Monday, May 16, 2011

Promming around in the Curmudgeon family

There are things I will miss when Youngest Son (our youngest of all) graduates from high school in a couple of weeks. I'm going to miss those glorious Fall Friday nights, under the lights, when football was the most important thing in the universe. Of course, this being Chicago, we were only good for one such night a season, on average. The rest would be too hot, too cold, raining or snowing.

I'll miss the occasional instance where I can be helpful with homework, suggesting an essay topic, remembering some historical event. I remember I was even the first resource for computer questions, once upon a time. Even Oldest Son used to ask me computer questions -- until about his sophomore year in college, when he picked computer engineering as a major. Now I ask him questions.

But I won't miss proms. This is not a new opinion. I quote from my essay of March 7, 2008:
My kids have all attended Catholic high schools. Single gender Catholic high schools. Even so, they have not been entirely sheltered from the excesses of modern culture. (I have, on occasion, listened to the CD's Younger Daughter has made for the car that she forgets to remove on those rare days when I actually get to drive the vehicle.) My consolation is that my children may have been more sheltered from the common culture than would have been true had they attended a co-ed public high school.

Bad as the "dance" may be, it is the before and after prom activities that really turn prom into a festival of wretched excess. Somewhere, in a more innocent time, someone suggested that the gang all get together the day after the dance for a picnic.

Now, many parents book hotel rooms for their little darlings to do whatever they please after the prom. (No, we won't.) Limos -- or even buses -- are hired so the kids can drink without fear of a DUI arrest. The kids don't go home and then rendezvous the next day for the picnic -- they crash at the hotel and go out for breakfast. Maybe they make it home for dinner the following night.

Fortunately, my two older sons had baseball games on the day after their senior proms. I'm not even certain that Oldest Son went at all. Younger Daughter insists that we let Middle Son stay out all night after another prom that he attended -- and under the inflexible principles of stare decisis we must now agree, supposedly, to let Younger Daughter stay out all night also.

Older Daughter went to her prom. On a blind date. With some peculiar-looking boy whose first name was that of a cartoon character. I never learned his last name, or whether he in fact had one. Long Suffering Spouse thinks I was dispatched to pick them up from a post-prom restaurant after the promised limo failed to arrive. If this is true, I have suppressed the event entirely.
Somehow we got through Younger Daughter's many proms. In the peculiar etiquette of Chicago Catholic high schools, a boy will ask a girl to his prom; she will then invite him to hers. Middle Son and Younger Daughter had too many admirers to adhere to that rule. Older Daughter and Oldest Son had no one special to ask. Only Youngest Son is playing this hand according to Hoyle.

His prom was Saturday; hers is this coming Friday.

The hotel room idea was floated again this year -- hey, the argument goes, the dance is at the hotel anyway; we'll just get a room there. The notion was just as quickly vetoed this year as in prior years. I am ready to be a grandparent; I just want my grandchild to be born to one of my married children.

"It's a big group!" Youngest Son protested. "What can happen?"

"An orgy," I thought to myself. I used to have HBO. But all I said aloud was, "No."

This year I didn't even have a baseball practice early in the morning to rescue me from hard decisions. (If Middle Son did stay out all night for one of his proms, it was with baseball teammates because he had practice early the next morning. If anyone else was involved, I didn't know about it.)

Youngest Son was busy for a couple of weeks before his prom with plans and counter-plans and trial balloons. We shot every trial balloon down. "Are you just going to say 'no' to everything?" he asked at one point. "If you are, tell me."

Long Suffering Spouse and I insisted we would approve reasonable plans.

In the event, I'm not sure that we did.

Not knowing for certain that baseball practice would be cancelled on Sunday until Saturday afternoon, but knowing that three of the five boys in Youngest Son's group are on the baseball team, and after having Middle Son's precedent cited for the 1000th time, we somewhere along the way agreed in theory to the boys staying at someone's house overnight after the dance.

Our house was proposed as the venue, and we were prepared to agree, until we started asking questions about how the girls would get home.

I'm not certain that Youngest Son was in the vanguard of the stay out all night brigade. The real mover and shaker behind the let's-rent-a-hotel-suite movement was the girlfriend of one of Youngest Son's teammates. We'll call her Tess (because, of course, that is not her name). Tess and her boyfriend (let's call him Tim) have been going out for four years. In high school years, this is the equivalent of reaching one's Golden Anniversary, although without the arthritis.

Youngest Son explained, at one point, that even Tim was not that committed to Tess's hotel idea, but he more or less had to go along. "Why?" I asked. "Well, she is pretty good-looking," said Youngest Son, as if that explained everything. And, I guess, to an over-hormoned 18-year old, maybe it did.

Eventually, Tim's mother supplied a solution: Youngest Son said the boys would sleep over at her house.

Fast forward now to Saturday afternoon. Youngest Son returned home after shivering through a doubleheader (the temperature probably never got above 50 Saturday and it was windy and damp). He was excited to advise that there'd be no practice Sunday. "So now we can go to Brian's house in Wisconsin Sunday," suggested Youngest Son. Brian's summer home was one of the Saturday night destinations we'd previously vetoed. Even with no alcohol involved, driving in the wee small hours of the morning, across state lines, sounded to me like a recipe for disaster.

"We'd have to return the suits Sunday anyway," said Youngest Son. "So we'd go up after that."

"What's so great about Brian's place?"


