Since we can’t buy anything, I was running through a list of options. We could make her some dorm bedding out of old T-shirts and two month’s worth of dryer lint? Gabby and I could orchestrate the world’s smallest flash mob? Maybe sculpt a likeness of her pet cat out of mashed potatoes?
Then Gabby got to thinking.
Our niece attended an online high school. Your read that right. On the internet. Five hours per day. Doing lessons and homework. It’s called Ohio Connections Academy. I think it is interesting to use the word “connections” to describe an academic experience where you never really meet anyone face-to-face, but the program is pretty progressive. If I had this option when I was her age, I would have made the most of this kind of “connection” by posting photos of GAP models as my profile pic and listing my hobbies as weight lifting, money counting, and kitten rescue. Luckily, Abby and her classmates are much more mature than I was, so they simply got their work done and were productive members of society.
Gabby noted that Abby’s online high school experience, while functional, lacked one important teenage rite of passage. Namely, a large, uncomfortable, expensive function complete with cringe-worthy, acne-riddled party pics to induce laughter and/or embarrassment twenty years later. Thus was born her brilliant idea.
I know what you’re thinking. The last thing a high school girl would want to do is get dressed up with her lame extended family, go out to a dinner with other adults and small children, and come back to a dimly lit room to dance the YMCA and Billy Idol’s “Mony, Mony” with her parents.
And to you I say, you greatly underestimate the “cool” factor of the Dannemiller Family Prom Planning Committee (DFPPC).
Gabby, doubting my grasp of hip lingo, made it our first order of business to text Abby’s boyfriend Spencer to find out if kids today still use the word “cool” to describe things besides temperature. After all, if the newly-formed DFPPC was ever going to be part of the popular crowd, we needed to know appropriate slang.
Gabby: We are planning a prom for Abby so start thinking about how you will ask her... Family Prom… You guys are a shoe-in for Prom King and Queen.
Spencer: Oh. OK. That’s cool!
Scott 1 – Gabby 0
Next up was the prom theme. The DFPPC (Gabby and I) had a difference of opinion on this one. I wanted something sentimental, reflecting the mood of my own Senior Prom. Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young.” I can still feel the rhythm-less swaying and smell the overpowering hint of Drakkar Noir anytime I hear that tune.
But Gabby wanted something “cool.”
I offered Phillip Phillips’ “Home” as a possible idea. Gabby laughed and called it “cheesy.” I countered by saying I didn’t think kids today used the word “cheesy” to describe anything other than curdled milk. She countered.
“Believe me, honey. They would call it “cheesy.”
“Fine! Do you have a better idea?
“Yeah. Not ‘Home.’”
“OK. I don’t know. Maybe Michael Bublé or something?”
“Michael Bublé!? Abby would not think Michael Bublé was cool. She’d just ask ‘Who in the hell is Michael Bubble? Sounds like a guy who sells shampoo!’”
Things continued to get more heated until we woke up and realized that we were a full-grown, forty-year-old married couple, driving down the highway, fighting over the theme to a fake Senior Prom.
Cooler heads prevailed.
We texted Abby to tell her we were throwing her a Family Prom and she had to come. We also told her she had to pick a theme.
She texted back,
“How about “Thrift Shop”?”
An obscure choice. I had heard of the song, but Gabby hadn’t, so she Googled it on her phone. She gave me the play-by-play.
“It’s by some guys named Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. It has an ‘E’ next to it. Does that mean it’s for ‘everyone?’”
She played a snippit of the song on speakerphone. Thirty-eight seconds in, we learned that “E” does mean “everyone.” As in, “Everyone in our car, preschoolers included, will now know slang terms for copulation and genetalia.”
Perhaps Abby is mocking our idea.
Now that we had the theme settled, we assigned responsibilities. Gabby nominated herself president of the DFPPC. I seconded the nomination because I would like to stay married. Brother-in-Law Owen was put on transportation and sound amplification. Sister Kerri was assigned dress acquisition and downloading non-explicit music. I took charge of the venue and emcee duties.
As a nod to the prom theme, and deference to our Year Without A Purchase, all attire had to be something you already own and/or purchased from an actual thrift shop. Gabby was going to recycle an old bridesmaid’s dress, but my mom heard of our fantastic prom theme and loaned one to Gabby that she had bought from a secondhand store for $3.99 some months before. We borrowed Jake’s suit and used a handmade dress from a dear friend’s mom – thank you Margaret Lewis! Kerri was able to outfit her entire family, smokin’ hot dressed included, for the cost of a Super-Sized McDonald’s Value Meal #7.
I’m not kidding.
* Gabby's dress (big reveal to come)
* The kids and their dates. Cousin Jack and Audrey. Cousin Ava and Jake.
Meanwhile, I was in charge of the venue. Bowling alley? Skating rink? No. This had to be special. Even though Thrift Shop was the theme, this was a real fake prom. A graduating teenage girl only gets one shot at this.
We had already used some of my frequent traveler points to secure a hotel room I downtown Columbus. On a whim, I called the Marriott to talk to someone in charge. I didn’t hold out much hope, but my mom taught me that it never hurts to ask for anything you want.
They transferred me to the hotel’s sales director. She wasn’t there so I left a message.
“Hi. We’re going to be staying at your hotel this weekend and I have an odd request. Our niece is graduating from an online high school and didn’t get to have a prom. So, we’re throwing her a Family Prom. Little five-year-old cousins are taking each other as dates. The whole nine yards. Anyway, the problem is, we need a venue. Maybe a ballroom? A conference room? Just for a couple of hours. If there is anything you can do, I’d love to chat with you.”
