How The Heck Do You Impress A Teenager?

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Our family recently saw the Tony-award-winning show, Hedwig and The Angry Inch. Do you know the story of Hedwig? It’s about a beautiful, troubled young man who escapes grim East Berlin courtesy of a sex change operation that gets botched (what’s left is the “angry inch”) and leaves “him” navigating life as “her” in America’s Midwest. Technically, the show is a musical, but that’s like describing a nine-course meal at Napa’s French Laundry as a snack.

Hedwig is a rock concert, drag show and monologue that’s loud, angry, funny, poignant, heartbreaking, crude, desperate and sweet. It’s a spectacular visual spectacle, with Hedwig strutting, thrusting and dancing in short, tight, shiny, blinged-out drag, plus sky-high gold platform shoes and an array of wigs so outrageous they make Dolly Parton look like a dowdy schoolmarm. (Sorry, Dolly. I love you.)

Given all this, it’s no wonder our teenager found the whole experience extremely ho-hum. Mediocre. Average. It was “fine,” he said, when pressed. A solid five-out-of-ten. Kind of dull, if we want to know the truth. Too bad he couldn’t have stretched out and taken a little nap.

Folks, it’s official. I’ve got A Jaded Teen on my hands.

Oh, I’m sure it’s just a quirky stage. An adorable phase. A right-on-time developmental milestone. I know teenage boredom is a syndrome that dates back as far as, well, teenagers. I’ll bet that one day, explorers will find a cave drawing depicting a stick figure stifling a yawn as a mighty T-Rex roars in his face. Eureka! Archeological proof of a Paleolithic Teen.

Still, as a parent, it kind of sucks.

I know my lovely lad well enough to realize that had this been an outing with a friend (and a friend’s parents), he’d have quite happily released a little more excitement, like helium escaping slowly but surely though a pinhole in a balloon. I know there’s something about The Teen being with The Family that gets in the way of an otherwise spontaneous expression of interest, let alone delight. I’m guessing if someone — anyone — other than The Parents had suggested seeing an earplugs-worthy rock show about a pissed off transsexual, The Teen may have been a tiny bit intrigued.

But since the show was our idea, it was kind of a drag (pun intended). I suspect this will be our reality for the next few years. I know it’s all part of the natural process of separating, individuating, maturing and taking all sorts of other critically important steps in the journey from child to adult. I’m sure my son’s moment of “meh” is just one more indication, like his deepening voice and fast-growing feet, that he’s developing right on track.

Knowing it doesn’t mean liking it.

My son’s age-appropriate apathy doesn’t bode well for my dreams of one day taking an extended family vacation to Europe. It does little to ease my middle-of-the-night worries about raising a digital native who prefers the adrenaline rush of a video game to an excursion to a museum, a gallery or a show. Truth is, kids these days (yes, I said it) have access to every over-the-top antic anyone has ever thought of. How can Real. Live. Theater — or pretty much anything else — compare to the infinitely fascinating wonder and derangement of YouTube?

Right now, all I can do is give myself a smidgen of credit for resisting the urge to respond to my son’s beleaguered tolerance of Saturday’s performance with my own version of “When I was your age I walked a mile uphill in the snow.” Not once did I compare his afternoon in the company of Hedwig and her angry inch to my own childhood “adventures” visiting abandoned Chinese mining camps.

I just booked four tickets to Cirque de Soleil, so I’ll save that story for next time.


Willow Older is a nationally and internationally published writer and a professional editor. She lives in Northern California where she runs her own editorial services business and publishes a weekly newsletter called Newsy!.

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