prom 2007

Prom is Still Magical to Me

My baby sister is going prom dress shopping.

It doesn’t make me feel hugely old, just old enough that I want to go with her. I’m actually really excited — I love dressing up. I love huge occasions with lots of people and everyone being there for the same thing.

I like it best when it’s not me at the center of it all, so this makes me really excited.

Only I can’t go. I can listen in, I can offer advice — offer up my old dress, even. Except for the fact that it’s too small on her. Yikes. — and I can flip through dresses online with her. She found a gorgeous navy blue one the other day, one that looked like something a queen-to-be might wear (you can call that “princess” if you like, but “queen-to-be” sounds more regal). There was just one issue.

“Tell me,” she said, turning the computer around so I could see the screen. “Do those lines look like tree branches or veins?” She was wearing the world’s biggest grimace when she asked.

The back of the bodice was nude-colored, lined in alternating thick and thin navy blue fingers that crawled from the lower back up to the shoulders. At first, I thought “not bad, it actually does look like a tree.” The longer we looked, though, the more vein-like those “tree branches” became.

I grimaced, too.

“Yeah, too much like veins.”

“Kay,” she said, taking her computer back.

I love this stuff. I’m the person who’ll spend hours and hours flipping through Pinterest looking at outfits — dresses, shirts, blouses, skirts, you name it, I’m there. I love making collections of the images to go back and drool over later. I’ve always loved looking at clothes, but I’ve never been good at either wearing things that flatter, or picking out clothes that look good on me.

Little H has no such problems. She’s also casually into this — meaning she likes it, but not in a “look at me! Look at me!” kind of way. This is why I’m excited. She reminds me of the cool girls I went to school with.

Only now, I get an up-close-and-personal look at everything they do. :D

She already went shopping with her friends — one of whom had a dress — and it brought her everywhere: from Natick to downtown Bubble. Mom’s one warning?

“Don’t go into Nicolina’s,” Little H told me over a twenty-minute dinner of creamy pasta and fried tomatoes. Then she made a face. “Or was it Nina’s? One of those. One of them’s really expensive. She also thought David’s Bridal was going to be expensive, but we went in there, you know, just to see.”

She played with her pasta a bit. “And maybe it’s all these bridal shows I’ve been watching, but it was actually way underpriced. Like, the dresses there are affordable compared to, like, Macy’s. But it’s probably because that’s their job. It’s what they sell all the time.”

I nodded, drinking in every word. I was picturing her and her friends driving around — oh my god, they’re old enough to drive, which is a scary enough thought — peeking in shop windows. I pictured the rows and rows of shining fabrics and pinned-together dresses where they hugged plastic mannequins while shopkeepers tailored their hems and waistlines. I pictured gowns with bedazzled tops and Cinderella bottoms. I pictured elegance.

I didn’t picture lines. Or above-the-knee dresses that only came in neon colors best designed for Spring. Or groups of other girls they knew doing the exact same thing they were and taking forty-five minutes to do what Little H and Co. could get done in ten.

But she told me all about them.

She didn’t buy anything, though. She decided to go with Mom and Big H. Part of me was proud of this. I like the idea that we’re kind of all the same: we rely on each other’s opinions to get through things. There’s an almost Mean Girl quality about this method of thinking, but it’s saved me from a number of hideous purchases.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels like they don’t know how to shop for themselves.

I wish I was going with them, but they have to go during the week and this isn’t about me. I almost took a sick day for this. Little H asked if I could come, but I said I had work and she said, “Oh, right.” We were all pretending I was on vacation for a millisecond and then moved on.

I’ll admit: a little bit of my heart broke at not being able to go. At not suffering with them on the slow drive to the mall with Mom behind the wheel. At not taking those first shining, bright, overwhelming steps into the stores, surrounded by either too much sound or too much quiet and way, way too many choices.

