Proms of Days Gone By

(I originally shared this essay on a blog I had about five years ago.)

T. S. Eliot was surely not thinking about the prom when he wrote “…there is only the dance.” But for many young women and their moms at this time of year, there couldn’t be a truer statement. For our purposes, we might say “there is only the prom,” and the prom goes on forever. In most high schools, it goes on every weekend in April and May, and even into June.

In my unique and totally weird position as the headmaster’s wife, (weird in that no one who knows me can remotely imagine me in this role), I have actually been to the prom for the past eight years. This is a completely unnatural thing to do as an adult. My husband, the headmaster, and I actually get dressed up like we are prom dates – he in a tuxedo, me in whatever in my closet is clean. Unlike my teenage counterparts I do not do get a manicure, pedicure, highlights, hair extensions, new dress and shoes, or any type of waxing. I do not go to a tanning bed or go on a diet to fit into my dress. I do not have to worry about whether or not I will sleep with my date. This is actually quite liberating.
For several weeks before the prom, mothers of high school age girls are sucked into the frenzy of the whole crazy thing that has become today’s prom. Gone are the days when you could just ask a date to the prom by phoning them or passing them in the hallway at school. Now there is this thing called “the ask.” The ask involves thinking of a totally unique, blockbuster way to ask your date to the prom. For example, let’s say you know your date really loves chocolate more than anything in the world. The ask might then include you strewing a path of Hershey’s kisses from 4th period geometry down the hall to the ask-ee’s locker, having already filled his or her entire locker with Hershey’s kisses. Upon which time you present the ask-ee with a chocolate cake, baked by you (or a bakery), on which you have written in icing, “Prom?”

Of course, this is a really lame example. Real asks are, like, so totally more creative than that. Which is why it’s like, so cool that I have the same date every year. Because I don’t have to do the ask.

At our school, my husband and I host a pre-prom party at our home on campus for the senior boys and their dates. (Our school is an all-boys’ school.) I’m sure this is exactly what they would all not love to be doing on their way to the prom, which is why we do it. We like to mess with their heads. The boys introduce us to their dates, and we make small talk. What school do they go to, where are they going to college, did your mother actually let you out of the house in that slutty dress…

Ah, yes, the dress. (See photo of me in my prom dress, 1970.) At the risk of sounding like a headmaster’s wife, what happened to modesty? The amount of cleavage on display in my front hallway was truly mind-boggling. To say nothing of the ass-hugging fabrics that clung to every bodacious curve. Must be the hormones in the milk today.

The amazing thing was, not only were these young women all members of the same tribe of gorgeous super-models, but they were also accomplished, poised, and all set to do great things with their lives! (Compare to my prom photo, clueless about anything in life, in the scrubby back yard of my parent’s house.)

The fun doesn’t end there, with the pre-prom party of course. For the headmaster’s wife, as for the kids, the evening is still young. My husband and I go to the prom itself, enjoy a little dinner, circulate among the students, and then head out to the dance floor. There, we do the bunny hop for a while to the pulsing beat of “Back yo’ bootie up into me, an’ slap that ass.” Again, I am hardly what one would call a prude, but, helloo! What’s up with the grinding? And the misogynistic music? Mama’s don’t let your daughters grow up to be prom ho’s! Have the talk!

Well, by 10:00 my feet are killing me, and it’s eminently clear that no one really wants to party down with the headmaster and his wife. So we head home for some popcorn, our pajamas, and our DVR of that night’s PBS Newshour. Party on…

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