This past week, our twin 18-year-old daughters went to their senior prom. Before the prom, like millions of other families, we all had to gather at a friend's house to have pictures taken on the front lawn. (By universal agreement, in 10 years of five kids attending proms, pictures have never, ever, been at the McKay house. Nobody wants to get all dressed up and stand in front of a structure with peeling paint and cracked windows, especially one that still has a dead Christmas tree in the side yard and tattered Halloween decorations on the door.)
Even if the house is nice, pre-prom pictures are always awkward, because there is one faction (the girls) who has been planning all year, if not for years, to do this one particular thing, and another faction (the boys) who would rather do anything but this one particular thing.
By the time your average teenage girl is ready for prom, she has spent weeks, if not months, picking out the perfect dress. The girls have bought gowns that looked incredible in the dressing room, taken them home, cried over how terrible they look in their actual rooms, and gone back out shopping, sometimes all in the space of a few hours. So their prom dress isn't just a prom dress. It's the prom dress. Visits to the hair and nail salons have been made. And that's just the accessorization.
In the old days (before cell phones and the Internet), when someone held up a camera and called out "Smile!" girls actually ... smiled. Today, the minute a camera or cell phone comes into sight and someone says "Smile!" every girl in the room "strikes a pose."
The "pose," my daughter tells me, is the stance that each girl has determined through careful practice and calibration will show her off to best effect, and it is different for each girl. Some girls will stand sideways, and then turn their torsos toward the camera. Some girls will wait till the last second and then point their toes. Some girls have determined that they look best when they turn slightly to the left, point the chin down at a 20-degree angle, then quickly look up. Many times, right before the lens clicks, they'll raise one shoulder, but mostly because they're so used to holding the cell phone and taking the picture themselves that it's simply habit.
Often, because a girl will become so overpracticed that she has lost all feeling in her face, the pose will feature a facial expression that is anything but happy. Sometimes, it will look as if the photographer just called out, "Ready ... set ... grimace!"
Teenage boys, on the other hand, absolutely hate to have their picture taken, especially at prom. The boys are stuffed into rented ill-fitting polyester tuxedos reeking of the sweat of the last teenage boy who had to wear them. Often, they've been told to rent a tie and cummerbund to match their date's dress. It's hard to look comfortable when you are wearing a pink pastel bow tie. Remember, they're wearing shoes that have been worn by dozens of other nervous guys before them. You'd squirm, too.
Mostly, though, I suspect they hate this ritual because as a rule, teenage boys are guilty of something, whether in thought or deed, and they are afraid it will show on their faces. And teenage boys hate to be around the parents of the teenage girls they're taking to prom, because they know that the parents of teenage girls (well, mostly the dads) quite reasonably see them as dangerous predators. So they stand there awkwardly, looking as if they're the one culpable person in a police lineup. In the pictures, the boys all look as if someone called out "Freeze!"
Dads, of course, hate prom pictures because prom is often the first time they'll see their daughters dressed up looking almost like grown-up women. And when a dad sees his daughter dressed up looking almost like a grown-up woman, standing there with a boy who looks almost like a grown man, it makes your average dad realize that not all that long from now, those girls will actually be grown women and, soon after that, will be dressing up in wedding gowns, and when they leave, it will be for a lot longer than just an evening of awkward dancing.
Which makes your average dad feel like calling out, in a plaintive voice, "Can't we all just ... slow this down?"
Peter McKay is a longtime Ben Avon resident and syndicated columnist. He can be reached at his website, www.peter-mckay.com.