Monday, February 20, 2017

To Sleepover, Perchance to Dream

By C.J. Hirschfield


The calendar still says February, but here at Fairyland we have summer on our minds. Registration for two of our popular summer programs – birthday parties and summer sleepovers — is now open. And our summer-camp sessions filled up within the first week. 

It seems like a good time to revisit a column I originally wrote in 2009, about one local (and famous) author’s experiences with his daughter at a Fairyland summer sleepover.

Waiting for sunset: A Fairyland sleepover gets under way.

When I wrote it, we were celebrating: For the first time in a couple of years, Fairyland’s summer sleepovers were completely sold out. (This year, we still have plenty of spaces! Go to the “Events and Performances” section of our website to sign up for one of four dates in July and August.) We wondered: Why the sudden good fortune? Maybe a mention in a book that had just been published was the cause.



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A number of years ago, best-selling East Bay author Michael Lewis (Moneyball, Liar’s Poker) wrote a series of columns about fatherhood for the online magazine Slate. One of the funniest was an account of camping out with his young daughter at one of Fairyland’s summer sleepovers. Now Lewis has published a book, Home Game: An Accidental Guide toFatherhood, that features these columns, and most of the reviews mention his hilarious account of a sleepless (but fun) night at Fairyland. I tried to purchase the book at one of our local bookstores, but it was such a popular Fathers’ Day gift that it had sold out everywhere.

We introduced Fairyland sleepovers nearly 10 years ago, to give families an opportunity to experience camping in the heart of downtown Oakland. Here’s what we say on our website: “Our summer sleepovers offer a wonderful experience for your whole family. Enjoy our rides, special performances, and breakfast and dinner at the Johnny Appleseed CafĂ©. All you need to bring is a tent, a sleeping bag and your overnight kit!”

The shadows lengthen: Campers' tents at a Fairyland sleepover.


For most families, Fairyland sleepovers provide the opportunity to expose little ones to the joys of tent camping for the first time, but with easy access to bathrooms, food that’s prepared for you, and the fun of being in Fairyland at night with rides, a puppet show and a performance. Many families coordinate their campout with other families, and some return every year.

In Home Game, Michael Lewis describes his daughter’s excitement when she heard she’d be camping in Fairyland:

[S]he has been unable to contain herself on the subject ever since. Every other day she has asked me, When are we going camping in Fairyland? or Can we sleep in a tent up today? Shes never been camping or slept in a tent and can’t possibly know what any of it means. That is why she wants so badly to do it.

Lewis was surprised at the number of parents who brought tons of fancy gear and excessive provisions for the night. His 3-year-old daughter had other things on her mind:

Tallulah is more interested in the fact that she appears to have Fairyland entirely to herself, and she rushes off past the Ferris wheel to pet the donkeys. The great thing about Fairyland, from the point of view of a 3-year-old, is that it is designed with a 36-inch-high person in mind. The horses on the carousel are designed for a 36-inch-high person, the cars in the steam train are designed for a 36-inch-high person, the long tunnel in the Alice-in-Wonderland section is designed for a 36-inch-high person.

Michael Lewis and daughter with Willie the Whale. (Photo vis Slate.)

Here’s what happened after midnight:

12:15 a.m.: Daughter awakens to ask dad for a snuggle
1 a.m.: Daughter awakens to ask dad for bug spray
1:38 a.m.: Daughter awakens to demand dad’s sleeping bag
3:15 a.m.: Daughter awakens, convinced there’s an owl in the tent
4:12 a.m.: Daughter awakens to say, “Daddy, I just want to say how much fun I had with you today.”

She falls back asleep after that, but not for much longer.

The story ends with Lewis suggesting that, even after a mostly sleepless night, he’s up for a future campout at the Oakland Zoo. After all, who goes to a sleepover to sleep?

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Note: Michael Lewis still lives in the East Bay. He has just published a new book, The Undoing Project.

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C.J. Hirschfield has served for 14 years as executive director of Children's Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation's first storybook theme park.

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