Daughter in an Emo Frame of Mind

As if there weren't enough reasons for insecurity and teenage angst when you're a high school freshman, my 14-year-old daughter was told recently that she needs glasses.

Not long ago, Betsy started complaining of headaches at school and an inability to see the chalkboard clearly, so I took her to the optometrist, and sure enough, she is nearsighted.

It's not the first time we've had her eyes checked. A few years ago, during basketball season, her formerly reliable jump shot started flying wildly all over the gym — most often above the top of the backboard — and it was a shot she took with unfortunate frequency.

I thought she might have a depth-perception problem, but a visit to the eye doctor confirmed she had 20/20 vision, a discovery that prompted my son to say, “I told you, Mom. She just stinks.”

Be that as it may.

This time around, the diagnosis is clear — or should I say, fuzzy? — so we find ourselves engaged in the delicate task of redefining Betsy's appearance with prescription eyewear.

Choosing glasses is a complex decision, in part because eyewear seems to make a statement about personality. One style suggests, “I'm practical and not a risk taker,” while another frame might say, “I'm desperate for attention — do I have yours?” The trick is to find a frame that subtly speaks for you without accentuating your uneven eyebrows — or your nose.

Choosing glasses puts a whole lot of focus on your nose, magnifying faults in ways you've never suspected.

Right away I rule out anything with a designer name on the stem, for which I would pay an additional $100.

She doesn't balk because she knows I could limit her choice to a sensible tortoise-shell frame that would stand up to teenage abuse, and so far I haven't stipulated durability over design.

We spend at least an hour sorting through the racks of sample frames. One is “too John Lennon.” Another is “too Lucille Ball.” When I say the red ones are “too Sally Jessy Raphael” I have to spend five minutes explaining who the talk-show hostess is.

Eventually, we realize we keep pulling the same frame off its plastic “face” and putting it on Betsy's. In the frame-selection process, this is how you know you're finished — you try the same glasses again and again until you discover the frame about which you register the fewest objections.

Betsy settles on rectangular lenses in a black frame, but not all black; the inside of the frame is a zippy shade of green, and the stems have green crisscross designs from tip to temple. We think they are smart and even a little bit cool.

But what do we know?

Monday comes, and Betsy heads off to school in her new specs, finally able to focus on the essential notes and cryptic squiggles on the board and also able to discern distant objects such as street signs and cute guys in the cafeteria (which she strenuously argues is not her goal).

The first school day in glasses comes to an end, and I'm curious to know what her friends think of her new look.

“They said my glasses were emo.”

“What's emo?” I ask.

“I have no idea.”

We head to the computer and get on UrbanDictionary.com, searching “emo” for a definition. Sure enough, there are thousands of entries, and there even are categories of ways in which you can be emo.

We find this definition:

“Genre of soft-core punk music that integrates unenthusiastic melodramatic 17-year-olds who don't smile; high-pitched overwrought lyrics and inaudible guitar riffs with tight wool sweaters; tighter jeans; itchy scarves (even in the summer); ripped chucks with favorite band's signature; black-square-rimmed glasses; and ebony greasy, unwashed hair that is required to cover at least 3/5ths of the face at an angle.”

This explains a lot. We also find this more succinct description:

“Like a Goth, only much less dark and much more Harry Potter.”

We keep scrolling emo entries until we find a lengthy and informative explanation that says the term does not mean emotional, as most teens believe, but refers to “emotive hard-core,” a music genre. The writer of this historical perspective notes that originally the term didn't have anything to do with categorizing an entire segment of adolescent America — the ones suburban moms like me might call “disaffected youths.”

The part about the black eyeglass frames leaves Betsy a bit undone. “An emo kid is a depressed person who shops at Hot Topic in the mall,” she says, referring to the national chain located in nearly every major shopping center where teens can buy scary-looking apparel.

(According to the urban dictionary, however, “emo kids” would claim to hate Hot Topic. They pride themselves on nonconformity, in a conformist sort of way).

Not Betsy's style at all.

I'm sure as heck not going back to choose another pair of glasses in a different stereotypical style (“Would you rather be preppy?” I ask. She is horrified), so we start thinking of pithy comebacks the next time someone says her new glasses are emo.

“The next time,” I suggest, “just ignore them and pretend you're writing an anguished poem about being misunderstood.”

It's the emo thing to do.

(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 18 years and mother of four children from third grade to junior year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She currently writes a column for the Washington Times. Learn more about Marybeth and her work at MarybethHicks.com. This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Washington Times.)

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