If you’re like me, you’ve noticed that American Idol wannabes are once again lining America’s streets, hoping to be the next Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson (I know they were from seasons 1 and 2, but I can barely remember any winners since, except the Arkansas winner I saw in the Kroger once!). The new Randy-Paula-Simon lineup is Keith Urban-Jennifer Lopez-Harry Connick, Jr., and I think these three are a great way to keep AI fresh, even while ageless Ryan Seacrest continues to do emotional voice-overs and stick mikes in contestants’ faces.
What never ceases to amaze me in the first rounds where potential contestants are herded into sports arenas like cattle is the number of broken-hearted teenagers and 20-year-olds who had no freaking idea that they were mediocre/average/downright awful singers. What…the…what? No one ever told you!?!?!
Envision if you will the running mascara, the tearful hugs, the sad head shakes, and my personal favorite, the people who begin cussing, flipping off, and attacking the camera crew and judges because “they have no idea what they’re talking about.” Classy. And kiddos, I blame your parents. And sadly, some bad parenting choices have now put you, the kid, front and center on national television looking like an idiot because mom and dad never manned up and told you maybe singing wasn’t your thing.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve discussed parenting strategies with my mom because, well, I think she was a great mom, and our parents raised my brother Greg and me to be well-adjusted, confident (not cocky), productive members of society. Mom told me that the best thing we can do for our children is to give them “roots and wings.” I’ve thought about that a lot as I became a parent, and I think that parents today forget the balance: we’re giving too much “wing,” not enough “root,” and trophies just for participating.
Don’t get me wrong. I tell my kids every day how wonderful they are. Sarah (7yo), Tate (4yo), and Sawyer (20 months) are smart, funny, kind, athletic, good-looking, amazing kids…(I mean, the boys can sometimes be a pain, but they’re still learning, so I’m giving them credit here). We talk about what they want to be when they grow up. Sarah admitted early on that she would like to be an artist and a princess…now a 2nd grader, she says she’d like to be a teacher. Tate would like to be a green dinosaur. Yep. He said that. And no, I haven’t quashed their dreams.
Yet, I also know there will come a day when I need to be honest (hopefully not live on the American Idol, season 38 tryouts) and steer them toward something at which they are better, instead of what may not be working for them.
I hope even more that my kids will be self-confident enough to back away from things themselves…before we even have to have the tough conversation. And I will love them the whole way, and support them the whole way. I want them to know they can be anything (except, perhaps, a dinosaur).
I may be raising the next Taylor Swift, or Mark Zuckerberg, or the next great actor or athlete…or I may be raising perfectly well-adjusted non-famous productive members of society. Either way, I want them to be happy and to know that Jeff and I support them and adore them.
But…I must take a moment to give you a few real-life examples from teenagers I’ve taught or encountered at school. These guys may have benefitted from a bit less “wing,” a tad more “root.”
Me: So what do you plan to do after graduation? (It’s April, and graduation is three weeks away.)
Senior Girl: Well, I’m considering either becoming a cosmetologist or a pediatrician.
Me: (with a straight face…you would’ve been proud) Well, those require different levels of education. How did you do in Biology, for example?
Girl: I passed with a “C” the second time around. What do you mean different levels?
Me: (keeping composure, though it’s harder now) Hmmm…well, doctors go to school for many years, and they have to choose a specialty, and do residency training…stuff like that.
Girl: Oh. Well, I’ll probably just go to cosmetology school then. I’m so over school.
(Disclaimer: not knocking either profession…I use them both all the time!!) Wow. That really happened. I know, right?
Me: So what do you plan to do after graduation?
Junior Boy: I’m planning to go into the NBA.
Me: Oh, that’s exciting. What position do you play on the school team?
Jr: I’m not on the school team. I’m not into organized ball.
Me: (keeping straight face) Hmmm…so how do you plan to hit the NBA if you’re “not into organized ball”?
Jr: (walks away)
Huh? Has no one had the common courtesy to tell this kid that NBA scouts don’t hang out in the ‘hood watching pants-sagging ball players instead of at college arenas? Too many movies? Where does this happen in a movie?
Exhibit C (my fave):
Scene: I’m babysitting In-School Suspension during lunch because I’ve been forced to. May as well make the best of it. I choose a small, skinny 9th grade boy with bleached-blonde hair and huge clothes.
Me: So, what are you in for?
Kid: (blank stare) Huh?
Me: Why are you in ISS?
Kid: Oh, you know, this teacher hates me, man. Hates me.
Me: Well, what do you want to do with your life? You need to have future plans beyond ISS.
Kid: I’m gonna be a rapper.
At this very moment, I have taken a sip of water and accidentally spray it out on the ISS teacher’s computer as I’m stifling laughter.
Me: Really? Who are your influences?
Kid: Definitely Eminem, but there’s some others you probably haven’t heard of.
He’s right…I haven’t heard of his examples. It’s because most of them have launched their “rap careers” on YouTube, as this guy plans to do also.
Me: What do you rap about? (wiping water from ISS teacher’s computer)
Kid: Aw, you know. Growin’ up in the ‘hood.
Me: The ‘hood? Where do you live?
Kid: Mt. Juliet.
Me: (laughing now…can’t help it. Possibly killing the dream of middle-class Eminem.) Dude, I hate to break it to you, but Mt. Juliet…is not the ‘hood. It’s about as safe as it gets. And furthermore, there are cows across the street from our school. I’m guessing that you can’t rap about life in the ‘hood if you can hear cows when the bus picks you up to go home…just sayin’.
So, I wonder, in all this time, these kids had big dreams, and though I didn’t want to be the one to say “nay,” shouldn’t someone have already said that? How can anyone get to the end of high school and not realize the lack of NBA talent scouts hanging around the school, or the difference in med school and cosmetology school?
It is our responsibility as parents to give both roots and wings, to love and support our children, but also (eventually) to be realistic with them. Right?