Friday, February 27, 2009

Mom Prom

At my son's high school, which is all boys, there is a long-standing tradition of the mother-son dance in February of the boys' senior year. It's supposed to be a break in regularly scheduled programming, after all the anxiety-inducing college apps are sent and gone, after all the hormone-soaked years of adolescent angst crashing into menopausal emotionalism are just about done. I remember the principal of the school, whom the boys affectionately refer to as "The Ultimate G," telling a group of mothers before my son ever went there, that the school was very conscious of trying to balance all the roiling testosterone of an all-boys environment with feminine influences. Mom Prom was no doubt born of that effort.

We had to send in baby pictures of our boys in advance of last night, and sure enough, those pictures were on display, each one set next to the senior portrait of that boy, on a continuous loop all night. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

When the letter came from the school inviting us to the mother-son dance, I read and folded it back into its envelope, saying to my husband, "He won't want to do this. He'll think it's silly." My husband shrugged, and I put the letter away.

A couple of evenings later, my son said to me, "Did you get the letter about the mother-son dance?"

I looked surprised. "Yes."

"Well, do you want to go?"

"You want to do that?"

"Of course. I spoke to some seniors from last year and they said it's mad fun. Most of my friends are going with their mothers."

(My son retells this story often, especially the part where he mimics the joy spreading across my face as I absorb the fact that he actually doesn't mind being seen in public with me.)

So last night, my husband dropped me off at the school at seven, and there was my son out front, lounging with his friends, all of them dapper and handsome in jacket and tie. He loped right over to me once he caught sight of me, and said in a voice to warm a mother's heart (in that it was a sincerely happy-to-see-you greeting), "There you are! Right on time." At which point he held out his arm for me to take, and we walked inside.

We had to sign in. Another mom pinned a red corsage on me. We stopped in front of a photo screen and posed for a mother-son shot ("Move closer to your son, incline your head to your mom"), then went inside to find a table. One of my son's friends tagged along with us, worrying about when his mom would arrive. He hadn't been able to reach her by cell phone. "Don't worry, man, my mom can handle both of us till your mom shows up," my son joked. "She'll be here soon," his friend said nervously, and I was touched by how much it mattered that she be there. We think we have ceased to be important to our teenagers, especially when they're 17 and heading off on their own soon, but everything about last evening showed us that in fact, they love us dearly, and thanks to a not-at-all corny school tradition, they could pause for a moment to show us that.

How to explain what made the evening so special? The sight of all these young men, so confident in themselves, so supported by a comfortable, goofy and kinetic sort of male camaraderie, all escorting their mothers with no sheepishness or embarrassment. And there were the mothers of every shape and color and size and age and style of dress, in awe of the young men we had raised, seeing, finally, another view of them, how they handle themselves out in the world, so moved by their charm and grace and warmth and willingness to take time out to honor us. My son and I cut up on the dance floor, joined trains, boogied down. We laughed a lot. We talked with no defensiveness. We joked with his friends. Shared stories with other mothers, all beaming with pride at the fine young men our boys had become.

Then, sometime around ten, the deejay called all mothers and sons to the floor and told the boys to turn to their mothers and say whatever it was they wanted to say. In the crush of mothers and sons, my boy put his hands on my shoulders and said, "Mom, thanks for bringing my big head into this world. I may not always be easy and I may not always show it, but I love you, and I really appreciate everything you've tried to teach me and everything you do. And this is for you." He reached into his pocket and handed me a small white box. Inside was a gold chain on which hung a pendant replica of his senior class ring with ruby stone. The school had given each of the boys this gift to present to their mothers! It was quite a moment. Around us, mothers had tears rolling down their faces. Our sons laughed, again, not out of embarrassment, but indulgent and familiar knowledge of the women who had raised them, and clasped the necklaces around our necks. Then the deejay played Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings," and we did a two-step with our boys, so gratified that we had made it to this generous place.

We left soon after that. My husband was waiting in the car outside to drive us home. He watched us walk through the night towards him, his wife and son arm in arm, laughing and joking and talking. As we got closer, our son called out, "Dad, you gotta step up your game. Mom had a ball! You should have seen her on the dance floor!"

Later, my husband and I lay in bed with me rehashing the evening in minute detail. Out in the living room, my son was back to his silly self, teasing and joking with his sister, cracking up at That 70's Show, falling asleep as usual in front of the TV.

It was a perfect evening.

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