Double-bear mum top. Is there really a mum in there?
North Texas parents of young kids, start saving your money now if you want your child to “fit in” in high school. And if your child happens to be a girl, take out a second mortgage on your house. Because if high school is “over the top” now, and this is a down economy, what’s it going to be like in ten or fifteen years?
Now that I have two girls in high school, a sophomore (Allison) and a junior (Cleo), and it’s Homecoming Week, I’m getting quite the education. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, pull up a chair. Er, I mean a desk.
Class is in session. Take out your textbook and turn to the first page.
Introduction- High School Homecoming
This was a tradition that started in Missouri in 1891 that happens in the fall, when high schools invite their alumni to attend a Friday night football game, and a special dance for the students is held, usually the Saturday night after the game. A queen, and sometimes a king, are crowned at either the game or the dance. The dance is often held in the school gym. Some schools crown royalty for each grade. During the “Spirit Week” leading up to the game and dance, lots of extra posters and decorations usually adorn the school, and at some schools, like ours, the students and teachers wear costumes to school based on a theme that changes daily. Some schools hold parades.
Chapter 1- Groups
(Huh? There’s more? Didn’t the intro pretty much cover it?)
Somewhere along the way, someone got the idea to encourage kids to go to the dance in groups. That way, people can have fun and still go without having to be asked, without having a “date”. And even the date pairs can group up. Not a bad idea. Then someone got it in their head to have everyone in their group wear the same color T-shirt on the day of the game. Then others started doing the same. Then a group decided to add puff paint and decorations to their shirts. Then another designed a logo for their group’s shirt to go with the theme of Homecoming, and have their shirts custom printed, and everyone else who had a group started doing the same. Then someone got the idea of listing all the group members’ names on the backs of their custom printed group T-shirts. And everyone started doing the same. And suddenly, an idea that was supposed to help kids feel more a part of homecoming started making kids feel very left out. Can you imagine how a teenager must feel on game day at school, when they’re not wearing a group shirt, when their name doesn’t join the coveted roster printed on the backs of every cool girl and boy?
Chapter 2- Mums
Guys taking a date to the football game at a southern American high school traditionally bought their date a mum (short for Chrysanthemum, a perennial flower that comes in many colors) to wear on the front of their outfit, usually pinned on the upper right. Florists would often add a few streamers hanging down and other decorations around the mum. Then enterprising moms and craft stores got the idea that they could create the mums themselves—why give florists all the glory, not to mention the bucks? And besides, they could make them cuter. They could personalize them more. Then school PTAs realized, why not use mums as a fundraiser? So they started making them, too. And since they had to make so many in advance, real flowers just wouldn’t do anymore, so the mums, now all white, began to be artificial. And got artificially bigger. And the streamers got longer. And the craft retailers kept coming up with more “stuff” to add to the mums, plastic trinkets representing every class and just about every activity going on at the schools (wait, did I see an underwater basket-weaving charm the other day?). And for an extra fee, you can buy that basket-weaving trinket with glitter added. Fake pearls? They’ve got’em. Feather boas? Ditto. A stuffed bear right in the middle of the flower? Sure. And that will be $7 extra if you don’t want your bear to be naked. How about a football player outfit for your bear? Drill team hat? Cheer skirt? Every Bratz doll and Barbie in town only wish they looked this fine…And how about a cow bell? Yeah, that’s right…a FREAKING COW BELL! A 3” x 4” metal cowbell, painted in your school colors, of course. Yes, it makes the mums heavier, but it clangs when you walk, so that everyone will know your date spent an extra $6 on that bell. And if he really loves you, you’ll have more than one bell attached. And because of the amount of “stuff” attached, the mums can no longer be pinned near the right shoulder. You must wear them around your neck, so it’s really a mum necklace, strapped on with a thin, white cotton rope. The mum hangs down almost to your belly, the streamers touch your ankles. But I’m not sure why they even call it a mum anymore, because you can hardly see the flower. And they’re so large, they cover up the front of those group t-shirts that someone painstakingly designed. Guys now wear mums, too. (Huh?) Girls buy their dates a slightly smaller version, worn on the arm, via a “garter”. And yes, the guys all have stuffed teddy bears in the center of theirs, too. (Andy is amazed why these high school guys allow themselves to be “sissified” in that way. “NO WAY would I have worn something like that,” he says.)
