La Miserable, c’est moi

I’m walking around with quiet sadness as background music, with Daughter going off to college in less than one month. Then every so often — rarely, but still sometimes — something happens that makes me want to hurl her out the door with her suitcase flying behind her.

On Thursday night, we took Daughter and Boyfriend out to see the 25th anniversary touring production of Les Miserables. I love that show! It is one of my two far-and-away favorite musicals of all time, alongside The Threepenny Opera. (Clearly I like musicals about social misery.)

Sam and I saw it on Broadway back in the 1980s, and for two decades I have continued singing the tunes.

Red — the blood of angry men —
Black — the dark of ages past —
Red — a world about to dawn —
Black — the night that ends at last —

So when I heard last winter that Les Miz was coming to San Francisco, I rushed out — well, rushed to my computer, to be accurate — and bought tickets.

For months I looked forward to this. I bought the soundtrack for my iPod. I borrowed the Victor Hugo novel from the library and read all 1,400 pages of it, adding forays into Wikipedia to try and puzzle out 19th century French politics. I imagined sitting with Daughter and Boyfriend at dinner before the show, summarizing the plot and the context for them so they would get the most out of it.

(By now, you know what’s coming, don’t you?)

Flash forward to night of show. Lovely dinner at a Brazilian restaurant near the theatre eating feijoada and balls of fried something-or-other. I offer to summarize the plot, only to hear, No! Don’t give it away! Earlier I had offered to share the soundtrack with her, only to hear, No! I don’t want to listen to it in advance!

Then we watch the show. It’s a middling production. Kind of rushed, and not as grand as I remembered. But then, things generally aren’t as grand as you remember them 20 years later. The music is still fabulous. At intermission, I turn to her and ask the fateful question, “What do you think?”

Shrug. “I wish there was dialogue and it wasn’t all music. And it’s not really my kind of music.”

I turn to Boyfriend. Another shrug and a nod of agreement. “Not my kind of music.”


Why does this always seem to happen? Les Miz. The Threepenny Opera. Bruce Springsteen. Erich Fromm. The movie Reds. The movie Nashville. Casablanca. Or dinners that I look up in cookbooks, then carefully dice and blend and bake.

It feels like I offer a small, carefully wrapped gift box to my child — a little gold box with a satin ribbon holding a part of my heart. And then she dismisses it with a toss of her head, or rolled eyes. Doesn’t want to bother with it. Or goes along but doesn’t get it. Doesn’t really care.

And why does this push my buttons? There are many times that Sam hates a movie or book that I love, and it doesn’t frustrate me this way. But there’s a different emotional weight when it’s your child. You yearn to give them beauty, delight, joy. Isn’t it your job to show them the beauty in the world?  And you try so hard! You plan! You care! You anticipate!

And then it doesn’t work out.

Okay, I know this is totally normal. Daughter will discover her own sources of beauty, delight and joy. Probably discovering them on her own — rather than being led to them by a parent — is part of the delight and joy. And she’s not ungrateful. She even thanked us for buying the tickets and dinner last night.

In fact, when I consider things rationally, there are lots of times when she has appreciated some beloved cultural icon of mine — Phil Ochs, Leonard Cohen, Lord of the Rings, the BBC Pride and Prejudice, Esther Averill’s The Cat Club. Even Springsteen, a little.

Still, who wants to be rational? On Thursday night, boy, was I ready to throw her out of the house.


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9 Responses to “La Miserable, c’est moi”

  1. Carrie Says:

    Heh. In college and after, I tried watching a lot of movies my parents recommended to me. They were young movie-goers in the 70s and loved all these totally depressing movies like Midnight Cowboy and Straw Dogs. I haven’t liked any of them that I can recall. And my dad STILL makes me listen to his latest favorite country song.
    It’s sweet, that they want to share, but, yeah … it just doesn’t usually work out.

  2. Tom Moore Says:

    I think that to really appreciate Broadway musicals, you must be one or more of the following: 1. Jewish 2. Gay (male) 3. from New York. Being all three doesn’t hurt. Being only one may not be enough. And remember “de gustibus non est disputandum”.

  3. Susan Milligan Says:

    And yet you have given her the best part of yourself, the ability to form her own opinions, say what she means, and go after what she wants.

    And, just a suggestion, instead of asking questions that open up the opportunity for devasting answers (such as “What did you think?” or “Do you like it?”) ask specific questions about the production (such as “Did you think the way they used the DuBarry pink spotlight on the soloist in the third scene was a good choice?” or “Do you think a play or novel could have an effect on American politics today?”

  4. Melissa Says:

    This has happened to me too many times to count, actually including a production of Les Miz, which we left at intermission. (The music really isn’t that accessible, and it’s tough to follow a story line with no dialogue.) But I kept trying, because of the intermittent positive reinforcement when she does appreciate the show, music, or whatever I have shared. One thing I finally learned, though, was not to be disappointed or annoyed with her for not appreciating. Our job as parents is only to provide the opportunities – not to make them like what we choose.

  5. Christina Baglivi Tinglof Says:

    (Head nodding the whole time while reading.) I think it has to do with maturity. She’s just not “ready.” Here’s what I mean. In high school I had to read Grapes of Wrath. I thought it was so b-o-r-i-n-g. Fast forward a year and half. I’m required to read it for a college English class. Couldn’t believe how much I loved it and couldn’t understand how I ever thought it was boring.

    Keep trying. Keep sharing. She’ll come around.

  6. Judith Barish Says:

    Here’s where it’s handy to have more than one precious darling with which to share the world. It takes off some of the pressure. If I take the kids to a show, I know that at least one of them will love it.

  7. afterthekidsleave Says:

    I think the important part of your gift–the fact that you shared something that is precious to you–will be it most remembered, and therefore its most lasting aspect. The specifics–the actual play, what you ate that night–are far less important than the reaching out. That’s what she’ll remember for years to come. And that is as it should be.

  8. Nicholas Says:

    Well, at least she goes to them with you. In that way you know that she’s being exposed to them. I couldn’t get my older child to even watch things that I thought were not only wonderful, but culturally relevant (even to his generation!) His brother had no trouble watching and enjoying (at least some of them) with me.

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