Daughter has spent the last weeks preparing for her very first high school social event- homecoming. She’s shopped for a dress, talked makeup and hair, been all abuzz with her friends about how they’ll get to the dance and who they’ll hang out with. She did the parade and danced alongside the float for her club. She threw candy to little kids and came home on a cloud significantly higher than 9. It has been a wondrous and exciting time to watch.
After taking her to get her nails done yesterday, I took the opportunity to talk to her about some safety. I’ve discovered talking about big and important but perhaps uncomfortable things in the car is an excellent way for us to communicate. The lack of eye contact takes away a level of discomfort and Daughter is more open and willing to discuss rather than just listen. Despite the fact that she’s “just a freshman” and “only going with friends Mom, jeez!” I talked to her about consent. This is nothing new, but I reminded her of dance-specific things rather than just “you have all the rights associated with your body.” I told her she may be approached to dance with someone and it was ok to say yes. I told her she might feel things and maybe want to have some romantic time with someone and that she needs to make safe choices. I told her that she may be asked to dance in a romantic way by someone she does not want to be with. We went down the whole list of “it’s ok to say no even if…” landing at the end with you can say no at any time to anyone for any reason. You owe no one any explanations. If they ask more than once, you are not obligated to be nice anymore. We’re not in an 80s romcom. No means no, despite how persistent a person might get. This goes for anyone she asks, too.
When husband and I were driving her to her friend’s house to gather together and head to the dance as a unit, she asked us if making sure to not leave an open drink is a good idea at a high school dance or if that’s just something to watch out for later. From our guts, Husband and I immediately said to protect your drink in all situations always, but it made us sad and more than a little surprised that we had such a visceral reaction. We hadn’t realized that we were so serious about that yet, but we are. None of us knew what the food/drink situation would even look like, or if any at all. The dance was to be held on the turf field under the lights so students could be without masks and have a fun, safe night. Still, we told her to never leave a drink unattended.
After we dropped her with her adorable and delightful new friend, I admit I shed a few tears. She’s so grown up all of a sudden. She looked so mature and stunning and beyond happy. Her group of friends knows how to have an unabashed good time and we are all so happy for her. I’ve been missing her little, squishy, 6-year-old self lately, and this was just another reminder of how time is passing. It was only a moment, though, and gave way to feelings of joy and excitement for her.
Husband and I went to dinner and ran errands but I kept checking my phone. I wanted to see pictures and hear updates from the event. Eventually I reminded myself that I didn’t have the capability to send things to my own mom when I was at homecoming and I needed to let her have her time without me expecting things. Once home, we settled in to watch a movie.
A few hours later, my phone rang. From the ringtone I knew it was my girl and I was immediately scared. Remembering my own dramatic dance experiences, I imagined a fight with friends, a plea to pick her up and bring her home. I imagined cocoa and cuddles as she fell asleep. Hearing her crying before even hearing her speak tightened that knot in my stomach and I immediately began planning to get my outside pants and shoes, keys, etc. I had no idea.
“Mom,” she said. “Mom. The dance is over. Mom. Do you remember xxx girl from my middle school?” Of course I remembered. Covid times in a tiny school meant 8 kids she was around all the time. “Yes kiddo. Yes. Are you ok?” “Mom she was attacked. I think someone tried to rape her. I was just interviewed by the police. I was scared. I think I saw one of the guys. And then there was a major fight. Like a fistfight. Everything got shut down. I’m with my friends now.” I wanted to come get her immediately. I felt the need to hold her in my bones. She asked to please stay with her friends and I forced myself to recognize that she will probably do better processing with her peers. We respected her wishes. And then we began to wait.
We waited for word from the school. A student event late in the evening was shut down early. Most of these kids need rides places. Parents were planning to pick them up at specific times. That was all upside down and there was no word. My own child, 14 years of age, was interviewed without a guardian by police officers. Yet we heard nothing. Parents went online doing what they could to piece it all together because we were told nothing. Now, I’m not expecting detailed information by any means. I don’t need to know who was involved or even exactly what happened, but shouldn’t we know that there was an incident? Shouldn’t we have been told when it happened? I now know that it is perfectly legal for my child to be questioned without an adult representative, but that makes her no less scared and makes me no less angry to be completely in the dark. We’ve waited for 14 hours now. Still no word from her school. I am grossly disappointed and I don’t know when my anger will subside.
When thinking about our anger, Husband was quick to note that it’s just sort of general anger at the world. What is happening to all of us? he kept asking. We were hyper cautious about reminding our child about her body autonomy. We genuinely thought we were being over protective and a little paranoid. It turns out that we were not worried enough. So now I will sit with my anger. I will sit with my sadness and recognize that Daughter has become a woman in this world where she can never let down her guard, even at “fun and exciting” events that should just be a right of passage.