The High School Dance

So I took a big chance at the high school dance . . . – Aerosmith

I remember what I wore to my first high school dance as a freshman: a pleated linen skirt, a black shaker-knit sweater (remember those?), and black high heels. I loved that outfit. I loved being at school at night, how different everything looked, how different I felt. A little nervous, but excited.

For the past two weeks, Nigel has talked of his desire to attend his school’s winter formal. I’d pick him up from school, and he’d tell me about what they discussed in his social skills class, specifically how to ask a girl to a dance. I remembered the formal dances at my high school and voiced the concern to Nigel that freshmen might not be allowed to attend. I mentioned that we might need to get him a tie. I posed the idea that they might be required to have dates at formal dances. Nigel decided to find out.

Apparently, times have changed. Freshmen can attend, they don’t need to wear a tie, and they’re not required to have a date. So why, then, is it called a formal? Regardless, Nigel was determined to go, and my nerves kicked into overdrive. What if the girls were insincere? What if they asked him to dance only to laugh at him? What if the guys tried to get him to do something that could get him in trouble? What if they talked him into going out to the parking lot or leaving? What if the music was too loud for him, or he got into a situation that he couldn’t handle? The worry was driving me insane, but I had to let him do this.

The night of the dance, Nigel watched movies in his room until it was time to get ready. Then he took a shower, brushed his teeth, and put on a ticking-striped button-up shirt, khakis, and a pair of old-school blue Vans with laces. “Because they’re stylish,” he told me. He came out to the living room and said that he was a little nervous, so he had watched some Winnie-the-Pooh movies to help calm himself. My heart felt like it was caught between my ribs – Winnie-the-Pooh at age 15. My sweet, innocent boy. And he’s flying solo – no aide – at a high school dance. Last year, he attended a middle school dance/event successfully without an aide, but there were other activities, such as an obstacle course and video games, that he could participate in. This would be a whole different ballgame.

I motioned for him to sit next to me on the couch, and he did. I told him that if the music was too loud for him, or if he felt uncomfortable for any reason, he could call me on his cell phone to come pick him up. It didn’t matter if he had only been there ten minutes. I told him that if anyone was being insincere while dancing with him, he could just say, “No thanks” and walk away. I told him that if anyone tried to get him to do anything or leave the dance that he could just say, “No thanks, I’ll just hang out here.” At this stage of his development, our social stories are usually verbal. I rarely have to write it down for him. As liberating for me as this is, it still does not alleviate my worry. I know how vulnerable he is

He said that he understood everything I had told him and said that he thought he’d be okay. A larger part of me actually agreed. Then he said, “But I think it’s too dark to ride my bike.”

“Oh, honey! Of course I’m going to drive you!” Poor boy thought he would have to ride his bike to the dance!

I dropped him off, came home, and watched a movie with Aidan, thankful for the opportunity to have some one-on-one time with him. Nigel didn’t call, and I hoped all was well. I told him that I would pick him up ten minutes early to avoid the congestion, and when the time came, he was right there waiting, by himself, doing some sort of spinning dance. He got in the car, and before he had even closed the door, he announced, “Well, I danced with a lot of girls!”

He assured me that they were nice, they were sincere, and that he felt comfortable and had fun. I told him how glad I was to hear that. On the surface, I felt what I always feel after he does something successfully on his own – relief and gratitude. But there’s something else there, in my heart, some emotion that I cannot identify, even though I feel it every day of my life, and it makes me want to cry when I’m happy. Maybe it’s just love. The love of a special-needs parent.

“This will be a fun high school memory for me,” Nigel said as we got home and walked in the front door. I hugged him and felt that love surge through me again, immense and consuming.

23 thoughts on “The High School Dance

  1. tera

    Super! I have that same feeling…the one that can´t be described. I think you´re right…it´s love! Kaeden´s first dance is this week. A Valentine´s dance. We got him a cool jacket and I talked him out of the tie )didn´t want him to be TOO dressy’…and I won´t be there to take him or pick him up, as he´ll be at his home away from home. I miss him being home when these special things arise. I hope he has as much fun and does as well as Nigel did.

  2. Paulene Angela

    What girl could resist a guy with those looks. Excellent Nigel.

    Pooh Bear, I love you too.

  3. M

    i love how goal oriented he is, no matter what the challenge. he wanted to go…he went…he danced, was able to have a positive experience. i’m just struck, over and over again, by how resilient he is.

    i would have been a nervous wreck had i tried this…nervous to the point of being sick. never could have done it. but nigel sets up a goal…and makes it happen.

    nigel! wow. he’s amazing.

  4. corrie

    I’m curious if you’ve had an opportunities to be in the school in some capacity to be able to observe without looking like your are observing? For example, we have a student with cerebral palsy in the high school. He has older siblings so his mom has been active in the PTSA and Athletic booster teams for years. Anyway, her son is loved and adored by everyone. He’s out trying everything and doing his best. He’s always the last in track, but everyone is rooting him on, he’s the water boy for the football team, …he’s always in the thick of it.

    Anyway, I wonder if you had the opportunity to observe Nigel in this environment, if you’d feel better about how people treat him?

  5. Jess Wilson

    My heart was in my mouth through the whole post!

    This is wonderful, Tanya. He is taking all the tools he’s gathered and making them work in his own way. What a joy to read!

  6. Lex Savko

    I love his perspective. Absolutely this will be a great high school memory. You’re awesome, Nigel!

  7. Kim

    I read that whole thing with my stomach in knots wondering and hoping for an ending that I did in fact read! I am so happy. Wouldn’t you have paid good money to be a fly on the wall?

    Again, I read about the amazing Nigel and have high hopes for the Roc.

    Love this.

    Yay for you both!

  8. Michelle S

    Wow, I so so get this! You are right he and Daniel are similar, although it sounds like Nigels verbal skills are much better. Daniel would watch Winnie the Pooh too 🙂 Congrats to him for taking it on and succeeding. Congrats to you for letting him take a chance, I know how hard that is!!

  9. Cinda

    I read this with a pounding heart hoping that all would go well for Nigel. It did and not only because Nigel is an amazing kid but because he mom and family have supported and loved and taught him to be an amazing kid. GREAT and so fun! I want him as a guest speaker in my class in my grad program!! Great post!

  10. Nicki

    I’m so happy for Nigel! I wish I had his courage. He is always willing to go for his goals and try new situations, even when they make him nervous. That kid inspires me!

  11. Macrina

    that’s amazing what a complete change Nigel’s high school experiencce is from is middle school experience. i’m so glad things are working out for him!

  12. Brenda

    Beautiful! I held my breath all the way through!

    “But there’s something else there, in my heart, some emotion that I cannot identify, even though I feel it every day of my life, and it makes me want to cry when I’m happy. Maybe it’s just love.” Yep, I get that. And it makes me cry every time.

  13. Shannon

    this brought tears to my eyes! I’m so happy to hear that it was a good night!!

    My son wanted to go to the dances this year (he just finished 8th grade). None of his friends (from the self-contained special ed class) wanted to go. It made my stomach tighten up in knots each time he mentioned it. I am terrified for him, for all the same reasons you mentioned. Kids are cruel, especially to those that are different. My son sees everybody as his friend, if they are paying any attention to him, they are his friend.

    Reading your story gives me hope for my son.

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