The Perplexed Prom-Parent Post, in Which I Don’t Discuss Writer Unboxed (Much)

Close-up of diploma with ribbon and stacks of one hundred dollar notes

Last week was awesome, but my family’s threatened to disown me if I say one more word about Writer Unboxed. I haven’t exactly been a model of restraint.

For example, if I’m in the kitchen prepping supper, I might just accidentally-on-purpose say something like, “Guess I better…unbox this pasta before I cook it. ” Or at the dinner table:  “Pass the…unboksed choi, will ya?” Oy. I’ve definitely crossed the line into obnoxious territory.

But there’s silly-obnoxious and ignorant-obnoxious, and I don’t care to participate in the latter. To that end, another topic’s on my mind today: my daughter’s upcoming gradation ceremony and prom. (By the way, her gorgeous dress already hangs in her closet, and you’ll note,  is therefore unboxed.)

When I finished high school, our celebration was divided into two evenings.

First came commencement, which was the occasion to which you invited your parents, siblings and grandparents. Since you played to a friendly crowd, were in a graduating class of 400 and on stage for all of sixty seconds; and since the gown and cap covered a multitude of sins, no one fretted about appearance. It really wasn’t a big deal.

Prom night felt different. Even so, by today’s standards we kept it low-key. Kids did their own makeup and hair, guys purchased suits they’d use in their first job. The privileged kids were distinguished from the rest of us by their rented tuxes and limousines. That was pretty much it. For the most part, kids did the sensible thing: ditched their family as soon as possible and had the decency to drink/screw/die without parental supervision.

I’m being facetious, of course, but the point is the emphasis was on celebration, on peers, and not much on spectacle or expenditure. I’ve been informed that’s “so last millenium.”

These are the current requirements:

1. Grad photos by appointment. In the evening. To the tune of several hundred dollars. (Particularly ironic, given my own recent mental skirmishes about whether to hire a professional for my WU photos.)
2. A special meeting to discuss the parent-organized after-grad ceremony — the kids are bussed to a fenced field and permitted to drink alcohol while under the supervision of parents/paramedics and security.
3. A special trip for the parent to purchase said after-grad tickets and deliver their 3-page legal disclaimer.
4. Commencement ceremony, which will take 4 hours in the auditorium.
5. Appointment with a hairstylist to make plans for Graduation Hair — particularly important if one has curly locks.
6. Consultation with an aesthetician about makeup the evening of the prom so prom attendee and artist can be of one mind about “the look.”
7. A dress that could not possibly cost less than $350-400
8. Accessory shopping.
9. Preparation the evening of the prom, including appointments in #5 and 6.
10. Everyone in the family to attend the dinner before the prom at a cost of $60/person. My daughter knows someone who is taking 18 guests. That’s a lot of freaking money, people. Enough to cover the prostitution fees for a city-level politician for one night.
11. The after-grad party — cost $65

Chicks wearing graduation caps

Now, to my skin-flinty eyes, this one amazingly cool milestone in my child’s life has assumed the proportions of a juggernaut wedding. (Probably no surprise to any of you it eclipses my meagre, but much-appreciated, marriage ceremony.)

I know I have different priorities from many and these are different times, so I’m curious about a few things. Please note I’m being very genuine about this; despite my snark above, cleverly designed to pull a few laughs out of you, I seek answers.

Is this the new way of it for all grads, or is this level of expectation peculiar to my daughter’s school or group? If this is the new normal, and some of you have negotiated your way through this, what’s your philosophy on the cost-sharing arrangements of this event? Did you spring for it all? Pay for the essentials and ask your child to cover the rest?

I’d really like to understand the present culture around proms so I have a basis to make some decisions. Halp.

PS: If none of you have tried parenting-by-blogging, what are you waiting for? Doesn’t this look like fun?

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18 thoughts on “The Perplexed Prom-Parent Post, in Which I Don’t Discuss Writer Unboxed (Much)

  1. I’m not a prude, but I can’t imagine anyone hosting a party for teenagers to drink when that’s underage here (unless I’ve totally missed the fact that you live in a different country). It’s not legal no matter what disclaimer you sign.

    My son is going to “junior” prom this friday, and we have spent a small fortune, but we’ve gotten off lucky compared to this. We did have to buy a suit (including shoes, belt, socks), two shirt /tie combos (one for ring cermony and one for the dance). We had to order the flowers. And, I assume we are fronting the payment for night of pictures.

