By Ana Veciana-Suarez

We pick an overcast Saturday afternoon to shop, my youngest son and I. On the schedule is a big decision -- prom tux or suit -- but I zero in on an altogether different subject.

"That grade in English," I begin, as we back out of the driveway. "You need to bring it up pronto."

"You don't think I'm trying?"

"Not hard enough, apparently."

"It's not easy, Mom."

"I didn't say it was, but I know you can do better. Remember, if you're going to do something, do it well or don't bother to do it at all."

He lets out an exasperated sigh. How many times has he heard this? How many more will I say it? In my book, not enough.

And so begins another mother-son exchange that leaves me wondering if my kids truly listen or if my words float off unheeded like dust motes in a ray of sunshine. With my days of mothering a minor numbered, prom season becomes one more opportunity to worm my way into his head and, perhaps, into his heart. I'm running out of time.

In a week, the last of my four sons, a high school junior, will attend a formal end-of-the-year dance. As in the past, my role will be limited and prescribed: banker, photographer, official worrier and occasional nag. I've learned to seize any opening, usually in the car.

My only daughter skipped prom, so there were no trips to the mall, no bonding in the clearance aisle, no nail appointments, hair treatments or makeup marathons for us. To this day, she doesn't think she missed anything of consequence. I, on the other hand, feel robbed. Friends tell me of intimate moments with their girls, scenes that years later still make them misty-eyed.

With sons? You remind them about the corsage: Pin or wrist? Orchid or rose?

Maneuvering through heavy traffic along Kendall Drive, I continue: "No drinking. No sleeping in the girls' room, and answer the phone when I call. How you behave is a reflection on the family."

He rolls his eyes.

"I have spies everywhere."

He doesn't laugh. He knows it's true.

In the store, dozens of mothers are shopping for formal wear with their sons. Coats are draped over chairs, shoes abandoned in the corner. I observe their delicate pas de deux and recognize the familiar choreography. Suddenly, I understand what it means to be a mother of boys. We will always be the first woman giving a second opinion.

"You can rent a tux and have nothing to show for it the next day," I lecture. "Or we can spend a little more and get you a good suit you can wear to other functions. All you have to do for a different look is change the color of your shirt and tie."

I enumerate upcoming events: three weddings, senior pictures, college interviews.

"Plan ahead," I intone. "Value for your money."

He snickers as he browses. I stay in the background. At long last, he chooses raven black, two buttons, single-breasted: a classic. Hmm. Turns out the boy has been listening all along.

No fool, my baby.

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