Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mamas, don't let your Babies grow up Apathetic

We went to lunch at a local eatery on Sunday. It was a nice day to share some family time over a couple of fish tacos. We were seated, then we waited, and waited, and waited until two waitstaff had a discussion within earshot about who would be taking care of our table.

Finally, we heard which one would be taking us on, and he sulked over to ask what we would like to drink. I felt instantly irritated by this young expressionless zombie...what my mom used to refer to as a "dead fly." I had one or two friends that were the kind that never looked her in the eye and only spoke (as little as possible) when spoken to. I learned early on that Mom was not impressed by a distant "whatever" attitude, and it was just easier not to bring those kind of kids around.

"No, I'm a monster. An aloof monster." "I can't live without you. Look at me, I'm dying."

And honestly, "dead flies" don't have much to offer in the way of companionship, anyway. Bella.

In college I worked in restaurants. I never considered it too much to offer a smile and a sincere greeting. I was, after all, expecting something in return for my outgoing service. The better you are at convincing the customer that you care (even when you do not) the more money you make. Instinctive right? Just a good life lesson, right? And aren't there easier jobs to be had than slinging food if you're pining away and can't even muster a smile?

MMA sensed my contempt, because he instantly offered up consolation and told me not to judge this inexperienced kid on his demeanor. "There is no ill-will there, he's just part of the Apathetic Generation," he says. Then he goes on to explain that he's not being polite or impolite, he's just speaking in the generally accepted (mono) tone that kids understand as normal."

What? So, aloof is the new norm and that's OK?

MMA has always been my culture coach, being far more hip than I.

Maybe he's right and I'm expecting too much (from the service industry!?) because it seems everywhere I go, I run into young people with their heads down, voices barely audible and their faces devoid of expression as they take my order, bag my groceries, and sell me things. The customary "thank you" [for your business] is clearly from a bygone era.

At the risk of sounding way older than my 35 years, I can't stand that our kids won't open their mouths anymore...not to say something nice or something not nice; they just don't open their mouths anymore!

This apathy-plague is not a question of competency. How many proud parents have I met who lovingly enumerated their child's academic accomplishments while I secretly speculated that the child was mute? Then, you find that the kid can speak, but word-conservation is way cooler, so usually you get a slow "yes" or "no." Is frivolous conversation dying?

Kick me the next time I complain that my three year old won't ever shut his mouth, because when he hits his teens he may decide that talking went out with Obama. And eye contact is overrated. He very well may kill me with Apathy! (New House Rule: saying "whatever" is equally punishable and equivalent to dropping an F-Bomb.)

As our meal unfolded, we were able to slowly lull our waiter out of his coma. (That's right, we warmed the waiter up.) And despite his best effort not to, Only Child did make him laugh. Physically, he can smile and carry on a conversation. No, he didn't know what Pontchartrain Pasta was, but he did offer to go find out if I wanted him to (I'm rolling my eyes a little bit...but MMA assures me that it was not his intent to be lazy or rude.)

To be fair, there are some great kids out there who haven't lost their ability to articulate through a conversation with old-fashion pleasantry. And for those outgoing, eye-contact-making kids who are not afraid to risk a little emotion...the sky is the limit! I have to imagine that a little personality sets you apart when you are of the Apathetic Generation. (I'd leave 25% for that.)

Is this happening because electronic devices that we sit in front of and carry in our pockets all day have a sedative effect? Or maybe the texting generation has evolved to a level of communication in which symbols and abbreviated speech supersede human warmth. What seems blase and mopey could read as passionate yearning to the 21 and under set. (You saw Twilight, right?)

Now, somebody please just shoot me, because I AM the crotchety Old Lady on a rant about "teenagers these days." Oh the misery!