Today the weather is perfect for a high school prom. Here in Chicago, the sun will shine and the temps will head into the high 70s for the third time all year – ideal for glamorous photos in backyards or on our high school’s self-styled “red carpet.” But this year, for the first time in memory, our local high school will not be hosting a prom. It’s just one of many rituals that have been defeated by COVID-19.
My daughter and I had found the perfect dress back in January. It fit her like a glove and didn’t even need hemming. All she needed were some glitzy high heels, and she’d look like a million bucks. High school seniors all over America are in the same boat, looking wistfully into their closets at the dress they’d planned to wear at the most iconic dance of high school.
Our high school’s prom was always the perfect send-off for seniors. The night began with parent paparazzi shooting hundreds of photos of their sons and daughters before all the kids, plus some parent and faculty chaperones, boarded buses and headed into downtown Chicago. At Navy Pier, they dined and danced under glass at the Crystal Gardens and then hopped onto a cruise ship for an all night party on Lake Michigan. Tonight was to have been that magic night for my youngest child. Instead, she will spend another delightful evening in the bosom of her family, of whom she has not tired at all.
I have seen invitations from local online publications to send one’s photo in her prom dress and have it posted there. I’m not sure how satisfying that would be. It seems more trouble than it’s worth to be, as we used to say, “all dressed up and nowhere to go.” Our high school has promised to try to host some celebration for the seniors later this summer. But the uncertainties of the course the coronavirus will take have left that largely in theory at this point.
I never attended my high school prom. While I always wished I had, that fact has not loomed large in my life. I have had a perfectly happy one without that particular experience. And I know that in the grand scheme of life, my daughter will look back upon this year and realize it did not have a devastating impact on her hopes and dreams.
Still, it hurts for her and all the high school seniors – and their parents – who will be missing this most magical night.
This morning my daughter rose before dawn to catch the sunrise over the football field at her high school. It’s her last first day of school – and ours. Senior Sunrise is one of the many traditions we will experience to mark this important milestone in my child’s life. Soon she will be starting a new chapter in college. And my husband and I will face a new future together as empty nesters.
For nearly 29 years, my identity has been wrapped up primarily in my role as a mother. From the moment my oldest child took her first breath, I have been holding mine. It’s scary, this parenthood stuff. Late night fevers, scrapes on the playground, friendship drama, homework crises, fears about what our teens are up to on the weekends. “No rest for the weary,” my husband would often quip as we sat up waiting for one of our children, the ticking clock reminding us that in time, all this shall pass.
But there has been infinitely more pleasure than pain in shepherding our four kids through childhood. Those first smiles, warm hugs, late nights cuddling an infant have given way to fun excursions, adult conversations and joy in their achievements. As my daughter leaves for her last first day of school, she is tall, confident, and strong. Like my other children, she has been given a foundation from which to grow and mature.
In less than an hour, my daughter will join her fellow members of the Class of 2020 as they head into their first period classes. It will be a year full of “lasts” for us, but I’m not sad – just looking forward to the vistas opening up before her and all of us as we head into our futures.
My youngest child got her drivers license the other day. After a lot of angst and more than 50 hours of practice driving (Be still, my heart!), we made our way to the DMV for the dreaded road test. My husband, who is generally calmer in the car than I, was supposed to take my daughter, but he
chickened bailed out at the last minute. Yet as I sat on the hard plastic chair in the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, it felt fitting to be there waiting for my fourth and last child to go through this particular rite of passage.
I’ve always gotten excited about firsts in my children’s lives: first word, first tooth, first day of kindergarten etc. But I don’t really have a corresponding nostalgia for “lasts” in the way some parents do: last first day of school, last school dance, and now last child to get a new drivers license. Sure, I shed some tears dropping each of my three older children off at college, and I do miss seeing them on a day to day basis. But I’m too happy about all the new and exciting possibilities in their lives to dwell too long on the losses.
After what seemed an interminable wait, my daughter walked in alongside the road test evaluator. I couldn’t read her expression. The evaluator handed her a piece of paper as I walked towards her with a half smile and a tentative thumbs up. She nodded and grinned. “SUCCESS!!!” I texted my husband. My daughter regaled me with the finer points of the road test while we waited for her to have her picture taken and get her temporary license. Then she drove home, not as a practice driver, but as a newly licensed one.
There will be many more rites of passage for my youngest child to go through: ACTs, college applications, prom, graduation. And I will be there right alongside her, savoring each “last” in my life while welcoming all the new things awaiting her in the great big world of adulthood.