Lessons of a Bow Tie

My eldest son, currently finishing his junior year, went to his high school prom this past week.  He had purchased a corsage for his date with ribbons to match her dress, and his date had purchased him a bow tie in the same color.  Cute, yes?

My son gathered all the elements of his outfit for the big evening a day ahead of time, to make sure there was no last minute black-sock-finding crisis or any other such problem.  On prom day afternoon, he started getting ready early.  Plenty of time to spare.  My husband was on his way home, and I went out to pick up the other two boys in time for everyone to head over together to his date’s house to pick her up and walk over to Prom Park (it has a real name, but this park has been used in our community for so many years as a gathering place for pictures before the yearly dance that everyone just calls it Prom Park).

My cell phone rang.  “Hi Mom.  I’m on that how-to-tie-a-bow-tie website, but I can’t get it to work.  This might be a problem.”  “Don’t worry, Sweetie, I’m on my way home.  I’ll figure it out.”  No problem.  I know how to tie a regular tie – how difficult could it be to tie a bow tie?

Apparently, it could be quite difficult.

There were plenty of websites with directions.  And directions were in the box that the tie came in.  And they all described the process in the same way, which involved exquisite detail on how to cross one end over the other and pull it through (the same first step used to tie a shoe), and then going to an incomprehensible step involving six simultaneous movements requiring three hands and a degree in mechanical engineering.  Unfortunately, our mechanical engineer was still on his way home from work, and he also had never actually tied a bow tie.

As this wardrobe step that we had assumed would take five minutes stretched to 25 minutes, I sent the other boys to find a neighbor who knew how to tie one.  No luck.  A few texts to see if anyone at his date’s house knew how to do it.  Also no luck.

But as we were seeking outside consultation, we stayed in front of the computer, looking at different instruction pictures and videos, and kept trying.  It started getting a little closer.  We figured out the first half of the bow.  At this point, we were close to running late.  The second half of the bow wasn’t right – it was folded kind of backwards.  My husband arrived home.  He grabbed the prom tickets from the counter, my middle son grabbed the corsage from the fridge, my youngest son grabbed the camera, and we all went to the car, with me not letting go of the half-bow around my eldest son’s neck.  Still not letting go, I maneuvered into the back seat next to him.  My youngest son buckled my seat belt for me as I folded the second bow half the other way and pulled the end through the knot loop in front.  And it looked like a bow tie.

And I tightened it.  And it stayed.

We worked on evening it out and centering it during the mile-and-a-half ride, with everyone giving input and opinions as to whether it should be under or over the little folded points on the tuxedo shirt collar.  We pulled up at my son’s date’s house and clambered out of the car.  Lots of pictures.  Corsage and boutonniere exchanged.  More pictures.

Two block walk to Prom Park.  Hundreds of very well-dressed juniors and seniors with familial paparazzi following them around, the kids posing in various combinations and permutations with friends met this year, friends from infancy, and friends from everywhere in between.  One classmate, who always wears bow ties (there’s always one, isn’t there?), looked at my son and said “good job on the tie!”  Any lingering doubts my son may have had on the quality of the bow work disappeared with that one line.

The park picture frenzy went on for well over an hour-and-a-half, and then the kiddos piled onto limo buses and were off for an evening of dinner and dancing.  And I had time to reflect on the events of just a couple hours earlier.

In the grand scheme of things, a bow tie is nothing.  Not a big deal.  Even by prom standards, it’s a small thing.  But the saga of this particular accessory can teach, and it can be tied in (get it – tied?) to other life areas, including the medical realm.

Aside from the obvious life lesson that one should practice new things ahead of time, the difficulty of this accessorial knot reminded me of aspects of the art of practicing medicine and of the art of navigating a personal health issue.  When confronted with difficulty, keeping calm and breathing deeply helps significantly.  Panic won’t get you anywhere.  Look for sources of help.  If an expert consultant is not immediately available, read and re-read available writings on the subject.  Look at different pictures, read descriptions, and watch some video.  Looking at a situation from different angles can help you see the whole picture.

If you don’t understand something, don’t give up.  Keep asking questions.  As you’re focusing on the problem at hand, have others around you help with the other details of your life.  If something seems really wrong, it’s ok to start over.  As you get closer to figuring out a solution or plan, keep a tight hold on what you’ve already figured out.  Confirmation from an expert that you’re doing the right thing can be quite powerful.

And remember to enjoy the dance with those around you.

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