Prom night. Formal dresses. Tuxedos and limos. Happy smiles and teens tentatively showing off their temporary finery to their friends.
It’s a rite of passage, a chance for the intentionally casual to be replaced and, for one night, to become kings and queens. What was an awkward boy the day before, has been transformed into a GQ cover model, complete with the bow tie matching his date’s dress. The quiet, shy girl with an eye for style and high hopes of wearing the “right” brand, is now shining and confident that she is beautiful, at least for the stretch of five or six hours.
This is prom night.
The events leading up to this one evening started weeks ago. Paying for the ticket, picking out the dress, combing the shoe aisles in search of the perfect pair, matching accessories, deciding on hairstyles, and planning among friends about who would be there and what they would be wearing… so much enthusiasm and excitement and energy poured into one big event.
There were the naysayers, the kids who said prom was lame, that no one cool would be there. There were some too shy to go without a date and too shy to ask a date. There were some who couldn’t dance and weren’t about to commit social suicide by jumping in to prove their ineptitude. There were others who had no interest in spending weekend hours at a school event.
Then there were the kids who were all in, planning and organizing and scheduling appointments for tuxedo fittings and hair styling and manicures. There were kids who rented limos and photographers and who ordered their matching wristlet/ boutonniere combinations days in advance.
My daughter fell somewhere between the two camps. Having never participated in a formal school dance before, she was a tad reserved, but excited. She loved her dress, and in the weeks prior to prom, it hung in a place of honor in the corner of her room, not tucked away in her closet with the rest of her clothes. The morning of the big day, she decided her hair needed a little extra attention, and we made the rounds of the salons here in town, looking for a stylist who was not booked solid with formal up-dos. Permanent roommate and I surprised her with an orchid wristlet, since she was going with a group of friends and not a date. And, of course, we spent an hour or two taking photos, forced to shoot indoors by the wind, which had chosen to gust at 50 MPH rates all evening. With photography as a hobby and a subject like my own daughter dressed up like a fairy tale princess, I was quite happy to play with the lighting and change lenses and make an extended session out of the whole production.
Then the big night…
Into the parking lot of the rec center where the event was held, walked beautiful people in glamorous dresses and handsome suits and tuxedos and bow ties and flowers. Instead of pumpkin coaches, parents in ordinary SUVs and mini vans were dropping off the attendees. Each had individually dreamed of this evening, planning what they would wear and how they would arrive and wondering who might be there, squirming at the thought of dancing in public and curious about the music the DJ might play and which teachers would be chaperoning.
As I watched the kids, I stilled for a moment, taking in the scene before me. They are on the brink of adulthood. In their formal attire, they no longer look like they are trying on their parents’ finery, for they are growing into their own. The little girl who had clomped around in my high heels and draped a cloth around her shoulders, imagining a fine gown, was gone and in her place was a beautiful young woman, stepped straight from the pages of a Cinderella story. She shown with the radiance of anticipation and hope for the future. She felt beautiful and glowed with the knowledge that she was loved and noticed and valued.
One by one her friends joined her, mirror images in various shades and colors and styles, but all reflecting the same expectations. They are the next generation, the future of our world, the ones who will fill the vacancies in their companies, their governments, their schools, and their homes. These are the adults of tomorrow, but for tonight they teetered on that fence. For tonight, they stepped into the shoes of the future, putting on maturity like they put on their formals. Tonight, they were in the spotlight, with all the support and encouragement of their parents behind them, feeling the optimism and the hope that is inherent with youth, seeing only a wide open horizon in the direction ahead. Tonight, anything is possible.
Tomorrow, they will go back to their Converse tennis shoes, their skate shorts, their intensely casual attire. They will immerse themselves back into their heavy homework loads for a few more weeks, pushing hard to meet end-of-the-year project deadlines. They will grab enormous amounts of sleep whenever possible and ingest huge portions of food, like only a growing teenager is capable of. They will battle acne and insecurity and social pressures, let their rooms become the Area 51 of the house, where anything could be lurking, and they will engage in sibling squabbles. They will slip back into childishness, allowing their innocence to show, playing games with youthful abandon and forgetting to be cool. They will hang out with their friends at the movie theater or the mall for another year or two, with yet one more potential growth spurt causing them to need whole new wardrobes. They will stress over state testing and college placement and career choices. They will discover a little more about themselves and a whole lot about the world in general.
And eventually, we — the parents — will give them our blessings, launching them out into their own lives. Our parenting role will switch gears and we will reside in more of an advisory capacity, serving as a safe haven of encouragement and a support network, watching all the years of investing in these unique little people pay off as they bloom into full color.
But for tonight, prom night, we are offered a glimpse of the men and women they will be, of who our kids are becoming.
I wrestled with a tear or two, overwhelmed by the love I hold for both my girls, wondering in amazement at these beautiful young people and the potential represented in their group. No matter how much I cherish the family photos and the memories of my babies and laugh over the funny things they said and celebrate their first accomplishments, I will keep one eye forward, on the kings and queens, suggested in subtle hints slipping in graceful shadows in and among our kids on prom night, as they try on, just for a moment, the idea of who they will be in a few more years.