Staring up at the young performers in “Dear Evan Hansen,” watching in awe as they masterfully captured the angst, confusion, boredom and small joys of being teenagers, two thoughts popped in my head:
- Wow, this reminds me so much of high school.
- Is this what my kids will be like?
I am privileged to say I have attended a number of Broadway shows, several with strong, emotional stories and engaging characters. When I watched these shows in my teens and my 20s, I felt their struggles and connected with their emotions. It didn’t matter that I had no idea what it was like to be a 20-something in the late 80s living in the East Village (RENT), or a sexually-confused teen in 19th-century Germany or green witch struggling to find acceptance in Oz (Wicked); I saw myself in those characters.
We all see ourselves in fictional characters, whether on the stage, screen or the page. It is what drives us to experience these stories. That deep connection. That sense of knowing exactly how a character feels. We are moved by them, because we are them.
I felt all of that while watching “Dear Evan Hansen.” But, I also felt something else. The show’s main character, Evan, a teenage boy struggling to connect with his peers and family, reminded me so much of my oldest child. Now, my son is only five, and is actually quite friendly, almost aggressively so. I am also, not a single, working mother. There are a staggering number of differences in our experiences.
Yet, somehow, all I could see is my kid in another ten years or so. When I saw Evan nervously try to talk to his high school crush, I pictured my kid doing the same. I teared up as Evan broke down facing the crushing reality of a terrible mistake he made, thinking what if this is my child?
I know five is a long way from 17. I know a lot can happen in these coming years, and that my son’s personality is still developing. At the same time, he is now at an age when I no longer see a baby, and instead see a whole person. I get glimpses of this with his younger brother, who is two, but mostly with him, I still see a child. However, I know that too, will soon change.
I have reached the point in my life as an adult and as a mother when I can see both myself and my children in the stories I experience. While watching “This Is Us,” I relate to the struggles of the show’s three siblings, as well as the difficulties their parents felt trying to raise them. Similarly, when I watched “13 Reasons Why,” I recalled my own high school days, while simultaneously wondering how my own kids will experience that very difficult time in a child’s life.
At 35, I am moving farther and farther away from my teenage years. I wonder how much of those days I will remember in my 40s, when my kids will actually be teenagers themselves. Will I see myself in them and empathize with them? If they experience something tragic, will I recall being 17, and know just what to say? When they feel rejected, will I be able to dig deep and pull out words that aren’t completely foreign to a teenage brain.
Or, as depicted so often in pop culture, will I struggle to connect and feel completely lost.
To quote “Dear Evan Hansen:”
Does anybody have a map?
Anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this?
I don’t know if you can tell
But this is me just pretending to know
Considering, I have felt that way pretty much since I first got pregnant, I would say the possibility of me getting any closer to understanding what makes kids tick is pretty slim. But, maybe if I can start seeing a little of myself in them. Maybe if I can empathize more with their experiences. Maybe if I can think back to my childhood and see how we really aren’t so different. Maybe then I can make some semblance of a connection, and, hopefully, find my way.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is now playing on Broadway. “This Is Us” is currently airing new episodes on NBC and is available on demand. “13 Reasons Why” is a Netflix original series.