    Next year, he will participate in Project Graduation. What they do is the night of commencement, they have a lock in for the grads to promote NO DRINKING. Because so many people are victims of drunk driving accidents on nights of big events, his school (and our local school system) supports this event. It is funded by donations from parents, though. I do think it is a good event, and again it is part of why I am shocked at the party you described. So, we will be donating. It is adding up. No doubt about that.

    Things are definitely different nowadays.

  2. I remember my prom. We paid for most, and the parties after, were all um..unchaperoned and pretty wild. So..if they are parental advised nowadays..I say there isn’t much more that we didn’t do, that they are going to do. Not much has changed, other than maybe the costs. Gah! I have a few years to start saving for it!! lol.

  3. (Shhh. I’m not really here.)

    Yes, there is the opportunity to spend lots of money on prom.

    For DD’s, five years ago, the “musts” were
    – dress/suit or tux
    – kids going to a restaurant beforehand
    – tickets for the event (maybe $40 each??), held at a fancy venue
    – parents’ $5 tickets to enter the fancy venue for the Prom Parade, so we could all take pictures–and then be ordered to leave
    – $10 tickets to the post-prom, held at the same venue, designed to keep the kids from going out to drink (drinking age here is 21)

    Hair, makeup, pro photos, limo, etc. were optional, dictated more by the student’s group.

    DD knew our family funds were limited. We offered to pay for the tickets and the dress; the restaurant was on her own. For pictures, everyone in her group gathered at a gracious friend’s house, where all the parents took photos, waved ‘bye to the kids, then hung around for appetizers and wine.

    Fortunately, when I was pregnant with DD, I spent a lot of time in thrift and antique shops, so her style was vintage/Goodwill rather than Abercrombie. She got a very cool dress at an antique store for less than $50. She and I made her corsage and her date’s boutonniere. Her date wore a snazzy suit and a fedora.

    Graduation was nowhere near as expensive. Family went to a restaurant beforehand; DD did own hair, etc. and went out with friends afterward.

    DS’s prom was in the middle of the recession, and everyone was broke. I was upset that the emphasis was still on spectacle. His date, whose parents had both lost their jobs, was nevertheless not open to my budget-minded suggestions. We offered to host a fancy pre-prom dinner at our house, with the place decorated to look like a high-end restaurant and parents confined to the kitchen; I offered to help her make the corsage/boutonniere. But I think she saw prom as her one night to escape a tough existence, even if it was only in a JC Penney’s dress.

    So we took out the charge card and paid for the tickets ($55 each – same venue as DD’s–with me complaining fiercely that they had a perfectly fine school gym), the tux and the corsage. We found a restaurant coupon that they used, with DS paying. We took pictures at our house beforehand.

    And the kicker, of course: Neither DD nor DS particularly enjoyed prom itself.

    Heh. Don’t know if this will help you, but I had fun writing it.

  4. Aw, hell to the no. Sorry to be so blunt, but huh-uh. No how, no way would I pay for all that nonsense. And what teen in their right mind would want to pay to drink at a supervised party in a field? For one thing, that would be illegal here, but regardless, sounds incredibly dull.

    My boy attended prom last spring (he’s a junior now, so he was a little ahead of his time) and we had to buy him a tux jacket and a corsage for his date. he worked for and earned the money to help pay for their prom tickets. A whole group of kids were going together so one set of parents decided to feed them all at their home, in their formal dining room, so each kid brought five bucks to cover their food.

    Then another couple sets of parents with minivans were assigned the tasks of driving the groups downtown to the prom and then picking them up again and chauffeuring them to another home which hosted the after party, consisting of movies and maybe a little more dancing. If there was liquor or any sort, the kids snuck it in themselves and all their parents picked them up from that party at three in the morning, so there was no illicit drunk driving possible.

    I feel for you. A girl child always feels she needs more and more in order to look just exactly the same as everybody else (sigh), but I would absolutely make her find some work to pay for all that nonsense. (professional pictures? Really??? With all the digital cameras nowadays???) Gah.

  5. Sorry for signing off on you guys. I had to actually perform as a parent. *snork*

    From the length of comments from those have taken the time to reply, I can see I’m not the only one with strong emotions about these events. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate the input.

    I should clarify that I do live in a province where the drinking age is 18. At the time of grad, my daughter will be weeks away from the legal age; most of her friends are older.

