All last week, it seemed that every parent I ran into, who has a high school student, asked the same question: “Is Little Man going to Homecoming?” That answer changed throughout the week. Surprisingly, for a kid who is young for his grade and doesn’t get into dances, etc, he has always enjoyed the Homecoming dance. He’s never taken a date, but he and his buddies have gone each year- some with dates, some without, but together. There is always a dinner beforehand and up until this year, a few parents who do the driving. This year, most of them have their licenses. In fact, a lot changed this year.
Ten days ago we were planning to shop for an outfit to wear, and discussing dinner plans. I’d be happy to make a nice dinner for you and your friends, I told Little Man, who’s 16 and a junior in high school. Maybe Mrs. X could help me. We’d make dinner and then leave you all alone to enjoy the meal. I figured that it would save all the expense and issues around going out to dinner. We have a nice dining room, and I like to cook. He and his friends could use the china and then go to the dance. Perfect, right? Glitch number one: Two members of their posse opted to not go, and this mixed things up a little. That’s ok, I reassured. The rest of you can still go… whether you all have dates or not. Things began to look a little shaky, but Little Man is tenacious when it comes to these things. He was still going. He was determined to see it work out, and I was cheering him on.
Glitch 2 brought things to a screaming halt, however. Middle Man’s best friend was taking someone not in their group, who didn’t want to spend dinner with the group. Suddenly, one by one, the group kind of fell apart. Those without dates figured they didn’t want to have dinner with part of the group, and not the rest. Things were wildly up in the air, and then Little Man told me that he wasn’t going to the dance after all. I admit it, I was really sad to hear this. I knew he liked going; I knew he wasn’t going because he felt a little cast away. The dinner’s one of the funnest parts Mom. I don’t want to show up at the dance, when everyone’s been out beforehand. I wanted to tell him it didn’t matter, but I knew that it did. I’m not going. I really don’t want to, he told me. For the week before the dance I mulled this over and stewed about the situation, while Little Man seemed basically OK about it. Not happy, but not as disappointed as me.
From that point on, each time someone asked if my kid was going to Homecoming, I felt a little twinge. For each rational thought, there was an equally strong heart tug. Oh, my boy’s not going to Homecoming, and his friends are. Then I ran into a father, and the topic of Homecoming came up again. His son wasn’t going either. We talked about the growing pressure on boys to invite a date to Homecoming with a painted pony, dozens of balloons or banners from the highway. The pressure to pay for tickets, dinner out, a corsage and all the sparkle that goes with asking a date, is huge. We harkened back to our own Homecomings, when there was a very important football game and a much less important dance. Jeans and shirts, was what we wore. A live band was the highlight. Now, the girls spend a small fortune on (mostly) very tight dresses and gravity defying shoes. Hair salons, waxing, and nail vendors all make a fortune on Homecoming. It’s a pricey evening, with a lot of pressure, the dad and I agreed.
There is no doubt in my mind that navigating through high school with a daughter was harder. Girls can just be so… mean. And calculating mean, at that. Boys are goof balls, for the most part. A pile of puppies tumbling their way through the same events, very differently. Some are alphas; mine is not. But ultimately, they’re all just a bit behind the girls in the figuring it out department. However, I’ve learned that there are still some tough moments with boys as well. If you have a boy like mine: who doesn’t party, doesn’t date, and is young, or a boy like the father I was talking to has: who doesn’t party, is highly focused on school and isn’t in the dating pool either, the pressure to go to Homecoming can be enormous. The let down of not going is equally awkward. It’s expected, by almost everyone. Yet, while we both felt the same conflicting emotions about our kids sitting home, we found ourselves agreeing on why it would be hard for a lot of kids to go. And then I heard myself say to him, what had gotten lost in the emotions of the situation: Isn’t it strange that when two adults talk, we can agree that it’s fine for 16 year old boys to not want to date, or get all caught up in the drama of Homecoming? Isn’t if fine for them to stay home and play games, or watch a movie? Don’t we want them to be true to themselves, and not do things just because their peers are? The dad smiled and said, “Absolutely. It just feels hard when it’s your kid.” Yep.
