We’re taking three feral teenagers to a fancy southern party where they’re expected to make small talk with a couple hundred of their closest family members they’ve never met in a hundred degree heat. What could possibly go wrong?
“Okay let’s practice your talking points, guys,” I say at dinner, where our placemats are stained and my youngest hooligan has set the table by placing a shred of paper towel and a crooked fork at each place. “When adults start a conversation with you, they generally want to small talk for a minute then move on. You want to be coherent enough to be socially acceptable but boring enough not to draw focus so they’ll move on to the next victim.”
My daughter screwed this up a few months ago at a funeral. She busted out with a Not Normal statement and ended up the focus of scrutiny. Nope, obligatory family gatherings are no time for your quirky boho lifestyle. Boring is key. Be slightly less memorable than a sweater set from Talbots.
Little kids have it easy. They’re cute. They can pull up their dresses, bend over, and expose themselves to three generations and nobody blinks. But teens are expected to perform like dancing monkeys. I was the oldest grandkid in my family so I know. You must answer questions, and answer them on demand. And above all, you must fall within the parameters of their version of Normal with a capital N. Do not pull out the weird slang you and your friends use that comes with an elaborate explanation of an inside joke. Do not whip out your TikTok, the app or any other ticking, tocking thing. No whipping out of anything, be it language or body parts.