My phone rang exactly fifteen minutes later. I expected a big, fat “no.” Or, at the very least, a chokeable, non-thrift-shop-style price tag.
“Hi Scott. This is Lindsey, the sales director at the Renaissance Marriott. I received your voice mail and must admit...”
My anxiety was growing. Like I had asked Lindsey to be my date to the prom and was waiting to find out if she would accept my invitation, or crush my dreams like many girls throughout high school, sending me into a downward spiral of despair filled with ice cream binging and over-coiffing my hair with Aqua Net.
“…your idea is the coolest thing I have ever heard. I want to make this the best prom ever, and I can’t wait to plan it for you!!!”
* Me in high school with some buddies. Trust me, we were totally rad, and my hair is coated in a sheen of toxic chemicals. Apologies to Mike and Brian for the embarrassing photo.
Score! I didn’t have the heart to tell Lindsey that the DFPPC already had a president. So I did the next best thing.
“Great! Then you can be the president of our prom planning committee! Our theme is Thrift Shop.”
She reacted as if she had just won a dream date with a wealthy GAP model who works out and rescues kittens.
“That is so awesome! I am totally calling my girlfriends to discuss decorations.”
Judging from Gabby’s level of excitement, and now Lindsey’s desire to stage a coup d’ etat of the DFPPC, I believe every grown woman wishes they could plan their own prom. Maybe because it’s kinda’ like planning a wedding, only without the pressure and lifelong commitment.
What followed was a barrage of enthusiastic emails from Lindsay. She gave us the largest and best conference room they had. Complete with giant, two-story pillars and huge glass windows. She gave us free valet parking. She even shopped for decorations on her off hours, paying for them out of her own pocket, and made a prom queen sash with her own two hands. Total cost?
*Lindsey, Co-President of the DFPPC and over-achiever
Meanwhile, the DFPPC debate raged on. Gabby was quick to remind me of prom etiquette.
“You know you have to get me a corsage, right?”
“But honey, I’m not allowed to buy anything.”
“Then you had better figure out how to grow some flowers really fast, or make one from scratch.”
I contemplated ripping a rosebud out of someone’s garden, but figured that would only bring about some bad prom mojo. So I Googled “How to make fake flowers” and stumbled upon a Martha Stewart crafting website.
I clicked the link. I was amazed at the beautiful array of flowers I could create by hand. Tulips. Peonies. Gerber daisies. They were absolutely stunning.
* Samples from Martha's site. How hard can it be?
Martha wrote, “Crepe-paper flowers capture the essence of flowers without all the botanical details. Their whimsy makes them not only a pleasure to behold, but also an enjoyable project to undertake.”
I looked over the directions. It takes 17 steps to make the stamen alone. And a lot more to make the actual flower part. The materials required included light, medium and heavy crepe paper in varying shades, 18-guage fabric wrapped floral wire, something called “floral tape”, and other doodads. I glanced at the raw materials at my disposal.
- ½ roll of wrinkled crepe paper left over from Jake’s birthday party (Red).
- 34 old pipe cleaners that Audrey had fashioned into bracelets and collars for her stuffed animals (Assorted colors)
- ¼ roll of 3M masking tape (yellow)
- A healthy fear of the DFPPC (Co-)President’s wrath if she doesn’t have a corsage for prom
These items, paired with my gumption, proved worthy. If the project was to be “enjoyable” as Martha promised, I had to make some adjustments. I pared Martha’s dozens of steps down to three. Cut, fold, tape.
So much for “whimsy.”Forty-five minutes and several failed attempts into the project, I had this:
* How hard could it be? Try "five months in Federal prison" hard.
It took another half hour to finally complete the project. Here is the finished product, greatly enhanced by my date’s hotness while waiting on dinner at Buca Di Beppo, the restaurant sponsor of Family Prom 2013.
I realize it looks as if a dinner guest just chewed up a bunch of party decorations doused in marinara and spit ‘em out on Gabby’s wrist. But her smile proves that it’s the thought that counts. Or maybe it just proves she enjoyed the house chardonnay. Either way, I win.
But Family Prom was not about me and my date. The night was about spending quality time with family we love and showing Abby what a special girl she is.
We got dressed up.
We chatted over giant plates of Italian food.
* Abby's congratulations sundae. Don't mind a slightly psycho Jack in the background. The kid is Jonesing for some dessert.
We squished 11 family members into a big conversion van and rode together to the prom. We laughed. Popped balloons. We danced to Prom standards like “Shout”, “YMCA,” “The Chicken Dance.” My seven-year-old son taught me the Harlem Shake. We broke our backs doing the limbo. We did the Hokey Pokey. And, finally, Abby and Spencer were crowned Prom King and Queen in a landslide vote. As it should be.
* Spencer and Abby. Family Prom 2013 king and queen.
* Me teaching Audrey how to "drop it like it's hot" while dancing to "Play That Funky Music."
* Beautiful mom Kerri with her girls, Ava and Abby.
* Me and the wife, trying on the crowns for size.
* Methinks it's getting late.
It was a fabulous night to commemorate a fabulous girl’s first 18 years on the planet. She starts college in the fall. It’s an exciting time for her. Breaking out on her own for the first time. That likely means less time at home. Fewer conversations. Absences at the most mundane daily events of life. Her little brother’s soccer games. Her little sister’s spontaneous dance recitals. She will be missed.
And at the same time, we can all feel blessed to have placed a big bow around all of the memories she’s given over the years. Making new memories in the process.
So congrats to the Family Prom Queen. You deserve all of the blessings the crown will bring.