Itís prom season. And between you and me, Iím enjoying just being a relaxed observer this year.

That I donít have anyone worrying about hair frizz or stressing over whoís asking whom or which house is going to allow drinking and which ones wonít. In fact, Iím giddy over it. Sorry, but I am.

Now donít get me wrong, I really am a fan of the concept of a prom, in theory. With the exception of what happened at the end of the movie Carrie, I think having a formal dance to commemorate the end of high school is a beautiful tradition. What Iím just feeling right now, as someone whoís watching it all happen from the cheap seats, is empathy for all the parents out there who are stressed out over this yearís prom season. Because as fabulous as it is for our kids, it can be a nail-biter for us.

Just the word prom fires up most high school kids, almost as much as it paralyzes most parents.

I should know, I was one of them. But that was last year and this is this year and Iím enjoying prom season soooo much more now that Iím a casual bystander.

See, for most high school seniors, prom marks the unofficial end of high school. Which is huge. And by that point, you can bet most of them are ready to celebrate. (Hell, so are we when our kids are that close to breaking the tape.) Because for all intents and purposes, once they hit prom season, theyíre done. And everyoneís pumped. Thatís why prom is so symbolic.

And when you think about it that way, you know, as a celebration of making it through high school, itís no wonder most kids are so into it. I mean, the hype and the build-up and the anticipation of the night is something that upperclassmen think about and talk about for years before they graduate. The promposal, the dress, the tux, the hair, the photo ops. The After Party.

Last year, when my then-high-school-senior daughter and her friends started talking about prom, I did what every parent does and feigned excitement over every single aspect of The Big Night while secretly dreading every single aspect of The Big Night. Not that I wasnít excited for her, because I was, but the reality is that thereís so much more to prom than just coordinating the bowtie with the dress. Maybe not as much for the kids, but definitely for us as the parents.

Thereís the stress of all the other details. All the temptations. The build-up. The will she get asked? The will she want to go with the guy who asks her? The will the girl your son asks say yes? Will your daughter ever find the right dress? So much to consider.

And those are just the moderate details. The ones that donít involve overwhelming levels of stress. Letís call them the outer wrapping paper of prom. Once you rip through the pretty paper, though, thereís a whole Pandora-type box underneath that will make most parents feel lightheaded and dizzy.

Yes, Iím talking about the sex part and the drinking part and the drugs part and the drinking and driving part. That fluffy stuff like dresses and hair and makeup and cummerbunds is the stuff thatís fun to talk about; the other stuff is the stuff no one wants to talk about but every parent has to talk about. Because those things are the reality of prom. And those are the things that make us dread the whole thing.

The unfortunate reality is that todayís proms look nothing whatsoever like proms did when they became mainstream. Obbbbbviously. Now weíve got breathalyzer tests and bag searches and pat-downs and condoms in every pocket. Now, itís a totally different world. Now, when you ask most kids what comes to mind when they hear the word Prom, most of them would use words like drinking, sex, or drugs. And that leaves us parents with a whole lot to consider as the busses pull away from the curb.

See, where thereís a will, thereís a way, in most cases. And thatís whatís scary.

Thereís always that kid whose older brother will buy everyone beer. Or that family beach house that everyone knows is empty. Or worse still, those parents who openly provide the means and the venue for the blow-out after party.
Thatís the dark side of prom. The unnerving side. The side where people overdose and die of alcohol poisoning in someoneís basement or have unprotected sex or drive drunk or, God forbid, kill someone. The part, unfortunately, that the kids themselves donít really spend much time considering.

So what do we do? How do we handle our fears?
The answer is complicated and very different for everyone. But the common thread is that we talk the talk beforehand with our kids. We explain that we trust them. We give them the benefit of the doubt. We stay cool. Then, when the busses pull away, we all gather together in the parking lot, hold hands, and sing a quick round of Kumbaya.

ó Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.