It’s prom season. And between you and me, I’m enjoying just being a relaxed observer this time around. Enjoying that I don’t have anyone worrying about hair frizz or who’s asking who or which house is going to allow drinking and which ones won’t. In fact, I’m giddy over it. Sorry, but I am.
Now don’t get me wrong, I really am a fan of the concept of prom, in theory. With the exception of what happened at the end of the movie Carrie, I think having a formal dance to commemorate the end of high school is a beautiful tradition. What I’m just feeling right now, as someone who’s watching it all happen from the cheap seats, is empathy for all the parents out there who are stressed out over this year’s prom season. Because as fabulous as it is for our kids, it can be a nail-biter for us.
Just the word prom fires up most high school kids, almost as much as it paralyzes most parents.
I should know, I was one of them. But that was last year and this is this year and I’m enjoying prom season soooo much more now that I’m a casual bystander.
See, for most high school seniors, prom marks the unofficial end of high school. Which is huge. And by that point, you can bet most of them are ready to celebrate. (Hell, so are we when our kids are that close to breaking the tape.) Because for all intents and purposes, once they hit prom season, they’re done. And everyone’s pumped. That’s why prom is so symbolic.
And when you think about it that way, you know, as a celebration of making it through high school, it’s no wonder most kids are so into it. I mean, the hype and the build-up and the anticipation of the night is something that upperclassmen think about and talk about for years before they graduate. The promposal, the dress, the tux, the hair, the photo ops. The After Party.
Last year, when my then-high-school-senior daughter and her friends started talking about prom, I did what every parent does and feigned excitement over every single aspect of The Big Night while secretly dreading every single aspect of The Big Night. Not that I wasn’t excited for her, because I was, but the reality is that there’s so much more to prom than just coordinating the bowtie with the dress. Maybe not as much for the kids, but definitely for us as the parents.
There’s the stress of all the other details. All the temptations. The build-up. The will she get asked? The will she want to go with the guy who asks her? The will the girl your son asks say yes? Will your daughter ever find the right dress? So much to consider.
And those are just the moderate details. The ones that don’t involve overwhelming levels of stress. Let’s call them the outer wrapping paper of prom. Once you rip through the pretty paper, though, there’s a whole Pandora-type box underneath that will make most parents feel lightheaded and dizzy.
Yes, I’m talking about the sex part and the drinking part and the drugs part and the drinking and driving part. That fluffy stuff like dresses and hair and makeup and cummerbunds is the stuff that’s fun to talk about; the other stuff is the stuff no one wants to talk about but every parent has to talk about. Because those things are the reality of prom. And those are the things that make us dread the whole thing.
The unfortunate reality is that today’s proms look nothing whatsoever like proms did when they became mainstream. Obbbbbviously. Now we’ve got breathalyzer tests and bag searches and pat-downs and condoms in every pocket. Now, it’s a totally different world. Now, when you ask most kids what comes to mind when they hear the word Prom, most of them would use words like drinking, sex, or drugs. And that leaves us parents with a whole lot to consider as we watch them walk down the red carpet.
See, where there’s a will, there’s a way, in most cases. And that’s what’s scary.
There’s always that kid whose older brother will buy everyone beer. Or that family beach house that everyone knows is empty. Or worse still, those parents who openly provide the means and the venue for the blow-out after party.
That’s the dark side of prom. The unnerving side. The side where people overdose and die of alcohol poisoning in someone’s basement or have unprotected sex or drive drunk or, God forbid, kill someone. The part, unfortunately, that the kids themselves don’t really spend much time considering. The stuff that we, as parents, can’t stop thinking about.
So what do we do? How do we handle our fears?
The answer is complicated and very different for everyone.
Prom is a rite of passage. A celebration. A milestone. A once-in-a-lifetime moment to be remembered and cherished. But prom also has the potential to be other things. Prom can be a night when our kids step over the line. When they make bad, impulsive decisions. When they feel obligated or compelled to go a little crazy.
That’s why it’s our job to talk the talk beforehand with our kids. To explain that we trust them. To give them the benefit of the doubt.
That’s when we lay down the rules, tell them to have the time of their life while making good choices, and remind them that we have Nannycams everywhere. Above all, though, we never let them see the sweat marks under our arms. Never. (We’ve gotta play it cool.) Then, when the busses pull away, we all gather together in the parking lot, hold hands, and sing a quick round of Kumbaya. (Maybe two.)
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn/. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.