I don’t remember eating at either house – that was for later, longer visits (I was only about 4). And it was really on these longer play dates (and especially sleepovers) that I began to realize that how my family lived was not universal – I began to realize that what, how, when and even where we ate was not universal across families.
And so I wonder whether that is also at the root of the clothes swapping that went on at these sleepovers…
My grandmother’s house was near my school and I usually went there rather than home at the end of my school day. My mother would usually be there and we would wait there for my Dad to pick us up on his way from the school where he taught. My mother was good friends with a family across the street and I would often play on the street outside their house while I waited.
Even here (it wasn't a proper play date – we didn't go in the house and just played together on the street) I remember we would swap shoes while we played tag or hopscotch on the street. I was always keen for this game as I most often had sensible laced brown shoes (tough and suitable for passing on to my younger brothers!). I longed for the likes of the Mary-Janes most of my friends wore and delighted in wearing them even if only for an hour or two – though they were understandably reluctant to wear mine!
On a proper sleepover, of course you could completely swap clothes.
Like Lulu, my first sleepovers were at cousins’ houses. When I was very young, they were mostly with my cousin Cathy - the daughter of my mother's sister. Like me, Cathy was an only girl – we both had three brothers (Cathy’s were all older than her, mine were all younger than me! Our families crossed over in the middle with us) and so sleepovers afforded each of us the chance to gain a sister.
Not to say we always got on! We would look forward to visiting for ages but often struggle for how to be together… at least until we were a little older.
My earliest memory of Cathy was when we were about four – perhaps even younger.
She had a wonderful summer dress covered in strawberries and a fantastic pair of silver strapped sandals that she schlepped around in, making a wonderful slappy noise.
You remember my mention of brown lace shoes? Well, reader, my sandals were almost as boring! In the old photo (right), I seem to have progressed on to something white, but I suspect the little brown ones my brother is wearing were originally mine!
So, you can imagine my delight whenever Cathy let me wear her silver strappy ones – sheer joy. Like walking around in my mammy’s shoes only they fit!
Somehow I got it into my head that Cathy had promised that when we went home, I could take her silver sandals with me – wishful thinking! Deluded!
When we started gathering to leave and I asked for the sandals I got an incredulous No! I remember still how gutted I felt – I wasn’t going home with the fantastic sandals and my sister-cousin had betrayed me! To the embarrassment of my mother, I bawled – and continued to bawl for the first section of the journey!
I found it funny when I sent the text to Yolanda at Charlesbridge and to the illustrator, Ros Beardshaw, both mentioned that their daughters were totally into swapping – and like my child self I began to realize that this was not an experience unique to me!
That set me thinking – if sleepovers are an occasion to realize that how your family is, is not universal, could the clothes swapping thing a way of further exploring that? Exploring other possible identities perhaps? I’ve not been able to find any writings on this, but the more I think, the more I’m convinced that that urge to try on another child’s clothes while on a sleepover is really experimenting with other possible versions of yourself – yourself imagined as part of this family, perhaps.
50 years on but who cares - I finally got my wish vicariously through Lulu!!