The spring night is cool and rainy. The kid is hot and sweaty. It's the eighth-grade dinner dance, and adolescent anxiety is in high form. As I walk down the upstairs hallway to see if my just-turned 14-year-old son is ready to go, I am enveloped in the strong scent of cologne that wafts from his room.
"Do you think this tie goes with these pants?" he asks nervously.
He is dressed in his 16-year-old brother's clothes. Rather than wear his own for this special occasion, he banks on big brother's tried-and-tested "coolness." I glance at his pant cuffs sweeping the floor, his shirt hanging loose and baggy, and his brother's suede loafers ready to slide off his feet.
"The tie looks good," I say. "It's a perfect match."
There's no point in starting over. If he's satisfied, then so am I. Time to go.
Heading off to his date's house for group pictures, I use this car-captured moment to remind him about good manners. He nods absently. His nervousness at this first formal has taken his mind elsewhere.
As we park in his date's driveway, he whispers his own advice. "Mom, don't take too many pictures."
I get the message. Don't talk too much. Don't laugh too loud. Basically, don't do anything to embarrass him in front of his friends!
My son's date is a friend he has known since first grade. Fresh from the beauty parlor, she is near tears because she thinks her hair is a disaster. She's in a short, pretty dress, and my son says she looks just fine. (He's obviously paid close attention to his father's finesse with his mother.) I'm proud of him!
Chatting and laughing, the parents direct the photography session like a Hollywood shoot, snapping rolls of film. I am a muted mom, muffling my chuckles, and taking only four pictures. My son slides me a secret smile. He's proud of me!
Like a gaggle of giggling geese, the adolescents finally are headed out to the waiting van. Awkwardly, they debate where to sit. The end result is girls in front, boys in back.
Three hours later, I'm back on the scene as pickup chauffeur. By this time, the couples have split up, the girls heading off to a sleepover. I watch as teens stream euphorically from the banquet hall.
"How was it?" I ask as four hot, sweaty neighborhood buddies pile into the car.
"Too short!" they answer in unison.
"I wish it had lasted at least another hour!"
"It was so awesome!"
"Even the food was good!"
The cacophony of conversation and body heat immediately steams up the car. Though the night is cool, I put all the windows halfway down. The boys think it is so they can wave and holler goodbye to their friends, which they do with great gusto.
"Who did you and your dates sit with for dinner?" I ask.
"Oh, we just ate with the guys," my son answers.
"You didn't eat with the girls?" I ask in amazement.
"Naw, we all split up as soon as we got there," he says. "Our dates wanted to talk to the other girls, so we guys just sat down."
So much for the seriousness of an eighth-grade first date. Nevertheless, the mention of the girls brings on a sudden moment of quiet reflection.
"The girls were something else!" muses one.
"They were awesome!" says another.
"They looked, like, so different!" ponders the third.
"Yeah, they were ... really pretty!" gushes the fourth.
Having seen these same girls at 8 a.m. on mornings when I drop off my son at school, I can understand the boys' surprise. Dressed in blue jeans and baggy flannel shirts, the girls, like the boys, come dressed in casual comfort.
For their first dance, however, the girls have pulled out all the stops. Pretty necklines, feminine dresses, heels, makeup, jewelry, beauty- parlor hair, the works. They have sampled the well of feminine mystique.
"Did you dance? I ask.
"Yeah, but was I ever nervous!" says one.
"I didn't have a clue what I was doing!" admits another.
"I've never danced before!" confides a third.
"I just went out on the floor and started dancing," says the fourth. "I think by the end of the dance I was actually pretty good!"
With good food, beautiful partners, and no embarrassing moments on the dance floor, how could the evening be more perfect?
"You know," says one thoughtfully, "after all that dancing, I don't think I smell too bad!"
"I just checked," says another. "My deodorant is still working!"
"I sprayed cologne all over my clothes before I left, just in case!" admits a third.
"I even put some in my shoes!" says the fourth. Laughter rocks the car.
I lower the windows all the way. Exhilarating, crisp spring air blows across my face. Happy, octave-changing voices float like music out on to the night wind. As I drive my nest of fledglings home, I savor their joyful spirit toward life's transitions. Partnered with humor and honesty, they have taken their first awkward steps across the dance floor from boys to young men. Looking out through the windshield, I notice the clouds have cleared and sparkling stars grace the sky. A beautiful ovation for an evening that smells of sweet success.