Our younger son Sam just gave me The Look.
Sam is a newly-minted 13-year-old, so The Look has arrived right on schedule. The Look is a teenager’s primary response to parental stimuli, and our older son, Ben, is seventeen, so I’ve not only lived with The Look for a long time, I’ve put the time to good use. The following investigative report is the result of years of research. Prepare to be shocked. The Look, as never before revealed.
(Disclaimer: The following information pertains only to the teenage version of The Look. A future report on the spousal rendering of The Look will follow if your intrepid correspondent survives the investigation.)
The Look is so universal that on first glance it seems to be self-explanatory. Everyone knows that The Look is what someone gives you when you say or do something they consider so absurd, so ridiculous, and so contemptible that it does not deserve a response. Or rather, the response it deserves is one of withering dismissal. Which is precisely why teenagers employ The Look with such virtuosity.
Despite its reputation as a weapon of glance destruction, The Look is, in fact, a subtly nuanced expression. How do I know this? Because I am a deep thinker. I spend my days unlocking life’s thorny little puzzles. I refuse to accept things at face value. Especially when said face is wearing The Look. So I resort to study, contemplation, and further cogitation. My wife, Dena (while employing the spousal version of The Look) refers to my activities collectively as “napping.”
And now, having firmly established my credentials, let’s begin with the basics: The Look itself. The Look is a composite expression consisting of one part amusement, one part disgust, one part studied boredom, one part smug superiority, one part violent revolution, and one part you-are-the-biggest-moron-the-world-hasever- known-I-must-have-been-switchedwith- another-child-at-birth.
Most teens deploy The Look with such practiced efficiency that it’s difficult to fully appreciate its true scope. Sure, you could capture your teenager on one of those high-priced video systems that records at 3,000 frames per second, or you could do what I did: Google “slowmotion sneeze.” (The Mythbusters site contains some deliciously disgusting footage.) Then, after you have sanitized yourself and your computer, you will be better prepared to visualize The Look in slow motion.
The first thing to note is that even though it is dispatched with casual alacrity, The Look is a coordinated series of events. It can be broken down into three basic components: Summoning, Staging, and Strafing.
Perhaps you can visualize your teenager’s Look vividly enough that as I describe the stages, you can see it all in your head. If not, just walk up to your teenager and say something really cool (i. e., “Pink Floyd rocks!”) and you’ll be in prime position to observe the three stages in action.
There! Can you see the straightening of the spine? The squaring of the shoulders? This phase is known as The Summoning, during which your teenager summons every aggrieved molecule in his or her body, drawing energy away from non-vital functions, like acne production for example, and calling it forth into the service of The Look.
Next, notice the way the head and the eyes come into perfect alignment with one another. The jaw muscles pulse, and the cheekbones begin to shine with an unholy light. This is the phase known as The Staging, during which the energy gathered during The Summoning is organized for deployment. (Important safety tip: Even though this phase lasts mere milliseconds, at this point your teenager contains the energy of a thousand suns, in a highly unstable state. During the Staging, never allow your teenager to come into contact with supercharged energy sources such as cattle prods, plutonium, or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Spontaneous human combustion is all too real, my friends.)
The third and final phase, the Strafing, discharges all of that pent-up energy in a hail of withering hellfire. Parents caught in the full fury of The Look can do little except bend and sway like palm trees in an eyewall, especially if The Look is accompanied by its sidekick, The Huff. Remember that slo-mo sneeze video? The air filling with aerosolized viral droplets? The Huff is the same thing, except that instead of germs, The Huff fills the air with aerosolized derision.
So, clearly, The Look is nothing to be sneezed at. But knowing about a thing and knowing what to do about a thing can be very different. What every parent really wants to know is, what causes The Look, and most importantly, is there anything we can do to avoid it?
Fortunately I have produced a companion guide, which can help you, as a parent, navigate these thorny issues.
I include it here.
Q: What causes The Look?
Q: What can we, as parents, do to avoid or minimize the occasions on which our teenager employs The Look?
Q: So we’re screwed?
Meanwhile, back in the Moore household, you might think that since Sam has been thirteen for less than a month, he would still be an amateur at The Look, but it turns out he’s been training hard these past few years. Ben has gleefully modeled proper employment of The Look at every opportunity; Sam has obviously done his homework. As a team, Dena and I have managed to survive The Look pretty well, but The Looks?
I’ll get back to you in a few years.