Well, it’s that time of year again. Cranky, 14, Whiny, 13, and Punch, 11, are back in school. But somehow, this year, things are a little bit different. It’s been brewing like a storm on the horizon, so I wasn’t shocked at the occurrence. I was, however, shocked by the enormity of it all. Suddenly, all three of them have cultivated a social life. A social life—I might add—that is much more time-consuming and entertaining than my own. There are limitless options for a tween/teen weekend: sports, movies, hanging out. Occasionally, a kid will have parents brave enough to host a party—I think brave is the word I’m looking for—but in the end, things are as they have always been: The nucleus of young-teen socializing continues to be ‘the dance.’

For the first couple of years, dances are weird and exciting and fun. You dress up, get ready with your friends and stay up late. If you’re a boy, there will be girls there; and if you’re a girl, there will be boys. Although I am quickly learning that this is a very small window—especially for the boys. Whiny already has informed me that he will not be attending dances next year, and wishes I hadn’t signed him up for this year.

Suddenly, wondering how his tie looks has morphed into complaining that ties are wildly uncomfortable. The desire for new penny loafers has faded into pondering if it’s acceptable to wear sneakers. Likewise, Punch has only been to one dance. He dressed up, wore a tie, sprayed some awful-smelling body spray all over himself, and had a really good time. Yet somehow, I got the distinct impression that if a better offer presented itself…I was vaguely reminded of my own middle-school dances where the boys would be dropped off, proceed directly to the bathroom, climb out the window and play basketball in the school yard until pickup.

For girls, it seems to be a very different story. For Cranky, the dances become more involved over time. The dress—once almost a thoughtless uniform— becomes a full-time chore, with shopping and swapping and texting photos to friends and posting on Facebook. There are high heels and make-up. There are pre-parties and after-parties. Suddenly, I realize this lapse of interest among the boys may be temporary. Well, next week, it’s a new first: homecoming. I’m not sure what’s involved, but I’m hoping, at least, there is dancing.

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