It is perilously close to the school ball season. The time of year when anxiety about who to go with is rife, what to wear should become a school subject and hairdressers, florists and makeup artists rejoice.
As the mum of a 17-year-old daughter, it is quite amazing to see how different the pressures are in 2022, compared with my school days in the 80s.
I've never been a "looker". I have always had short hair, so being called a boy by strangers until I was about 13 has morphed into being called a "handsome well-groomed woman". That moniker has always confused me. Why don't they just call me Bruce and be done with it? I guess what they mean is that I'm not conventionally pretty and I don't smell. I'm okay with that.
I never had a boyfriend at school. I was one of those kooky, happy girls that seemed to be everybody's friend, both male and female. The benefit of that was I was asked to go to school balls by my hot male friends who had broken up with girlfriends, got sick of drama and knew they could rely on me for humour, manners and good grooming (life's most important attributes).
On a side note, I was madly in love with all three, but never had the confidence to let them know that. I knew if I did, they would just laugh and say "but you're just Nicky".
Anyhoo, the upshot of that is that I have three years' worth of ball photos with the hottest guys in school who would rather go with me than entertain drama. I'm also okay with that. I have photographic evidence that I can date a hot guy (for four hours).
My mum made my fifth-form formal dress. I loved it. It was red satin and it was a two-piece. A long skirt with a lovely top that had a wide waistband and bow, and you could slide the top up and down.
That two-piece came in very handy when I was invited to the Collegiate formal. I also had a long strand of pearls. I sat down, caught them on my seafood cocktail and it unceremoniously dumped itself on my lap. Oh, the ignominy. It was only entrée and I had to spend the rest of the evening smelling like Sealord Fisheries.
I'm pretty sure the rest of my teenage years were spent with PTSD. The bonus was that after manically grabbing for everyone else's serviettes to clean myself up, I could slide the top down. "What a relief," I thought to myself as nobody came near me for the rest of the night. Including my date.
The 80s were the decade that fashion forgot.
I spent those 10 years in the middle of a bad perm. My father is bald, my mother has very little hair and I wasn't blessed with much but, by God, did I try to get some. Arnold Schwarzenegger had nothing on me back then – I was The Perminator. Epic fail No. 547 of many.
I'm not sure that nuns have formals, but I look back at photos of my girlfriends' dresses, and they covered us from the neck to the floor. Very little skin to be seen.
In my seventh form (Year 13) my preparation consisted of nipping to the hairdressers once I'd finished my after-school job to have the bejesus blow-dried out of my hair, fighting my brothers for the bathroom to cover up my pimples and then putting on my cassock.
Fast-forward to 2022. The beauty regime is fierce. Lashes, brows, waxing, dermaplaning, hair colouring, straightening and nails are all on the menu.
It would appear that the aim is to show as much skin as possible without being arrested. I am also learning that no matter what dress your child shows you on her phone that she wants to wear, you just say "that will look amazing honey". Life is about picking your battles and this is one that I won't wade into. No teenager thinks that their parent is right, so why put yourself through it?
I was taught a sage lesson 20 years ago by the parent of a four-year-old boy. They were going to a swanky wedding and she asked him to go and get his best outfit from his wardrobe. He chose his Teenage Mutant Ninja T-shirt. She let him wear it because he felt amazing.
I mention this because the same applies to the ball dress situation. I trust that I've raised a daughter with values and self-respect. Quite frankly, she can wear whatever makes her feel omnipotent. Who am I to add my two cents' worth and burst her bubble? Nobody – that's who.
I guess the biggest hurdle that our ball-goers have to contend with today isn't a seafood cocktail and a smelly dress, but the pressures of social media.
I look back at my grainy photos and remember with a smile (about the loser I was), but every minute of my child's preparation and every second of everyone's evening will be spent on their phones. They will Snapchat, they will make TikTok videos and they will post every second to their "audience" who will be doing the same thing. As well as having no body hair, and showing off too much skin, they will miss the night. Their saving grace will be that their brows are "on-fleek".
My greatest gift is having grown up and really lived. To completely enjoy the moments, no matter how bad or humiliating. We communicated face to face, we laughed next to each other, we were hurt and got a real hug, not a virtual one, and we created real memories that we store in our memory banks.
I can't explain this to my daughter. I get told that I'm old-fashioned, much the same way I probably told my mum and dad that going to dances in the 60s was passe (except I thought they were fabulous and never told them that).
My beautiful Cinderella – you shall go to the ball. I only hope you put your phone down for long enough to create memories. Mumma x