. She still, to this day, was better than Google, even posthumously.
A few weeks ago, a conversation occurred as to whether or not to call the parents of a teenager holding a New Year’s Eve overnight party.
The other parent mentioned her daughter thought it was embarrassing.
“Embarrassing?” I thought.
Good thing she didn’t have my Mama or Granny.
A phone call to the parents would have been the least of her worries.