IF YOU ARE a parent, there inevitably arrives that moment of terror when your youngster asks if he or she can have a friend spend the night.
Your first instinct, of course, will be to scream "OH, GOD, NO-O-O-O!" and lie quietly in a darkened room until the throbbing in your temples begins to ease.
This is perfectly normal behavior. I do it all the time. But then your child will look at you with those big mournful eyes, as if you had just run over the family dog in your Buick.
This look of overwhelming sadness will cause your brain to shut down for several seconds, during which you will hear a voice (later found to be your own) say: "Well, I guess it's all right with me if it's all right with Timmy's parents."
You poor fool. Of course it's all right with Timmy's parents. Are you kidding? They'd like nothing better than to get the little thug out of the house, so they can slap Ravel's "Bolero" on the turntable and break out the champagne and start swinging naked from the chandeliers.
For you, however, the nightmare begins when little Timmy shows up at your door, with his little backpack containing his pajamas and toothbrush and a big smile of anticipation plastered on his face.
Thus arrives your first critical decision of the evening. Do you do the sensible thing, which is to slam the door in his face, throw the dead bolt and turn out all the lights in the hope that he'll eventually go away?
Or do you smile bravely and invite the little monster in, knowing full well that three hours from now (about the time the boys are slam-dancing on the roof) you'll be reduced to a whimpering wreck?
It's a dilemma, no question about it. If you suffer a fit of insanity and actually allow your child's friend in the door, however, be prepared for an amazing phenomenon.
For the first hour or so, both boys will be on their best behavior. In fact, they will be unnerving in their politeness, answering your questions about whether they'd like more popcorn with sickeningly-sweet replies of "Please" and "Thank you."
Of course, this is strictly a facade, as you'll discover 15 minutes later when the sounds of a scuffle turn out to be the boys stuffing the cat in the microwave oven.
From that point, the evening begins to degenerate into a series of increasingly strident confrontations between you and the boys, as they blow through each room in the house like a squall slamming into a fishing village.
(This seems as good a time as any to discuss the difference between little boys and little girls vis-a-vis having friends sleep over. In a nutshell, it's the difference between Attica and a convent.
(For the most part, little girls will spend the evening coloring quietly or playing quietly with their dolls or quietly watching a video. Note that the key word here is "quietly."
(Little boys will want to know why they can't drop cinder blocks on each other from the top of the staircase, and where this stupid new rule came from that says you can't set the drapes on fire.
(That might sound sexist, but what the hell. It's true.)
In any event, at some point in the evening, with your hands trembling badly and the tom-tom in your head banging louder and louder, you'll sing out: "OK, guys, time for bed!"
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Oh, that's a good one. Believe me, your child and his friend will not be going to sleep for many hours, not unless you can get each boy to take a hit off that tank of nitrous oxide you keep in the garage.
Nevertheless, it's a good idea to get the boys in their bedroom, as this is sort of like confining a riot to one four-block section of the city.
If you are not yet reduced to tears and can control the quavering in your voice, this is the time to say good night to the boys, taking pains to remove the miniature bullwhip your child has hidden under the covers and the plastic Desert Storm machine gun from under his little friend's pillow.
Despite these sensible security precautions, a steady level of noise akin to a very raucous New Year's Eve party will begin emanating from the bedroom. This will occasionally be punctuated by ominous thuds and whoops and peals of hysterical laughter. The noise will not abate for quite some time.
Nevertheless, I would not go back in there. With some things in life, it's better not to know.