Springboards and Milestones

My son, Adam, has a hard time with change. He was the kind of toddler you had to tell, “All right, ten minutes ‘til bedtime!” Then, “In five minutes, it’ll be bedtime.” If you didn’t do this, The Monster would emerge and pitch a cyclone of a fit all the way up the stairs to his room.

When he turned five, we had a big celebration. Chucky Cheese with his pre-school buddies, a family party with the grandparents. We did the entire dog and pony show. Later that night, when I went to tuck him in, I said, “Well, Adam, you’re a big boy now!”

His big brown eyes welled up with tears. With a wail torn straight from his heart, he turned on me, furious. “I don’t want to be a big boy! I want to stay little!”

Sigh. Who can blame the kid? I mean, really, don’t we all look back on the golden days of our childhood as the time before life choked us with responsibility and disillusionment?

So, why would I expect things to be any different now that he’s a teenager?

I am driving back to Greensboro from New Bern, approaching Raleigh, when I get the text page. My son has a nasty little habit of text paging me with his intentions instead of calling to ask permission.

I counter this with a saved-to-quick-text “Do it and you’re ass is grounded!” message. You’d think the kid would get it after so many attempts, but like I said, he doesn’t do well with change.

This time the text read, “I’ve decided to go to the prom after all.”

Just that. At 3:30 on the afternoon before the prom.

I mentally thank God for the daily Zits cartoon that is my source for Parenting Your Teenaged Boy education.

I text back, “What about a tux? Corsage? Tickets? Dinner reservations?”

“Marrisa’s brother’s lending me his maybe, and his shoes. We’re going with Marissa and her friends. She’s got a reservation. I’ll get one at the grocery store.”

This response merits a phone call. Good thing, too. Marissa’s brother is away at school. His tux went with him.

“I thought you didn’t want to go to the prom,” I say when I reach him.

“I didn’t but Marissa told me she won’t have anybody to talk to if I don’t take her friend, Amanda and Trey would be all by himself, too. So, I like, kinda had to do it.”

I smile. This Marissa girl is a pro.

“Graham, broke into the principal’s office and got a permission slip. Don’t worry- he forged your signature so I could buy the tickets.”

Well, thank heavens for petty criminals, I think.

“I called around. There’s one place left where I can get a tux but we have to be there by five. Okay?”

I set the land speed record, hit the driveway at 4:40, pull into the men’s shop parking lot at 4:50, and hurl myself, breathless and disheveled, upon the mercy of the shop’s manager. He looks as Adam, mentally tsk-tsking. Gives him the “Son, do you know you are putting your poor mother through hell?” look and whips out a measuring tape.

The store is one of a dying breed, catering to wealthy gentlemen of a certain age. Bright pink shirts top the manikin’s neon, madras shorts. Golfing clothes line the center aisle, while business suits skirt the edges of the tiny room.

His tux will have to be shipped in over night. The guy is down to cumber bun color when I remember some retained bit of trivia. Cumber buns are O.U.T. Only a fool would wear a cumber bun. A real man wears a vest.

“Vest!” I cry. “No cumber bun!”

Adam’s eyebrow lifts. I point soundlessly to a photograph in the catalog. A polished, debonair young man models the look I knew Adam would covet. The eyebrow slowly lowers. I get the nod.

“You won’t find any corsages left at the grocery store and it’s too late to order one from the florist. Every kid in town has already done that. What color is her dress?”

I am spitting this at him in a rapid-fire staccato of information and questioning as we double-step it into the Fresh Market next door to the now-closed men’s shop.

“I don’t know. Just get her white,” he says, clearly clueless.

“Son, your taking her to the prom, not a funeral.”

I buy forty dollars worth of flowers. “I’ll make her corsage,” I tell him.

“Why’d you buy so many?” he asks. “Don’t you just stick one or two roses on it?”

I give him a withering look. Does he not get it? This is one of life’s milestones. My baby’s first prom. Doesn’t he want it to be special? Doesn’t he want perfection?

By noon the next day, I am alone in a kitchen filled with failed corsages. Stemless rosebuds and shredded leaves lie on the floor surrounding my seat at the kitchen table. The dogs are afraid to cross the threshold into the room, even though this is where the treats are kept. They know I am a homicidal maniac.

I have researched corsages on the internet…along with every other morsel of information I can obtain about proms, etiquette and floral arrangement. The “wristlet” is in, replacing the traditional or wrist corsage. It looks like a bracelet of flowers.

I can think of about fifty-thousand places they can cram that sucker, too!

I am so mad I jump up and decide to go to the grocery store at the edge of town and throw myself on the mercy of the floral department. I am a desperate woman.

“We have one left,” the woman says. She hands me a pale pink, three tiny rose, traditional corsage. Ten bucks and I’m headed home, feeling defeated.

My entire family is waiting in the kitchen when I return.

“Mom, I looked in the refrigerator and there are corsages all over it. They’re beautiful! But I like that bracelet-looking thing the best. Why’d you make so many?”

I look at the dogs. They’re looking back at me, telepathing, “We didn’t tell him, honest!”

My friend, Martha, arrives. “Wow! These are beautiful! I thought you only needed one?”

I pull the Harris Teeter corsage out of its brown plastic bag and plop it down next to the others on the counter.

I am surprised to realize the store-bought roses look pale and anemic next to the brilliant pinks of the wrist corsage.

But I react quickly.

“Well,” I say. “You didn’t want her to think your Mom made the corsage, did you?” I pull open the clear plastic, grocery store container, discard the contents and gently place the wristlet inside. “There,” I say, tearing the price tag off. “Now she’ll never know.”

Later, as I am driving him to the house where I have been informed I may meet the other parents and take pictures, I listen as Adam talks to his buddy, Trey.

“What do you mean, you’re lost?” he says. A nervous edge colors his tone. “Well, okay. No, turn around. You went too far. All right, see you in a minute.”

We are turning onto the street where Marissa lives.

“Just pull up across the street,” he says. I know he’s waiting for Trey, shy about walking inside alone.

He’s on the cell again. “Yeah, I’m almost there,” he says. “I’ll see you in a minute.” His voice is soft, gentle. It’s Her.

A few moments later he scowls. “Turn out the headlights, Mom! You want ‘em to think we’re just out here waiting?”

Oh, stupid me! We wouldn’t want to look like that! No, never!

I cut the lights. With the next frown, I cut the engine.

Suddenly, across the street, the front door swings open. I catch a glimpse of a blonde in a bright pink dress just before Adam hisses, “Duck!”

I am scrunched down beneath the steering wheel of my car, hiding from a 17 year-old girl. Has my life really come to this?

But when I look over at Adam, see the acknowledgement of our ridiculous behavior; both of us collapse into helpless giggles. Of course, we do not get back up, but I have been transported back to my own adolescence…when hiding beneath steering wheels and giggling at clueless boys was a main form of entertainment.

Just as quickly, he is gone…my baby, slipping off into the night on the arm of a beautiful blonde.

The world widens its arms to receive them as we, the left-behind parents, watch from the open doorway.

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