Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who's Your Role Model?

Our constant haggling over the Jonas Brothers (okay, MY constant haggling) has had new wood added to the fire as Tanya and Nancy—Jessie’s teachers at Storefront—told her yesterday that the Jonas Brothers were not appropriate role models for a young woman of her age. She was more than slightly miffed as she shared this little piece of her day with me.

Taylor Hicks, Season 5 American
Idol winner lining up for JB tickets
I do wonder, sometimes, where she gets this tendency to fawn over TV/pop stars from and am quick and happy to blame it on Dan. Not that he would even deign to watch the show, but he is the guy who can relate to late nights watching movies on TV. His are usually in black and white and involve long-dead actors and auteurs, but that doesn’t stop me from pining the fame blame on him.

When Jessie was little, I wouldn’t even have Barbies in the house. At least not until I was forced to let one in when it came as a gift and I was obliged to welcome it as an act in our moral commitment to inclusion. Really! It was my first ethical conundrum around inclusion because all of Jessie’s friends were playing with Barbies and by denying her that experience, I risked further separating her from her peers. Of course, as all parents will tell you, things change. You let your moral compass shift slightly off true North and welcome any diversion that will buy you more than 5 minutes alone in the bathroom, or, in our case, any diversion or interest that will connect your child to their peers.

However, the Jonas Brothers, and all things Jonas and Camp Rock and Disney, are driving me to distraction and may even require some serious intervention. I’m just not absolutely sure who needs the intervention.

Do I lay down the line as to what I deem acceptable as entertainment and as a way to spend one’s time, or do I respect her choices? We have tried to lead her to other sources of joy. There is no doubt in Dan’s mind that my proclivity is toward social justice and that I see beauty in magnolias, not Miley Cyrus. Dan himself loves baseball, biographies, and jazz. Most of our family games (and we have played LOTS of family games) were of the cooperative variety; the TV shows she watched growing up were on TVO and PBS; best-loved stories were often the classics (Wind in the Willows, Little Women, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Story of Rosa Parks); and outings were usually to farms and museums and rarely to any place that had a roller coaster.

When Jessie shared her dismay (or was it disdain?) about Tanya and Nancy’s response to her chosen role models, she was taking a risk, because she knew full well my own opinion about the Jonas Brothers. So I took a moment to reflect (instead of jumping on the bandwagon), and asked her if she could explain WHY the Jonas Brothers were her role models. She came up with a pretty good answer: because they loved music, they respected their mother, they were family oriented, they were fun-loving, and they wanted to share their love of music with everyone. That, I pointed out, made sense. She grinned.

Then she thought for a while and said “Okay. Maybe I just shouldn’t share that with them. Maybe the Jonas Brothers can be my role models but I just don’t tell them that.” That, to my mind, was an interesting and thoughtful solution. And we talked about what we share with other people and how we choose the appropriate place and people with whom we share certain interests. Let’s face it. She does have a few friends (both with and without disabilities) who love the Jonas Brothers.

She was quiet for a moment and then said “But I also think of Nellie McClung, from the Famous Five (women who fought for women’s rights in Canada) as a role model I guess, and Nelson Mandella.” (I admit, this made me feel a bit better about my parenting skills.) We talked more about role models and what they mean to us and how we find new role models as we mature and meet the world in different ways. We talked about her former dance teacher and mentor, Hannah Beach, as being a role model, and Craig Keilburger (Canadian activist for the rights of children), and Alito Allessi (the founder of DanceAbility).

I also realized that since she has exited formal schooling (i.e., classes in English, Civics, Geography etc.) she is not as exposed to new people and ideas as she was. She doesn’t read the newspaper, doesn’t really listen to the news, rarely watches current affairs TV, and our days seem so filled that there is not as much time as there used to be to discuss current events or social issues. That’s something I hadn’t really thought about as we transition into adulthood, and I realized that it’s something we might need to address (although I am not sure how!).

But as I watched her process and think and be willing to consider new ways of stepping out into the world, I began to feel very proud of her. Even though she loves the Jonas Brothers, she also loves her best friends, her family, and her art. She is passionate, determined, loyal, and has an uncanny ability to believe in something even when the world is trying to force her in a different direction. She is unafraid to dance on the beach to music that only she can hear, and if only more of us were willing to do that, it might be a more interesting world. So maybe Jessie should be MY new role model.

Photo source:


Gary said...

That really is such an odd day isn't it? When we get smacked with the realization that maybe we've been so busy trying to capture every opportunity to "teach" that we forgot to recognize that they may have actually "learned". Failed to recognize that they may actually apply the knowledge?!

Jeremy's done that to me on more than one occasion and it completely sets me back on my heels.

You have every reason to be proud of Jess Nancy but you and Dan have just as much reason to be proud of how you helped her get there.

Love you guys!

Anonymous said...

jesse is a role model for all of us! and there is nothing like knowing your own mind and heart; likes and dislikes. good for you, nan, for asking why and listening so truly and deeply.

Adelaide Dupont said...

Well, Jessie's schooling was probably exceptional in exposing her to new ideas and people.

It was interesting that you mentioned Craig Keilberger. I do remember the man very well from 2001, when he decided to do something for children's rights.

"She came up with a pretty good answer: because they loved music, they respected their mother, they were family oriented, they were fun-loving, and they wanted to share their love of music with everyone."

Those are all great reasons to have a role model.

And the Jonas Brothers are very self-determined and entrepreneurial. They know how to work the system.

And the Internet is one big way to be exposed to new ideas and people.

In disability services the "role" seems to be centralised and the "model" marginalised. I wonder if this is also so in services dedicated wholly or partly to inclusion.

Nan said...

Thanks all, strangers and friends alike, for the comments on this. I like that our kids teach us! And the point that the Jonas Brothers are entrepreneurial. I will have to remember that one. Here's to all starting school again and to all parents of kids with special needs: may you have the fortitude and courage to keep advocating. We are all with you!

Beth said...

Hi Nan!
Jonas Brothers...blech. But, my kids love them, too. Mostly my daughter loves them because she thinks they're cute, which is not nearly as good as the reasons Jessie gave you.
Thank you SO MUCH for your encouraging comment on my blog. The poem Jessie's teachers wrote made me cry in my coffee. That is what I want for Jude.
I can't tell you how much I appreciate your sharing it with me.
If you find any of those articles you mentioned, please pass them along. I am making a file!

Nan said...

TOP links for back to school and inclusion:
Project Participate tips to share with teachers, professionals at and great reseach on education and inclusion and down syndrome at the DownsEd Trust

Adelaide Dupont said...

Nan, Jess and everyone:

Joe Jonas is running in Florida for the Special Olympics.

Anonymous said...

Admitting to liking something when many of the people around you disapprove is a difficult thing to do. As someone attending a borderline pertinacious liberal arts collage this fact has become increasingly evident to me. Too often I laugh off my love of cheesy music, dramatic medical dramas and reality TV--or pin it down to 'irony.' I respect Jess for sticking to her passions (and in this case, I do think her love of the Jonas brothers can be safely called a passion) in the face of criticism. I wish I had more of her self confidence and honesty.

also as a side note, Jonas now shows up on Firefox's spell check. Go figure.