April 12, 2016

Friday, September 19, 2014

You Took a Big Chance at the High School Dance

Has everyone settled into the school year?


I hear you, friends. Four weeks in and my teens are still riding the back-to-school roller coaster. "Who will my friends be this year? Which teachers will be my favorites and which classes will be challenging? What colors, shoes, hairstyles are in?"

Thank goodness it's Poetry Friday. It gives us a chance to talk about one of the pinnacles of high school drama: School Dances.

I'm heading to North Carolina
today for the Electric Run.
While I'm running around Raleigh
in my Poetry Friday Day-Glo T-shirt,
stop by Amy's Poem Farm.
Amy is hosting Poetry Friday this week.
We are in the world of high school today, readers. The poem I'm sharing this week is appropriate for 8th grade and up.

My daughter and her middle school friends were split up. Their middle school feeds into three separate public high schools and Julia is attending a private school. They are getting together for the homecoming dance at one of the local public schools. My kid was thrilled to be invited. She started planning her outfit for the dance immediately.

And since this isn't her school, Jules is planning to make a splash. She's ditching the dress and instead wearing a very fetching suit: snug pinstripe trousers, fitted jacket, dress shirt, bow tie. I nearly died of shock when she agreed to have her hair done -- as in professionally styled! -- for the occasion.

Read about fashionistas in tuxedos.
Unfortunately, some girls at Julia's all-female school heard she was wearing a suit to a dance. Eyebrows were raised. We had to have one of *those* talks. The one where the parent (dying inside) says, "It's okay to try to fit in if that's what you need to do right now."

Then I added, "It's also okay if you dare to be different. People might judge you. That stinks, but be prepared for it. You get to decide what works best for you."

Seriously, people. I was on the fence. Julia's high school life might be easier if she puts on the metaphorical uniform. But she's staying true to herself, and having a blast planning her outfit.

In a moment of serendipity, I was skimming through poet Sue Ellen Thompson's new book this week.

Sue Ellen Thompson's new book of poems,
They is available at Amazon.
Sue Ellen sent me They, giving me the freedom to choose a poem that would appeal to older students and their teachers. She wrote in an email, "If you're looking for something that would appeal to students, there are many that deal with the whole gender identity issue."

I flipped open the book and came across this gem, "The Paper Dress." It's both a narrative and an ode to those brave teens who would rather stand out than fit it.

The Paper Dress
by Sue Ellen Thompson

She never went to high school proms
and showed no interest in boys. But the night
of the Christmas dance, she came downstairs
wearing a paper Lawn 'n Leaf bag
on which she'd painted the curvaceous body
of the woman she had no intention
of becoming, wearing a snug white dress
with bra-straps showing and an inch-wide zipper
running from her cross-hatched cleavage
to her fishnet knees. The teacher
who was chaperoning wouldn't let her in--
although her friends were wearing strapless,
backless, asymmetric hems that clung
discreetly to one ankle before soaring up
the opposite thigh. My daughter bit
down hard on her own anger, looked
the teacher in the eye and slowly, stiffly,
started walking backwards to the door,
her middle finger raised
behind the paper dress's hourglass waist.

Posted with permission.

Sue Ellen Thompson is the author of four previous books of poetry and the editor of The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (2005). Her work has been included in the Best American Poetry series, read on National Public Radio by Garrison Keillor, and featured in U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser's national syndicated newspaper column. She has been a mentor to adult poets and an instructor at The Writer's Center in Bethesda and Annapolis. In 2010, she received the Maryland Author Award from the Maryland Library Association. Her website is


Amy LV said...

Here's to women of all ages who wear what they wish, who are who they are, who help us all do the same. Big high-fives and hugs to mother and daughter both. I'm so glad to have you in my circle. 'Love this poem and hope your daughter has a blast!

Tabatha said...

Sorry, I'm having a hard time commenting because "Walk This Way" is playing so loudly in my head now. Your fault, Laura! Good luck with your Electric Run & I hope Julia enjoys getting together with her friends at the dance.

Author Amok said...

Thanks, Amy. I'm excited for her and proud that she's sticking to her plan.

Linda B said...

I still remember the agony over the dressing, & my daughter simply rejected them all, never went. I love that you're talking through it, supporting her, & hope it goes beautifully. I bet she'll be fabulous! Strong, thoughtful young women is what we need everywhere, glad to hear your daughter is one already! I'll share the poem with the teachers of our oldest students!

Doraine said...

Sounds like she has a good plan. I'm admiring the tux look!

laurasalas said...

Wow--that poem gets me in the gut. Good luck to your daughter, and kudos to her for rocking her own style:)

jama said...

Well, I love the idea of a nappy suit and kudos to your daughter for being brave enough to be original and true to herself. It will be interesting to hear how the kids react when they see her.

jama said...

Oops, I meant "natty." :)

Liz Steinglass said...

I love the outfit she has planned and I love the thoughtful words you shared with her.

Joyce Ray said...

Laura, thanks for sharing "The Paper Dress." Your daughter's courage to be herself surely grew from her family's acceptance and encouragement. Congratulations to all of you!

Bridget Magee said...

I love, love, love this post on many levels - especially your perfect Mama words: "It's also okay if you dare to be different. People might judge you. That stinks, but be prepared for it. You get to decide what works best for you." No truer words spoken, Laura. Brava! And yay for your daughter's bravery and "Paper Dress", a poem that celebrates that bravery. = )

Margaret Simon said...

Oh, how I can relate. My daughter who is now 29 wore a piece of cloth (white silk) to a party. The cloth was wrapped around her thin, muscular shape (she was a swimmer) and she pulled it off. She is still a fashionista but is more conservative when she dresses for court. She is now a lawyer. I hope she embraces her individualism.

Susan Taylor Brown said...

Kudos to you for raising such a strong young woman not afraid to be herself in a difficult world. I cheer the both of you. I also have Walk This Way playing on repeat in my head now. :)

Holly Mueller said...

This is so great! I love the honesty of your ambivalence and your daring daughter. You found the perfect poem to celebrate her courage. :-)

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

How awesome is this poem? And so fitting for one of the awesomest daughters ever. (She takes after her mom.) You must be SO proud.

Carol Varsalona said...

I read this after I saw the picture you posted on #PoetryFriday. I admire your daughter for taking a stand and being a courageous risk taker. i actually like the way she dressed-very stylish. The poem you found was a winner tool.

Charles Waters said...

Love her individual spirit! Your kid rocks. That is all.