"Oh, come on now. Fishing?"

"Yeah. The house is on a lake."

"Don't you have school Monday?"

"Didn't I tell you?"

"Do you ever?"

"Oh. Well, school's cancelled for the seniors Monday. It's tradition. We'll have a game, but that won't be until later." He disappeared upstairs to shower and shave and don his tux.

Long Suffering Spouse and I discussed the matter while he was preparing. After some hand-wringing, we agreed, between ourselves, that we would approve this trip, under the stated circumstances.

We might have told Youngest Son this, too, only he came flying down the stairs just as Younger Daughter came bursting through the front door. She'd been working, but she hurried home because she didn't want to miss the picture-taking. A big sister has an important role to play in embarrassing her brother by taking all sorts of pictures on prom night.

Somewhere, in finding out that the pictures would be taken at Donny's house, and finding out where Donny's house was, we never did actually tell Youngest Son that he could go on the trip Sunday. Somehow he had managed, despite the chaos, to lighten my wallet, however.

Some of you will recall the recent Royal Wedding in England. The pageantry, the paparazzi, the horse-drawn phaeton between the church and the country club or wherever it was that they held the reception for Balding Billy and Bonnie Kate.

Well, except for the horses (usually), the picture-taking on prom night is much like this. Youngest Son led the way and Long Suffering Spouse, Younger Daughter and I followed behind in the family van. Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter were both brandishing cameras.

Donny's house was a showplace. It didn't look that large from the street, but there was an enormous front hall inside, complete with a formal staircase on which all five couples could pose. There was a kitchen and great room beyond. In the kitchen was an enormous spread of sandwiches and chicken wings. "I got the chicken wings just for you," Donny's mom told Youngest Son as he dived into the spread with gusto. He certainly seemed at home there. Of course, Youngest Son spends far more time at his friends' houses these days than he does at our house -- at least time awake.

I was a little apprehensive about barbecue sauce staining the pink vest or tie (yes, his otherwise traditional black tux had pink accoutrements to match his date's gown) but Youngest Son had no difficulties. In this, at least, I have to hand it to the boy: If you can stay looking sharp and eat chicken wings, you've really got poise.

There were pictures in the great room. There were pictures of the boys. There were pictures of the girls. There were pictures of the girls pinning boutonnieres on the boys' lapels. There were pictures of each couple. Then there were pictures in the front hall, especially on the stairway. Tess seemed to be directing several of the photographers. I was trying to blend into any corner that would contain me.

Eventually, though, it looked like there might soon be an opportunity to escape this madness. So I grabbed Youngest Son and Long Suffering Spouse and I dragged him to a corner of the kitchen for final instructions. His date and her parents tagged along.

There was the usual: You can call for a ride if you need it. If you need to come home, at any point, the door will be unlocked. No booze. Text me when you get downtown.

"OK," I said, moving from the general to the specific, "you're staying at Tim's tonight, right?" The boy nodded. "Fine. Now, how is your date getting home?"

The boy's eyes widened. His date looked at her parents in confusion. "I'm coming home?"

Here is where I found out that Tim's parents had agreed to take in both the boys and the girls. Apparently, Tess insisted.

I have learned, finally, not to impose myself into others' parenting arrangements. I mean, what could I say? "Yes, you're going home, young lady. What would your parents think?" Not when her parents were standing right there clearly thinking that their daughter was staying the night at Tim's.

A few more questions revealed that the "fishing" trip Sunday would likewise be co-ed. Not all of the girls could stay Sunday night; the mother of my son's date was planning to pick up those who were coming home that night. I'll bet any sum you care to wager that Tess stayed up in Wisconsin last night.

Sometimes I think I must be hopelessly old-fashioned. Sometimes, like Saturday, I prove it.


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

i cannot tell you how good it feels not to have teens any more! of course they older they get the bigger their problems but it's usually money at that point. btw, i often wonder how bob is doing...

smiles, bee

Dave said...


Isn't there one more paragraph there at the end? The one where you tell us you did or didn't let him do the all night thing and/or the "fishing" thing. If you did, well? It's Monday, is he alive, are you a budding grandfather?

The Curmudgeon said...

Bee -- I don't know how Bob's doing. He's in Texas again, at last report, and hasn't made contact with either me or my sister in over a year. That probably means things are going OK for him, at least so far as he's concerned. If that changes, we may hear from him. Or about him. Not much we can do about it either way.

Dave -- We did let him go "fishing." And they got such a late start on Sunday that his date couldn't go (she didn't have Monday off from school and her parents weren't going to let her blow it off). So, yay parents.

Funny thing: We saw one of Youngest Son's classmates (all male, remember?) with one of YS's grammar school classmates (female) at Noon Mass Sunday. They'd been to the prom, too, of course, and both looked exhausted. Of course I texted my son about this, inquiring when he was going to Mass. And I wanted a receipt, too: The Sunday bulletin. (We Catholics sometimes call this 'proof of church.')

This morning I was presented with a bulletin signed by the mother of the boy who was hosting this group in Wisconsin. She attests that Youngest Son attended the 6:00pm Sunday Mass -- with her.

Now... just because a kid fulfills his Sunday obligation doesn't mean he didn't step far out of line on Saturday night. Sadly, our priests and bishops -- much less our laypeople -- too often demonstrate the sad truth of this. But it improves the odds even so. But we still have another prom to go. *Sigh*