Things my mother knew:

The weekend that I went to my first prom, my mother and father were away. My grandmother -- my mother's mother -- was left in charge of the house and the dog and the cat and my brother. I was left in charge of me. This alone was a minor coup, since I had never been allowed out on a date without someone intently waiting up for me. My mother was very protective -- she regularly assigned someone to help me cross the one busy street on my way to Sunday school when I was a child -- but my grandmother was very laid back.

I wore a long yellow dress with butterfly sleeves, and I had my hair piled on my head with little ringlets cascading down. My date was the boy next door. (It was his prom.)

After the obligatory photos were taken and the corsage pinned on, we drove off from our southside Chicago homes to a northside suburb where the prom was held. Later, we drove downtown to a jazz club, then to get something to eat and then to a dark wooded park known to all as "The Point," where we, uh, sat and talked. I got home at 4 a.m. -- the latest I had ever gotten home from anything -- and let myself in quietly.

The next afternoon, when my parents returned from their weekend trip, my mother and I went to get takeout pizza. As we waited, I told her all about the prom. "What time did you get home?" she asked.

"Four," I said, holding my breath.

She smiled. "What did you do after the prom?"

I ticked off how we left the prom (around 11:30), went to hear music (until about 1 a.m.), went to eat and then drove home, hoping as I nonchalantly recounted the evening that she wouldn't calculate the rather lengthy portion of time between leaving for home and arriving home. She didn't blink.

"Where'd you park?" she asked with a sly smile.

"Mo-om!" I cried, trying to look shocked that she would even ask such a question of her 16-year-old daughter. She just grinned.

Recently, as my mother and I were chuckling over reminiscences of past dates and high school romances, I reminded her of that little exchange. She gasped across the long-distance phone wire and denied the whole thing.