Enough About Prom

September 15, 2014

Several weeks ago, I was poised to rant about what I believe to be a disproportionate emphasis currently placed upon the ritual known in the United States as Prom. I got distracted, for two very good reasons, which I’ll explain later, but after catching a few minutes of Katie Couric’s talk show this afternoon, my ire was re-ignited. Here we go:

Let’s talk about Prom—what it should be, what it shouldn’t be. Prom SHOULD be a nice opportunity to celebrate with one’s classmates the end of the academic year and, for seniors, the end of their high school career. The dress code is traditionally formal, as befitting such an occasion. It’s a chance to share memories as well as plans for the future, and it’s a time to begin the process of saying goodbye. Prom is a lovely custom, a charming ritual, a time-honored rite of passage.

That’s what Prom SHOULD be. Here’s what it SHOULDN’T:

It shouldn’t be about spending upwards of $1,000 (dress, tux, flowers, limo, tickets) – the average amount estimated by the “Seventeen” magazine editor guesting on Katie’s show today. A lot of families don’t have that kind of money, and being able to share a special moment with your friends shouldn’t be contingent upon your economic status.

It SHOULDN’T be the high-school equivalent of a wedding. I’m thinking specifically about the disturbing “prom-posal” trend in which teens spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to one-up each other when they should be studying for algebra, attending soccer practice, or performing in the spring musical. It’s Prom, not marriage, and an invitation to attend a dance—even one where girls wear long dresses and boys wear ill-fitting tuxes—should be a fairly straightforward affair. There’s plenty of time later for grand romantic gestures, and such gestures should be reserved for a sufficiently significant event—like, say, asking another person to spend the next fifty years of their life with you.

And it REALLY SHOULDN’T be, as Katie’s “Seventeen” magazine editor suggested, “the teenage girl’s red-carpet moment.”

You might say that, at the ripe old age of fifty, I’m getting old and crotchety, that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be young, and maybe that’s true. But I guess I just don’t think that teenagers (or their families) should be pressured to spend an excessive amount of money on one night. I think a teenager (or the family of a teenager) who has $1,000 to spend on Prom would be far better served using that money to pay next semester’s tuition. I don’t think that teenagers should be encouraged to play at getting engaged when most of them can’t be counted on to reliably take out the trash or empty the dishwasher without being nagged almost to death. And I REALLY don’t think that teenage girls should be urged to spend more than about two hours fixating on the perfect prom dress when they should be focused upon getting an education, setting goals for their future, and beginning to think about how they’re going to change the world.

There’s a lot of money to be made on Prom – the magazine editors, the fashion industry, the limo companies, and the florists, figured that out a while back, just as they figured out how to market the idea of the “fairy tale wedding” to such an extent that today’s nuptials are likely to be bloated, overpriced affairs that sorely tax the finances of the couple or their parents in pursuit of that “one perfect day.” The massive impact of shows like “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Platinum Weddings” have paved the way and trickled down to high school, and just as there are now magazines devoted to Prom, I doubt it will be long before TLC premieres “Promzillas.” It’s a trend that perpetuates the notion that all a woman should want is to wear a pretty dress and be the princess at a party where the only thing she has to do is look good, and the only thing her date has to do is show up.

As I said earlier, my rant on the current state of Prom in the United States was interrupted, for two reasons: First, my daughter, Allison (who is autistic, and who has worked harder than any student I know to earn her high school diploma, at the age of twenty, thanks to the tremendous help and support of our school district’s special education services) was accepted into a very competitive, highly-regarded job skills program for next year. The application process was very challenging for Allison, and it took a lot of courage for her to take what was, for her, the huge risk of striving towards a goal, with the very real possibility that she might fail.

And then my husband and I went on a second honeymoon to celebrate 25 years of marriage, which, teenagers, is no small feat, even when you’re married to a smart, funny, hard-working guy who’s a great dad and who can really rock a pair of Levi’s.

So, my Prom Rant had to wait while our family celebrated (1) the achievement of a brave young woman who’s had to work harder than most to achieve a fraction of what her peers assume as a given; and (2) two people managing to stay together while negotiating mortgages, diapers, orthodontia, and flatulent canines. Those are things worth making a fuss over…and so is Prom, sort of. It’s just not worth going bankrupt, forcing teens to simulate something they aren’t (and shouldn’t be) ready for, or perpetuating the notion that the most a woman can or should aspire to is having a boy ask her to go to a dance or looking pretty.

