Three Dates, Two Proms and One Mom
NEW YORK TIMES — JUNE 1985
It is happening all over the country. Parents are being screamed at by children who are casting gimlet eyes over front halls that must be shaped up (like their parents) before the doorbell rings. Little brothers, threatening to sabotage their sister’s big evening by appearing downstairs in their underpants, are being strong-armed into broom closets. At the last minute, a zipper breaks. (”God’s always dumping on me!” wails the victim.) Everyone’s emotional inner tube is about to pop. It is the night of the prom.
On this particular night, armies of adolescents march toward each other holding corsages and boutonniers stapled shut in cellophane. They are excruciatingly nervous, as are their parents, albeit for different reasons. The children are worried, among other things, that their parents might embarrass them. The parents are worried that their children might not return home alive. Who is this boy, lineage and driver’s license status unknown, who is taking out their daughter? Who is this girl – and does she really have a 3 A.M. curfew (as relayed secondhand) – who might corrupt their son?
Before the doorbell rings, parents have been given careful instructions. Answer the bell, turn robotlike on your heels, retreat to the kitchen. Wait there quietly until daughter sings out ”Goodbye.” Return only to ask carefully phrased question, ”What time should I expect you home?” This last sentence has been negotiated and renegotiated for several weeks.
Daughter, who is a sophomore, knows that if the answer is later than 1 A.M. that parent will advance like a Spanish duenna with a stiletto on a search-and-destroy mission. Parent knows that daughter’s date knows this and will, if he has any brains at all, answer ”1 A.M.. . ., ma’am.” Weeks, perhaps months, of advance psychological and physical preparation have gone into prom night, particularly if you are the parent of a girl.
In this house, we had put the cart slightly before the horse and shopped for the outfit before shopping for the escort. This is rather like an author having an exquisitely flattering photo taken for the dust jacket of a book as yet unwritten, hoping the photograph will give the author manque enough inspiration to get to the typewriter or, in this instance, phone. We found an ensemble that struck me as something Lauren Bacall might wear to a funeral in Acapulco. But this is the 20th century. Girls do not wear net dresses with daisies anymore.
There were problems with my daughter’s intended escort. Sam had turned down Sharon when she asked him to her prom last month. Sam might not want to hurt Sharon’s feelings by going with my daughter to her prom, or so my daughter’s intelligence service informed her. Dozens of telephone calls whipped back and forth across the city as my daughter and her friends discussed the possibility of rejection versus acceptance. We decide to call. Sam says ”no.” Deep depression ensues. Various neighborhood boys are suggested by her mother. She turns her head to the wall.
Then, from an unexpected corner, comes her older brother to suggest a blind date called from his unpublished but presentable list of friends. Is he goofy-looking or acting? asks his sister. ”Depends,” says her brother cryptically. She decides to depend upon his judgment. That was a mistake.
The blind date turns out to be a disaster but that is only the bad news. The good news is that she was rescued at the dance by a fabulous- looking blond six-foot-tall rower (who was at the dance with another girl who was only using him as a cover to see somebody with a Mohawk her parents didn’t approve of) who spent the entire evening romancing my daughter. She tumbled home, on time, newly in love and appreciative of God’s mysterious ways. I fell asleep thankful that no oak trees had collided with the car that brought her home. One prom down, one to go.
Last year’s younger brother in a pair of underpants is this year’s Beau Brummell. For his school’s dance -on a hired cruise liner – he was approached by not one but two girls from his eighth-grade class who presented him with a package deal. Would he take both of them? Hey, why not? ”What? ” I screamed incredulously. ”You’re taking two girls to the school prom? ” He nodded, unimpressed with his assignment. They even bought their own tickets. I thought this was taking the 20th century too far.
My son’s first choice of outfits was a rented tuxedo. We called. $50. ”No way,” I replied. His second choice met with my approval – a used-clothing store where you can’t carry away all the stuff you can buy with only $5.
He emerged with a size 6 woman’s black jacket, waiter’s black vest and a silk bow tie (navy blue but who would notice in the dark?). He was scheduled to pick up his dates by 6:30 P.M. He was ready by 3. We killed time. As I drove him across town to pick up his dates, I worried that the parents of the two girls might get the wrong idea about their escort. He looked a little like Nathan Detroit or a hit man for the Mafia. We pulled up to Rachel’s house and he put on his wraparound sunglasses. Bounding up the front stairs, two bunches of red carnations clutched behind his back, he rang the bell. Rachel was ready, looking like a young Amy Irving – in her mother’s turquoise blue chiffon dress, bare feet and braces. She was eating a Popsicle. My son did not deserve such melting beauty the first time at bat. There was more, Brooke, chauffeured to the pickup spot by her mother. Up the stairs came a little blond sunbeam, in a blue-sprigged ruffled dress with hair that fell like silk anchored by berets behind her back. Now we are two beauties, squired by one undeserving, seemingly underwound escort. Yet, neither girl seemed to care what they shared. Was this progress? I did not know. My part in the prom was to pick up all three of them at 10:30 P.M. when the boat returned. I saw them leaning over the railing. My son was spitting into the water. The girls were watching his spit fall, seemingly entranced. The troika was intact. Falling into the car, all three seemed pleased with the evening. They had had to share the boat with tourists from New Jersey, which took some of the shine out of the starlight. The hot dogs were expensive, but the music was O.K. Everybody had been given cheap neon necklaces, which they dangled out the car window. By 12:15 A.M. everybody was asleep in his or her own bed.
Had their expectations of the evening been fulfilled, I wondered. Nobody asked or answered that question although so much romance compressed into a few hours seemed unnatural to me. Next year at this time, I expect that the scenario will be a little more complex. The thought exhausts me. I am getting old.