Mama Madison: The guys worry, too

School dances freak everybody out

I was completely exhausted after attending my first West High football game last Friday night. The emotional Regent loss coupled with the crash that inevitably follows a dinner of concession stand-Lemonheads didn't leave me much energy for Saturday's sporting event--getting my ninth grader ready for his first homecoming dance. I had believed quite foolishly, and perhaps sexist-ly, that because it was my son who would be attending this all-school social event, as opposed to a daughter, I'd be able to avoid much of the dance-day drama.

And I was wrong. Boys, too, it turns out, have "getting ready" anxiety.

I fully remember the stress I felt around school dances growing up. Once I got over the horrible disappointment of not being asked by the right boy, the pressures of what to wear on a date with the wrong boy (always a "friend") felt absolutely enormous.

Would I sport on the shoulders or off? Do I wear tea length or long (homecoming circa 1981 was a much more formal affair, at least in the DC suburbs, than nowadays in Madison)? Should I try to put my hair up or just leave it down? For me this wasn't much of a decision; it was going to frizz-out in the heat of the overly decorated gym regardless.

But it wasn't until last Saturday that I realized boys have their own version of this torture. And my husband wasn't even around to help our son out; he had picked an inopportune weekend to head up north with his college buddies. Sure, it was the sartorial advice of a man who had made the unfortunate decision of wearing a yellow tux to his own senior prom that we were missing. But my husband at least knew how to tie a tie.

As it turned out, to "tie" or not to "tie" was fashion choice number one. And as a woman who has been known to wear full-on sequins to events where a simple pair of jeans, without bedazzling, would suffice, my gut instinct said my son should wear one. Together we settled on tasteful silver number from my husband's under-utilized collection. We then went through a checklist of further style decisions that could rival anything back stage at a Marc Jacobs show. Dress shoes or high tops? Shirt tucked in or left out? And was any guy in the ninth grade wearing a jacket at all?

My son pulled it together just in time to make it over to a girl friend's (not a "girlfriend""he's destined to be a "just friends" person, like his mother) house for group pictures. And as I snapped away, it became clear to me that this school dance ritual isn't just for the kids, but for us parents as well. It's a chance to take our daughters shopping for that first pair of heels, praying no ankle will be twisted on the over-crowded dance floor. It's an opportunity for a father to experience what can only be called a "Sunrise, Sunset" moment as he watches his son climb into the back seat of a van sporting his own ill-fitting sport jacket. I realized that evening how little help my son asks for these days, and how much I like giving it when he asks. Even if the help is only to decide if his shirt matches his tie.

Which it did. Because as far as I am concerned, silver (and sequins) match everything.

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