We arrived too late to the first location. We were misinformed of the time. The group had already left to catch a reservation; an inauspicious beginning to an evening already ripe with nervousness. Driving too fast, we followed her father's directions to the restaurant. We were both rattled by the change in plans and didn't speak much. He fidgeted with his tie. The few words we exchanged were brittle with feigned optimism.
We pulled into the restaurant and saw the group of gangly teenagers at once. The girls, like colorful birds, flitted about showing off strappy heels and inappropriately deep necklines. I couldn't help but notice how they were constantly touching each other in the way we only do when we are young. The boys slouched in starched shirts and neckties attempting to pull of nonchalant confidence. All of them covering their their awkwardness with silliness, and sarcastic barbs delivered without malice.
I noticed her immediately. He told me she would be in red. A pretty little girl in a shiny red dress. Her overdone hair and make-up beguiling her fifteen years of age. We got out of the car and approached her. I could feel the insecurity radiating from him. I tried to will confidence into the tall boy beside me. She greeted us with a grin and reached up to hug him. He patted her back uncomfortably and then she turned to me. We introduced ourselves with overbright smiles. Each of us assessing. Evaluating.
Then, in an awkward gesture, my son shoved a clear plastic box into her hand.
"Here's your flower."
I laughed as gently as possible, attempting to ease his tension and said, "No silly. You can't just give her the box" I removed the corsage, red to match her dress, and handed it to him. He looked a little stricken and she stepped in to rescue him.
"Will you put it on me?" She proceeded kindly to show him how it went on her wrist. Obviously more familiar with this routine than he was, she did her best to make him comfortable. I could have kissed her.
I asked if I could take their picture, as we had missed the photo time earlier at the house. I snapped a couple shots and then asked some questions about how they would be getting to the dance. She indicated two of the slouching boys and pointed out their luxury cars, obviously borrowed for the occasion.
My heart skipped a beat.
We had talked about this. He had assured me adults would be driving, that no one in their group was old enough to drive. He knows my rules. Was he lying to me or was this this just another last minute change? I stammered a moment and was unable to catch his eye. His awkwardness got the best of me and I nodded. I told them to have fun, reminded him to call me when the dance was over, and went back to my car.
And I sat there.
What had just happened?
I am not the mother that wavers on my rules. I call and drill other parents before parties. I drive to the football games to pick him up when the boy across the street could have driven him home, because he has only had his license for 6 months. And yet, in that moment. I couldn't do it. I knew what it would mean to him, singling him out in that way. Forbidding him to go with the group. I caved. Was I showing grace or weakness? I still am not sure.
I drove home praying all the way. For his protection. For his choices. For his heart.
He called me when the dance was over and I went to pick him up. His date had gone on without him to an after-party. He had asked on the phone if he could go as well and I said no. It was already almost midnight and we had never met the parents. He acquiesced without a fight.
When we arrived home he immediately went downstairs to change. Then he plopped down in the chair in the living room, dressed again in his familiar t-shirt and basketball shorts. His foray into the world of dating and adulthood over, for now.
And I think it's possible we were both relieved.