My daughter, Allison, will attend her Prom this Friday, with a group of five friends, and yes, she’ll have an updo and will be wearing a pair of fabulous shoes. Her older sister is taking her for a mani/pedi later this week, and a dear friend will be hosting a pre-Prom photo session at her home. It’s a big deal for Allison, and for our family, but it’s not the only thing, or the most important thing, or the moment that will define her for the rest of her life. It’s a time to look back on what she’s accomplished, and to dream about what lies ahead, and, yeah, to wear a pretty dress. But that’s it.

Feeling (Not Too) Sorry for Jennifer Aniston

February 16, 2015

I feel badly for Jennifer Aniston.  Not because her husband left her for Angelina Jolie, and not because nothing she has done career-wise in the ten years since “Friends” went off the air has come close to that level of success or critical recognition.  Before you tell me not to waste a lot of time feeling badly for someone who is stunningly beautiful and fabulously wealthy and who seems to have found true love with the guy whose name no one (translation: me) can either remember or pronounce, don’t you worry:  I’m going to feel badly for Jennifer Aniston for only as long as it takes to write this blog, and then I’m going to make a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough and eat all of it while I watch “Downton Abbey.”

But for now, I feel badly for Jennifer Aniston, because no matter how lovely she is, no matter that she’s shown some considerable acting chops in a few small-budget films and has garnered a few nominations this awards season, no matter that she’s managed to endure with grace and good humor being a fixture in the tabloids despite the fact that she’s not prone to the sort of behavior that usually earns one that sort of exposure, no matter how many things she can list in her positives column, it always comes down to this:  Why doesn’t she have a kid?

To the extent that it is anyone’s business (and we’ll talk about that later), the answer seems pretty obvious to me:  About the time she was thinking of starting a family, her husband decided he didn’t want to be married (to her, anyway), and he left her.  As anyone who has ever been the recipient of that sort of news can probably tell you, sometimes it takes a little while to get over it, especially if you never saw it coming, and even more especially when it becomes a subject of such public examination and discourse that some enterprising apparel manufacturer successfully markets “Team Anniston” and “Team Jolie” t-shirts.  (Note to the people who actually bought those t-shirts:  If you have enough money to piss away on that sort of crap, you have enough money to make a donation to feed hungry kids or prevent animal cruelty).

So, maybe it took Jennifer a little while to process the end of her marriage, and maybe she wanted to wait until she felt she was in a good place emotionally before she thought about having kids, or maybe she wanted to be in a relationship before she became a mother, or maybe she’s been trying this whole time to get pregnant with what’s-his-name and it hasn’t worked, or maybe, maybe, (wait for it)…MAYBE SHE JUST DOESN’T WANT TO HAVE KIDS.

And this is why I feel badly for Jennifer Aniston:  Because regardless of the reason, there are people out there who think that they (1) have a right to ask her that question; and (2) are entitled to comment upon the answer.

Let’s talk about the first point—that is, whether or not it’s anyone’s business other than Jennifer’s why she’s childless (or child-free, depending upon your perspective).  It’s an age-old issue, namely, to what extent do those in the public eye have a right to complain about the media attention that in some respects feeds their career and fuels the fan interest that makes such a person more marketable?  I’m not really interested in dissecting the opposing viewpoints of that debate, except to say that when your husband takes you to the Caribbean for what you thought was going to be a baby-making vacation, only to have him tell you he’s ending your marriage, I think it would be nice not to have to worry that some paparazzi is going to sell a photo of you clutching a tissue as your heart breaks, while the same husband who no longer wants you wraps his arm around you and pretends he’s not counting the minutes until he can be with Angelina.  Suffice it to say that in our society, whether or not it’s right or okay, if you happen to have the incredible good fortune of starring in an unprecedentedly successful sitcom for 10 years, you’re probably going to have to give up any expectation of privacy.  Forever.

