Come along with me on a magical journey through time. I'm uniquely qualified to be your tour guide because I spend nine months out of every year at our destination. We're going back to high school. We'll be landing late in the Spring semester of junior year, just four weeks before summer vacation. The trees have buds, the flowers are in bloom, and it's almost time for the girls to trade in the leggings they've been wearing as "pants" for shorty shorts and too tight tank tops. We're arriving during the week of ACT and state testing and departing just after the event we've been waiting for all year: Prom.
Buckle up, friends. It's going to be a bumpy ride.
We'll touch down on the Monday before ACT and state testing, so you'll be subjected to session after session of review in your regular classes. Your English teacher will have a crazed look in her eyes as she delivers a frenzied review to a room full of blank stares; it's Monday, after all. Why worry about a test that's two days away? By Tuesday, though, the day before testing, the students' blank stares take a turn toward fear, and there's a ready willingness to listen for last minute advice. The teacher continues that last minute review, but her frenzy is subdued. She seems tired, resigned. Like a doctor who has just issued the last chest compression to a patient that is beyond hope, there is little more that she can do. As the students file out of her room, she musters the energy to call after them, "Get a good night's sleep! Have a good breakfast before the test tomorrow!" and she vows she'll do the same because as a test administrator she'll spend nine of the next 48 hours wallowing in the silent pit of test anxiety right alongside them. On test days she knows how nervous they are because it's the most minutes in a row she's ever seen them quiet. At the conclusion of the testing marathon she leaves school with a spring in her step until she remembers she has one more obligation to her juniors. She will chaperon their prom that Saturday night.
That's right, folks. Time to hop aboard the hormone train; next stop: Grand March.
As she readies herself for the evening, the teacher is acutely aware of how ridiculous it is to be a 36 year old getting ready for prom. She heads for the door and throws a backwards glance to her son and husband, whom she kindly relieved of his co-chaperoning duties long ago. They are nestled on the couch, three races deep into a MarioKart tournament, and she fights an urge to kick off her heels and run back toward the comfort of that scene and to the familiar and warm embrace of her sweatpants. It's the thought of her prom date that keeps her going. He's been her co-class sponsor and partner in crime for many years; together they've lined up the sequined girls and tuxedoed boys for their pilgrimage through the cardboard, streamer-town that's been created on the theater stage. Before the couples can make their way through tulle-wrapped archway and down the balloon-lined path, he teaches them how to properly walk arm in arm -- girl with her hand in the crook of the boy's arm, NOT locked together at the elbow, square-dance style. She reminds the girls not to tug at their strapless dresses on stage, and with just minutes before the main event, she extends her hand and demands that they deposit their gum right in it because she loves them and doesn't want them to look like cud-chewing cattle when they make their debut under the glow of 10,000 strands of twinkle lights. Their parents paid hundreds of dollars for the Grand March photo op, so she understands that it must perfect.
Later, at the dance, the teacher and her date will sit with the only other adults in the room and try to enjoy the catered meal. It will be almost pleasant at the chaperon table as they chat about their own prom memories and try not to notice the gratuitous PDA a couple tables over. When the lights go down and the music goes up, conversation becomes difficult, and the teacher is left alone with her thoughts:
"Whoa! Inappropriate dancing while it's still light outside? I'm gonna let the principal deal with that since she's the one that makes the big bucks."
"Oh, no. Dancing girls + strapless dresses = recipe for disaster."
"Really? Aerosmith? Is it 1976 and/or 1996?"
"Slow dance. Better check the bathroom for crying girls."
"I wonder if they know that I know all about their after prom plans. Sure, they think their whispers at the back of my classroom are quiet enough, but they're not. Not by a long shot."
"I wonder if this day has been as magical as they thought it'd be. I wonder if I was ever silly enough to think Prom was magic? Probably."
"Sweet baby Jesus, how is it only 8:45?"
Because she's been in the trenches with them, she can't help but let their emotions bleed out on to her. At the conclusion of an anxious week and at the end of the night they've spent months dreaming about, she's happy that they're happy. She exchanges a weary smile and a "See you Monday, dude" with her date, and as she starts her car she says a little prayer to the God of the Church of Nice that all of her kids make it home safe and sound.
Once home, she washes away the grime of testing week and the glitter of prom night, slips into her favorite sweats, and medicates herself in the best way she knows how: two pieces of leftover pizza Monical's pizza washed down by one beer, then straight to bed. As she closes her eyes, she smiles and sets her mind to dream about the final leg of this year's journey.
Next stop: summer vacation.