The “Highlight the Night” homecoming dance wasn’t on our parental radar. High school dances are for kids with cars, jobs and facial hair, none of which the freshman living under our roof has.

When he casually announced at dinner during homecoming week that a girl asked him to the dance and he told her he would go, I almost choked on my butternut squash. 

Surprising us with things we never prepared for has become common as he grows up and away from us. But this? Straight out of left field.    

And that’s how I found myself clothes shopping after a long workweek with a temperamental 14-year-old who first tried to send me to the mall alone. 

Last time I checked, son, my name was not Amazon Prime. Get in the car. 

The tension between us was palpable as we flicked through the J.C. Penney clearance racks for a black button down shirt and gray slacks. Two firstborns should never do this together, especially when at least one of them is also an Enneagram 1. 

If it be possible, let this cup pass from me. 

The second-floor fitting rooms were closed (because of course they were), so we headed downstairs to a small room tucked into the back corner of the toy section. The walls—bright yellow with purple trim—made him snicker; the sharp edges of his scowl rounding slightly as he made his way inside. 

There he is.  

Before stepping away, I reminded him through the door to button and tuck in his shirt. With one foot tapping nervously in the fitting room area and the other planted confidently in the toy section, I straddled two worlds: One I’d already conquered, the other I no had agency in whatsoever.   

After texting out an S.O.S. to my husband, I watched as a little boy struggled to reach a box of Legos on a shelf. His mom came over to help, and I envied her for only as long as it took to remember the feel of those overpriced bricks beneath my bare feet. 

Not knowing how I was going to survive this shopping trip, let alone the next three-and-a-half years with this particular teenager, my arm brushed a furry toddler costume. 

Get behind me, 2-piece Dress-Up Chicken. I’m in no mood to be mocked. 

It may have been because we were surrounded by Disney toys, but when my son finally opened the fitting room door, shirt buttoned wrong and baggy slacks askew, something magical happened:

I looked at him and saw the kid at the end of the movie Big, the onewho walked home to his mom, positively swimming in Tom Hanks’ grown-up clothes.

For a moment, wonder overwhelmed my wondering about my place in this new frontier, and I heard the truth. 

He’s not all the way big yet, Kristen. There’s a lot left to help him reach.