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.