I don't know what I was thinking as the words left my mouth after my six-year-old son had his pal round for a playdate recently.
"Would he like to come for a sleepover soon?' I said, to his friend's mum.
I should have bitten my tongue off right there and then, but the words had already left my lips and my ears were already receiving the reply ('Great idea') before I could do anything by way of retraction.
My son's squeal-like-an-X-Factor-winner's reaction reiterated the invitation, and thus the date was set. Last Friday.
My youngest boy would embark on his next rite of passage by having a pal over for The Sleepover.
Off I trotted to my local supermarket to buy popcorn, sweets, Fruit Shoots, a DVD ('Despicable Me 2', if you're interested - brilliant film) and anything else I could find that would keep the kids quiet and as the day loomed, I was quite looking forward to it.
As a Stay-At-Home-Dad, albeit a reluctant one, one thing I have learned is that playdates are great: the kids keep each other amused so you don't have to.
But a Sleepover is different. You're in charge of another parent's Reason To Exist but you know very little about them.
Over the past two years of housedadding, I have got my tribe into a routine so regimental it would make a stint in the SAS look relaxed.
Everything we do is clinically calendared - from the timing of the school run, to which meals they eat on what day, to their homework regime, to telly time, computer time, bathtime, storytime and bedtime. It's the only way I can cope.
But what do I know about another parent's child's routine? Zilch. Would they want hot chocolate and cookies before bedtime? Did they have a favourite cuddly without which they couldn't feel secure enough to go to sleep? Would they get up in the night for a gazillion wees? Might they need a groundsheet to offset the damage of wetting the bed?
I needn't have worried. My boy's little mate was a dream. Polite, obedient, gentle, easy-going. In fact, all the things that my six-year-old is, which I guess is the reason why they get on so well.
But my boy, well, my boy turned into a head-spinning, 'Yarrrrrrring' nightmare. He became so full of himself, so full of IT (if you get my drift) that I barely recognised him.
It was as if he'd figured out that with an independent witness in the house his Super-Strict Shouty dad would have to wind his neck in and transform into an Ever-So-Polite-Softly-Spoken-Give-In-To-Any-Demand-Dad lest his little mate went back to Mum and told her what an evil bastard his father was and risk being gossiped about at the school gates.
Oh, he's a crafty one, my lad. But he wasn't taking account of one crucial thing: I don't give a monkey's. We've had battles before, me and my youngest boy (and older two, too!). And no doubt there will be battles ahead, just as I had with my father. But I have always won them based on the very basic principle that I am bigger than him (it won't last - he's on the 99th centile, so I know the day when he whups my ass ain't too far away).
But this battle seemed different. It seemed to come from that place that has become the catch-phrase for the yoof of today: Respect.
He wanted to show his mate that HE was the Top Dog in the house, that he commanded the respect of the domicile. Ha! Think again, soldier. You gotta EARN respect, not demand it. And that's exactly what he attempted to do throughout the evening.
He pushed more buttons than I knew I possessed. Behaved in a way that I'd never seen him behave before. He wanted to show his pal what a Johnny Big Bollocks he was by chucking stuff around, using the word 'No' far more than I'd heard it used before, and generally being a little swine.
He ordered me around, he ordered his nine-year-old brother around, to the point where the latter asked me to have 'a word'.
So I did - several of them. But nothing seemed to get through to him.
I know, I know: I'm the adult; he's the child. I should, and could, have let it pass. But his behaviour prevented me from focusing on making the evening a fantastic night to remember and instead left me with a sense of: "Is it worth it? Is it worth doing this again if this is how it makes my son behave?"
And then something happened. At bedtime, the boys (my older son, the six-year-old, and his pal) announced that they wanted to sleep together on the floor.
I laid out duvets and sleeping bags, dimmed the light and bid them goodnight. It was past 10 o'clock - two hours past their bedtime - and I hoped they would conk out. But a few minutes later I heard voices.
"Sleep now, boys. It's late," I shouted from the living room.
More minutes passed. More voices.
"I SAID sleep."
Then more minutes. And more voices.
I rolled my eyes, dragged myself away from Twitter, and headed upstairs.
And there I found my six-year-old and his best friend, all clean and fresh in their pyjamas, lying on their stomachs with their chins on their hands, staring at my nine-year-old in awe and wonder...as he read them a story.
I closed the door quietly and left them to it. My older son had taken charge in a way I hadn't been able to. Respect!
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