Last weekend, our youngest daughter, Lilly, went to senior prom. Three weeks before that, we had an epic mother-daughter argument in a TJ Maxx dressing room.
Having swapped gowns for proms and military balls my entire life, I understood Lilly’s insistence on borrowing formal dresses from friends. But this was Lilly’s senior prom. Whether she wanted it or not, I was determined to buy her a new gown all her own. As luck would have it, we found a rack of formal dresses at TJ Maxx, and Lilly took a heap of them into the dressing room. One by one, she wriggled into the garments, struggling with zippers and straps. She hated them all, except for one.
“I like it,” she said, head cocked sideways in the mirror. I tried to look apathetic. It seemed that every dress I liked, she hated. I knew better than to reveal an opinion, because Lilly would take the opposing view.
But this wasn’t just any dress. It was classic — fitted tea-length lace, with delicate straps and a unique hemline. Stunning. I clamped my lips together to contain my excitement and tried to act nonchalant.
After rejecting the second bundle of dresses, Lilly put the lace dress back on for another look, while I busied myself rehanging the pile of discards.
“It’s cool … different, you know?” Lilly said.
“Definitely, and very flattering.” Oops. In a moment of weakness, I let my opinion slip and jeopardized the entire process. I busied myself with a tangle of hangers and held my breath.
“Actually, I’ll just borrow a dress from Julia,” Lilly concluded, peeling the blue dress off and tossing it into the reject heap.
“C’mon, Lilly, you just said you liked it!” I pleaded, but revealing my fondness for the dress had been the kiss of death.
“Everybody at school borrows dresses, Mom!”
“How is that possible?! If no one ever bought new dresses, there’d be none to borrow!”
“You just don’t understand!”
“Your mother wants to buy you a brand new dress, and somehow, this is a bad thing?! You’re right; I don’t understand!”
It went round and round like this, until I stormed out, dramatically proclaiming that I would never buy Lilly another thing as long as I lived.
On prom night, Lilly got ready at Julia’s house. I showed up at the school where the students were gathering for group photos, to see what she ended up wearing. I told myself that, even if she arrived in a burlap sack and a pair of Converse Chucks, I’d smile and take photos like a good mom.
I found Lilly’s girlfriends giggling excitedly on the school grounds, all of them radiant in colorful gowns. I spotted Lilly wearing one of Julia’s dresses. She approached sheepishly, but I had to admit, she looked lovely in the empire navy gown, her shimmering gold necklace reflecting her sandy blonde hair.
My eyes prickled, as I welled with middle-aged mom pride.
Just then, the boys arrived. I stood back to watch them like they were zoo animals. Lilly’s date, a football player, was milling about, chewing gum with his hands in his pockets. He was wearing an outfit — a jacket emblazoned with stars and no tie — that screamed, “I’m just here for a good time.” Although I had heard that he had a crush on Lilly, he didn’t bother to say hello to her. Worse yet, he didn’t say hello to me.
At midnight, Lilly came home reporting that she’d had a great time.
“Did you ever talk to your date?” I asked.
“Oh, sure, we ate dinner together. Then he left with his friends, and I danced a lot.”
“Your date left with his friends?!” I asked, incredulously.
Lilly assured me that this, along with girls borrowing dresses and boys wearing goofy jackets without ties, is perfectly normal teenage behavior today. Suddenly grateful for the hideous purple taffeta, tacky corsage, and awkward slow dances at my own 1984 senior prom, I breathed a sigh of parental surrender.
“And by the way, she said before going up to bed, “Nobody uses the term ‘date’ anymore, Mom. He was my ‘prom ask.’”
I stand corrected.