Sunday, March 22, 2015

Enchanted Evening: Not Your Mother's Prom

A small-town prom in Utah is like nothing you have ever seen. It's so hard to explain to outsiders because the whole concept is so...unusual. Our little town in Utah goes all out and makes prom a community event. It must be similar to a debutante ball, but I can't be certain; I've never been to one of those.

When I was in high school in rural Virginia, our high school gym was a makeshift venue that disguised our gym with artificial turf and parachutes and streamers. Not all of our students went to the prom. Sure, most of the kids did, but many of the ones who went just showed up for pictures, as proof of attendance for their parents, one supposes, and then they went their merry way to do do who-knows-what, who-knows-where.

These days, prom in our Utah town is for everyone; not just the junior class. The whole community is welcome. Every junior has a date. If you don't have a date, the office will arrange one for you. The underlying concept seems to be inclusion. An interesting concept to me is that the juniors who have boyfriends and girlfriends from other high schools do not take them out for this special evening. They go with a classmate instead.

As a young girl in a serious of unrequited relationships, I would have given ANYTHING to go to prom with a BOYFRIEND. So I was shocked when my firstborn, who had a steady girlfriend at the rival high school, began making plans to invite someone from his own school. 

"This is SOUTH SEVIER'S prom, Shrink," he told me. I was worried about his darling girlfriend. I need not have fretted about her feelings. Not only was she okay with that, she was going to her high school's prom with a classmate from HER school. I just shook my head, bewildered. It is simply the way things are done here.

When a ticket arrived in the mail, I was more confused. Apparently, as a parent, I was expected in attendance, too. 

"Parents go to PROM?" I asked.

"Well, yeah!" Dylan told me. "After we do the promenade (a dance routine that includes a waltz that the kids practice the weeks before), we all do the first dance with our parents."

"You're going to dance FOR us?" I asked. "Wait; the PARENTS dance at the prom?" This was too much. 

"The whole family is invited, Shrink. They sell tickets for anybody who wants to come watch."

The high school sells tickets to the community, for a very reasonable three dollars a piece, to attend the gala event. Parents of juniors are given tickets, free of charge. Siblings, former alumnae, friends, grandparents; ANYBODY else, pays a few bucks for an evening of entertainment, complete with refreshments. Like I said, the theme seems to be inclusion of everybody.

When my daughter's junior prom rolled around a couple of years later, I was still dumbfounded that she didn't take her boyfriend from the north end of the county as her date, but I knew better than to make a big deal out of it. The kids only take classmates, and they go with groups of friends, and they make sure everyone has a good time. 

And by good time, I mean good wholesome fun. Prom isn't just about the dance. The kids plan activities that sometimes last all day, requiring changes of clothes for different situations.

Bridger's prom was a couple weeks ago. He doesn't have a steady girlfriend, but he has a large group of friends, and his date was a lovely exchange student from Denmark. 

The boys planned a fun afternoon of Glow-in-the-Dark volleyball at the gym of a local church. Each participant donned glow-in-the-dark necklaces, and there was a glowing playground ball, and they turned the lights off in the gym, and had a ball, literally.

Since their group was so large, they split up into three groups of five or six couples for dinner, and each group enjoyed a meal prepared and served by the parents at one of the friend's homes. (I know. The parents were there, during the meal, visiting and laughing with the kids.) After dinner, we all headed to the Sevier Valley Events center for prom. Yep, all of us.

This years's prom was planned by Raina Williams, a lovely, ultra-organized junior, and her plans were executed beautifully by some dedicated parents and classmates. The theme was "Enchanted Evening." No one was more deserving of the title of Prom Queen than Raina, when she was crowned after all of the juniors were presented.

It had taken some juggling of schedules, and pushing my travel plans up a week, but I am so grateful I was able to attend Bridger's prom. The highlight of this mom's night was dancing with her dapper son. It was an Enchanted Evening, indeed.

Some of my photos from the evening...

Boys just wanna have fun, too. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

When the Seas of Life Seem Stormy

Wednesday morning started out with an early morning breakfast with my husband, and then I crawled back into bed to steal a few more moments of sleep before showering. I had big plans for the day. I'd even decided on a topic for my blog, and had big plans for eating healthy, and going for a walk since the weather was cooperating finally. If I were a sailor, I'd describe the day as a good one for sailing. My sweet morning routine turned out to be the calm before the storm. The wind was just beginning to fill my sails, when my little boat seemed to get lost at sea.

