Thursday, 28 April 2011

Sweet Seventeen

I can hardly believe it, but I have a daughter who went to the prom.

I can hardly believe this for two reasons. One is the obvious, sunrise-sunset one: Where has the time gone? I look at my daughter and can't get over the young lady she is now. I remember her as a squalling, red-faced infant, a chubby toddler, a headstrong kid, a smart-mouthed pre-teen. And now here she is in high heels and a fancy dress, curling her hair and putting on make-up.

The second reason is, I never went to the prom at my high school and neither did my sisters. Nobody invited us. We didn't really mind so much; we were introverted nerds and it never crossed our mind that anybody would want to go to the prom with us. Which was a very good thing, considering that nobody did.

In my heart of hearts, I'd have liked to be the sort of girl boys invited to the prom. I had an image of a nice boy calling me up and inviting me. On the night of the prom, he'd come to collect me on foot because he wouldn't have a car and it would be embarrassing to be driven by his parents. I could picture us strolling to the prom together, me wearing some kind of nice dress (though God knew what: I had a mother and two sisters with no fashion sense, and the shoes would be a problem since I hated high heels and wondered how I would ever walk in them). I had a vague notion of dancing (which should have panicked me because I could not dance), drinking fruit punch (because I was too much of a goody-goody nerd to imagine alcohol), and whispered pleasantries at the front porch when he dropped me off, perhaps a firm handshake, a kiss on the cheek, and a promise to meet again.

You can see why I never got asked to the prom.

I'm not one of those mothers who relives her youth through her daughters. My own youth is so far behind me, this would be absurd. Also, my daughters are entirely different from my teenage self: they may be nerds, but they're well-adjusted, gregarious nerds. So when our eldest daughter decided that she didn't want to go to her prom, I was fine with that. But a few months ago, I heard our youngest daughter talking on the phone. "No. Seriously. I'm not going," I heard her say. "Ask Heather, she'll go with you."

"What was that all about?" I asked her when she hung up.

She rolled her eyes. "Sam wants to go to the prom."

"He invited you and you said no?"

"Of course I did! I don't want to go to the prom!"

Sam is kind, smart, and good-looking. He plays the cello, is athletic, and has been pals with my daughter for the past ten years. I may not be one of those mothers who relives her youth through her daughters, but the teenager in me felt like crying. You got asked to the prom and you said no? What the hell is wrong with you?

Over the next few weeks, I heard further conversations, all of which went like this: "Well how about Mhairi? Have you asked her? Why not? Okay, then, how about Megan? Ask her!"

"So?" I finally asked. "What did you decide about the prom?"

"I told him I'd go with him if he couldn't get anybody else."

Which is exactly what happened. My daughter didn't let Sam down. She bought the cheapest dress she could find, and thank God I didn't have to help her pick it out. "Only seventeen pounds on sale!" she crowed, twirling around and modeling it for us. She borrowed a pair of high heels from a friend. I watched her in awe: I could never have picked out my own prom dress. I would never have been able to walk around in high heels.

Sam showed up at our house in a kilt, bearing a corsage. His parents drove him and my daughter to the prom. I shook my head as I watched them drive off. I never imagined I'd have a daughter going off to the prom. And definitely not with a boy wearing a kilt.

"How was the prom?" I asked her when she got home.

"It was great," she said, "but my feet are killing me. I hate high heels!"


Dale said...

I can't tell in how many ways this is a wonderful post. So I'll just say it models much more good parenting than most books on the topic ever even get around to advising :-)

Bish Denham said...

That is so cool. I went to two proms. I asked my best friend, a boy, to take me because no other boy would ask ME! I wore dresses my mother and grandmother made me, took off my heels (put them on the table) and danced barefoot!

debra said...

I never went to my prom, either, Mary. I wasn't relevant.
My daughter did go to one. She said that she was glad she went, because now she knows, but that it was highly overrated.

angryparsnip said...

awwwwwwwww what a great post...

I didn't go to my Prom but found out afterward that several people thought I was going so didn't ask me... that is what happens when your prom was in 1960.

cheers, parsnip

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm amazed I got up the courage to ever ask a girl to a prom, but I did go to two of them with dates.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is in some ways like me but so much more confident and well adjusted TOO. (like you said yours was. I should not be commenting this late at night; hope I'm coherent) I'm glad your daughter went with a good friend and I'm amazed that she picked out her own dress.

