Over the past week or two, I've enjoyed reading so many Facebook posts about high school proms, and looking at the pictures of young people enjoying their evenings.
This post is a reflection on my first "prom as a mom" experience, going back to 2006. Whether this is the first or last prom night in your house, I hope the parents who read it find a moment they recognize in it. Do we all feel something like this as the experience unfolds?
On one hand, I watched the tuxedo-ordering event for the senior prom unfold in bemused silence. Never had so many questions about so many details been posed to so few people who had not one definite answer between them. And why would they? Who ever imagined how many choices you have in a formal wear shop? Suit without stripes, suit with stripes. Long or regular length jacket? Shirt with one inch, half inch or quarter inch pleats? Maybe no pleats. Bow tie or not, in black or in a coordinating color, striped or plain? Vest or cummerbund? In black or matching color or coordinating pattern? Jewelry: all black, black and silver or black and gold? Shoes: round or square toe style? Oxfords or loafers? I didn’t make this many decisions about what I wore to my wedding.
We began with the sample tuxes on display in the store, samples that turned out to be not quite right. After paging through a catalog to find just the right one, my son and his girlfriend made another half a dozen choices (see above) before finalizing the entire transaction.
On the other hand, as I watched the sales clerk help my son into a jacket and smooth it out to make sure of the size, I was terrified. The fit was very nearly perfect, and he buttoned it with confidence as his girlfriend nodded that it looked good. I thought so, too, but as I think back on it, the tuxedo jacket kind of disappears. In my mind, I see my two-year-old lay his little winter coat out of the floor, slip his hands into the sleeves, and flip it over his head to show me he can do it “all by self.”
The white dress shirt he selected was a very distant relative of the t-shirts and casual clothes I see daily. The crisp quarter-inch (not half-inch, not full inch) pleats would create just the right look under the black vest. The sales clerk took his collar and sleeve measurements, and in my mind, I remember another ‘dress’ shirt he used to have: the little blue one from pre-school days. I see him wearing it over his t-shirts - unbuttoned - because “Peter Rabbit never buttons his blue jacket.”
I noticed the shine of the dress leather shoes, the final touch that would add the perfect formality to the evening clothes. He reviewed the choices and decided on the round, not the squared off style. In my mind, he stands before a row of shoes in a discount store. I see him search the display for sneakers that feature his favorite cartoon or movie hero of the day, complete with lights in the rubber soles. He and his brothers would wear out those Velcro light-up shoes before they would outgrow them. “Watch me, Mommy! Watch how fast I can run with these!”
They selected a tie that will match her dress perfectly and add a touch of color to the black and white formal wear. But I look past that one and instead see the dozens of clip-ons and bow ties - so tiny! - he used to wear. I see Daddy teaching him and his brothers how to tie a “real” tie.
On our way home that evening, we talked about flowers. I felt just a little delighted - and surprised - when he casually named his girlfriend’s favorite flower. When did he find that out? Does he know my favorite flower? (Do I even have one? Am I losing my mind?)
The whole event was more than the sum of its parts. Yes, it was about a special suit of clothes and a dance and a girl but it was more than that, too. I didn’t realize it at the time but we walked through an unmarked door, my oldest son and I, and it’s unlikely we’ll be able to turn back. The sign on the store indicated a formal wear shop but it should have read: This way to adulthood. There was a moment during the tuxedo rental experience when I watched him change just a little bit, right before my eyes. I had those familiar feelings of displacement I’d felt occasionally over the past few years.
But this was more than another sappy, corny “Sunrise, Sunset” moment. This time the feelings arrived all dressed up, proud and confident, complete with a pocket square, a set of cufflinks and shiny shoes. They were inescapable. And impressive. And in my mind, they were unforgettable.