It’s COVID’s second spring, and I’m missing prom photos again on my social media feed. Like crocuses pressing through hard winter mulch, or the return of cherry blossoms and sparrow song, prom photos are a hopeful symbol of vernal renewal. As a mother of four and a survivor of adolescence, I understand the importance of the posing and pageantry.
Prom bucks the unfairness of young adulthood; the restrictions of stifling systems and nests outgrown. Photos from my 80’s upbringing usually featured one boy, one girl and one pale carnation strapped at the wrist. His hand, her hip, and two ill-at-ease smiles.
Teens of this century, of my children’s generation, pose on their own terms: in groups, or alone; or coupled with someone they want, love or like — regardless of gender or orientation, irreverent of religion or race.
Parents are posting prom pics from before Covid
Some local school have cancelled prom again. So, my parenting peers are reposting the prom “memories” of their children; reminders of The Before Times, that reappear annually in their social media feeds. “How was this just two years ago?” one mother lamented – sharing a snap of her son among a line of white-jacketed boys, each down on one knee, in front of a Jeep Wrangler.
Another mother posted a professional video of her daughter, preparing for the dance, surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins. After a day of hair and nails (and a massage!) she descended from a curved second-floor staircase, tiara haloing a Rapunzel braid, a train of blue satin cascading behind her like a river of life. Her date waited at the front door, gripping a corsage of tiny roses, encased in a clear, plastic clamshell box.
One website Facebook page I follow, A Mighty Girl, shared a photo of a high school senior taken a few years back. In the picture she stands tall and confident, beneath a solitary tree in a suburban front yard. Her dress is a $40.00 consignment wedding gown that she painted over in the swirling greens, blues and golds of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
In lieu of prom pics, some of my friends are posting grandparent reunions
Amidst the prom photos of the recent, far away past, a new trend in my Facebook feed offers reverential pause. My freshly vaxxed friends are reuniting with their parents. One posted a photo of her extended family gathered at the dinner table, children seated on grandparents’ laps: “It’s been a whole year and we can finally see my mom and dad!” she wrote.
Another friend posted a photo from the atrium of a nursing home. Her father, besieged by Alzheimer’s, remembered her, despite a seventeen-month separation. She sits distanced from him and smiles gently. She looks relieved and gracefully brave. She called the experience “bittersweet.”
The photo that left me breathless was from a friend reunited with her mother. “The last time I saw Mom,” she wrote, “I was 10 weeks pregnant. She finally got to meet her 6-month-old granddaughter yesterday.” In the photo, a clear-eyed baby, plump and content, in a soft, denim sundress, grins behind a pink pacifier. Her grandmother holds her high to the clear blue sky, pressing her lips to the baby’s smooth cheek.
Photographs of families reunited, the ones that restricted and waited, remind me of the prom pictures I miss so much. They portray the resiliency honored at the end of an era.
Last year, my daughter’s senior prom was cancelled. A butter-yellow chiffon gown still hangs in her closet, tags intact. A reminder of a rite gone wrong. But this weekend, a year later and fully vaccinated, my 79-year-old mother-in-law joined us for Sunday supper.
Under the Oak that anchors my backyard, beneath a setting sun, we posed in every combination imaginable. Like giddy prom-bound seniors, we took groups and individuals, long-armed selfies and portrait close-ups. I shared the photos with my friends, and they celebrated our togetherness; as if our family had crossed oceans for each other, instead of a two-mile lane and one stop-light intersection.
Year after year, when the pictures return as social media memories, I’ll feel a pang of longing, and a swell of pride. They are a testament to our survival, during the springs when we couldn’t dance.
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Jennie Burke, a freelance writer and mother of four, has been featured in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Independent, Scary Mommy and a variety of literary journals. Connect with her on Twitter @jennieburke