• June 2011

Lee Woodruff on "The Proposal"

By Lee Woodruff
Author, Journalist, Activist

When my daughter started looking at prom dresses before she had a date to the prom, well, I was a nervous Nellie. What if she didn’t get asked? It wouldn’t be the end of the world; she could go with a group as they all seem to do today.

But it’s her senior year. As a mom, you want everything to be just perfect. And yet with matters of the heart, you really don’t have any control. I briefly considered paying some boy to ask her — advertising on Facebook, and offering $100 in Itunes certificates for someone to be her escort. But I knew that kind of subversive activity could go south pretty quick.

I’m just about to head to the airport with my “little girl” as I finish writing this. I’m taking her away with me for the weekend — just mom and daughter. It’s my graduation present to her. She doesn’t need clothes, or stuff, or one more gadget. The girl who could be a little more forthcoming in the communications department is going to make some memories with her mama. And I can’t wait.

So imagine my surprise today, while packing for what I hope will be a perfect four-day weekend, to get a phone call from my daughter’s girlfriend.

She wanted to drop off a letter that she has been helping a young Romeo polish. It’s an invitation to the prom. She needs to come up with a ruse about why she would be dropping an envelope at the house for me.

But this Romeo doesn’t just want to give her the letter. He wants me to give it to the pilot to read on the plane. And he wants it all to happen before they take off so she can text him her answer.

Even my old, jaded, 50-plus-year-old heart skipped a beat. Not only was my baby girl going to go to the prom, she was getting a “Fantasy island” proposal. Complete with da plane. … Who says all these kids want to do is find friends with benefits?

“Is she going to be happy that this guy is asking her?” I said, displaying my ignorance of my daughter’s social life and inner workings.

“Oh yeah,” said her friend. And I smiled. A big, long wide, Cheshire-cat smile. Don’t you remember the heart-thumping sweetness and thrill of a boy you liked asking you to something. Well I do. I may be old, but I’m not senile.

So sometime in the next few hours, a little girl (who is now taller than me) will be smiling. And her mom will be smiling, too. Not just because she is happy. But because I am happy that I’m with her, that I get to be with her like this, like the days when she was little and she was all mine. And I’m so happy that she gets to be on the receiving end of a proposal from a boy who thought this out — who wanted to make it special for her. Thank you, God up in heaven, that you are still making boys like that for our little girls. Can you go into mass-production please on that model number?

The Prom Proposal: Part Two

I had the letter from her hopeful prom date in my pocket, having only learned a few hours earlier of his request for me to have the pilot read the “ask” before take off. I had also managed to pack each of us into carry-on luggage, with a wee bit of room for new purchases, no small feat. Check, check, check.

It was my grande finale of her years at home, my personal gift as a working mom. We would unplug, un-encumber, we would laugh, and she would meet my eyes again, just like she did when I used to nurse her (that might have been one of the last times).

We were on the overnight flight to Paris and would land Thursday morning and hit the ground running with my chum Kerri from London and her daughter. Shop, eat, walk, sight-see, talk, eat more, shop more, drink some wine and café au lait. We’d be home by Sunday noon.

There was no way to have anticipated that the weekend would end with a semi-thwarted plan, a few extra days, a husband to the rescue, and a body part left in France … (cue the scary organ music).

Lessons learned: buy travel insurance, don’t ever truly unplug — get international phone coverage before you go, and try to speak the language. More about all of that later.

I’ll start with the prom proposal. My husband and two girlfriends weighed in that my daughter would be horrified to have the pilot single her out and to have to raise her hand on the plane. She is, after all, a 17-year old teenager. She can barely sit in the front seat without minor embarrassment at my attempts to sing with the radio. And this when it’s just the two of us.

Plus — what if the pilot couldn’t do it and she had to switch off her phone immediately for take-off? The poor date would be left hanging for a six-hour flight. I revised the plan in a way that was still public-ish but less mortifying. I would ask the gate agent to call her to the desk on the loudspeaker and then read the sweet prom proposal face-to-face to save her embarrassment.

We were early to the gate, and the Air France agent with trendy metallic eyewear was fussing with some phone crisis. He waved me away, telling me to return in 15 minutes. Then, double horror, the flight is delayed, indefinitely, for … yes, my favorite excuse … “technical difficulties.”

An angry mob of businesspeople with connections and elder-travelers with raised canes swarmed the gate agent, who backed away as though looters were attacking the storefronts during Hurricane Katrina. His eyewear was askew. You all know this scene. Not pretty.

