…I know the day will come
when you will do these things alone.
Will you recall the shoulder rides
and all the balls we’ve thrown?
I want you to grow stronger
than your Dad could ever be.
And when you find success
there will be no soul more proud than me.
So will you let me carry you?
One day you’ll walk alone.
I cannot bear to miss one day
from now until you’ve grown.
~ “Can I Carry You?” by Brad Anderson
One night when I was five years old, my mother came to my room and roused me from my sleep. She asked if I wanted to see Toni Tucker, my teenage babysitter, dressed for Prom. I did not know what Prom was, but when I padded downstairs and saw Toni standing at our front door, I understood why my mother woke me. Toni wore an emerald silk gown with dyed-to-match shoes. Her pony tail was replaced by a bouffant, earrings sparkled from her ears and she wore ruby red lipstick. I thought she was lovelier than anyone I had ever seen. She looked sophisticated…grown up…and quite beautiful.
When I was a high school freshman, I was asked to the prom by a boy I barely knew. I accepted and then was faced with the formidable task of finding a prom gown. I will never forget the search. My mother and father accompanied me to Forbes and Wallace, where we found the perfect pink and white confection of organza and crepe. When I saw the price tag, I gasped in shock. The gown cost thirty dollars- far too much money for a dress I would only wear once. However, to my great surprise, my parents gladly agreed to the purchase. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I looked in the mirror the night of the prom. I had never worn a long gown before. I felt… sophisticated…grown up…and quite beautiful.
Proms are a rite of passage for most American teenagers, and for most of them, finding the perfect attire is almost as important as graduation. I thought of this a couple of weeks ago as I made a few easy alterations to a gown for my niece, Mikaela. She is a tall and blond, and her choice of a bejeweled turquoise halter neck was perfect. Mikaela is an athlete, and usually is more comfortable in shorts and sneakers, but when she slipped into her dress, she was transformed into an exotic goddess in a tropical sea- sophisticated…grown up…and quite beautiful.
To me, a large part of the fun of finding the perfect prom clothing is watching this metamorphosis take place. When Abby was a senior, she and I went shopping for her gown. She tried on several, and we both fell in love with a pale blue strapless dress whose frothy skirt was delicately embossed with silver filigree. It was costly, but once I saw my daughter in it, I was helpless. Her green eyes were shining, and her cheeks blushed; her seventeen year old naivety bowing to the emergence of a young woman. Just as my parents had said yes to me, I had to say yes to her. She was sophisticated…grown up…and quite beautiful.
Gabe’s prom was next, and although I had seen him in black tie before, I caught my breath when he emerged from his room. His tall, lean frame was accentuated by the cut of his rented tux, and he strode with the grace of the gentleman he was quickly becoming. It was amazing to me that a boy who had just yesterday slam-dunked dirty socks into the washer could overnight be transformed to this dashing young man. Somehow, he had become sophisticated…grown up…and quite beautiful.
When Elizabeth reached her senior year, we shopped on a snowy Saturday morning for her gown. The driving was treacherous and the stores were practically empty. Elizabeth is tall and willowy, and looks like a runway model, so it was not long before several saleswomen were crowded into the dressing room to watch. My youngest child…my messy girl…disappeared into a dressing room, several gowns in tow, and emerged breathtaking and statuesque. The saleswomen oohed and ahhed, and we decided upon the ivory silk sheath with embellished straps. My messy girl was sophisticated…grown up…and quite beautiful.
Prom is an event that marks the passage from adolescence to adulthood. It gives teenagers the opportunity to shed their childhood and slip into the vestments of respectable grownups- even if only for a few hours. It gives parents a glimpse into the future, to a day when their daughters will no longer be shy little girls and their sons will square their shoulders and look them straight in the eye.
It is the middle of April, and prom season will soon begin. The halls of high schools are filled with whispers of who is taking whom. Young men are suddenly aware of how much money they need for tickets, and mothers and daughters fill the malls to shop for the perfect dress. Denim will be traded for tulle and heels will replace flip flops. Cameras will flash. Parents’ hearts will swell with pride. It is the season of metamorphosis, a time when skinny, uncertain, quavering-voiced adolescents become sophisticated…grown up…and quite beautiful.