Apocalypse now or just a storm in a teacup?
'Oh well," said my teenage son nonchalantly, watching the fury of Frankenstorm hitting the east coast of the United States on television yesterday. "That's it then. We're all doomed."
I turned from surveying the sheer size of Hurricane Sandy bearing down on New York like a huge black hole.
"What are you talking about?" I said. Before my eyes, massive waves pounded along the Maryland coastline and the wind shrieked its fury to the globe.
"Well," he said, concentrating on devouring cream crackers topped with lashings of crunchy peanut butter, "you know about December 21, eh?"
"The day the world's apparently due to end, according to Hollywood?" I confirmed, earning a nod in return.
"But it's only October 30. It's nearly two months too early."
He pushed some peanut goo down on his cracker and snapped it in two. "Maybe," he said casually, "the guy that made the movie about the world ending on December 21 got it wrong by two months. People are always getting things wrong. Just look at Obama and Romney."
I frowned. "I still don't understand why you believe a story from a movie. What kind of credential has something made up by a scriptwriter in some windowless room got?"
He looked at me witheringly before returning to the scenes of chaos on CNN. "You don't have to believe it, but lots of young people do. We just know something is about to happen."
"But," I argued, "what's that got to do with this storm? It's just a snow storm and a hurricane coming together on a full moon and high tides. It's a blend of several bad natural things coming together in a bad way. That doesn't mean it's the end of the world."
He stood up to grab some more crackers. "Have a look at the pictures and tell me there's nothing going on here."
I turned back to the screen and conceded he had a point. It was as if Mother Nature was seriously peed off with someone and was whipping their ass. The pictures were alarming and, once again, I tried to see them through the eyes of teenagers.
When I was a kid, the worst things I worried about were getting an even tan during lunchtime and finding the right shade of orange to dye my hair.
I recall my dilemma at choosing the right kind of perm, the perfect pair of jeans to go with my fashionable tie-dyed sweatshirt I bought at Farmers Co-op at 15, and the ideal pair of togs for that trip down Te Henui Stream on a homemade wooden raft.
I remember worrying about making public speeches, having to sing a gypsy song in a madrigal trio in front of the entire school, trying to gain the attention of a young lad who never knew I existed (and still doesn't, thank goodness), and vomiting in front of hundreds at my swimming sports day when I accidentally inhaled chlorinated water.
In other words, they were worries that today look pathetic compared with those of our teens.
That's not to say I didn't fret over more serious things. At 13, I learned what cancer was , and talked myself into thinking that my mum and dad had it. At 14, I spent nights lying awake worrying about death and infinity and God.
At 15, I worried that my best friend would go overseas on an exchange programme and leave me behind. I even remember wondering whether I was adopted.
But the end of the world was never on my agenda. While infinity had me a little perturbed about meteors and comets hitting the Earth, I never thought it was a fait accompli - not like kids do today, often with little emotion or understanding of what the concept means for us humans.
At a teenage-parenting seminar at school the other day, the expert speaker talked about today's teenagers being the same as those in ancient times - in other words, emotional, hysterical, difficult, moody and unpredictable.
She even quoted William Shakespeare as saying: "I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting."
You have to hand it to the bloke, he was wordy, a bit nerdy and apparently good at stealing other people's ideas, but by God he was perceptive. The speaker also said that today's teenagers have more stress than we did.
"The world," she told us, "was a quieter place when we were children. Think about the stuff that kids today have to deal with . . . and tell me the stress is the same."
I thought about all this while watching the mega-storm lashing New York. When I was 17, we didn't have television coverage when huge events like Frankenstorm occurred.
My earliest memory of a televised drama was the hijacking of some plane somewhere in the world, where its hostages waited inside while outsiders negotiated with the hijackers.
Even then, I reasoned it would never happen here.
I guess it's easy, in the face of images that once would shock but now, particularly after the Christchurch earthquakes, incur mere uncomfortable fascination, for our kids to miss the true concept of the world ending. Get them to watch television news, and you will understand why they top themselves in ever-increasing numbers.
What worries me is the apparent indifference to what they reason will happen in their lifetimes.
Believing that the world will end means all other emotions, morals and rules are numbed.
As the teenage parenting expert told us, teenagers are wired to cope with thinking only three months ahead.
Anything else is too big to cope with.
So yesterday, while watching the latest natural phenomenon on television, I fretted about the bigger picture.
Then 15-year-old Little Weenie flounced into the room.
"Oh God," she said, catching the images from the corner of her eye, "is it the start of the Apocalypse already?
"I must straighten my hair."
Taranaki Daily News