Thursday, February 12, 2009

Whose Poster is on Your Wall?

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!


KC Mom said...

This has got to be my favorite post of yours EVER. I've told this story to my seminary class each year. When I was in high school, my bedroom walls were WALLPAPERED with photos and posters of rock bands...wallpapering is no exaggeration. My parents never gave me a hard time about it but once my Dad said to me..."did you know that the images you keep on your wall are what you worship?" I was really defiant and let him know he was wrong...I just liked pictures of these bands for heaven sakes. But he was right. My focus wasn't on the Savior or living a worthy life so I could go to the temple someday, my goals and desires were of the complete opposite nature.
Guess what. I didn't stay active in the church when I moved out. I didn't get married in the temple. Big surprise. Was it because I didn't have pictures of Christ or the temple in my room? Maybe. It certainly meant I wasn't keeping those images at the forefront of my mind and heart.
I've never allowed my kids to hang anything on their bedroom walls. They are only allowed to have pictures of themselves or friends, pictures of the Savior and temples. I hope that they will put stock into the foundation I try to set for them. I hope they will see those images everyday and be inspired to acheive spiritual success and happiness. The only role models we need in our lives are ones that can't let us down. Good job snarky did well with your snarky belle. I will definately be sharing these thoughts with my class. I hope that they will see the wisdom of what you're saying now and not waste the years that I did on things that don't matter.

jen said...

Great post. I reminds me of when I was in third grade and all the girls were madly in love with Shaun Cassidy (don't calculate my age from this revelation).
I felt the pressure to feel SOMETHING for this guy that they all loved. I bought a Shaun Cassidy tshirt with my own money, because my mother wouldn't support such idiocy. I even wrote him a fan letter that my mom copied (by hand, way before the widespread use of copiers outside of public schools).
That letter reveals a lot about my true feelings for the heartthrob--how smart I was, how good at school I was, and NOTHING about any of his songs or his looks or him at all.
Now, when I get asked who did I idolize as a kid, or even who my current idols are, I am hard-pressed to come up with a single name that anyone would really know--two favorite Institute teachers, Sheri Dew, and Marjorie Hinckley.
Too bad they don't sell posters of them at Deseret Book.
I guess my choices as a kid are reflected in my kids. My oldest daughter is graduating this year, and her walls are covered with a picture of the SLC temple, a bulletin board, a mirror, and a Christ calendar.
Sounds like she's headed for better things later in life.
So glad I've found you and your wisdom.

Sue said...

Great post, Natalie! And your mom sounds like an amazing role model. Heck, I might just hang one of those glittery snarky mama posters on MY wall...


Carly said...

Beautiful as always. I do think it's funny how we somehow assume celebrities are nice decent people until they get caught proving otherwise. Just playing the statistics, I'm the type to assume they're bad role models until they prove otherwise. My 13 year old sister had to write to some celebrities for letter writing practice at school, and she picked Michael Phelps because she thought he was pretty awesome. She got her letter and autograph the day after the pot picture came out and her new response was, "Eh. bad timing, huh? I just don't like him anymore. I'm not even excited to get this." I'm grateful for parents who taught us that what you do in public and private is who you are, not just what you do when the world is watching. Mostly, I'm grateful that my siblings and I retained the lesson enough to leave behind fallen heroes, instead of following them down.

mom said... I have to say is:

Fighting for your life is not hard when you have someone so worth fighting to live for....
You, my precious daughter, made every moment of those hardest days worth the fight!

Living for you has given me my eternal companion who has never stood anywhere, but beside beautiful children, my "hope", my "passion" and my "peace" and my heart's grandchildren!

"the sweetest debt I will ever pay"
I love you...........

mom said... can the notebook and poster be pink?!??!? (with rhinestones and sequins)!!!

L said...

Natalie - beautiful. "We are stocking up on our integrity"! I love it and will use it over and over again!

Snarky Mom - I want the notebook and poster too, yes in pink, YES with glitter!

Hugs - L

Carly said...

I hope one day that my girls look up to me as you look up to your mum.

I loved everything you wrote here!

Aubrey said...

Cheryl was right! That lesson she taught us has forever changed me. I really like this blog post!! Love you.

karen said...

Great post, Natalie! I think I'm a fan of your mom's, but I, too, have had some amazing role models, starting with my 97 year old grandmother. She taught me to never lose hope, to love people in spite of their weaknesses, and how to make an amazing meal out of whatever is on hand. She had a stroke a couple of months ago, and she is convinced that she will fully 97. I think she will! Love your blog. You're an amazing girl, but no surprise. You have an amazing mom!

Rachel T. said...

So what I want to know is, when does Cat and Nat chat start? Mind you we always get to read a comment from your mom, but you and your mom always have the greatest insite and wisdom. I loved this blog Nat. Not that I don't ALWAYS love your blogs, but this one had a special touch to it. Im always been a fan of the blogs that give us a peek into more of the life of Natalie. Way to go Nat, another home run!

I am LoW said...

Very true.

I've never bought shirts or notebooks with famous people for my kids. I just don't get that. At the same time, I had posters on my wall as a teen, not of role models though, just cute Hollywood hunks. I knew they weren't my role models, but they looked good and I liked looking at them. :-)

mom said...

I have been doing a lot of thinking since you "outed" me to the world! :) (You know I am kidding, like it was a secret, I live in TongueWag,USA, after all!)

BUT...snarkettes, beware! Snarky-B is known for asking forgiveness not so much permission! In all fairness she "fished" with a question or two as to how I felt about "people knowing" things about me. "People" time I might better ask for a little clarification, just exactly what people and how many do you have in mind?!?!

Bottom line...Snarky's new headline "Unlocking the Silence" is very profound. I am thankful she found a place in her life where she felt safe enough to open her own floodgates, day by day, bit by bit. I am glad she found "snarkettes"...friends she knows and doesn't know, personally, who are amazing in their support. What a blessing!

I am the most grateful she is strong enough and secure enough in her life with the Captain that she knows there is "always a soft place to fall" in her own skin with him. That is very empowering.
I am the absolute most grateful she is courageous enough at her young age to begin "unlocking the silence."

And that is my point....once again because of Natalie, I might be able to begin to "unlock" my own.
Who knows? Although, you do understand there would be a massive calling in the troops to shut those floodgates!!!!

She says, "if it happened, telling it is never bad." I guess I have learned from her that even though the "event" might not be a good one, not being able to tell it is even worse! So Snarky, thank you!
Somehow reading part of my story didn't seem as hard as living it and/or thinking about it. Actually, in a crazy made me see me just a little differently.

You know I believe we are only a "sum of all of our parts." When we try to remove "parts" we alter the sum....leaving us a little less than who and what we truly are...I believe that, I know that, yet when it comes to my own life, I am not so good at living that! O.K. for everyone else, just not for me. That whole beat yourself up, thing!

Snarkettes...thank you for encouraging her to write her story, even if it comes in those pieces and parts, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Even if it means "outing" her mom to the world...the "sum" of her life, thus far, is something beautiful to behold, inside and out. As for you, Miss Prissy, I will be waiting for my "Mom's Dream Come True" trip! :)