Rats. My romantic proposal plot at the gate didn’t have a chance now. And I was running out of time. I switched gears again. Part of my problem was, and I don’t mean any offense here, that all of the people I was dealing with were French. And the French don’t do Prom. So this whole Cinderella proposal that made all moms’ knees weak just thinking about it was lost on just about everyone from Air France I came in contact with. Including the three scowling female gatekeepers of the Air France lounge I queried. I didn’t get one misty eye or gauzy reminiscent smile out of these folks. “Didn’t you ever watch “Happy Days” or “The OC?” I wanted to scream. “What about Beverly Hills 90210?” Their eyebrows furrowed at my request.

We were rapidly clicking past our original take-off time. I worried that the young man would think it was a no-go — she ought to have texted her response by now. What to do? We still hadn’t been given a departure time.

The sweet weekend away kicked off by a surprise romantic proposal was ending up being a little work and pressure on mom. Sheesh — this young man had better keep his hands to himself on prom night, I thought. I should add here that my husband Bob had already Googled him, found out his stats from the football team, and announced he was too big to wrestle to the ground. This size boyfriend would require a weapon. Only a father thinks like that.

I made an executive decision to find a stranger to read the note. I began to troll for sympathetic passenger types. I’d give them the letter and they would walk up to my daughter, read it, surprise her, and she could text Prince Charming.

I spied the only two people who looked like a couple and boldly confirmed that they were parents (so they’d appreciate the importance of this). So what if he looked like he had been the last dude out of Woodstock, like he’d just walked five miles home from a Phish concert? He and his smiling, gray-haired hippie wife would have to do. Everyone else looked — well, kinda French — and I didn’t want to have to underscore the importance of the “prom thing” again.

A quick explanation and he was game. Five minutes later he walked up and told her he had a message. Her face turned white and she looked at me searchingly. He read the letter verbatim, forgetting to edit out the parts the pilot was supposed to say about strapping on seatbelts, etc.

Her cheeks flushed the ballet-pink hue of roses, then turned ketchup color and she looked at me and broke into her signature huge grin. Then the fingers were off and flying, texting like a court stenographer — more huge smiles, relief, more texts, the one-sided demented laughter we so often see exhibited between people and their personal communications devices in public places.

But then, the unexpected. “Mom, you still have to have the pilot read this.” Say what?

Really? We had totally miscalculated, her father, my mom friends, and I. She did want the attention. Who can ever figure out a teenager?

“I can’t tell him we didn’t do it,” she said to me, pleading. “You have to get them to do it the way he wanted it.” Sigh. Had I not properly taught her about the intermittent importance of little white lies; about saving face and preserving dignity and the Santa and Easter bunny myths we propagate to prolong the innocence and wide-eyed marvel in the world? Double sigh.

When we finally boarded the plane, I tried vainly to get one of the flight attendants to meet my eye as I stood in the aisle. They were so busy bustling around, taking coats, prepping the galley, or whatever. I stammered out an explanation to the youngest woman I could find, one who might be closest to the age of groping your boyfriend in the backseat of a Peugot. After conferring with her team, she told me the pilot was not allowed to read something like this. “Could you read it?” I practically pleaded with her. She would have to confer again.

And here is where I say that if we’d been on Jet Blue or American or United or Continental or you name it, this plan would have worked. Those American pilots jabber on all the time about how many feet up we are and what kind of geological sediment is in the North Rim of the Grand Canyon as we pass over. They babble in their good ole boy, “Top Gun” voices about velocity and temperature and the kind of cloud coverage we’ve got going, and what their bowel movement was like this morning and all of it just as you’ve finally passed out in your seat from exhaustion and the little darling behind you has stopped kicking the back of your chair with his light-up sneakers.

Those American pilots would have read the prom proposal, I just know it. It would have been new material for them.

(Honest-to-goodness I am writing this on a plane to Chicago right now, and the pilot just came on to give us trivia about Al Capone’s lawyer. I kid you not. Case in point.)

And on an American-based airline? Those flight attendants would have turned this damned prom proposal challenge into a musical performance of “Lion King,” complete with napkin-art headgear and Radio City Rockettes kicks down the aisle. It would have been heroic. But we were on Air France. And the French don’t do proms.

Five minutes later the flight attendant returned shaking her head. Nada, no can do. They couldn’t read it on the loud speaker, but she was happy to read it to my daughter in her seat.

Somehow a prom proposal read from an aging hippie dad and then a heavily French accented, unemotional, rushed flight attendant was probably not what my daughter’s Prince Charming had in mind. But the key here, as a mother, is that we tried.

And as the wheels finally lifted off the runway at JFK and my daughter settled back with a look of satisfaction and good old smugness on her face, it was worth all the worrying and delays and concern I had about how to make this as perfect as I could.

Next up? The story of the missing body part and the husband to the rescue.

Click here to read about that.

Click here to read more about Lee Woodruff, our March 2011 Entrepreneur of the Month.