New Year's Eve Wears Down Youngsters Bent on Staying Up

This column is by Times staff writer Gerald Faris

The holiday fare was popcorn and 7-Up, not prime rib and champagne. In place of a live rock group or a dance orchestra pouring out nostalgic big band tunes, "Mary Poppins" provided the entertainment--by way of video tape--floating in on her umbrella and proving once again that supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is a manageable word if you sing it in a bright voice.

And instead of party finery and funny hats, the guests wore pajamas and nightgowns, and some of them kept their feet warm in big slippers decorated with unicorns and rabbits.

But it was a New Year's Eve party all the same, as the Torrance-South Bay YMCA put on its annual end-of-year overnight for children. This year, about 130 youngsters between the ages of 6 and 14 took part, filling an enormous auditorium with a sea of colorful sleeping bags and making it resound with their chatter and laughter.

The overnight is offered as a service to parents who want a free night to ring in the new year. But Y counselors say it is the children who really find it something special.

"They look forward to this for weeks because they know they're going to be with all their friends," said counselor Dianna McKennon, adding that one of the big attractions is staying up as late as drooping eyelids will allow.

Some younger children who have early bedtimes at home said they were determined to be awake when 1985 arrived. "I'm going to stay up until New Year's," said 7-year-old Cary Smeltzer. "I've never stayed up that late before."

Several boys who spent most of the evening together left no doubt that they were there to laugh, make noise and play impromptu games of hide and seek. "Roughhousing is what we like to do best," said 11-year-old Kirk Phillips.

When asked what he thought his parents were doing at their New Year's Eve party, one of the boys said, "They're probably kissing."

Before Mary Poppins made her entrance, there were skits, games and marshmallow roasting around an outdoor campfire that warmed the chilly night air. And after the movie got under way, it had to compete with the din of youngsters laughing, telling jokes, jumping over sleeping bags and chasing each other around the room.

As the evening progressed, counselors found themselves comforting small children who were in tears because of sudden homesickness, refereeing little spats that ended almost as soon as they began--"Stay away from him for a while" was the sagest advice--and toning down the horseplay when it got out of hand.

At one point, McKennon shut off the movie and gave the children a choice: going to sleep and missing midnight, or quieting down. They chose to quiet down--but only a little bit.

However, as the awaited hour approached, time began to temper that youthful energy. The room grew quieter and quieter as more and more children, in little clusters of sleeping bags, fell asleep--in spite of Mary Poppins and earlier vows to stay awake.

Moments before midnight, the counselors joined hands and whispered a countdown to 12--"10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 2, 1 . . . Happy New Year!"

A handful of youngsters suddenly bounded out of their bags, waving flashlights and shouting "Happy New Year" in return.

But most of them slept right through it.

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