    I think the after-grad — NOT run by the school or compulsory, BTW, but parent-facilitated, and which I might even supervise if M goes — takes the harm reduction approach to drinking. That is to say, most of us believe kids will drink; even if ours won’t, we don’t want them getting killed by those who do. This approach is congruent with most Canadians’ opinions about public health policy and, I’m aware, quite different than the beliefs many of you will share.

    Forgive cultural ignorance, but what is “junior” prom. Is that an event at the end of middle school?

    Sugar, LOL, maybe you need to start a separate bank account…? Eep.

    The person who is not-MJ, because she shouldn’t be here: I like your must/want paradigm. That makes things clearer for me. The ToolMaster and I are fortunate in that we *could* fund this all if that’s the way we decided to go, BUT, what message does that send? And you’ve given me a tip-off into another blog post. Thank you. 🙂

    Beki, LOL, just saw your apology on FB and there’s no need. I don’t see any disrespect here; just convinction. Thank you for the alternative suggestions!

  6. Sorry I missed that you were in Canada. I was really hoping that was the case, since the legal drinking age here is 21!

    “junior” prom is for 11th graders on the day of ring ceremony. They get their high school rings durign the day and go to the dance that night. It is like prom but a bit less formal (suit instead of tux).

  7. Senior prom and high school graduation were 12 years ago, but here’s how we rolled in East Texas:

    As you say, graduation was not a big dress-up deal, due to the obscuring graduation gown and hairdo-squashing cap. I’m not sure I even wore any makeup, and I don’t remember what I wore under the graduation gown. I do recall that I went to high school with enough delinquents that thanks to the prior graduating class’s shenanigans, we had to be checked over to ensure that we (a) were wearing SOMETHING under the gown; and (b) hadn’t brought anything like foam-in-a-can or a beachball to goof off with during the ceremony. We were inspected by the faculty and got a wristband once we were deemed safe.

    Senior photos were done at the same time as everyone else’s yearbook photos, but we got a “drape” for the girls (meant to impersonate an off the shoulder dress, which since I was really shy and modest at the time, entailed tremendous embarrassment) and boys were expected to wear a suit to school that day. The senior photos were a little expensive because we got multiple shots to choose from, and three sets of images: a set of “formal” (with the drape); a set in graduation gown plus the sash and relevant insignia of honor societies and/or academic achievement; and a set of “casual” (in what we were really wearing).

    Total cost of graduation stuff, I’d peg at maybe 150 USD because we had to buy the purple polyester gown and cap, as well as photo prints.

    However, senior prom was a bigbigbig deal. I’d say I was pretty typical in buying a fancy dress, getting my hair done at a salon, going with friends to one of the nicest restaurants in town (again, East Texas, so this was a place where the priciest entree was maybe $25). The prom was supervised by a few administrators from the school. Pictures taken by parents had to be taken at home, but there was a professional photographer and backdrop on site. I don’t remember how much photos cost; I have an 8×10 from the night. Total cost was roughly 300 USD, 200 of which was just the dress.

    I wasn’t allowed to date, so I got dropped at the restaurant by Mom, caught a ride from restaurant to prom with friends in an ancient Jeep, and got picked up by Mom again even before the after-party started (sigh). If you want to avoid lifelong resentment, I do HIGHLY recommend letting your child stay at the event as long as there is adult supervision present.

    What I’d consider paying for in the list:

    1. Grad photos. Sorry, but this is one where I’d feel not only like a social leper at the time if I don’t get to do it, but will be able to remember in later years because my friends will have the photos and I won’t.
    4. Commencement ceremony. Have to do this.
    7. A dress, but I’d put the top price at $250 and insist that anything in that price range not be an obviously “prom” dress, so she can re-use it in the future for other formal events. I bought my dress at an adult women’s store instead of in the junior’s section, and could wear it to the one black-tie event I attended in college. (Sadly, I’ve gotten too fat for it now.)
    8. Accessory shopping, but same restriction as above for the accessories to be reusable and not the trend-of-the-minute.
    11. The after-grad party. It’s supervised, and she’ll feel like a loser if there was one last hurrah with her class that she missed.

    Don’t waste money on hair, makeup or special clothes for graduation. If pre-prom dinner is supposed to be with family, it can be at home. If it is supposed to be formal, it can be without family. She can pick which she prefers.