So, I’m not going to rail against People magazine or analogs thereof, because that would be sort of hypocritical of me, given that I’ve been known to peruse that particular periodical from time to time whilst having my hair done or waiting on line at the grocery store.  As well, I believe that those who grace the pages of such publications benefit at least to some extent as a result and, by and large have signed on (or, at the very least, are on notice of the potential) for that sort of exposure.  Let’s not forget, moreover, that there are plenty of celebrities who manage to stay out of Us and Star and In Touch magazine; I’ve never seen the headline “Meryl Streep’s $40 million Divorce!” or “Daniel Day Lewis DUI Disaster!”

So, no hating on People for me.  But what about those people who think they have a right to comment about the choice Jennifer Aniston (or anyone else, for that matter) has either made or had thrust upon her vis a vis parenthood?  I have to admit, I find such an attitude more perplexing than infuriating, because for the life of me, I cannot fathom why any gives a fuck in the first place.  I mean, who cares whether or not Jennifer Aniston has a kid or not? The only thing I think I care less about is Kim Kardashian, or perhaps her equally idiotic spouse.

Sure, I could get uppity:  I could point out the audacity of presuming to inquire about or comment upon such a private, sensitive topic.  I could get strident and draw the (hard to miss) parallel between such scrutiny and the apparent belief of some in this country that a woman’s family planning decisions should be subject to society’s imprimatur.  And yes, I could go all (proudly) feminist on you and ask why, in the United States of America in 2015 do some continue to embrace the notion that a woman isn’t really a woman, and will never be fulfilled, until she reproduces? Because I know a lot of women who don’t have kids who have somehow managed not to throw themselves under a train and, against all odds, have derived meaning and satisfaction from life despite never having a child.

But I’ll stick to the immediate topic, which is that I feel badly for Jennifer Aniston, who recently said in an interview that she is frequently chastised for being “too selfish” to have children.  That just about blew my mind, because implicit in that statement is the notion that it’s inherently wrong not to want to have kids and that whether you want them or not, whether you are equipped to care for them or not, you should just go ahead and have them anyway.  You know, to not be selfish.

Really? Are you kidding me? I have three kids, and I love them dearly, but deciding to become a parent pretty much means setting aside everything you ever wanted to do, have, or achieve (to a large extent, anyway) for the better part of two decades, and by the time you’re done, you’re really, really tired.  Few people appreciate that fact when they’re painting the nursery or ordering a crib mattress, and indeed, it’s difficult to have any real sense of what being a parent is really like until it happens to you.

But having kids is hard.  It is bone-wearyingly, mind-fryingly hard, and few things one can do in life invokes the level of responsibility and constancy that should be part and parcel with bringing a life into this world.  So, at the least—at the very least, for Pete’s sake—don’t you think the decision as to whether or not to undertake that level of commitment should be made exclusively by the person whose going to be charged with the responsibility attendant thereto, the person who, presumably, is probably better qualified than you or I to know whether or not they are up to the task?

Maybe not having kids is selfish (although I don’t agree that it is), but if it is, then isn’t that all the more reason why a person who doesn’t want kids shouldn’t have them? If someone is truly selfish, then maybe they’re not the kind of person you want raising a child in the first place.  Kids cost money, they need a lot of time and attention, they can be really annoying, and they tend to mess shit up.  So, if you like buying (and having) nice things, if you like being able to do stuff for more than four minutes at a time, if you’re not the most patient person in the world, then maybe having kids isn’t for you.  And that’s okay.  There are a lot of people who maybe should have thought about all that before they had kids, but few people ever do, and as a result, there are a lot of crappy parents out there.

I don’t know why Jennifer Aniston doesn’t have a kid, and frankly, I don’t care, nor should anyone else aside from her and the guy whose name I can’t remember or pronounce.  I sorely wish people would stop asking her about it, just as I wish that the tabloid press (which apparently consists entirely of men, and women with rock-hard abs) understood that what they’re calling a “baby bump” may actually be nothing more than too much lasagna.

But for what it’s worth, here’s my suggestion, tabloid media:  Let’s lay off Jen.  I know, I know, it will leave you at a loss as to how to fill those column inches, but most of us will be more than okay with an extra dose of Bradley Cooper or photos of Prince George, both of whom are absolutely adorable.  If Jennifer wants to have a kid, she will, and then you can report on that, but if she doesn’t, maybe you can figure out something else to write about.  I mean, there’s always Kim Kardashian.