by Joanie Butman

Prama \’pra-ma\ n :  Term used to describe the unnecessary drama that ensues before, during or after a high school prom. Usually frustrating and doesn’t seem to end. The guys don’t have much to do with this, or you do not hear as much. The term prama is widely unknown, but it is believed to have originated in the early 20th century somewhere in southern United States.

At 54 and having never attended a prom, this term was as new to me as this strange territory I’ve been forced into twice now. Webster doesn’t define it, as he was probably spared this agony, but any parent of a teenage girl doesn’t need an explanation of this phenomenon—they’ve lived it. With the prom safely behind us, I am certain there are a lot of relieved parents happy that everyone arrived home safe and without incident – at least that we know of.

The duration of prama varies widely depending on:

  1. How quickly one is asked and by whom.
  2. How quickly one finds an appropriate dress within a reasonable budget that no one else has claimed (not an easy feat).
  3. How the night goes.

The amount of money spent on prom could probably feed a small country. How did things get so out of control? Is it just in the area in which I live where everything seems to be lifted to an unsustainable level or is it generational?


The definition above from Urban Dictionary claims that boys “don’t have much to do with this,” but I beg to differ. The pressure put on them to be creative with the manner in which they ask is enormous. I am impressed but not fooled that they come up with these scenarios totally by themselves. I know too many moms, sisters and friends who have confessed to “helping” them out just a bit. There are websites you can visit for ideas and step-by-step execution instructions. When I see the lengths to which they go, I wonder how their marriage proposal could possibly top their prom invitation. There seems to be nowhere to go but down from here on so many levels.

Prom expectations are impossible to satisfy. After all, it’s just dinner and dancing. It’s not your wedding or the Oscars. With all the buildup and hype, the following scenario is not surprising. It began with the notice that the decorating committee couldn’t get on the boat until later in the day when they would all be deep into the beautifying process. No big deal, who needs decorations? But we should have known it was a harbinger of things to come. Drop my daughter off at 1:30 for a hair appointment expecting to pick her up at 3:00 ready to roll. When I arrive at 2:45 it looks like a rat has built a nest on the back of her head. Trying to hide my panic much like mothers do when their child walks in with their arm at an unnatural angle, I secretly pray, “Please don’t show her the back,” which of course is unrealistic. We decide it needs to be “fixed,” which takes another ½ hour and the application of enough product to tame Don King’s hair. Now she is 35 minutes late for her makeup appointment. We get stuck behind a school bus on the way home turning a ten-minute ride into a 25-minute ride. The tension mounts. There are numerous proms on the same night so driving is treacherous as crazed teenagers race around in preparation. We arrive at the makeup place already in a fragile state where she is swept up by a panicky beautician because now everyone is running behind. With nothing else to do, I decide to get my makeup done as well and am pressured into buying $200 of makeup that I will probably never use. With surprise at what my beautician has been able to accomplish in very little time and ready to unveil my new face, I walk over to Hannah only to discover a girl on the edge. “Did you put mascara or eyeliner on?” I ask her makeup artist. I don't know much about "smoky eyes," but I know enough to realize I'm not looking at them. I expect Hannah to take over and explain what she wants, but she can only mutter, “Please get me out of here. I need to go home.” We manage to get to the car before she breaks down into sobs. “I hate prom. It’s too stressful. Too many expectations. Everything’s gone wrong. I’m not going.” Not thinking she is serious nor that it is an option at this point, I try to be flippant and throw out, “I didn’t go to my prom and I survived.” Bad choice. That only makes things worse as she looks at me and quickly determines she does not want to suffer that fate. “Okay,” I think, “This is not going well.”  We get home and attempt to get what little makeup he put on off and realize it is some kind of no smudge, waterproof variety which won’t come off without Goof-off. Now her face is red and swollen from the scrubbing never mind the crying. This is going from bad to worse. She is expected for pictures in FIVE MINUTES. She gives up, “I am not going. This day is a disaster.” SLAM!

Staring in disbelief at the closed bathroom door, I carefully consider my next step. “Take a deep breath,” I remind myself as damage control instincts shift into high gear. “I am no quitter.”  I call to my daughter, “Oh yes you are. You are not going to do that to your date. Go put your dress on and pack your things.” While she is doing that, I call the makeup place explaining the situation and throwing myself at their mercy. I beg, “What can you do for me to help salvage this?” I am instructed to bring her down immediately.

