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Parenting, Prom, And The Packers


By BJ Hollars and Karl Christenson | April 12, 2019

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  • High school promgoers take photos at Lambeau Field. (Photo by Kelly Calaway)

High school promgoers take photos at Lambeau Field. (Photo by Kelly Calaway)

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The smell of heavy cologne, hairspray, and nervous energy in the air can only mean one thing: it’s prom season. As high schoolers across Wisconsin worry about who to ask and what to wear, the dance means something completely different to adults. Author BJ Hollars shares a personal story about prom, parenthood, and The Packers.

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Heroics on (and off) the Tundra

On a recent visit to Green Bay, we do what is required of us: pay our respects to the hallowed ground of Lambeau Field.  I am accompanied by my six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, neither of whom see it for what it is: a cathedral, a monument, Wisconsin’s very own Elysian Fields.  Instead, all they see is what stretches directly before us: an endless stream of high schoolers entering the stadium for prom.

They are accompanied by their press corps of parents: the fathers lugging impossibly large cameras, while the mothers discretely hold their daughters’ make-up bags.

After several minutes of negotiation (and no shortage of eye rolls) those parents at last get what they want: one perfect photo.

“On the count of three,” a father calls.  “One, two…”

Click.

“Da-ad!” his daughter cries.  “You forgot to say three!”

But sometimes you have to call the audible.  Sometimes you must change the plan.

Quarterback Bart Starr knew this when, on December 31st, 1967, with 16 seconds on the clock, he held tight to the ball rather than hand off to the fullback as the play demanded.  Starr’s cleats clawed at the ice, every earned inch an eternity.

You know how this story ends—the crowd goes wild.  And the legend of the Ice Bowl was born.

Fifty years later, when we enter Lambeau, that game feels like ancient history.  All I wanted was to take my kids on a tour of the place where that history took place, but all I get is a reminder of the awkwardness of adolescence: the glint of the braces, the crack of the voice, the whisper to examine one’s zipper.

Their stomachs filled with butterflies, those adolescence endure their predicament valiantly, donning their corsages and boutonnieres and snapping selfies by the gigabyte.

But then those butterflies break free, their nerves overpowering them.

The tuxedoed young men to our left go into a huddle, while the young women accompanying them—an inordinate number of whom are decked out in green and gold—opt for their own two-minute timeout.

My children and I watch as the prom-goers concoct their game plans.  How will this night play out? they wonder.

Meanwhile, I’m flummoxed by another question: How had our pilgrimage to Lambeau so swiftly become second string?

I suppose I should’ve known better.  As rites of passage go, there’s no competing with prom.  Not even a Lambeau visit will do.  Here in Wisconsin, we’ve apparently learned how to blend both rites of passage together, making the so-called “most magical night” all the more magical by setting it in the place where legends are made.

Which, for the prom-goers, must seem a little intimidating.  After all, how dare they Cha Cha Slide just a stone’s throw from where Bart Starr once clawed through the tundra?

If permitted to enter their huddles, I’d tell them this: that you needn’t score a last second touchdown just to be remembered.  And, in fact, sometimes the best memories occur under the least likely conditions: a conversation shared beside the punch bowl on prom night, or holding your kids’ hands when your plan is thwarted and you’re forced to call your own audible.

Eventually the young men and women come out of their huddles (“Break!”), and the game goes on.  At their parents’ request, they pose for one last photo.

And then, just like that, they part ways: the prom-goers ascending up the glass elevators, while the parents remain grounded far below.

“That’ll be you someday,” I tell my kids.  “Probably sooner than you think.”

They don’t believe me. Why would they?

For them, the future’s always seemed like a hail Mary at best.

I smile as they sprint through the atrium—weaving their small bodies through the boutonniere-ed boys to their left.

Since I can’t stop the clock, I do the next best thing: fight for every second I’ve got.

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SONGS:
“Orgel fur Evan und Natalie” by El Valiente
“Chico Chism & Chico Hamilton (Two Chicos)” by El Valiente
“J-walking with the Queen of Misery” by El Valiente

BJ Hollars

BJ Hollars is a writer, author, and an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Karl Christenson

Karl Christenson is a producer at Wisconsin Public Radio. He enjoys taking his family on cross-country holiday road trips to theme parks and eating bologna sandwiches and parking in the last spot so he can get out of there first.
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