Earlier in the week, usually the group gets together for a party or dinner where they “unveil” and exchange their mums.
Though expensive (prices range from $35 to around $100), the school makes a killing off of them. Many area PTAs rent out vacant retail space each year and start setting up the school Mum Shop beginning in the summer. Lots and lots of volunteer parents work in the shop, fashioning the mums and taking orders. Many of those parents got little sleep this week because they were trying feverishly to finish up the orders in time for the big day.
Chapter 3 After-the-game
Since most teen-friendly restaurants in North Texas suburbia shut down before the game is even over (no kidding—pizza places that could be full of cash carrying teens close by 10 p.m.!!), and the groups don’t want the fun to end too soon, each group tries to outdo the other one in arranging a group activity. This year, Allison’s group is going to Zero Gravity extreme thrill park (aka bungee jumping); Cleo’s is playing broomball at a Dr. Pepper StarCenter ice rink. Every teen will be sure to have a camera along, because the more photos you can post on Facebook of your group having fun, the better.
Chapter 4- The day of the dance
If you have a girl, and one that doesn’t drive, block out your entire Saturday because you’ll be pulling chauffeur duty all day. They all want to get their hair done at a salon, and ditto for their nails. On hands and feet. I drew the line at a spray-on tan. And said no to professionally done makeup as well. But I know many other girls who will be “having it all” and probably even a massage, too. (Gee, shouldn’t that be for the chauffeur?) You can bet I will be catching up on my reading while I wait.
But it all has to be done in time for the photo session. That’s where you’ll meet up with your group to start the evening. (Thankfully, in the groups I’ve been involved with, the parents are the photographers, not a professional.) And of course, each group tries to come up with a “cool” place at which to take the photos, ‘cause they’ll all be tagging them and comparing them on Facebook soon. Parks, fountains, sculptures, hotel lobbies… Allison, God bless her, wanted to do something different from the usual last year and have a more urban background, like a nearby train track and a platform that’s decorated with art. She thought it would be a neat contrast between their fancy dresses and suits. No one else liked her idea… but, what’s wrong with Mom and Dad’s living room as a backdrop? Looking at my own high school dance photos and my brother’s and sister’s, the house and the “retro” living room furniture in the background are almost as fun to see as the people!
After the photo session, the groups head to a restaurant for dinner, and many groups choose to have a “party bus” or Hummer limo haul them to dinner and then to the dance…Andy and I remember that “in our day”, mass transportation would get rented IN COLLEGE when people were planning to drink, so they wouldn’t have to drive…so why do high school students need this? I was told it was so the group could stay together, arrive “en masse” and make a grand entrance to the dance, so no one has to get there ahead of time and feel like a total dork while they wait (haven’t they ever heard of the words “carpool” and “caravan”?)…Cleo’s group has 23 people in it and the bus is costing over $1,000 to rent…you do the math…
Chapter 5- After the dance
The dance ends at midnight, and again, teens don’t think their fun should end then. And parents want to avoid kids getting in trouble and going somewhere to drink, so another fun group activity is planned for after the dance. Last year, one of Allison’s group parents had an all-night party and rented a bounce house. This year, I know of several groups who are having an all night lock-in at a gymnastics center.
Chapter 6- Game Day Pep Rally
Well, the big game is tonight, and I must say, the homecoming pep rally this morning was quite an experience. The halls were transformed so wonderfully with themed decorations, they didn’t look like halls. One looked like a dark forest. I can see why Allison looks forward to this day so much. The band played. The drill team performed. The cheerleaders flipped. The coaches got on the microphones and fired up the crowd. The excitement was infectious.
But the deafening sound of over 1,000 mums clanging as students walked in and out of the gym and through the halls, and the myriad of different colored group T-shirts in the bleachers, made me want to scream, and I don’t mean “Go Mustangs!” I just kept thinking of the beginning of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr and kept my mouth shut: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…