Also, with two hours until his first middle school dance begins, he asks me to please wash his blue jeans. It's possible this is a comfort issue because there is mud crusted on the knees, but I suspect it's something more. Something — what's the word here? — adolescent.
The dance goes from 7 until 9. At 6, I make dinner for Jimmy: a grilled-cheese sandwich and a bowl of applesauce. For some reason, I need to feed him child-friendly fare.
He won't sit down to eat until he puts Old Spice gel in his hair. He insists this is something that must be done while his hair is still wet "or else it dries funny." We scuffle a bit over the placement of his bangs. I like them brushed over so his face is more visible. He thinks wearing them forward reduces the prominence of his ears.
I don't have the heart to tell him it isn't really working.
By the time we climb into the van and head to school for the dance, I realize the preteen train has left the station and there's nothing I can do but hop on for a fast and familiar ride.
On the way to school, I check to see if he brushed his teeth. He is incredulous. "Of course," he says, as though I am a rube for asking — as though brushing his teeth is something I should expect him to have done.
Just to be sure, I look closely while he talks to me in the red glow of a stoplight. Sure enough, his braces shine.
We chat about dance etiquette. I remind him that if a girl asks him to dance, he should recognize how much courage it takes to do such a thing and accept. Jimmy says, "I know, Mom." (I hear, "You think I'm stupid, Mom.")
I also let him know how hard it is to be the girl sitting against the wall while all your friends are dancing. "Tonight I want you to make it your mission to ensure that one girl has a great time because someone wanted to dance with her."
He mulls this over and pulls out a stick of gum. Gum? The transformation is happening before my eyes.
We pull into the parking lot, where a couple of Jimmy's buddies are hopping out of cars and dashing toward the door. Neither one is wearing a jacket, though it's brisk outside. Jimmy peels off his coat before I can bring the car to a complete stop and says, "See ya," disappearing into the darkness to catch up to his pals.
"You can't get rid of me that easily, mister," I mutter. I follow at a tolerable distance and wander in to say hello to the chaperone team.
The decorations convey a Halloween theme — it's October, so what else? Paper spiders and witch hats hang from the ceiling, and a full-moon motif adorns the wall at the "photo station."
There's actually a disco ball spinning in the middle of the room, throwing flecks of light over the dangling spiders as well as the clumps of middle schoolers standing in nervous bunches on the dance floor.
Though the sound waves from the speakers literally cause my lungs to pulse, the driving beat isn't inspiring anyone to move to the music ("music" being a word I use liberally). It's early, though. The dancers are still assessing the situation.
I shout a greeting to the mom of an eighth-grade boy over the noise (sorry — over the "song") and we exchange a few comments about the improved hygiene of our socially astute sons. I keep saying, "Well, I guess I'll get going," but I don't go. The truth is, I'd kind of like to see if Jimmy asks someone to dance.
He's milling — thinking about it, for sure — but just when it looks as if he has summoned the nerve to approach a girl, he veers off and rejoins his buddies.
Then it hits me. He's waiting for me to leave.
In a short two hours I'm back in the van, waiting in the pickup line for the dance to end. At 9, all the seventh- and eighth-graders pour out of the building and rush to the warmth of their waiting cars. (None is wearing a coat, remember?)
Jimmy says his evening was "awesome," "really fun," and "went too fast," but he doesn't proffer any details about dancing.
Don't be ridiculous. Of course I asked.
"So it seemed like you weren't so sure about getting out on the dance floor," I say. "Did you finally ask someone to dance?"
"Are you kidding?" he answers. I don't know what this means. No, of course I'm not kidding.
"Only with about 10 girls," he says. There is a huge grin outlining his metallic teeth. "Let's see if I can name them all."
It's all I can do not to giggle as Jimmy lists the friends (who happen to be girls but not girlfriends) he asked to dance.
Am I threatened by all these lovelies? I admit it, maybe a little.
Then again, at the end of the evening, this dancin' fool is still going home with me.