Over the weekend, I went to an awkward gathering to take pictures of R. and his date for the Senior Prom. One outstanding thing about R. is that at 4:00, he was standing in my kitchen in shorts and a t-shirt, making a quesadilla. By 4:45, he had driven to his Dad’s (10 minute drive), changed into a tux, driven to the florist (10 minute drive), picked up a corsage, and driven to town to meet me (5 minute drive), where we caravanned to this photo op. My point is not that global warming is our fault, (which it is), but rather, that he spent less than 20 minutes preparing himself for the prom. I’m a fan of that.
Anyway, I followed him and his buddy to a beautiful home overlooking our incredible valley, and we were greeted at the door by parents. It strikes me as a little funny that I'm arriving at the door with two young men in suits. I’m on the “meet the parents” part of the date, but I am the parent, and the other half of the dates are nowhere in sight, so it’s a little confusing.. We introduce ourselves, and the adults seem mildly indifferent. None of the “come on in, may I take your coat, what would you like to drink?” that I try to practice at my house.
“I guess the boys don’t pick the girls up for a date so much anymore,” I say, to fill the air.
“Oh, the girls are already here,” the mother answers, but there’s no evidence of that.
We stand on the doormat for a bit longer, not saying anything, and eventually, the girls emerge from a bedroom. The boys greet them, and the four young people move into the kitchen where corsages and boutonnières are traded. I’m still awkwardly standing at the entryway, holding my sweater and camera, but after a bit, decide to follow, uninvited, into the kitchen to take pictures.
Let me back up and say that as a single mother who’s worked forever, I haven’t been very involved in the school since my kids were in about 5th grade. By now, I’m pretty far out of the loop. In fact, I’m not even sure where the loop is, or who’s in it. I wouldn’t recognize the loop if I were snared by it. There’s an enormous gap between the at-home mothers who sell candy at the football games, plan casino nights and car washes, and know the ins and outs of All Things School, and the ones like me who come home bedraggled after stressful days getting yelled at by random people, sitting in traffic, wondering who I could hire to fix the leak in the roof, what to fix for dinner, and how many yoga classes it will take for me to remain relatively sane. The chasm between these groups is filled with guilt.
I have a vague sense of the big things, like, “hey, is there going to be a graduation ceremony? Do I need to know anything about that?” but my understanding doesn’t go too far beyond that. I believe that after a certain point, kids should own their school life, and invite their parents in where needed, but I believe that a little desperately, the way you do when if you’re wrong, the consequences are pretty bad, and it’s too late to do it another way.
That’s probably why I get a little anxious when I have to intersect with the actual loop. Like perhaps I’ll encounter something that will cause my belief armor to crack, and I’ll have to live with the depressing knowledge that I’ve blown it on the most important thing ever. There will be something I'm supposed to know that I just don't, and CPS will be contacted.
Once, many years ago, I tried speed dating, and one guy spent our whole six minutes together saying, incredulously, “Really? You haven’t seen Moulin Rouge? Are you serious? You haven’t seen it?” Like it was a condition. I’m afraid of a similar moment when I tangle with The Loop. On the one hand, sheesh, it’s just one freakin’ movie! It doesn’t make me culturally obsolete! But on the other hand, um, I am a little obsolete, so his tirade stung. I know, right? Like some loser spends 6 minutes berating me because I haven’t seen a movie, and I’m the one who feels bad?
Anyway, I tried to take pictures while holding my sweater and camera case for a minute, and then just set them down on the stairs, not knowing for sure if that was the right thing to do. Once I was hands-free photographing in the kitchen, I noticed three big platters of beautiful appetizers and some wine glasses, but no one mentioned them, so I looked away. If you’ve ever paged through a Smith and Hawken catalog, you know exactly how this situation looked.
The mom ushered us outside to a gorgeous patio that sported a stunning view of the valley, and a fountain surrounded by lush perennials. I snapped a million pictures of R. and his beautiful date, and then, to be polite, snapped a million more of the other couple, who, to be candid, I don’t have a need for pictures of, but it seemed like the thing to do. After about 20 minutes, another couple and a few more parents arrived, so we took a great many more pictures. I believe it would be calculated by 6 factorial, getting every possible combination of posed shots.
I try to strike up a conversation with our hostess, and ask about things, like, what elevation are we at, how deep is your well, etc. I see R. giving me the look, and I know exactly what he would be saying if he weren’t on his best behavior. He’d say, “Sheesh, Mom, that’s not a normal way to strike up a conversation. No one but you cares how deep her well is, and especially because you aren’t even asking it ironically,” so I was laughing at his comment. (That’s when you know you’ve gone a tiny bit around the bend, when you’re laughing at something someone said, but they didn’t even say it.) But really, if you were standing there, you'd be wondering too: is the bottom elevation of the well below that of the river, and if so, what are the consequences for the river, and for the well... I know you're on my side here.
I took 92 pictures of R. and his friends and their parents and their shoes and the valley and the table with a fancy clutch on it, and then the other parents said they were leaving. Because of my issue with transitions, I used my most reliable exit strategy and just drafted like a lazy bicyclist, saying I had to leave too. Which I totally wanted to; I just didn’t know how long I was supposed to stay. I sat car in my car in their driveway, blocked in, for several minutes before I realized that I was blocked by the last couple, and not the other exiting parents, who by now had left several minutes earlier. I had started listening to a podcast, and sort of forgot what I was waiting for.
When I realized that I was going to have to re-appear at the party, 10 minutes after I had left, I had a flashback to a time when I applied for a job as a waitress on a 3rd floor restaurant. After the interview, I exited via the stairwell, only to realize I was locked in, and after spending half an hour going up and down the stairs a few times, trying doors, had to pound on the door of the restaurant, and have it be opened by the man who had just interviewed me, but this time, I was sweatier. I didn’t get the job.
So I walked back to the patio, asked the couple if they could move their car, and then remembered that I had left my camera case and sweater inside. I walked awkwardly back into the house, and told the hostess why I was there.
“Would you like some snacks? I’ve made some snacks.” As she gestured toward the beautiful trays, her manner was so sweet and disappointed that she reminded me of the mother in The Hours. No one had touched the trays of tapas.
As usual, I wasn’t sure what the correct answer was, so I said I needed to go. I’m pretty sure that if you left 10 minutes ago, and only returned because you forgot something, you probably shouldn’t stay to eat.