Kim Ayres said...

Proms are a relatively new thing in the UK. They certainly didn't have them 30 years ago when I was at school.

Which is just as well because I don't know that I'd ever have been able to ask a girl to one, nor would I have known what to wear - I had school uniform or jeans. Even when I was being a businessman I had a suit, or jeans - I've never had much of a wardrobe.

And as for dancing - well, does headbanging count?

Chocolatesa said...

I remember going without a date, and someone elses date ended up spending the evening with me! I think he was only a friend of hers, luckily :P I didn't go to the after party though, I was the loner who didn't hang out with the rest of the gang.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Short and nerdy was I, and insecure. I never asked a girl to the prom because I knew every girl I asked would say no, and I wouldn't know what to do or how to act once I got there.

I tried asking a girl out for a date once but she told me she couldn't go out with me as she had to wash her hair!?!

My first date didn't occur until my 3rd year of COLLEGE! I had a lot of catching-up to do.

Fast forward to the time following my divorce - I placed a personal ad hoping to find a girl friend. I got over 60 responses. One of the women I met I asked her to marry me having only know her 10 days - we celebrate our 26th anniversary this year.

I still dance only for the humorous effect. People think I'm being intentionally funny (in reality, I can't dance... but don't tell anyone.)

Vijaya said...

Mary the first part of your post couuld've been me (minus the 17-yr old daughter). I can see the second part as a great short story. Love it.

Mary Witzl said...

Dale -- Your comment cheers me up. I'd like to think that my daughter's decision to pick out and pay for her own prom dress was a result of my hands-off parenting policy, but that seemed to be making a virtue of a necessity. But thank you for your kind words.

Bish -- Good for you, being brave AND pro-active. I was a meek little thing; I could no more have invited a boy to the prom than I could have flown to the moon. And good for your mother and grandmother too. My mother could sew, but prom dresses would have been beyond her. At ceilidhs, I'm always tempted to dance barefoot. But some of the men come in those big old toe-crushing shoes and I've never worked up the nerve. But that's a great image.

Debra -- Me neither! I wasn't even a dot on the social radar in high school, and if I ever attended high school reunions, I know this would be confirmed: nobody would know who I was. I still think of my years of high school misery as one long character-building exercise.

Good things our daughters had the option to go. I always had a sneaking suspicion it was overrated. And I'm glad I missed out on the high heel wearing.

AP -- You didn't regret not going, did you? ;o)

One of the things I was happy to see is that girls ask boys now, (though some boys ask girls too) and a couple of brave kids even had same sex dates. It's no longer the girl waiting passively for a boy to ask her out.

Charles -- You went to TWO proms? You and Bish owe me a prom.

It was awful waiting for phone calls that never came; I never thought about how hard it must be for boys having to make those calls, and getting rejected.

Elizabeth -- Me too! If you gave me a giant wad of cash and free rein at Bloomingdale's, I couldn't pick out a prom dress to save my soul. Or if I did, I'd come away looking like Elly May Clampett.

Kim -- Knowing precisely what to wear is a skill I've never had. I depend on others to sort me out when I absolutely have to turn out for some affair in proper clothes.

Headbanging counts if you were part of that generation. I'd have loved to be part of the pogo-ing generation; all they had to do was jump up and down, bodies held rigidly, arms at sides. I know I could have managed that.

Chocolatesa -- Well at least you had some interest expressed in you -- that would have been huge for me! Having the nerve to go on my own would have been a big step too. I had a couple of friends who went on their own to the prom when nobody asked them. I've always been amazed by their nerve and confidence. Years after the fact, that quality will stand you in better stead than having been Most Popular Kid with any number of dates.

Robert -- When you're younger, decent people with date potential seem to be a dime a dozen. When you're older, you know for a fact how rare they are. Which is why the mature women you met spotted your qualities and decided they could do without washing their hair.

I dance now when I feel like it and do my best not to catch my kids' eyes.

Vijaya -- Thank you.

As a teenager, I could never have shared this story. I'd have wanted the phone to ring off the hook for my daughter, to have her go to the prom with the nicest, most popular boy, and come back starry-eyed and happy. But I love the way her prom experience turned out. And even better, the way she's turned out.

