My kids don't wear shirts with the faces and names of famous people plastered on the front. They don't have posters of rich and famous celebri-tweens hanging on their walls. It's just not my thing. (And, if my children decide it's their thing, they are welcome to participate in the practice...just as soon as they buy their own clothes, and own their walls.) Yes, I'm the wicked mother who won't even purchase spiral notebooks with famous people's faces on them. This is due to a quirky little trait I bring from childhood. Wallpaper and a bulletin board with a picture of Jesus on it...that's what hung in my room when I was a kid and teenager. No posters, no pictures of celebrities. My family was entirely too busy surviving to be enamored by the fantasy world of fortune and fame.
She became my mother at the age of 16. She had a tenth grade education. Every odd known to man was stacked against her. Based on sheer numbers and statistics, she should have failed, and failed miserably. But, Snarky Mama prevailed. She fought the harsh judgements of others and persevered. She earned her GED and got a job. Through the years, she worked with fierce determination. She received an undergraduate degree and worked (sometimes more than one job), all while raising three children. My mother earned her Law degree the year she turned 50. She has even opened her own practice. She is an amazing mother who has taught her children the things that really matter in this life. Not to mention, she is the coolest Nana. Ever.
How did all of it happen? I can't tell you right now. That's a story for another day. A story with chapters my mother is not ready to share (thanks to that whole loyalty thing she has goin' on). But, I can tell you this: I had no desire to be anyone's superfan, no need for posters of celebrities, or folders with pictures of Olivia Newton-John on the front. Why? Because I lived with my role model. I saw her everyday of my life.
I want to be very clear. My mother never sugar-coated the choices she made in her life. She did not make excuses. She fully accepted responsibility for decisions that placed her on certain paths. Were those paths rocky and, at times, horribly difficult to maneuver? Absolutely, but she did it. She faced the consequences of her actions and rose to the challenges.
My mother did not want me to follow all of her footsteps. She was emphatic in letting me know this. Some things she chose to do the hard way. And as much as I love my mother, as much as I admire her strength, I did not want to follow her exact path. She made choices that I didn't want to make. But, there were many steps my mother took, and many she takes today, that she should be proud to have me follow. Mainly, the footsteps that follow the path of our Savior. Hers have always led me in that direction.
Since learning of the Michael Phelps fiasco, I have been thinking a lot about footsteps, and how careful we must be in choosing whose to follow. My initial thought was, "How could he do such a thing, doesn't he know how many kids look up to him, how many young boys want to be him?"...those thoughts lasted maybe 5 minutes. Then, I had other thoughts. Of course he knows kids idolize him, and I understand that with fame comes great responsibility. I also understand that just because someone becomes famous, it doesn't mean they suddenly grow a brain, gain common sense, or develop the same values and morals I teach in my home.
I wasn't really surprised when I heard the news about Michael Phelps. Just like I wasn't surprised that A-Rod used steroids, or that Miley Cyrus isn't Hannah Montana perfect. I'm just not all that impressed by professional athletes and celebrities. To me, they are simply people who happen to be good, possibly great, at what they do. I am trying to teach my children that we appreciate the talents of these famous people, we can admire their accomplishments, we watch and we are entertained. But, we don't buy products just because they say we should. And we certainly don't place them on a pedestals, hoping they never disappoint us.
Many days I am baffled by the whole role model idea. If I don't know someone personally, why would I want my children to emulate him/her? And as for Hollywood celebrities, well I have said this before...we are talking about people who make millions pretending to be someone they aren't. Are they talented? Some of them are. Does that mean I want them as my kids' role models? No way. Because talents and abilities don't make role models.
Admiring Michael Phelps for his athletic ability is not the same as placing him before our youth as a role model. Some would argue that because he cashed in on his success, taking endorsement deals, etc. that he should have stepped up, and lived a life our children could emulate. Unfortunately in this world, what someone should do and reality are often two very different things. Becoming famous for swimming doesn't magically morph someone into a role model. The guy is a phenomenal swimmer, no doubt. But maybe that's as far as it goes? The day before the infamous photo, mothers and fathers everywhere wanted their boys to grow up and be "just like Mike". The day after the photo, he was called an embarrassment. Guess what? I'm thinking he didn't change a bit. All that changed was how others perceived him. A guy at a college party, holding a bong and gettin' high....wasn't exactly the way they had painted him in their minds.
Michael Phelps says what he did was "stupid", and that he is "sorry". Is he really sorry for getting high, or just really sorry for being stupid enough to get high in a room with someone who had a camera. I'm sure he's sorry about the cash he's thrown away since being dropped by Kellogg's. But, who knows? Maybe this will be a game changer for him. Apparently his DUI wasn't. But, this might be...who knows? I think "who knows" is exactly the point. Since I don't know Michael Phelps personally, I have no way of knowing what beliefs and values are guiding his choices. So why would I encourage my children to look to him for anything other than a little swimming advice?
I've heard mothers discussing that if Michael Phelps continues to be a swimming sensation, what does that teach their children? My guess would be one hard core lesson in reality. Yep, sometimes people smoke pot, and they don't necessarily die or even spend a minute in the clink. It's the same type lesson Eleven Year Old learned when he heard the news that our current President was a drug abuser, and that our President before him was an alcohol abuser, and our President before him didn't think remaining faithful to his wife was all that important.
Reality. Not always a pretty picture encased in a safe and lovely bubble is it? That's why I try to teach my kids that regardless of what the outcome might be, we do what's right. And sometimes the right choices aren't heralded here on this earth. Doesn't mean the choices lose their value. It means we are stocking up on integrity.
Some say it is "inevitable" that young kids will choose celebrities and professional athletes for role models. I disagree. While I believe they will admire the talents and gifts these individuals possess, I don't think this strange obsession with the rich and famous is inevitable. Just like I don't believe teens having sex, or driving drunk is inevitable. I wonder if sometimes we don't give children enough credit. Often, they are far more bright and clever than we recognize. Maybe if we let them know we don't think their fate is already cast in stone, that we do not believe they must fall victim to the "inevitable", could that make a difference? Maybe, maybe not. But I don't want to leave tremendous decisions and choices in the hands of Mr. Inevitable, I'd rather take my chances with my own parenting. I can at least give Mr. Inevitable a run for his money. And, as a mother, I should.
I wonder how much in my mother's life she believed was inevitable. I guess you could say Snarky Mama is not exactly your textbook role model. In my family, doing anything textbook style is a rarity. In a textbook, everything is neatly indexed, placed just so. Textbooks aren't messy, real life is. And with my family, it's always been about reality.
My mother made her choices. She also stepped right up to the plate of responsibilities those choices dished out. She did so with courage and strength. She never lost faith in her Savior or His atonement, never turned away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She was not afraid to look the naysayers and stone throwers right in the eyes, defying their doubts about her ability to succeed. Today, her life speaks for itself. Hmmmm, come to think of it, maybe I am a superfan! Hey mom, could I get a glittery poster of you to plaster on my wall, and send a matching spiral notebook. Too cool!