My phone dinged with a text message: "Did you hear about Ruth and Mitch Peterson?"

I sat down, and said one of those ridiculous prayers we know won't do any good, but we say them anyway, for lack of any logical thing to do while we brace ourselves for a blow that is about to strike.

1400 miles away from me, tragedy had struck my little hometown when two wonderful people were killed in a car accident while they were on vacation in New Zealand. The news traveled quickly, and pretty soon, Facebook was flooded with sadness and tributes and sweet memories.

One did not have to be a close, personal friend to be affected by the loss. Mitch and Ruth Peterson were amazing members of our community, serving tirelessly in church and community positions. They were the best kind of people; cheerful, hardworking, service-oriented. He was an eye doctor and bishop; she was a devoted wife, mother, and friend. All of their children had been in my classroom at some time or another at the elementary school. Memories flooded my mind: parent conferences, field trips, and most recently, Ruth's donating her old rocking chair to use in my second grade classroom last fall and a fun homecoming day with lots of teenagers at their house where I was the photographer. My heart felt so heavy with the sadness.

Ruth and Mitch enjoying a moment of relaxation between activities they'd planned for a
large group of teens at their house for homecoming weekend.

My immediate concern was contacting my youngest; I knew Bridger would want to be by Kyler's side. The boys are such good friends. I was able to excuse him from high school so the boys could be together. Other than that, I felt totally helpless.

My husband checked on me throughout the day, reminding me I didn't have to do anything, except deal with my grief. I kept checking my to-do list, but I couldn't bring myself to do my housework or baking. I stared at Facebook numbly for most of the day, which I knew was only feeding the grey clouds around me. Although I knew there were things I could do that might shake me out of the dark place I found myself, I didn't have any energy until late in the afternoon.

Finally, about an hour before my husband would have to leave work for his commute home, I pushed myself out the door to pick up some things I had offered to buy at the store. I stood for a long time in the ice cream aisle, knowing if I bought a carton, I'd eat the whole thing. I can't count on my diabetic husband for help in that department.

While I was shopping, Chuck asked if there were some comfort food my tummy would appreciate. He didn't know I'd been consoling myself with his chocolate chip cookies throughout the day. Amazing myself, I left the store without ice cream, but not without a Diet Dr. Pepper. Maybe "drowning my sorrows" in my old nemesis would help, I thought. It didn't.

I had one more stop to make to get a baby gift for my great-niece. At the store, I didn't resist, and actually bought myself a carton of ice cream. And ate nearly all of it on the way home. Don't worry. It was a tiny one.

Throughout the day, my mind kept playing an endless slideshow of faces; all of the people affected by this sad news. So many relatives, good friends, appreciative patients, church members, school teachers and children, playmates, classmates, and most especially, the Peterson's children. The pain numbed me, but I could see how we were all drawing closer together in our grief, reaching out to one another, offering words of encouragement, and remembering sweet memories.

I stumbled upon a post in one of my favorite blogs, White House/Black Shutters. Ann Marie shared 31 ways to have a better day when you're having a bad day. I had already tried some of the things she mentioned: praying, eating (I may have gone a little overboard with that one), writing to a friend, calling my husband, and going outside.

Today, I intend to try a few more of her ideas to push through this pervasive feeling. I think my husband offers a valid point; it's okay not to do anything, too. I just want to feel a little more normal, if that is possible. So, as soon as I get off the computer, I'm going to get off the couch and get out into the sunshine for a walk. I'll set the timer when I get home, and get a few chores done, and read a funny book by Jen Lancaster. And then I'll check in with folks back in Utah, and see how they're doing. We need each other right now.

To all of my friends who are suffering with me, I offer you my encouragement. It seems that times of grief unite communities and families. I pray that we will all continue to love and support each other through this, and especially the Peterson children. When the seas of life get stormy, we sometimes have to ride through the choppy waters to reach the calm shores again. Here's hoping we'll all find ourselves sailing smooth waters again soon.