Congratulations on those 26 years!

anna said...

I absolutely loved reading this. Proms are so loaded with the tenderest of adolescent feelings, no matter what our personal histories with these events are! The endless movies about them must be testament to that, depicting them as everything from cinderella-like moments of transformation to ghastly horror scenes!
Both you and your daughter sounds like completely fabulous women, by the way.

Martin J Frid said...

That is so funny, thanks for sharing. I just had to laugh!!

Happy Golden Week!

PS I managed to get into college without having to graduate from HS and of course in Sweden, we do not have proms. Always been curious about them, though.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you wrote about the prom night. I was wondering how come she went and how it went.
I wish I was there to see her showing you the dress, the way she walks on high heels, how she looked when she came back home...
I can't help saying "Oh, my... She's growing into a woman!" Guzin.

angryparsnip said...

to answer your answer...

No I didn't miss it too much, I think I was just too tired... I was on several committees the prom committee being one, planned all the designs, made sure it set up correctly then went home to sleep. I worked part time and went to school. I was very busy.
I think I would have liked to have gone but it didn't seem a big deal at the time. I was way too busy.

Robin said...

That is sooooo sweet! Your daughter is mega cool. I'm glad she didn't let Sam down.

Kevin has been in love with Morgan, the little red haired girl, forever, and she consented to go to the prom with him at the last minute. He is over the moon. But I fear Morgan likes him more as a friend, and Kevin's heart will be bruised a bit in the end. Ah, well. Did Charlie Brown ever get the little red haired girl to like him? I forget.

Pat said...

If I had a daughter I would want one with a mind of her own and not one just content to go with the flow.
You are lucky:)
I never see a man in a kilt without wondering. But that's just me;)

Miss Footloose said...

Your daughter is so together! Must be your talents as a mother! It's so sad to see the kids today so pressured by their peers and the social climate that they have no sense of themselves and just follow the herd.

Just to let you know, I listed your story PATIENCE OF A SAINT on my post Fun Abroad: 10 Fabulous Expat Blogger Stories. The link is here:

Thanks for entertaining me!

Murr Brewster said...

I was just flying along fine with this post until you mentioned the kilt, and then I had to go be by myself for a while. In a good way.

I think it's a Liam Neeson thing.

Uma Krishnaswami said...

That's a lovely story, Mary, a short story-like snapshot of your daughter's confidence and your own memory of vulnerability.

Carole said...

Love, love, love this post. Of course I didn't go to the prom either, but I love it when others get to go. It is especially good when they end up hating high heels.

Mary Witzl said...

Anna -- Thank you for those kind words.

Proms are definitely built up in our imagination, along with weddings, graduations, and birthdays. I'll never know what it feels like to go to one, but I tell myself that not going was a useful experience too. I'll always remember that prom scene from 'Carrie'. And wonder if my own prom experience might have been closer to Carrie's than Cinderella's.

Martin -- Happy Golden Week to you too -- we've still got another two days of it, don't we? I hope it's as golden in Japan as it has been in Scotland.

No proms in Sweden? You have definitely earned your reputation as a more advanced society.

'Guzin' -- She swayed, screwed up her face, and minced around on her high heels like she was walking on hot coals; she could never have managed in Cyprus! ;o) But she took off her shoes to dance and she definitely had a good time. And yes, she IS turning into a young lady. You'll have to come back to Scotland and see us!

AP -- You sound like you had the kind of high school life we all dream of having: popular, but busy in a useful way -- good for you. On prom night, I moped around a bit and had vaguely formed Janis Ian thoughts about my life. I should have been a lot more usefully employed.

Robin -- I feel bad for Kevin! My kid has unwittingly broken a heart or two herself: she really does NOT like boys and makes it pretty plain. She doesn't lead anybody on (which is good because I can't stand that), but it's still painful to observe. I hope Morgan is interested in Kevin in the way he wants her to be, or, failing that, isn't a little minx.

Pat -- A decade ago, I never would have believed my daughter's strong-mindedness could turn out to be a good thing, but it definitely is. Thank God; there were times when it caused me no end of headaches.

We went to Burns night party at a friend's house a couple of years back. One of the other guests asked a man there what he had on under his kilt and he went and showed us; he'd had a little too much Scotch. Big shock.