    Alternatively, set a $300 budget for prom & graduation, and she can decide what matters most to her to spend money on. Maybe she’ll buy a dress from a thrift shop and spring for professional hair. Maybe she doesn’t care about graduation pictures and will be fine with just having the family snapshots, so long as the family attends the pre-prom dinner. Supposedly she’s starting to become an adult: part of that is making decisions that involve tradeoffs and compromises.

  8. I found an old photograph of a Captain Crunch box from the ’80’s (I’ll make this relevant, I promise). He was calm. Grandfatherly. I compared it to today’s Captain Crunch who looks so amped up, he honestly looks like he’s on coke.

    I feel like every nook of our culture has turned into this extreme, stress-out, amped-up version of its former self. These new graduation requirements are a symbol of that & it depresses me. I wish we could all just CALM DOWN.

    BTW – if it’s advice you seek, I have none. I’d probably throw the money at all the stupid events & end up sacrificing my photos.

    P.S. So many LOL nuggets in your post. I am particularly impressed by the pro photographer irony and your ability to weave unboxed into the most unexpected places.

  9. I think a huge part of the problem is it sounds like you have a double whammy–two events in one. Graduation IS a big deal, but DOESN’T seem like a clothing event.

    When I was that age we did senior photos at the BEGINNING of the year, but graduation was just snap shots (dances all had an on-site photographer so you could get ONE–overpriced, but $8 then is what? $20 now?–double that if you get one of shaking hands with the principal when you get the diploma, too?)

    My daughter is the lowly ‘poor kid’ in a rich town, so I’m sure I will face some of this, and I will answer in no uncertain terms–we will buy a REASONABLE dress (yay to the vintage suggestion) and pay for a TICKET, and your dinner out, accessories, extras are all on YOU–. So she will have to prioritize–pitch in for the limo, versus hair and make-up done–all those rough decisions.

    On the field/drinking party. I grew up in Idaho when the age was 19 and we had a senior keg at someone’s farm. You know what was REALLY GOOD about it? They took our keys when we got there so nobody drove around drunk, which would have been what had happened had the event NOT been occurring. I get that it isn’t legal in the US, but as a dedicated risk reductionist, it was smart anyway.

  10. Professorstacy *thud* You mean you people have to go through this two years in a row? To quote a friend of mine, “Respect.”

    PG, so many gems in that comment. LOL about the near-frisking for commencement. Sorry about the draping. Yikes. I would have hated that too.

    Molly has picked a beautiful dress that she’ll be able to wear for years to come. She’ll have to, LOL, if she wants me to contribute. 😉 You gave me much food for thought. Is it bad, though, that I really want to know how big your hair got? *ducks*

    Kirsten, compliments are always appreciated, but I do so love how you make yours specific about writing. *preens* I can improve even as I glow.

    Hart, yes, that’s exactly the idea behind this after-grad, although it’s a formalized event. Each kid has their liquor packed ahead of time by their parents and cannot bring any of it home. There is a maximum quantity they are allowed to bring; they cannot bring cell phones, etc., so there is no fear of them being over-run by strangers or friends. IF a person believes in harm-reduction, it’s a very sensible approach. Also, it’s legal if I give my written consent.

  11. Wow — I’m blown away by all the requirements! Almost makes you think it isn’t worth having them graduate — I’M KIDDING! Really. Kidding!

    I do not have kids (and now I’m thinking how even more broke I would be if I did) — and I’m grateful I don’t have to deal with this. It seems now that every moment has to be an “event”, which then becomes a “spectacle”, and I cannot imagine how you all cope with it.

    If this brought everyone involved a great deal of joy, I would say Hallelujah. But it seems to be more of a stress-inducer, and a way to make people feel like they aren’t “enough”, or they have to strive to keep up with a bar that can never be reached.

    It’s supposed to be a celebration, but somehow that part has gotten lost.

