As a chaperone at Ridgely Middle School's dance, your first post is the cafeteria's lob- by. You stamp 200 hands, while making the predictable observation: The girls look much older, much more mature (although "mature" is too mature a word) than the boys. Maybe it's the tube-tops or the makeup or their height or the way the girls look you straight in the eye and you better stamp their hand pronto because they have places to go.
Many head for the cafeteria's dance floor. Rules state "no hugging, kissing, lap sitting or very physical dance styles, such as moshing or break dancing." The parents form an insecure perimeter, as the kids hop and slide but not mosh. The children, born in the late 1980s, sing along to Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl." Hey where did we go, Days when the rains came, down in the hollow, playing a new game.
In the gym, mondo basketball is the game. Chaperones scramble to enforce the "balls-must-be-used-in-a-responsible-manner, no-`bomb,' " rule. A few wild half-court shots are permitted, though. Your kid jukes by, all sweaty and money-grubbing, and you swear he gives you a molecule of a smile. You are wonderfully distracted. No one is throwing any bombs. No one has uttered the word "anthrax."
You run into a friend of a friend. You and she watch for "unnecessary horseplay" in the gym, but your hearts aren't in the job. Remember Molly? Of course, you say. She was a lifeguard at your pool, maybe even babysat your babies once or twice. The girl (a woman now) moved to New York and worked at the World Trade Center. Molly was working there Sept. 11, but managed to escape. Oh, God, you say.
Another chaperone tells you to go into the bathroom, where a boy is seeking refuge from a pack of girls wearing makeup. They hang outside the bathroom door, waiting to haul him away. You tell the cowering kid he's one lucky boy. You tell him it's safe to come out of his hollow. Come out and play.