It's all we talked about for weeks around here -- the Christmas party a local Catholic teen homeschoolers group was putting on, which would include games, festive feasting, and an actual dance! One of Meelyn's friends who is a member of this group told her about it, and after some dithering around, we bought her a ticket.
The dithering, of course, had to do with the fact that she is fourteen and a half years old. Was that old enough, my husband and I asked ourselves worriedly, to be going to a semi-formal dance, even though there was no question of going with a date? Even though, as we largely suspected, the girls would end up taking off their shoes and dancing with each other while the boys skulked furtively around the edges of the room, praying that some chaperone wouldn't come over and demand that they "Go over there right now and ask that sweet little Johnson girl to dance"?
So many of her friends were going that we decided that this would be a lovely opportunity. So the next phase of planning would be to buy her a nice outfit. Money is so tight around here this year that each dime squeals in pain as we release it into the clutches of the electric company, the cable company or the city utilities' hatchet-faced clerk at their drive-up window, so a budget was of the essence. Naturally, our first stop on the semi-formal trail was our favorite Goodwill shop, right over there in the ritzy little up-market burg of Carmel. Unfortunately, we found nothing. Evidently, everyone was planning on some kind of holiday semi-formal occasion and there were no dresses there. Back in June, there were more gorgeous cocktail dresses than you could shake a swizzle stick at -- some with pricey labels in them -- and we mourned our lack of foresight and went to Kohl's. Kohl's was holding a massive 50% off pre-Christmas sale on the day we had designated for shopping, so it seemed like a likely place.
Meelyn already possessed a very nice black A-line skirt with a tulip ruffle at the bottom. It is made of a jersey knit with a bit of a sheen to it; the fabric drapes so nicely and never wrinkles and it is really flattering. So what we were hoping to do was to find a blouse and some jewelry and some shoes that would play up the sophisticated skirt, being as how I nixed any spaghetti-strapped cocktail dress as being 1) too old; and 2) too ready to expose Meelyn's ample bosom. Because, at fourteen and a half years old? Yowza.
It didn't take us long to find just the kind of thing we both liked: a deep red jersey camisole (same fabric as the skirt) topped by a blouse in deep red gauze shot through with a satiny thread in the same color. The over-blouse was cut with an Empire waist, had a V-neck and long, floaty bell sleeves -- it was just really beautiful, that lovely cranberry color that is one of Meelyn's best. We found some dainty and delicate silver and faux pearl jewelry (necklace and earrings) that was reminiscent of snowflakes and icicles to top it off.
But, shoes. Shoes posed a problem. All the other things we found were all 50% off and priced so nicely that our budget didn't emit a single yelp, but shoes... The Kohl's shoe department caters mostly to the working woman and offers a vast variety of conservative pumps and loafers, but party shoes were hard to come by. I found a pair of boring black patent leather heels that looked more like my idea of a party shoe than a fourteen year old's, and I held them up uncertainly.
Meelyn nodded and shrugged one shoulder. "Those are okay."
"Yeah, but just barely," I said, discontented. I put the shoe back on the display and turned my head and saw THE shoes -- high heels in a deep, cranberry red patent leather. "Oooh, Meelyn! Look at these!" I said, grabbing one excitedly.
"Oh, now those are really nice," she said, her blue eyes aglow. Aisling, who was stalking a pair of leopard-print ballet flats, nodded her head in agreement.
Only then, like a wretched, stupid mother, did I check out the price. They were $40, even at 50% off; spendy enough that our budget screamed like it was being burned with a curling wand.
"I'm sorry sorry, Meelyn," I gulped. "I feel terrible. But they're just too expensive."
"It's okay, Mama," she said consolingly, patting me. What a good girl she is.
"Maybe we should try Shoe Carnival," I suggested, and we headed for the checkout, a little bit crestfallen.
Shoe Carnival was kind to us and, would you believe it? We found a pair of cranberry-red patent leather pumps there, complete with three inch heels, for $26!
Meelyn tried on her outfit for her dad when he got home from working, emerging from the downstairs bathroom looking very sophisticated and grown-uppy, causing him to have to blow his nose several times after she happily bounced upstairs to change into yoga pants and a fleece sweatshirt.
"She's certainly looking like a young lady these days," he said wistfully.
The day of the party arrived two weeks later, preceeded OF COURSE by a winter storm warning. We were on pins and needles last Friday evening, the night of the snow adventure in Wal-Mart. An email had been sent out saying that the party would not be canceled and that each family would have to decide on their own if they could make the trip - no re-scheduling would happen. This was not good news, since we live in a city that is half an hour removed from the city where the party was to be held. There was nothing to do but hope for the best.
It rained/sleeted/snowed all day on Saturday. My husband had to work and called home to tell us not to go anywhere unless we had to - the roads were terrible. Meelyn, Aisling and I bummed around the house all day, assuming that she wouldn't be able to go. It was a crushing disappointment. But at 4:30, Sandy, the mother of one of Meelyn's friends, called to say that she'd been out and the streets in that city were reasonably clear and that the interstate had been well maintained throughout the day. At the last minute, we decided to do it.