  12. Um, well. I’m from Germany, so our “traditions” are, again, different from yours, but there are parallels: The students usually organize the big ball (= prom) that wraps it all up, and it’s held at a local restaurant which has enough room capacity to fit in about 200-250 people; and since legal drinking age here is 18, which means technically everyone’s allowed to drown themselves — except most students in attendance bring their parents or other family and often former teachers are present as well, so most do watch themselves a little — we don’t need to worry about chaperones and stuff. The tickets cost 40€ or more, I think that’s about 50-55 USD at the moment, so, yeah, pretty expensive.
    I’m a student in the middle of wrapping up my final exams, and I’ve known for quite a while that I am certainly not going to attend the ball (our graduation ceremony w/ certificates & everything is held the week before in the town theatre). The problem with this year’s ceremony is that the organizing committee ABSOLUTELY had to hire a DJ for the evening, which boosted the budget through the roof. I don’t see why my family should spend 120€ on tickets b/c of that, plus the money for a reasonable dress (and I’m not even picky — hell, I’d wear H&M). But there are girls who are willing to spend fortunes on their appearance — and feel the social/peer/whatever pressure to. I think that the significance of this prom thing is much lower here than where you live, but even here I get the feeling that it’s getting blown to proportions I don’t understand. But opting not to go is still much easier for me than it would be for your girl, I guess.
    I can understand every parent who tells their kid no to paying for all that. It’s supposed to be an unforgettable night and everything, but you can achieve that without spending a month’s salary on it (and still look pretty). Especially since, from what I heard, the ball itself is usually just.. boring.

  13. Donna, some of these expenses and experiences would be requirements, others not. Also, it’s the level of sophistication I have an issue with, at times. I agree with you about the meaning of the event being rendered less poignant with the emphasis on…plumage display. 😉

    grummelmaedchen, welcome, and can I say that you sound like a grounded young lady? Also, thank you for providing another cultural perspective. I can see how North American-centric I’ve become. Good to realize my blind spot!

  14. My own experience with my youngest is six or seven years old but the memories can STILL make me groan.

    Our area high schools have both a junior and senior prom. Many expenses are the same for both: prom bid (what they call the tickets), prom dress or tux, corsage, limo, food (before and after), and of course, prom pictures (professional photographer at the prom, parental pictures at home before).

    Senior prom adds the “prom night/next day outing” expense. We are just outside of Chicago, so these kids usually go in groups to Great Flags amusement park or Wisconsin Dells for the overnight or the weekend. We paid for prom bid, tux, corsage and food money, although my son put in some of his own money. He had to earn the money for the Wisconsin Dells trip on his own because I refused to pay for any situation were sex would be that easy. To this day, I have no idea what went on during that trip and plan to keep it that way!

    I still have nightmares over the joint shopping trip with son, his date and her mom to make sure that my son’s tie/accessories *matched* her dress. (Can we say bossy, boys and girls?)

    Sigh. I will spare you the senior pictures and commencement parts of the story. Let’s just say, I feel your pain and leave it at that, okay?

  15. Let’s hear it for willful ignorance! And now you’ve just given me a reason to be grateful through this all, Glinda — as if I shouldn’t be anyway — she’s going stag. There will be no matching issues, except as per friends’ expectations.

  16. My school was a little like that in terms of money spent on prom/grad night. For prom, there was the dress, the required stretch limo, the dinner, the tickets, etc. And similar with grad night, followed by the cruise. So yeah, I’m sure it was expensive.

    My kids are still young, but I’m sort of on the fence about the supervised drinking thing. I *know* that myself and all of my peers drank anyway, and denying it happens amounts to the Sarah Palin approach to birth control–if we don’t discuss it, it just goes away. Hmmm.

    However, I also think we make drinking such a huge, forbidden taboo here for teens that it makes it all the more tempting. I’m totally digressing now, aren’t I? Oops.


  17. I have had a busy week but wanted to come back and add a post script to the prom discussion. My youngest son lives in New Mexico and plays in a band. Last Friday the band donated their time to play at a prom for Special Needs kids who otherwise would not be able to attend prom.

    Most proms anymore have DJs, not live bands. But, these kids were so appreciative, so into the music and were screaming out “We love you!” to the band.

    One of the highlights of the evening came when one of the parents came up to the band to thank them. Her daughter was a senior at age 22, the maximum age to still attend high school in New Mexico. The mother expressed her gratitude to the group, saying that she never thought that she would have the experience of shopping for a dress and seeing her daughter dressed up and going to prom. She said that it was a memory that she would cherish forever.

    My son described it as one of the rewarding things he’d ever done.

    For me, it was a nice reminder that as much as we fuss about the money and all the time it takes, at its heart, it really is supposed to be a magical event.

    1. Aw, what a nice evening for your son! I can only imagine what a buzz that gave him. And thank you for that perspective. Our “event” comes very soon, and I’ll keep it in mind. 😉

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