Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Why my son didn't wear a jacket to his Sr. Prom

Saturday night was prom night for five high schools in Spokane, including ours.
Kyler took a lovely friend - and they as a couple went with fourteen other couples, spending the evening being driven around town in a couple of limos, enjoying dinner together, as well as the dance and the obligatory hour spent at Manito Park so parents could get all their desired group and individual couple pictures.
It was so fun to watch all these seniors - Kyler's friends - enjoying this milestone event at the prime of their teen years. At the kids' high school - you only go to Sr. Prom if you are a senior or are invited by a senior... so it really can be a once in a lifetime event and is a very special night.
When Kyler's date, Kyler and I went shopping for his attire for the evening, we all had the mentality that he should look nice without overspending on clothes or a rental that wasn't really necessary... I try to run all my choices through my 'Africa filter'... asking myself "Is this a first world value... something that we think is necessary here but in light of what we know about the struggles and reality of our friends/family (Tejan) in Sierra Leone, are there places/ways we can cut back on this and still have it be an enjoyable event/purchase?"
I realize that's a loaded question. And that the potential to appear self-righteous or judgmental is huge.
I'm not here to judge anyone's choices or spending decisions. But I couldn't help leaving the park last weekend after taking loads of pictures feeling a little bittersweet... happy for my son and his friends and the wonderful time they were having, but sad about our society and our spending decisions and the reality of the lovely people I know in Sierra Leone... the money spent on this one prom event could do SO much there.
So I thought I would break it down a little for some perspective:
There are fifteen couples in the picture above.
15 tux rentals x $100 = $1500
15 full length prom dresses $150 = $2250
15 Manicures/pedicures for the ladies x $40 = $600
15 updos/hairstyles x $35 = $525
15 couples prom tickets x $60 = $900
30 catered dinners x $25 = $750
15 corsages x $25 = $375
15 boutonnieres x $20 = $300
2 stretch limos x 2 hours x = $500
Grand total $7700
I realize these are gross generalizations... and that some couples/individuals may have chosen less expensive options. Kyler, his date and I decided to forgo the tux rental and instead spent $75 on a vest and tie combo. But my tux rental estimation was low... so that's probably a wash. Some one the girls may have chosen to do their own manicures and pedicures. But a lot of them probably spent WAY more on their dresses than I allotted.
Kyler was the only boy who didn't rent a tux for prom night out of his group of friends...
(aren't they silly/handsome/funny?)
Again... no judgment. I WANT the my kid to enjoy a night out as a high school senior celebrating friendship and the culmination of four years of schooling and his youthfulness.
But sheesh... almost $8000 on one evening? And that's only 30 kids. There were five high schools celebrating prom on Saturday in Spokane. If 300 kids attended each prom, that becomes a staggering $385,000.

I make my own spending decisions I'm not necessarily proud of. I'm driving a brand new car right now when I could VERY easily have chosen to buy a used car and saved our family thousands of dollars that we could donate.
I have a beautifully landscaped front yard that we dropped several thousand dollars on last summer with automatic sprinklers when I'm fully aware of the dear children in Banta who carry water every single morning to their homes...
There will always be a tension for me in these kinds of spending decisions. And that's a good thing. I try my darndest to run my choices through the Africa filter. And I subtly and carefully try to raise awareness of the flippant and entitled spending decisions Americans generally make - ignorant of the life-changing potential for that money to be spent elsewhere...

In this instance, I'm using some of the money saved by not renting a tux to donate $75 to Children of the Nations so our three sponsored boys in Sierra Leone can go to summer camp. (You can donate too!)
I'm certainly not perfect at this. But if I could filter just 10% of the money represented for one prom night in Spokane some pretty amazing stuff could happen.
I chew on these kinds of issues.
I will forever wrestle with the blessing of being an American and my knowledge of the struggle of so many in the world. I can't help myself. And I hope my kids will remember and take the 'Africa Filter' into their own spending decisions as they approach adulthood...
It's food for thought.
Kyler and his lovely prom date
Our beautiful friend Esther in Banta, Sierra Leone
(Esther currently needs sponsorship... click the link on her
name to help!)


  1. Hi Cathy, Great words...thanks for sharing such hard thoughts with all of us. I love that you use the African filter.

    We live in the richest country in the richest time in history. There will be lack of balance here compared to the majority of the world. We just HAVE the resources and should enjoy them to a point.

    Rich first world cultures may only represent 5% of the world and that leaves 95% of the population as developing, no hot and cold running water, no power, starvation, no cars etc.

    Imagine if a prom group in the future chose to wear what they already have to prom and have a donated meal prepared by some parents and rode their bikes to prom and used flowers from their parents garden and had a parent fix their hair and asked others to participate and or donate to our organization with the money saved to help our amazing children in Africa and the Caribbean. WOW, that would be an event! Maybe a way to help fuel the cost for a Meal Packaging event in Spokane in the future or a well or University funds or.......

    You have planted a great idea in my head...we can only try to create awareness and you have done that! Lets talk sometime soon.

  2. :)... Our choice was a black suit, already owned.. Purchased a tie to coordinate..=$20. His date was in full agreement, which I love.


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