This column was originally published in The Daily Tribune on September 21, 2003, when my son Nate was a senior at Shrine Catholic High School. It’s also included my memoir collection, Writing Home. This week, Nate celebrated his third year of marriage to Andrea, the young woman mentioned in this column.
From baptism to bar mitzvah, rituals and rites of passage honor the milestones in our lives. Certain rituals are so closely tied to autumn, in fact, that I cant imagine the season without them. Raking leaves, visiting cider mills, and digging woolens out of storage are just a few.
But the annual high school homecoming dance crowns them all.
At our house, as surely as the maples shed yellow leaves on the lawn, this semi-formal event kicks up a whirlwind of activity and emotion. Some of it is not pretty.
Because I am the mother of a son, my homecoming rituals do not include shopping for the ultimate evening gown and the perfect shade of nail polish. Admittedly, I miss playing Fairy Godmother to Cinderella, so I live vicariously through other moms who have teenaged daughters. Thats how Ive learned that things are different with boys. The angst level, for instance, is much lower in the wardrobe department. Guys dont worry about their hair, and they dont have to obsess over finding a purse to coordinate with a pair of shoes that will be worn only once.
Traditionally, a boy waits until forty-five minutes before the big event to consider whether or not his dress shirt needs to be unearthed from the closet floor. (This is based on the assumption that he owns a dress shirt.) At that point, all hell breaks loose, sending his beleaguered parents in search of an ironing board while the boy hunts down a pair of matching socks. He also waits until the final hour to announce that his good suit has cake frosting on the lapel â€“ a souvenir from the last semi-formal event he attended.
Homecoming rituals will test any parents mettle, but I believe Im a sturdier person because of them.
Last year, a week before the big dance, we drove Nate to Nordstrom to shop for a new shirt and tie. Anticipating conflict, I backed off and let him sort through the merchandise with his dad. I tried to keep quiet â€“ until I spotted a handsome gold dress shirt that was perfect for his black suit.
“Look at this one, guys!” I shouted, holding up the prize. On cue, Doug spotted a great tie to go with it. Our sweet son glanced at the ensemble, rolled his eyes, and muttered his new favorite word. “Hideous.”
Seconds later, Nates cell phone rang. It was Andrea â€“ a young lady with impeccable fashion sense. Andrea happened to be shopping in the area and would come to his rescue. She would help him find the right shirt.
Well, when the fashionista arrived in the mens department, she immediately chose â€“ you guessed it â€“ the gold shirt. Suddenly this shirt was awesome, and the tie was cool, too. (I bit my tongue and reminded myself that God really does look out for parents, and lurks everywhere, including the men’s department at Nordstrom.)
As I type this, the next homecoming dance is a week away. Just as I did last year, and the year before that, Ive reminded Nate to ask a date in advance. Once again, Ive explained how girls need time to shop for dresses and book hair appointments. And just as he did last year, the kid kept his plans under wraps until he needed advice on ordering a corsage.
As it turns out, Nates date this year is Andrea, the sharp young lady with good taste in mens shirts. Thinking ahead last week, we bought Nate a new shirt and tie to co-ordinate with her dress. Thank goodness, Andrea approves. Meanwhile, I am not taking any chances and have dropped off the black suit at the dry cleaner. This is senior year, after all, and weve finally learned the steps to the homecoming dance.
Writing Home is available on Amazon (use the link at the top of this page).