Sometimes in life it’s good to bend rules. I’m not talking about breaking the law or God’s commandments. My moral compass, calibrated by the best parents, doesn’t allow me to stray. Instead, I’m talking about altering arbitrary rules, particularly ones that are self-imposed. The trouble is unless you are good at listening to intuition, one doesn’t always know when its the right time to defy tradition or

do things differently.

One look at the calendar and I knew I needed to brace myself because once again it’s prom week.

For our family, over the last 20 years, it is traditionally a week of late nights and disrupted routines (no family meals together at the kitchen table) and far more family strain than usual. That’s because my husband Tom is a junior class sponsor and one of the organizers and decorators for prom.

Technically I fielded the phone call from then principal Sandra Block who mentioned she wanted Tom to help with Prom. I’m not sure if I said yes for him or my not outright saying “no way” meant the job was his.

Tom and the other sponsors’ time is occupied with transforming a high school gym into a stunning or exotic place, such as New Orleans with a flair for jazz or Venice with a gondola on a canal. They help students construct big things like the pyramids of Egypt or a mountain lodge, and focus on details like a tree swing or sunset. While Tom is

occupied, I manage the feeding, homework and getting children to bed

at a reasonable time. At least that’s how it used to be.

Nowadays, with only one Ward child left at home, who is already well versed at going with the flow, prom week doesn’t seem as fearful and chaotic as it once did, but I  still have a bit of hesitancy and something else that I don’t know how to put in a word.

That’s because of the memories that flow this time of year and the realization that time has been passing, even though in many ways for me it has stood still. If my emotions are getting to me now, how will they be on that night? It’s bittersweet to remember.

Five years ago, I bent the family rules regarding prom. They were my rules, set as a mother who tries to maintain order, which is generally a good thing. It still amazes me to think about what happened, how I didn’t even

resist it at the time. It makes me grateful for an inner voice that instructed me well and that I listened. Life isn’t meant to be lived with regrets, so thank goodness I listened.

In the past, typically, Ward children helped with prom decorating after school and in the evening so they could spend some time with Dad. We might show up at the high school with dinner and stay and cut out palm leaves or blow up balloons, depending on the year’s theme.

Prom day meant a trip to the high school for the big reveal and pictures. There have been some magical scenes through the years.

The night of prom, consisted of watching couples be announced during walk in and peek in the gym to see it filled with actual people mingling and dancing.

My children’s prom experience would get interrupted with my declaration of time to go home. A babysitter, and later an older sibling, was in charge of getting the home crowd to bed while I returned to the high school for chaperoning duties.

When the dance ended, there was basic clean up to do, which meant not getting home until 1 or 2 in the morning.

Five years ago, I never made the announcement that it was time to leave for home. One child, a senior, was at prom with a date and four others were there as extras, representing grades 10, 8, 4 and 1.

A group of elegantly dressed high school students observed a then nine-year-old boy enjoying the music and itching to dance. They asked Mr. Ward for permission to invite that boy, his son, to join them.

Permission was granted and Camden joined the sorta circular mass and

started to dance. He danced and danced and danced. All night long he

danced. Every time I went to check on him he had a huge smile on his face, maybe even bigger than the one he was known to wear, and natural comfort in his rhythmic moves. It didn’t seem like something I should interrupt, so I didn’t. I let him dance.

His siblings entertained themselves by playing with other kids who happened to be there that night, sometimes in the west gym and sometimes in a nearby classroom.

Before we knew it, prom was over and my children had been there the whole time. Just three months later that sweet and spunky boy was killed in an auto accident. I didn’t know when I made the conscious choice not to cut him off from dancing, that it would be his last prom.

I thank God for a group of observant and intuitive high school students who extended the invitation for Camden to join them. I’m amazed at their respect, to ask parental permission first, and at how welcoming they were. They didn’t tire of Camden being with them and didn’t complain about some kid crashing their prom.

I’m also grateful for comments made at prom in subsequent years, of others remembering a boy who had a great time dancing, who was a fixture in a certain spot all night long. If you see me favoring a certain spot in the gym, chances are I’m remembering with gratitude that my son got to experience prom too. That smile and enthusiasm for life is something I try to emulate, but not so much the dancing, at least not in public

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