We all want the best for our kids. Ultimately, each generation wants their kids to do a little better than they did. I don’t think this ends with jobs and education. We all want our kids to do well socially; we want them to feel successful within their peer group. It stands to reason that on some level, each of us hopes for a better Homecoming, Prom, SAT, date, weekend, etc for our kids than we had. Or, at least as good. As much as I believe what I said to that father, it was hard to accept that my boy would be sitting home alone, on a night when so many of his peers were donning matching ties, buying flowers for pretty girls and dancing in a sweaty cafeteria, to music I mostly hate.
Then the Homecoming drama made a final, unexpected twist within the pack that Little Man hangs with. Dates shuffled (Read cancelled- who does that?) and we were back to square one: Are you going to Homecoming? With only days until the dance. One by one, they all agreed that it was all just too much. I could have told them that while they may not have noticed, I was sure that there was a girl for each of them that had secretly wished he had asked her to Homecoming. I’m sure of it. But we notice what we are open to seeing, and these guys were not seeing that. Instead, as I heard phone calls being made and answered, I began to realize that none of them was really up for the game this year. Of note: many of these kids don’t even go to the game that Homecoming is all about. Our football team has not had stellar record, and lots of kids have become apathetic. They go for the dance, not the team. Back when I was in high school (in the late 1900’s) we were all about the team, all about the game: it was everything! (Read Homecoming, Seriously?) Not these guys. So when Little Man hung up the phone, two days before the dance and said: “Hallelujah, we’re all going to do something else!” I finally got it. My boy was not going to Homecoming this year, and that’s what he wanted.
Instead, a group of six teen boys (some juniors and some seniors) decided that they would go to a favorite local Chinese restaurant, and then come over to our house, to play table tennis, eat a lot of junk, and watch a stupid movie. They tried to organize themselves to go see a movie at the theaters, but between R ratings, the logistics of picking a film, getting there, and thinking it all through… they came to our house. I set a goal a long time ago: to make this the place that my kids would want to bring their friends. Fire pit- check. Makings for S’mores always on hand- check. Microwave popcorn- check. Free movies- check. And the promise to stay out of the way- check. We are generally home, but stay away from their action. Each of my kids has used this in a different way, but Little Man and his friends are truly a pleasure to have around. They are creative (Themed dinners: classic movie attire anyone? Indoors hide and seek with all the lights off. Poker. etc) and all of them are good kids, who have never made me question or regret the open door policy.
The day after Homecoming I found what I knew I would find on line: a slew of pictures, of other people’s kids going to Homecoming, all over Facebook. I felt the tug that I knew I’d feel, as I looked at the beautiful faces and nicely dressed kids, all excited to go to the dance. Some of them with that special person that they really wanted to be with, and some with someone they went with to not be alone. “We’re going as friends.” They all look happy, and so shiny. Dressed up and excited. That’s how it should be… for some kids.
But for my kid, and his group of friends Homecoming night: they were in jeans and a shirt, with a ginormous vat of ice-cream and too many cookies, watching the entirely inappropriate but at times hilarious Borat. Smart Guy and I went out to dinner, to a place that doesn’t allow kids (guarantees us not to compete with the Homecoming crowds) and had a nice dinner with friends. We knew we could trust the boys at our house, and so we laughed and had fun talking about grown up topics. When we came home, the boys were playing table tennis and lining up a movie. Vanilla ice cream was sitting out melting on the counter. As I settled in to work on edits upstairs, their laughter was music to me. Throughout the movie, someone would say “This can’t be real?!” I Googled Borat, ready for answers when they finished. Mostly, I sat and worked, and I smiled a lot. Those boys laughed so hard, and so much, for 86 minutes that I couldn’t help but laugh too. I’m convinced that there is nothing funnier than listening to a group of teen boys watch Borat. There’s more than one way to dance; and there’s nothing better than knowing that your kid is happy, and doing just what he should be doing for Homecoming.
Did your kids go to Homecoming this year? How was it? Do you remember your own Homecoming fondly, or with regret? Share your thoughts.
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