The three of us flew upstairs, Meelyn into the shower; me assembling hair dryer and makeup; Aisling rounding up the outfit, jewelry and nylons. I felt quite a bit like Jo, Beth and Amy helping Meg get ready for the Christmas ball, only thank heaven we didn't have to deal with stained gloves and a scorched organza dress.
Meelyn looked a treat in her party outfit. Her hair was moussed and drawn back in a clip; her makeup had the smoky-eye-pale-lips look that is so popular among teenage girls, although I achieved the smoky eye look with taupes and browns, being extremely unwilling to go with the more favored black kohl look. No that she asked me to, but still. A couple of spritzes with my cherished Dolce & Gabbana perfume, and she was ready.
The trip to the party was interesting. It sleeted the whole way there and made me very nervous. My husband was at the wheel and said that he didn't think the roads were bad NOW, but later might be another story. Yikes. The party was taking place at a private neighborhood clubhouse and we pulled up as close to the door as we could get, mindful of Meelyn's footwear. Three inch heels on an icy parking lot seemed more destined for ER than a dance floor, but my husband escorted her indoors, giving her an arm to lean on so that she wouldn't slip.
Meelyn immediately found her friends, as Aisling and I could see through the glass doors. "Do you look forward to going to parties like this?" I asked her as she sat with her chin on my shoulder.
"I dunno," she sighed. "All this fuss, for a dance. I can't decide. I'd like to have a fancy outfit, but I think I'd rather just skip the party."
"Where would you wear your fancy outfit then?" I asked, amused.
Aisling lifted her chin and looked at me, owl-like in the interior glow of the van's lights. "At home, of course."
"You mean the same home where you wipe oatmeal on the front of your sweaters?"
She returned her chin to my shoulder and resumed looking through the glass doors. "I like being twelve," she said firmly.
My husband returned, having stayed long enough to make sure there was adequate chaperonage (there was) and presumably to check and see if there was a stack of Bibles to measure the distance between dancing couple's bodies. "She's with her friends, already giggling up a storm and comparing outfits," he reported.
"How does her outfit look?" I asked anxiously. "Are the other girls dressed similarly?"
"What snacks do they have?" queried Aisling. "Are there pigs in a blanket?"
Several hours later, we made the trip back over roads that had grown noticeably worse. The temperature had dropped and all that sleet that had been coming down on our previous trip was started to freeze.
Back at the clubhouse, my husband went in to fetch Meelyn. They were in there for a long time, allowing MeeMee to finish the last dance, collect her party favor, pose for a couple of pictures and then get her coat.
She climbed into the van, thankfully accepting the warm boots we'd brought for her, putting them on as she spoke. "Oh, Mommy, I had the best time!"
"Please tell us, and don't skip a second," I said eagerly.
"Well, everyone looked really nice. All of the girls wore dresses - I was the only one in a skirt, but that was okay. We all looked fancy. Most of the boys wore suits and ties. The music was great and the food was good and we played some fun party games and there was karaoke and I danced with two boys!"
"I watched the last dance and there was no body contact with any of the the pairs of kids," my husband said reassuringly. "No heads on shoulders, no arms around the waist. All they needed was an Ingrid Bergman type of nun with her hands on her hips, and it would have been perfect."
"The boys started out the evening playing euchre," Meelyn told us, "and somehow, they got the idea that the girls were going to have to ask them if they wanted to dance."
"Oh. Really?" I said. This did not fit in at all with the Scarlett O'Hara-at-the-Wilkes'-barbecue world I inhabit.
"Yes," said Meelyn. "One of the moms came over and said, 'If you girls want to dance, you'd better go ask the boys,' but I decided I wasn't going to do that."
"I thought the boys were supposed to ask the girls." Aisling frowns upon social conventions being trifled with, since Granny is her alter ego.
My husband cast a look at her over his shoulder. "Well, Mee, I have to say, I am really impressed."
"Me, too," I said, enchanted. "Where did you learn to be so smart?"
"From you," said Meelyn graciously. "I told Mary that I didn't want to ask a boy to dance. I don't want to beg somebody to dance with me. I told her I'd rather just talk."
"Boys are very scared to ask girls to dance," mused my husband.
"Nanny always told me that if you want to be asked to dance, you should stand with a pleasant look on your face -- and not with your arms crossed on your chest so that you look defensive and unapproachable -- so that a boy will know that you're not likely to spit on his shoe," I said.
"And that's what I did. And then two boys came up and asked me to dance!" (The Rules live on, just like Mom and assorted grandmas said!)
"They were both nervous, so I made small talk about what kind of sports they liked and stuff," Meelyn confided wisely, and I just wanted to hug the stuffing out of her right then.
We made it home and found that the driveway looked more like a skating rink than a place where you'd want to park your car. I felt very envious of all our neighbors whose carriage houses are still intact and have been cleverly converted to garages. Our place just had a simple buggy house, the former owner told us. And it was in such a sad state of disrepair and took up so much room at the back of the house (our lot is sized somewhat bigger than a postage stamp) that he went ahead and tore it down.
But anyhoo, we parked, knowing that the van would be frozen shut by morning. We all went in and trooped up to bed, visions of Christmas dances past and Christmas dances yet to come dancing through our heads.
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