Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What's a Mom To Do?

During the past couple of weeks, the news has been smattered with stories of poorly behaved public figures--be they politicians who need anger management classes, sports figures who lose their cool after what they think is a bad call, or narcissistic pop stars whose delusions of grandeur make them believe that basic rules of civility don't apply to them.  (yeah, Joe Wilson, Serena Williams and Kanye West, I'm talking about you). 

These are certainly not the only examples of people in positions to be role models who muck it up by being flawed (or just plain idiotic) human beings. I mean, hello, Bill Clinton (I love the guy, but he's often displayed epically bad behavior), John McEnroe, and Sinead O'Connor (didn't offend me when she ripped up the picture of the Pope, but some of the rest of the world is still clutching its pearls in horror). 

Right now, I'm pretty content that Ethan's heros are the Imagination Movers.  Until one of them is caught in an illicit sex scandal with their neighbor Nina (or, Warehouse Mouse), I'm not going to worry too much about Ethan being disillusioned or negatively influenced. 

But what about later?  When he's a tween or teen-ager?  Are there politicians, sports stars or musical stars/groups that a mom can rely on to NOT fall from grace?  I fear the answer is "no."  When Michael Phelps puts himself in a position to be photographed partaking in a bong hit, it's a pretty clear guarantee that there are no guarantees when it comes to trusting public figures with your child's impressionability.  Sigh. 

What I fear, though, almost more than the effect of these public figures' poor choices impacting my son later in life, is what those poor choices bring out in the general public.   The day after Serena Williams' outburst, I read a Facebook update about it.  I hadn't seen the tennis match or Williams' behavior.  My friend's status update simply expressed disappointment in someone she'd clearly admired up to that point.  That's not what disturbed me.  About three responses down, a line began, "I know this is going to sound racist, but...." and continued with the sentiment that "you can take the girl out of the 'hood, but you can't take the 'hood out of the girl."  

When my head stopped exploding all over the couch, I took a deep breath and responded to this friend of a friend whose name I'd never seen before, "Yes, _________, that does actually sound incredibly racist."  A general rule of thumb?  If you have to start a statement with, "This is going to sound racist, but..."  perhaps you should just SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH. Just a thought.  I figured in the year 2009, that would pretty much be a no brainer.  If you're going to be racist, by all means, keep that crap to yourself.  

It makes me nervous that while Ethan will be impacted by pop stars who behave like spoiled brats or politicians who lie or cheat on their wives, he will almost definitely be more influenced by people he comes across in his daily life--people who may try to convince him that a single individual's bad behavior is somehow inherent in them because of their race.  Or, as we've seen so much of lately in the news, someone will try to influence him to make decisions based on fear or hatred rather than thoughtful consideration of facts. 

I know all of this is way in the future--for now, let's just bask in the happy innocence of the  knowledge that no representative for Sheetrock Hills is going to start calling for Handy Manny to be deported in any upcoming episodes on Disney, and that none of the kids in the Fresh Beat Band will beat the hell out of each other in a drunken brawl (yet).  But as a mom, I'm starting to view the things I see in the world and the people I encounter, through the potential future eyes of my child.  

It's hard when you realize that there really are no heroes.  It means the pressure is on to teach our little ones to have that much more confidence in themselves and to believe in their own ability to achieve their dreams, so they don't have to live vicariously through the experiences of those public figures who might let them down, or to put too much stock in those figures in their own lives who might lead them down the wrong path.  

On the other hand, I know I can't shelter him from that disillusionment.  As frustrating and scary as it is for a mom to digest, disillusionment is part of growing up.  I taught the book "Catcher in the Rye" for years, but now as a mom, I am finally truly understanding Holden Caufield's desire to put his little sister Phoebe in a glass case at the museum, so she'd never get any older, never be hurt by the harsh realities of life or by the people who will let her down as she grows up.  


cicadalady said...

love this post.

Becca said...

Excellent post. I have also had a "what's next?" sense about all this. It's like we've conpletely lost our minds as a culture. My contribution will be raising polite kids. Even if it kills me. :)

Karen said...

Hmmm...I have thinking a lot of the same thoughts, too. It seems like there is so much pettiness and hate out there, especially when talking politics. I am especially concerned/angry/outraged by the racists comments due to raising a biracial child. But I try to focus on the fact that while there are always people who defend the actions of these asshats, there seems to be more people standing up and putting them in their place. Kayne West was outrageous the other night, but how amazing was Beyonce's reaction? Maybe we need to not think about isolating our children (when they are older, I mean) from these outbursts but see them as (ug, I hate this word) "teachable moments". Let them know that its their choices that will define who the kind of people who they become - do they want to be the Kayne West's of the world or the Beyonce's?

Christine said...

Friend of Kita's here--great post! It's also important to teach kids that people, even leaders and people that have achieved great success, are still only people in the end. There are the things that can be admired about them--a talent or brilliant insight or philanthropic action--but they may have other traits that are not to be admired at all. No one is capable of being perfect, so if we expect them to be we will be disappointed 100% of the time. Throughout history people search for deities on earth, and they just don't exist. Martin Luther King Jr. was notoriously unfaithful to his wife, Mother Theresa questioned her faith in God (not a problem for me, but shocking to many), and the list goes on.