I was transported to two different decades within the space of two hours this evening. It all centered around my first middle school dance -- as a chaperone. (Sidebar: Mia asked me not to talk to her at the dance unless she had questions for me. And Tom has asked me not to embarrass Mia.)
First, fast forward too fast into the decade of Mia's teens: My now eleven-year-old daughter invited two friends over to hang out after school and get ready for the dance. They're fifth graders -- seemingly too young to be dancing. But fifth grade is middle school in our district, so I can't deny the inevitable.
They spend quite some time in her room, trying on clothes. When it's time to leave, they race upstairs to start applying "makeup". Partially in an effort to bother them, I brush my teeth in the bathroom and get my digs in about being too young to wear makeup. Mia points out that it’s just her little-girl sparkle makeup, so it's OK. Then she points out that my hair looks bad, and do I want her to fix it before we go to the dance? I don't, but thanks for the vanity check.
We pile into the car, and partially in an effort to be cool, I put on the pop music radio station. They all sing along with unadulterated passion to Britney's current single. I'm happy for them because I remember singing like that to Captain and Tennille. If I had any doubts, it's confirmed in this moment that my daughter is no longer a kid.
At the chaperone prep meeting: Adults should be stationed around all the exit doors in the gymnasium so kids don't try to sneak out to places in the school where they shouldn't be. Only one boy in the bathroom at a time. Girls are allowed in the bathroom in groups, but be forewarned that the bathroom is often a place of "high drama and tears." Also, feel free to stop to any dancing behavior that seems inappropriate.
Now, fast backward 25 years: I'm slow dancing at arms' length with Joey Randolph to ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky." Note: The theme of Mia's dance is "The 80s", so this could be why I'm flashing back. Girls are dressed in Flash Dance, and a few of the boys have their collars turned up -- at both my dance and Mia's.
Fast forward again to now: Middle school dances don’t seem to have changed much – at least not here in our neck of the woods. For some reason, I was expecting grinding and crotch grabbing. But the dance I'm chaperoning is basically the same dance I went to way back when. Few kids -- mostly girls -- really dance. The younger girls start off a good song with a few moves, but they don't carry it to any conclusion. The boys start up a feeble mosh pit when a Green Day or Smashing Pumpkins song comes on. I see only one young man grab his crotch. Nobody tries to sneak out the side doors, and no drama in the girls' bathroom. It's all so much tamer than my motherly mind-gone-wild imagined.
The DJ (a guy in a misguided button-down shirt, Dockers, and a tie) plays three slow songs. These are the songs most kids are waiting for, though only a few of them give it a spin. Or rather, a slow swaying rotation. The older couples test the rules of engagement and stand close. The younger couples dance with elbows locked, his hands on her waist; hers on his shoulders. And they do everything possible to avoid looking at one another. I'm proud of those who have the nerve to try it and glad my daughter isn't one of them.
As the evening progresses, the energy level in the school escalates (probably due to snack bar sugar shots), so I stay on the lookout for that bathroom drama, as any chaperone worth her weight would do. I do witness what appears to be a quarrel between a girl I know and a boy whom she has told me is her boyfriend. My guess is that the boy doesn't know he has been claimed, so that could be what triggered the quarrel. But the guidance counselor is on it, and a few minutes later, the couple shakes hands and heads back into the dance. (They shook hands????) That was the extent of the drama.
Back home, Mia tells me that she was happy I was at the dance. She did speak to me a few times and explained that she thought I might have been lonely standing off in the corner by myself. Lonely? No. Bored? No. Shocked? No. Nostalgic? Yes.
I was happy I was there too. It really was delightful to watch the kids navigating the murky waters of middle school relationships. No evidence of alcohol or smoking. A few questionable outfits. A lot of old-fashioned fun. And the funny thing is, I'm sure those kids don't even realize how old-fashioned their fun is. Joey Randolph and I know, though.