“Don’t you want to put jewelry or perfume on?”

“No, I told you I’m not going.”

“Fine, just get in the car.”

Then, “Let’s just say you were to go, what necklace were you going to wear?

“I don’t have one. You said I couldn’t buy one. “

“No, I said I wasn’t going to buy an expensive one and suggested you borrow one for the night. Anyway, five minutes before you are expected for photos is not the time to be having this discussion.”

As we arrive in the salon buzzing with excited, giddy promees, Hannah’s friend and her mom are checking out. When I inform the salon my daughter is here for a redo, I am told there are two people ahead of her. I can’t remember exactly what happened next, and if I did I probably wouldn’t say; but Hannah’s friend and her mom said the normally dormant New Yorker in me came out in full force. Next thing I remember Hannah is in the chair being “repaired,” and I am dodging back and forth from the jewelry store across the street bringing affordable jewelry options to match the outfit. Amidst one of those trips I remember calling over my shoulder, "This is CRAZY, even Princess Kate does her own makeup!" Fifteen minutes later makeup salvaged, bedazzled in moderate necklace and bracelet, we are on our way for pictures. Oops, almost forgot boutonniere despite the panicky messages from my son telling me that the florist has been calling to remind me what time they close. Having considered all contingencies, I already have a backup plan in place. I tell my daughter “Not to worry, if we miss the florist I’ll just swing by the cemetery and grab something!" Fortunately, we make it to the florist, which indeed is about to close, and miraculously arrive at the pre-prom party only 30 minutes late and BEFORE her date. When he arrives, all I can think of to say to this unsuspecting young man as I eagerly pass the baton is "Good luck."

My daughter looks beautiful, but I thought she was beautiful before the makeup and hair appointments. Mom, on the other hand, has now sweated-off whatever makeup was applied an hour ago and is bedraggled yet victorious that the Fixer managed to pull this off. That was until my friend began her imitation of Joanie the New Yorker who surfaced briefly in the salon. I laughed as hard as anyone else because:

  1. I was manic by then.
  2. There was no denying it. There were witnesses!

Without a doubt, I was on a mission at that point, and nothing was going to stop me.

Already appalled by my own behavior, someone in the group voiced their opinion that there is no need to have anyone do makeup and hair, and her daughter was wearing her dress. I felt even more embarrassed that I had succumbed to prama. If I wore makeup, knew how to do an up-do and had won an Emmy, which I accepted in a stunning sequined gown that I could lend my daughter, that thought might have occurred to me. However, since my wardrobe consists of jeans, t-shirts and flannel shirts and I don’t even own makeup, I admit I BOUGHT INTO THE INSANITY. Me, who considers herself pretty down to earth, had taken the bait and ran with it. Of course I had a choice, but I didn’t think this was the forum to take a moral stand on gross excess – not alone anyway. There is safety in numbers, and I will be leading the way if there is a movement to revamp the prom. At this point though, given the amount of money we spent on her high school education, I rationalized that the prom expense pales in comparison.

Still, who was that crazed woman mumbling to herself and darting back and forth in an effort to salvage what seemed to be an unsalvageable evening? It was a mother doing what we do best: fixing what appears to be unfixable. My mother did it for me numerous times, and I’m sure my daughter will do it for her children. The mother bear in me roared to life determined to save the day and live to laugh about it in the morning – which we did, which we always do. That is the test – if you are able to laugh about it the next day, you’ve done a good job without any permanent damage – except to my reputation. As Hannah said the morning after, "that was a Modern Family episode, and you were a great Claire." I took that as a compliment. Yes, Claire’s a headcase, but she will do anything for her children.

I left early in the morning for a much-needed retreat with my Bible Study gals and spent the entire ride up to Vermont confessing my questionable behavior from the previous day. Good thing I have a God who forgives so readily because I don’t think those women in the beauty salon will be that gracious. Now, does anyone need any beauty products? I’ve got some I’m looking to unload.

The calm lasted only a few days before this announcement, “Mom, you’re going to kill me.” Oh no, please don’t confess something you did on prom night. Ignorance is bliss. Hesitantly, I respond, “Dare I ask why?”

“I’m going to another prom!”

Someone shoot me….