Monday, April 06, 2009
The First Suit
I spent this past weekend on a trip with my son Alex, who’s graduating from high school in June. We went to visit two colleges where he’s been offered admission, and to buy him his first suit for graduation.
The college visits went well: we learned what we went to learn. One school he’s excited about, and the other not so much. As a back up plan he’s also been admitted to the university where I teach. But for an 18 year-old young man straining for independence, there’s something anticlimactic about going to your mom’s school. It’s an option, however, if he doesn’t get housing at his #1 choice.
It’s a treat to get one-on-one time with the boy-man. We spent some of the long drive listening to hard-core music (or whatever it’s called) until my nerves and eardrums couldn’t take it any more. We talked about the future. I made myself let him drive on the long straight parts of highway. He’s going to have to know how to do these things soon.
As a young person who wants to leave our small town for the big city, actually seeing the possibility up close is an eye-opening prospect. Like the best cultural critics, he noted that so much of California is an alternating pattern of highways and strip malls so that people are locked into a rhythm of mobility and consumption. That’s my boy, smart, insightful, thoughtful. He’s also a talented musician, writer and speaker.
The suit has been part of an on-going discussion. I want Alex to take a portrait for graduation, and I wanted to buy him dress-up clothes. He resisted at first. Unlike his sister, he’s not a clothes horse. He likes to have only exactly the number of plain t-shirts, un-logoed sweat shirts, and jeans that he needs to get through to the next laundry day. But gradually he started to like the idea of a suit. He can wear it to teen court, a local program where kids who get into trouble at school are tried by a jury of their peers and are defended and prosecuted by teen “attorneys.” Alex has been invited to play the attorney role. A suit finally sounded like a good idea.
And so we went to about 3 Target stores until we found one that had his size jacket and matching pants. He picked the blue shirt and the stripped yellow tie. He picked out dress shoes and a belt. When we got home, he took off all the tags, Googled instructions on how to knot a tie, and at 10 pm, posed for this picture. The suit is a celebratory outfit for high school graduation and he’ll wear it for his senior portrait. It’s also a test of the adult identity that is coming, little by little, slowly but surely, whether we’re ready or not.