Karen -- My daughter follows the herd on occasion, but if I point this out to her, she can always see it. And she points out that I have my herd-following ways too. But one thing I'm positive of: it isn't my skilled parenting that has made her this way. That was in her from the word go.

Thank you for linking to my post!

Murr -- See my comment to Pat above. Take my word for it, sometimes you don't want to see what's under those kilts. It's one thing if the kilt-wearer is some lithe, well-built young thing, but not if he's long in the tooth with a belly the size of Texas.

Uma -- Thank you. I tell my daughter how shy and lacking in confidence I was at her age and she can't believe it. Which is fine by me.

Carole -- Aren't high heels just pure torture? I think women look great wearing them, but I have never been able to manage this. Even a two-inch heel has me screaming after half a block. And kitten heels are the invention of the devil.

Anonymous said...

I went to two proms and they were very tame compared to what I read about today, even allowing for the heightened reality of YA fiction. I was cheered to hear a radio essay a few weeks ago, I believe this one ( in which Ira Glass tags along to a high school prom in the Chicago area. It sounds rather boring, even with the booze. (This might not be the program but I can't think who else would have done it. Googling David Sedaris didn't come up with anything...)

Anonymous said...

I didn't go to prom and I never regretted it. At the time--when I was going through a dark poetry phase and was becoming more of a loner--going wouldn't have fit my personality. I'm more sociable and cheerful now, so perhaps if I were a teenager today I would attend.

JLD said...

Hi, Mary! I also survived my daughter's recent junior prom and just when I thought I could pack away the bobby pins until next year, she was invited to go to senior prom, which takes place later this month. Yikes!

She is the youngest of my four daughters and the three older ones went to both of their proms, so I'm an expert at this by now. While I went to both of my proms, it was different then. You waited for a boy to ask you and if he didn't, you didn't go. Now, it's dating by committee. Your friend who has a boyfriend asks his friends if they want dates and weeks of negotiation take place and then once the dust has settled, you have a date. Girls sit in classes and ask aloud, "Who wants to go to prom and doesn't have a date yet?" and the ones who raise their hands are set up with each other or with others she knows who are still looking while Matchmaker, Matchmaker plays softly in the background. It's quite strange, but it works and more people go to prom instead of sitting home wishing they had been asked or had been brave enough to ask someone.

Loved your post!


Marian Perera said...

I went to my high school prom, but I felt silly. I didn't know anything about fashion, so I picked out a silver top and a black skirt, and one of the boys called me a spaceman.

It shouldn't have bothered me but it did. I'm glad Sam had the guts to wear what he liked and to heck with everything else. :)

Mary Witzl said...

Anne -- Two proms? And to think I'd have settled for a look-in at just one!

There was drinking at my daughter's prom -- there is ALWAYS drinking at proms in the U.K., I am told. The teachers make a big point of telling kids no alcohol is allowed, then they look the other way as the kids belly up to the bar. My daughter came home in a happy state, but she could walk a straight line. For that I'm grateful.

Medeia -- You liked dark poetry and you were a loner? My favorite books when I was in high school were The Brothers Karamazov and Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man. I listened to Leonard Cohen, read Sylvia Plath, and spent hours by myself, trying in vain to think deep thoughts. We'd have gotten on fine if we'd crossed paths!

JLD -- You have FOUR daughters? How do you manage to get a turn in the bathroom? I've never waited so long for the shower as the year we had three teenage girls in the house.

I know what you mean about date selection. My older daughter reported something similar when she was here: kids discuss who will go with whom and manage to sort things out quite well after a bit of juggling and bartering -- "Casey really, really likes you, you should go with her!" -- "Ben and James want to go together, but James' mom doesn't know he's gay, so why don't you go with him?" There's a lot less passive waiting around for boys to call girls.

Marian -- A silver top and a black skirt sound pretty good! I have a horrid memory of my mother picking out a double knit yellow polyester suit for me and begging me to wear it because it was on sale. I cowed in and did this one time; the very memory makes me go cold. I lucked out: the truly awful, name-calling kids must have been absent that day, or I hate to think what I'd have gone through.

As for Sam's kilt, almost all of the boys in Scotland wear kilts to the prom. But Sam is actually English, so his kilt was in fact a kind of statement.