At not getting to stuff my hands in my pockets and feel time crawl along as I try to figure out what to focus my attention on so that I don’t get absent-minded and just start wandering around the store, captivated by everything. At not standing in the dressing room with them while Little H tries on a pile of dresses and we all decide what she should keep.

I plan to be there when she gets dressed up for the big night, though. I want to be the one holding the camera. I want to watch her apply her winged eyeliner — liquid, which I can’t help but admire, and don’t go telling me how many people can use that stuff. I think my sister’s very talented for being able to use it.

I want to watch her shimmy into the dress, do up her hair, stand still for long enough to take one planned photo that makes her appear older than she is, and then meet with her friends so everyone can see how she’s not really twenty years old, after all. She just pretends to be for maybe one day out of every few years, when an occasion requires.

A few of my former (I wrote “old” first, but they’re all women, and most of the women I know get offended when any mention of age comes up, which I wish wouldn’t happen as often as it does) teachers spurned prom. They would momentarily go from insightful, intelligent people of their generation to miserly, grumbling middle-aged jerks who like to throw out the phrases “when I was your age” and “kids these days.”

They would talk about how it wasn’t Prom, but “THE Prom” and it stood for “Promenade” and it was an “occasion” and not just something you did, ya know, if you had money to piss away.

I felt bad for enjoying prom when they did this. I’d think back on my moment buying a dress, putting myself together at my house, going to Sri’s for the night, and then dancing in a room of people who’d put as much effort in as I had, and feel shamed. I knew kids who’d planned to have sex that night. Who were going to “get pregnant,” as some kids rumored. Who were going to get drunk and party all night.

These were the kids my teachers meant to talk down, but I’d enjoyed myself, too. I was equally responsible.

But every time the season comes around, I forget all that. I forget how I was jealous when my brother got asked to prom three years in a row. I forget the cost of it. I forget how the teachers shamed me for enjoying myself and not being like them.

Instead, the season becomes magical again. I hope Little H experiences it the same way.

Did you go to prom? Why or why not? How do you feel about it now?

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 5.44.46 PM clmannarino

Song Challenge: Song You Hear Often on the Radio

Jewel’s You Were Meant for Me used to play on the radio all the time when I was in middle and high school. Amidst the blaring whines of electric guitars of Evanescence, the orchestrated symphonies of Within Temptation, and the take-no-prisoners outcry of Alanis Morissette, my mom would play the radio and turn to softer, lesser-talked-about stations like 92.9. Even if the reception was crackly, Jewel was there — the cotton-filled pillow padding my childhood.

paint nite 2015 clmannarino

Paint Nite Taught Me to Relax, Already

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I’m an uptight person by nature. I’m Type A, I’m a control freak, and I obey the rules to the point where I will make up rules if there aren’t any for the super-specific situation I’m in.  So it goes without saying that I don’t relax well.

Also, I’m competitive in the quietest way: I won’t tell or openly show people I’m competing with them. Instead, I’ll tell myself, in the very forefront of my brain, that I’m in competition with someone because if they can do it, so can I.

I also give up on things kind of easily. I expect that I’ll be able to do things the first time around because I’ve been told I’m good at writing. I’ve forgotten how many years it took me to get there, though. I take for granted the fact that I can actually spell correctly pretty much every time I write a word, that I know how to use a semi-colon, and that I can write detail in spades once I get going.

It’s a bit devastating when I get to something like, oh, say, a Paint Nite and I realize with shocking, sweat-filled clarity: I don’t know how to paint.

I’m also of the type who doesn’t like making much of a fool of themselves, or learning new things, in front of their beau. Boyfriend and his friends and I were all going to this Paint Nite and I’d never taken a class with him. It made me nervous.

How was I going to play it cool while I was learning and making mistakes? I can’t play it cool! If I’m learning, I look like a five year old. I get serious and concentrated and inflexible.

We walked into Paint Nite late — thanks, snow, love ya, too — and at first, I was okay. Our teacher was showing us the materials, talking us through the steps, showing us her canvas. When I saw it from far away — we sat at the back of the room — I thought oh Christ, this will be bad.

