Parents share teens’ prom night jitters, joys

It’s no secret that parents keep secrets from their teenagers. One of those secrets is that, for Mom and Dad, high school prom night is a big event.

Parents take it very seriously — and not just because they are the ones doling out the equivalent of a home mortgage payment to cover the costs of gowns and tuxes and limousine rides.

What they don’t want their kids to know is that prom is a significant night not only in the lives of those high school juniors and seniors, but also in the hearts of Mom and Dad. It’s one more undeniable reminder that time is passing and our children are making the transition into the adult world.

Admittedly, most adult worlds don’t include wearing designer-knockoff ball gowns and gaudy rental tuxes, corsages and boutonnieres. Outside of landing on a reality TV show starring Donald Trump and the Kardashians, most of us never will get much practice tipping a chauffeur.

Prom night isn’t a great example of what the cold, cruel grown-up world is really like, but isn’t that the fun of it?

For my daughter Amelia and her girlfriends at Arbor View High School, prom night arrived recently and brought with it all the pageantry you’d expect from such an affair. Theirs was held on a moonlit evening at Paiute Golf Resort.

As regular readers know, my amazing daughter is a survivor of brain and spinal cancer. She faces a world of challenges and uses a wheelchair to get around.

Some of her girlfriends are ambulatory. Others endure their own serious medical issues and also use wheelchairs.

But if you’re looking for one of those weepy features about sad-eyed wheelchair kids, turn the page.

This is about sisters doing it for themselves. As prom night approached, Amelia and pals Hannah Rath, Ashlee Ford, Christine Williams, Jamie Reel and Bethany Waldron didn’t wait for engraved invitations. Like many of the juniors and seniors attending the event, they went in a group and cleverly added four teenage boys as their escorts and dance partners. Smart move, ladies.

“I’m excited for them,” said Jamie’s mom, Jill Reel. “I never got to my prom because I was never asked.”

But, she added, that group date plan was an inspired strategy.

The dresses were stunning. Amelia picked out a flashy pink dress, which her proud mom accessorized with sparkles and silver ribbon. Even as a high school junior, the kid can’t resist bright color choices.

The girls’ parents were mightily impressed. Not just because their daughters were passing a milestone in the scrapbook of high school memory, but also because they weren’t waiting for life to happen to them. They were donning stunning outfits, checking their looks, and hitting the dance floor.

“I’m just glad she got to participate in it, you know, because she suffers a lot,” said Ashlee’s mother, Regina Whitaker.

Hannah’s mother, Janie Rath, admitted, “I was probably more nervous than she was, because I remember my prom. I’m still excited for her. It’s very cool.”

“It’s eye-opening how they’re growing up so fast,” dad Roger Rath said. “I still think of her being in kindergarten, 5 or 6 years old. And of course I remember when I went to prom. It was like a century ago.”

Beaming parents related stories of proms attended and missed. Even our driver, Lisa Chenoweth of Ambassador Limousines, couldn’t resist reminiscing about her own kids’ prom night excitement. She drove for them, which come to think of it is also a good way to keep an eye on your teenager.

After dining at Mimi’s Café, where the waitress related her own prom memories, it was off to the Paiute Country Club in a chauffeured limousine. (I recall taking my date in a ’68 Toyota Corona with a broken latch on the passenger-side door. The evening almost ended early when I made a sharp left turn.)

Once at the prom, I refrained from violating the girls’ space. It was strictly in the role of the news columnist that I sneaked into the dance just to double check on the prom princesses. They were too busy dancing and visiting to notice.

After ending my evening’s surveillance, I can report some good news. With the exception of the disc jockey’s musical tastes, not much has changed in the nearly four decades since I was a sweaty-palmed poseur in platform shoes and a powder-blue tux that would have made Ricky Ricardo envious.

The bottom line?

I remain the luckiest dad in the world.

Amelia and her friends remind us all that life isn’t about what you don’t have. It’s about working with what you do have, and dancing to the music that’s played.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

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