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Mom vs Teen Embarrassment: “I Didn’t Pay $50 to Hear You Talk”

There are so many things I do on a daily basis that embarrass my kids. I kiss them in public. I call them by their darkest family nickname in front of friends. I’ll mangle the lyrics to songs with great brio. I talk to their friends in the car when I am supposed to chauffeur them, silently and invisibly. I drive them to school with raging bedhead in ripped sweats.

My youngest, the one who wanted to marry me when he grew up, really drove it home for me the first day of basketball camp in sixth grade.

Me: “Do you want me to walk in with you?”

Him: “Please don’t.”

But nowhere is my ability to embarrass my kids them more exquisite than at the movies. I have a true gift. I am able, like a bat with sonar, to detect and isolate the sound of that one person who is chewing with their mouth open, crinkling their candy wrapper, or talking. And I’ll fixate on it like a laser-guided missile. Once the darkness has been broken by the sound of conversation (by people who don’t even try to whisper), the movie is over for me.

Dealing With Public Confrontation

I usually start with a discreet head turn. Then a pointed glare. Then I rapidly escalate into fierce whispered comments to my seatmate. “WHY ARE PEOPLE SO RUDE? We aren’t in your living room. I did NOT pay $50 to hear YOU talk!” My three kids have heard it all. And now when we go to movies, there is furtive maneuvering as we take our seats as they try to outflank each other to avoid sitting next to me.

Some of the problem is probably me, I guess—my family is apparently able to watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes completely oblivious of the couple who thought it was a great idea to bring two restless preschoolers and a crying baby—but I really do have some innate skill that defies explanation. I attract myself like a magnet to badly behaved moviegoers: the hard-of-hearing elderly couple (“WHAT DID HE SAY?”), the woman who turns on her cellphone flashlight to clean out her purse, the guy with a bottomless bag of popcorn who chews it, one kernel at a time, with an open mouth.

I used to just sit there and stew. But something about turning 40 several years ago liberated me and I found it very cathartic to confront the offenders. This was too much for my kids. They plead with me “Pleeeease, Mom. Don’t say anything!” They dread “the look” which means confrontation is imminent. The couple with the crying baby? Now I lean forward and say, “TAKE YOUR BABY OUT.” I ask the talking couple behind me, “Should I move now? I want to hear the movie, not you talking.”

On the way out of “Maze Runner,” I leaned over to a group of talking preteens, and said “Hey kids, thanks for talking through the entire movie! Good job!” The stunned look on that one kid’s face was priceless. My son dragged me by the elbow before I could say more. My kids find these confrontations excruciating now. But someday they will thank me for showing sweet, shrinking violets how to stand up for themselves and not to be doormats.

Just last week, my daughter marched out of her college dorm room and told the group gathered in the lounge watching The Lion King and doing shots at 2:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning to knock it off. And I wiped a little tear from my eye. That’s my girl!

Jane Parent, former editor at Your Teen, is the parent of three.

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