by Kristy Campbell
Senior Prom 2010 is a far cry from my Gunne Sax dress and dinner at The Ramada Inn. Of course, San Francisco is quite a distance from the middle of Pennsylvania, but I sense that all across the county, Senior Proms have amped up the crepe paper and punch bowls. Prom 2.0 is in full swing this spring. And, it’s more than just a dance.
This past weekend, my husband and I hosted 52 prom dates and their parents for appetizers and pictures before the luxury party bus arrived to take them to the dock for their cruise in the San Francisco Bay. When my daughter told me Prom would be a harbor cruise, I remembered that the only time I’d been on a harbor cruise was for a wedding reception. When my daughter showed me the Facebook page where all the girls were posting pictures of their dresses, I remarked that it seemed so Oscar-like. I still wasn’t quite clued in when my daughter asked if kids could come before the Prom for pictures. I immediately agreed. How bad could it be? 5 or 6 couples, their parents, some pictures, some cheese and wine…how fun. Only after I said yes and the invitation was posted on Facebook, did my daughter let me in on the fact that it would be a few thousand people descending upon our home. Thankfully, my daughter’s step-dad is a saint and wholeheartedly agreed to transform our house into a pre-Prom photo spot.
As the parents and kids started to arrive, I was really moved to see all these kids dressed up with corsages and boutonnières honoring the time-old tradition of Senior Prom. Of course, the dresses were more Red Carpet than off-the-rack mall wear. Bright colors, beautiful fabrics, plunging necklines with ample cleavage (yep, there are her parents…guess they know she is wearing that). The boys were very handsomely dressed in tuxes with vests and ties. There wasn’t a frilly shirt in the bunch or a wacky bowtie. Not even a pastel suit. All the kids were elegant and made every parent proud.
It’s a strange sight to watch these can’t-keep-their-room-clean teenagers morph into young adults, all of them using manners and cocktail napkins. They have had other formal dances before in their high school career, but you could tell that the enormity of this being their last dance together as a class had them all behaving reverently. My daughter admitted that she was excited and nervous but kind of sad about her Prom since when it’s over, it will be over. I knew what she meant, and as I scanned the group of kids, I could tell she wasn’t the only one feeling that way.
The families watched as the kids loaded on the bus and pulled away to the thump of the bass…ah, loud music…the great teenage universal. Some of the parents came back to the house so we could process together what had just happened. Many of us commented on how grown up these kids all seemed that night.
No one admitted to it, but I know we were all thinking about what would happen later – in the bathrooms, in the corners, on the back of the bus. Some parents are clued in and know full well that lines of cocaine, meth-laced ecstasy tablets, alcohol flasks, pot, and condoms would all be making an appearance. Other parents are hopeful their child hasn’t a clue about any of the vices. I consider myself lucky. My daughter tells me everything about what happens at parties and often my worst fears are validated with her stories. I don’t always like the stories, but I’m grateful for the knowledge. It’s allowed my daughter and me to openly talk about what she faces and to discuss how she makes her choices, both good and bad.
The one piece that all of us parents did agree on, though, was that this moment came way too fast for us. We are facing high school graduation in a few short weeks and are thinking about launching our kids out into the world hoping we've equipped them with enough tools to navigate the next phase of their lives. We raised our glasses to these amazing young men and women who have overcome challenges and situations that we did not have to face as teenagers as street drugs, addiction, rape, suicide, bullying, anxiety, depression, and ever-changing technology are all normal parts of the teenage world today.
Our world has been amped up increasing the level of intensity with which we all must live, and this heightened existence is robbing our kids of their childhoods. I think teenagers are the group that gets it worst since they are caught in the middle of the “be a kid/be an adult” dilemma. My key to surviving these high school years with my daughter is that I only ever expected her to be a teenager, and she was the perfect teen. Sometimes she was incredibly wise and insightful and responsible in her actions and other times she would make poor decisions and misread situations and have a lame excuse why she missed curfew.
Teens live in a tough world and there isn’t an answer on how to give them back some of the safe space of childhood. I find there are just opportunities to give back to them some of the same experiences that shaped our teenage life…football games, pizza parties, trips to the mall, and, yes, Senior Prom. As I looked at the pictures the next day and marveled at all the touching thank you notes the kids wrote to me, I realized that Prom is more than a dance for these kids. It’s the farewell to being a teen.