This is a special “guest” post from my wife Michelle, a talented writer, wonderful mom and my pop culture partner-in-crime. I wanted to call her Mama Nugget. She declined.
The conversation went something like this:
Nurse: Do you like Hannah Montana stickers?
Maia: No. Who’s she?
Me: She’s a girl on TV who sings and has concerts.
Maia: Like Ashley, Mama?
Me: Yes, like Ashley.
Nurse (to me): She doesn’t know Hannah Montana? Good. Keep it that way. That Miley Cyrus with her YouTube videos and risque clothes and makeup, she is headed for trouble. She’s no role model.
Nurse (to Maia): Do you want princess stickers instead?
At this doctor’s visit, the complicated issues surrounding providing good role models for our daughter presented themselves in full force. This concept of a role model is not something I think I fully prepared myself for when I first rejoiced over finding out I was having a baby girl, and it’s definitely something with which I’ll continue to wrestle. Maia has become infected with the Princess bug, despite our initial struggle to keep her immune to it. And I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Sure, there’s plenty of research out there about the negative effects of the Princess Phenomenon. From the focus on beauty to the notion of the damsel in distress, the messages aren’t so hot for a young girl in a modern world. After meeting their prince only once, the princesses fall head over heels in love and want only to get married. No education, no career goals, no desire to do charity work or travel the globe. Yuck.
But I am losing a battle, one which I’m not so sure I actually am even fighting very hard, or even want to call a battle at all. The smile that comes over my daughter’s face when she sees Princess toothpaste or a box of Princess raisins is one I’m not interested in squelching. I don’t know how or why this particular property thrills her in this way, but the bottom line is, it does, and I love seeing my daughter thrilled. Fairy tales, whether told by Disney or not, have been around since the beginning of time, and they’ve lasted through the ages for some valid reason. I heard them as a kid, and I still grew up to be a money-earning, home-owning, confident woman who uses the hammer and screwdriver arguably more than my husband. The princess tales may infultrate her well-being to a certain extent, but all I can do as a mother is make sure I counteract any of that stereotypical girl stuff with other role models, giving Maia a wide variety of options. She will hopefully learn lessons about friendship, hope and generosity just as much as she learns any other negative lesson from the princess tales, and she won’t only have Ariel and Cinderella to look up to.
Which brings me back to Ashley, mentioned above in the doctor’s office conversation. Ashley is Ashley Albert of the kids’ band The Jimmies, and she is Maia’s true idol. She may be playing with princess dolls, but she is often making Belle sing and dance to songs like “It’s Cool to be Uncool” or “Bedhead.” And beyond that, when she talks about what she wants to wear, or who she wants to be like when she grows up, her answer is not “Cinderella,” it’s “Ashley.” She doesn’t see the Princesses she loves as real people, but she imitates the dance moves and even the expressions that she sees and hears on The Jimmies’ “Trying Funny Stuff” DVD – the first DVD from the kindie rock band, which features music videos, a live concert and a behind-the-scenes documentary. I catch her in the living room singing along with the concert, watching Ashley intently, flipping her hair and wiping the sweat off of her lip just like Ashley. She knows all the words, the order of the concert’s songs, and all the right moves. We even had to buy a new copy of the DVD after Maia decided she didn’t want to wait for mom or dad and tried to shove the disc into the player, essentially runing it.
I have a feeling that if Maia were to watch a Hannah Montana performance, she’d like it. But the nurse was right – mainstream, tabloid-ready, rich and famous kids might not be the best influences on Maia. Kids’ singers like Ashley Albert fly below the tabloid radar but are still glamorous and amazingly cool to Maia. Maia has always had a love for music, and a talent for it too, I think, and I am nothing but happy that she wants to follow in the footsteps of someone like Ashley, who has fantastic talent and lots of wit too. She’s beautiful, without overdoing it. She wears fun, poofy dresses without the diamonds and crowns. And she puts herself out there, laughing at herself, being silly and having a great time while performing. The behind-the-scenes documentary really displays what a passionate, hard worker Ashley is, creating many of the sets and props for her amazingly elaborate music videos. It’s not meant to do that – it’s both a hysterical and honestly educational piece of the DVD that I love to watch – but it is teaching Maia some lessons about what it takes to be like Ashley while it makes her (and me) laugh.
As far as role models go, I’ll take Ashley any day. Ariel, Cinderella, Aurora and company may inspire her love for pink and storytelling, but role models like this unselfconscious musician teach a young girl to forget poise and posture and celebrate her beautiful, quirky, unique self.