Prom. Some call it the greatest part of high school. Some find it to be the biggest stress of high school. As a mom, I resided in both camps for a long time.
When my firstborn son was diagnosed as blind seventeen years ago, prom was actually one of the dream scenes of his future that went dark for me. It’s hard to admit all these years and accomplishments later, but I thought back then that a blindness diagnosis meant no social life, no teen rituals, no prom.
By the grace of God, a few years into my journey of raising blind children (I have two!) I connected with some wonderful folks who showed me that a full life is completely possible for those living without sight – but they let me know I was going to have to work my ass off to make sure my sons gained access to every tool they would need to allow blindness to fall into the background of life.
Work. That’s what I did. I was a fulltime Mom that took on a second job: teach my blind sons the tools they would need to thrive beyond the classroom – to have a normal social life in all the sighted circles. Look at people when you talk to them. Learn the video games the kids are talking about. Wear the brands they wear. The list was extensive.
My oldest son, Michael, is a junior in high school and he navigates the social circles like a champ. He has had ups and down in his teen life, just like everyone else. He has had joy and drama, just like everyone else. And Michael went to Jr. Prom this year, just like everyone else.
I had visions of Michael at prom when he was still in the womb. I also had those initial fears that this was a scene that wouldn’t happen. So, you can imagine my excitement to see this teen ritual play out. I literally sat back and watched Michael’s prom preparation like it was the “movie of the year.” I took in every single detail, every stress, every fun addition, everything. For weeks Michael would jump in the car after school and give me a new detail of who asked who to prom, the new decoration idea they had, the drama over who was going where for pictures. Not one speck of minute detail was lost on me – and I have to admit that in true Michael fashion, he made it the most fun experience I could have imagined.
I am not sure if everyone is aware, but apparently, you don’t just ask someone to Prom. Like, you don’t just go up to someone or call them and say, “Will you go to prom with me?” Oh God no. There is a whole big dramatic scene involved in “the ask” – it’s called the “Promposal.” (Side note: I have argued that the Promposal is not actually an “ask” but rather a “confirmation” that the person will attend. I have a note to self to attack this in a future mom vs teen blog.)
At any rate, I find it quite interesting that I spent seventeen years making blindness fall into the background of Michael’s life, yet he chose to bring it front and center in his Promposal to his date, Lauren. This is the Promposal poster or board or whatever the kids are saying these days. It is a total shout out to, of all things, Braille! It says “I’d be touched if you’d go with me to PROM.” And, drum roll…. PROM is spelled out in Braille with…. continue drum roll… chocolate chip cookies! Cute, right?
Next, the tux. I have no idea how Michael knows fashion trends and stuff like that because I rarely talk much about that stuff with him nowadays. But he was pretty adamite that he wanted a blue tux and he knew exactly where he wanted to go to get it: a shop called Schweon’s near school where “all the kids were going.” I felt like we were at a high school party when we went for his tux fitting – he saw friends of his and I saw friends of mine! We had so much fun waiting for his fitting and alterations that I almost forgot I was spending a half a million dollars on a four hour suit! (Well, ok, it wasn’t a half mil, but it felt like it – he only wore it for four hours for the love of God! Well maybe six hours… the point is it was a very short time!)
In the days leading up to the main event there was so much drama and excitement over flowers and dress colors and picture locations and pick up times and post parties and…. everything. So many details. So much excitement. I am so grateful we have unlimited texting for Michael because oh my God pretty much all the details were worked out through group texts!
The Main Event
Michael and about twenty other kids gathered at the home of one of his best friends to pose for thousands of pictures around the gorgeous grounds of the family’s beautiful home. Kids groaned as parents clicked and clicked and clicked… just like I imagined.
We moved the crowd inside for more pictures, this time on a beautiful staircase. Kids groaned as parents yelled “now look this way… this way… THIS WAY!!!… just like I imagined.
Michael and Lauren posed for the “fake” pictures of putting on the boutonniere as the moms discussed which lapel side it goes on, how to not stick yourself with the pin, etc… just like I imagined.
Then there was the photo bomb – Michael’s brother Mitchell had everyone laughing as he jumped into one of Michael’s “best friends” picture. Mitchell smiled his devilish little brother smile and Michael’s face revealed the evil thoughts he was having about the not so cute moment… just like I imagined.
It was a beautiful evening of scenes I had always played through in my head… scenes I initially thought went dark.
For many years I worked to help my blind son be the kind of kid other kids would want to hang out with. The kind of kid other kids would approach and include. The kind of kid they would accept and select as their friend. But Michael took all the social skills, perfected them, and now HE is the one deciding if he wants to befriend someone. He makes the choice of whether to pursue people or not.
He is in the game, on the dance floor and in the circles making his own way. I am proud to watch him select the best of the best to hang out with.
And Prom… Michael had the time of his life… just like I imagined.
UPDATE: I wrote this post two years ago. I always share it at Prom time becuase I want parents to appreciate the milestones they get to see their children accomplish, and I want parents of blind children to see that life can be very, very normal with a little work on the front end 🙂 Michael has since gone on to attend Senior Prom (with his girlfriend who was in that “Friends pic” that Mitch photobombed!) and he now has a thriving social life at college, doing so many things I never imagined. We. Are. Blessed.
Kristin Smedley is a Speaker, President at crb1.org, and just realeased her first book Thriving Blind: Stories of Real People Succeeding Without Sight. The book debuted on Amazon as a #1 New Release. You can order it here.