Her canvas looked beautiful. It was the Boston skyline. Sure, that’s not the most scenic thing I’ve ever painted, but I wasn’t given a choice. I find it a lot easier, strangely enough, to paint things I wouldn’t normally if it’s an assignment. If left to my own devices, I’d probably pick a Lisa Frank picture that leaves me in frustrated tears after ten minutes.

But then we got to work. She painted with us, step by step, and told us that, if we were Type-A people and didn’t like getting our paints mixed together, we should remind ourselves that this isn’t supposed to be perfect. It won’t look like anyone else’s and that’s okay. It’s not going to be a masterpiece. It’s just supposed to be fun. And since we’re all drunk, it’ll look good to us anyway.

In fact, we should all take a drink.

I laughed nervously. The women to our right, clinking their wine glasses and shouting out “Yes! Do that,” gave her full-throated laughter. They were so comfortable here, talking so easily with the teacher, who called them out as having gone to Paint Nites before. I envied them for this familiarity.

Finally, we got started. I tried to follow along as best I could and I tried my absolute hardest not to look at Boyfriend. If I looked at him, I’d feel self-conscious. I didn’t want him to see how focused I was being, or how intently I was trying to keep up with the teacher. I didn’t want him to see me mimic her brush strokes, and then the little voice in the back of my head tell me “you’re not doing it right, those swirls are too long!”

Boyfriend knows how to just have fun. I know how to sit with almost mechanical stillness and work in such tiny, calculated steps so that I don’t draw his attention to me making a fool of myself. If he knew, he’d tell me to stop worrying so much.

When it came to the middle of the nite, though, I actually got lost in it. I was too busy trying to blend the blue and white sky, too busy trying to make my canvas disappear where the harbor — dark blue and this weird dark teal color — was supposed to meet the shoreline.

He and his friends talked and I kept my eyes on my own canvas. Looking around would give me too much of a chance to compare myself and I cared too much about how my own work turned out to make a mistake like that.

There’s something about me working around men I like — or just Boyfriend — and me working around other women. Around Boyfriend, and men, I feel the need to prove myself. It’s the learned sexism in me. They can mess up and go off on their own path — which they did, Boyfriend painted LEGOLand – but I need to just do well on the most basic painting in order to even be considered in the running for “doing a good job.”

Because when we do things together, I want Boyfriend to think I can do them well.

With other women? We could be throwing the paint on the canvas, tripping over our own two feet, drunk as skunks, and it wouldn’t matter. I can already see it: we would be whispering across our canvases, giggling to ourselves, cooing over each other’s work. It would be looser, easier. There wouldn’t be competition.

All that aside, for the first time in a long while, I painted without much fear.

Sure, I was worried about what Boyfriend would think of my picture, and I was worried about falling behind, and I was worried about mixing the wrong paint colors together because I worried that I wouldn’t remember all the instructions after they were given to me. Sure, this was happening completely in my mind because “people aren’t against you — they’re for themselves” and actually, none of this was a competition.

BUT — while I was painting, I was having fun. I liked seeing what I was doing and watching it come together in a few hours as opposed to a year. I liked that instant gratification, even if art isn’t about “instant.” And I liked that I didn’t have to choose what we did so that I could just paint and not feel like I needed to have it measure up exactly to the picture we were copying.

Part of you might be laughing at me because of all those worries. I would be, too, if I were a stranger reading this. And I laugh at my past self a little bit because she’s so concerned about things people tell her never to be concerned about.

What matters is, I did enjoy Paint Nite.

And it made me feel good that the teacher’s painting wasn’t DaVinci-esque when I got to see it up close. It looked just like mine…almost. Her edges were a little neater. :)

Have you ever done a Paint Nite? How did you feel when you first got there? During and after? Did you need a few drinks to loosen up, or were you ready to make a mess? Do you have trouble with competition? Can you work with other people in the room?