Gonna’ have the whole world on a plate

Facebook  is crawling with Jackson clips.  Watching them, I see snapshots from his first twenty-five years.  There is the stunning “I’ll Be There” and the groundbreaking 1983 “Billie Jean,” but there is nothing from the last two decades.  This may be because people want to respect the dead and show those moments when he really was the pinnacle of charisma and talent, rather than remembering him for what he became.

But what he became started with those clips.  He was a talented child who was thrust into the limelight, perhaps willingly but certainly far too young.  What that early fame did to his psyche?  Well, that’s the stuff of speculation, but I think we all have a rough idea.

He was pushed out into a fame that most adults would be ill-prepared to handle, but Jackson was only a small child, barely older than my eldest son, who still sleeps with his blankie and rides in a car seat.  That he could perform so well under those circumstances is astonishing; that he ever was put into that situation in the first place is tragic.

Sometimes, our children are capable of amazing feats.  They may be gifted in some activity, able to provoke gasps of astonishment from onlookers.  We will be tempted to push them forward, bedazzled by the possibility that they will accomplish something great.  When that happens, we must remind ourselves that normalcy is the highest joy to which we can aspire for them.  A life lived in peace, a productive life that gives back, to be sure, but one that allows them to attend neighborhood block parties.  Perhaps they will become famous – it happens sometimes – or perhaps they will be known only to a small circle of people like the rest of us.  Let’s leave that to their adulthood.

What I want most for my children right now is for them to have their childhoods.  I will take pride in their accomplishments and I will push them to develop a work ethic, but I will always try to remember that being alone at the top is often counter to living a fulfilling life.  When they die, perhaps millions of people will mourn them, perhaps not.  Either way, all that will matter will be that they filled their days with a joy that tasted like peaches.

24 responses to “Gonna’ have the whole world on a plate

  1. Excellent perspective.

    P.S. I’d like some days with joy that tastes like peaches, too, please.

  2. You’ve really been knocking my socks off lately. And you are so right. Normalcy and block parties and joy are excellent goals. The very best.

    (Although I confess I don’t really like peaches. But I do understand the sentiment.)

  3. thank you for this

    i totally agree

  4. Absolutely, like Britney Spears and Carrie Fisher, and further back, Liza Minnelli. I don’t understand the obsession with thrusting children into the spotlight – it is such a terribly damaging thing to do.

  5. I’m all about a happy childhood and happily my kids have no abnormal talents to tempt me. Although Shirley Temple turned out OK. Actually so did Carrie Fisher – OK, marrying Paul Simon was slightly odd but I might have traded a few golden childhood memories for a chance to co-star in the movie of the century with young Harrison Ford.

  6. I loved this. My husband and I watched the Dateline special last night and were talking about how sad things turned out for him. Can’t say that I have much respect left, in light of his actions later in his life, but damn he was talented.

  7. yes, yes, yes. I was feeling strangely odd about all the adulation last night – of course, I admire talent – but my strongest urge is to protect my kids, and the dangers of fame are so real, so clear. Nothing could ever make me think that my kids would be an exception.

  8. Couldn’t agree more. My feet are wearing out from trying to put the brakes on my son’s brilliant baseball career at the moment — not quite the same thing, but there are similarities. Anyone who actually wants their child to be famous should examine their motives very carefully, in my opinion.

  9. I missed all the montages last night and it’s just as well. I “remember when” just like everyone else, but I also remember who and what he became.

    Even the most talented child stars who seem to have it all together have haunts that we rarely see. Personal relationships are called into question daily – do they like me for me or do they like me because I am… it’s not a very settling way to build the core values of trust, self worth and integrity. Yet our culture continues to build these people up and watch as they destroy themselves.

  10. My little girl had a chance to be on TV and I said no, for reasons just like this. I also worry she is too beautiful, since beauty can be like fame.

  11. I have often thought that the rare kids who are both famous and “normal” (“normal-ish?”) turn out that way because their PARENTS are execptional. The kids are talented, sure, but it’s their parents who are tasked with the herculean job of straddling the wide chasm between normality and fame, and with maintaining a firm grip on each side. It seems like the parents who do this the best are the ones who really don’t give a crap whether or not the kid is famous. If the kid wants to be famous, the parents are ok with that, but they aren’t INVESTED in it. Does that make sense?

    The most “normal” celeb kid I can think of is Miley Cyrus, actually. But I also know that her parents keep all the kids on a fairly tight leash, and they’re known for telling the kids that being famous takes a distant second to being good human beings. They’re just not as invested in the idea of famous kids as someone like say, Dina Lohan seems to be.

    But I can’t imagine the kind of hyper-vigilance required to maintain that kind of grip on both sides of the chasm.

  12. I don’t want to say that children need normalcy- that’s a relative term, at best- but they do need to be in an environment where it is clear that their needs are foremost. I don’t think anyone can say Jackson grew up in such a place.

  13. I totally agree with you, Emily.

  14. I only listened to Michael’s early solo work, and a few of the Jackson 5 songs. I guess his later work just didn’t appeal to me. He was definitely a great artist. And I found much of his personal life (what little I know of it) to be very, very sad.

    I do not wish my children fame, only happiness.

  15. I’m with you. Plus, I love peaches.

  16. It must be hard to see a child with exceptional talents and drive them to excel in that talent, and yet know when to slow it down. Although, I think that in many cases, child stars are not really more talented than some of the other kids sitting around at home. But, their parents have made the decision that their child needs to be a star and is willing to put all their time and energy and money into making it so. this seems to be the dangerous part, because the parents are so invested in the child and their “success” (gymnastics is another field that comes to mind) that they don’t always know when they have crossed the line into turning their child into a product rather than parenting a child.

  17. This is an excellent post, Emily – I wholeheartedly agree. What sticks out for me the most is this quote: “He was pushed out into a fame that most adults would be ill-prepared to handle, but Jackson was only a small child, barely older than my eldest son, who still sleeps with his blankie and rides in a car seat.”

    That is so true, and so, so telling.

  18. This is a beautiful post, Emily, and while I don’t have children currently, if and when I do I hope to give them just that – normalcy, and joy in the every day.

  19. Spot on, Emily.

  20. I couldn’t agree more! We’re on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to parenting. We don’t push him to do anything he doesn’t truly enjoy — well, except for school. If only he enjoyed school ;(

  21. *nods head*

    I have something else to say but I’m feeding Mimi right now.

  22. This could easily venture off into the domain of overly scheduled kids. But we’ll stick to MJ and his limelight infested childhood. I’m definately on board with your block party and peaches agenda. The world needs more moms like you.

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  24. I love your last paragraph. It’s a righteous parenting philosophy.