I have to be honest: I’m never really too shocked when it’s revealed that some celebrity or other has fallen from their pedestal. Some of their falls from grace are a bit more surprising than others, but somewhere deep down, I think I expect it in some way. And I think it’s because celebrities have never been my heroes. Okay, full disclosure: I think I wanted to be Sheila E., or one of the girls from “The Revolution” for a minute back in 1984-85. Or else the girl from “Flashdance”. But those dreams died out in the harsh glare of reality. I have never had any musical talent and while the fantasy of being a welder/dancer was a great one, I found out Jennifer Beals didn’t even do any of that stuff. Illusions shattered. So yeah, I burned out on celebrity heroes at an early age.
My hero was my grandma, Dorothy.
I’ve talked about her in another post. “Bless Your Heart”? Yeah, that was her. And in many ways, that summed up some of what I loved best about her. She was funny as hell, and never afraid to be goofy or silly in front of her grandkids. I was convinced until I was in my late teens that she had invented spoonerisms (I didn’t know there was a word for what she did). She’d say “bon of a sitch” instead of cursing in front of us kids (because we were evidently not too bright? I dunno.) She was empathetic to a fault. I never once cried in front of her that she didn’t start crying herself. She was that way with everyone and everything – couldn’t stand to see suffering. And she really did that whole “bless your heart” thing – she didn’t say anything bad about someone without following it up with something good or just a “Bless her heart, she’s trying.” She was kind and a genuinely sweet person, unless you messed with her kids or grandkids – then it was straight-up Mama Bear. Even then she was sweet – you just knew not to push it any further. I honestly never met anyone that didn’t like her. Even her sons’ ex-wives really never had anything bad to say about her – a couple of them came to her funeral services to pay their respects.
Was she perfect? No, not at all. And she was the first one to point out her flaws. My dad used to love to tease me with stories about how vast the transformation was for her between being a mom and becoming a grandma. And when I got to be a little bit older, I learned about some of the struggles she’d had in life and some of the mistakes she’d made. It didn’t change my opinion of her one bit. Because her good qualities outweighed the bad. And I knew that she’d never willfully done anything to hurt anyone; she was just human. She was a good soul. And for as long as I can remember, my deepest wish was to be like her. Her opinion mattered more than almost anyone’s. When I found out I was pregnant just a couple of weeks after high school graduation, I was more afraid of her reaction than anyone else’s. I just couldn’t stand the thought that she’d be disappointed in me. My parents were going to tell her, but I told them I wanted to do it myself. Do you know what she said?
“Well, these things happen. It’ll be okay.”
I bet you were expecting something crazy profound, eh? Nope. She wasn’t Buddha. She was just Grandma. And she knew exactly what I needed to hear, and you know what else? She was right. It was all okay. And 6 years later, when I had a really bad miscarriage and was absolutely heartbroken, she called me. Now, I have to point out, she was a product of her generation and not at all comfortable talking about matters of reproduction and the like. All she said was, “The same thing happened to me a few times and the doctor always told me to get lots of iron, eat lots of red meat. You take good care of yourself.” And when I started to cry, I could tell she was, too. But once again, she knew exactly what to say, and it wasn’t anything profound or deep. She just let me know that she cared.
So yeah, I never needed sports stars or movie stars as heroes. (Not that I wouldn’t do a “Wife Swap” episode with Brad and Angelina if they asked *hint hint*.) And when it came to raising my own kids, trying to be like Grandma became the way I dealt with most things. I adopted a sort of “WWDD” attitude – What Would Dorothy Do? It just meant that I tried to do my best, tried to make sure they knew I loved them, and tried not to be too hard on myself when I made mistakes. And I tried never to take life too seriously and be silly and goofy whenever I could. I’ve even come close to making fried chicken as good as hers, but I know close is as good as it’s probably going to get.
In the end, I think that’s our job as parents – to be heroes to our kids so they don’t have to go looking elsewhere for them. And that doesn’t require heroic effort. It just requires loving them unconditionally, being there, realizing they’re always watching and emulating us and admitting when we make mistakes and trying to do better next time. Those cardboard heroes can’t ever live up to the pedestal that people put them on, and just one news article or paparazzi photo can make them lose heart. They might not ever say so, but we’re their first heroes by default. Just like Grandma was mine.
So today, on the occasion of what would have been Grandma Dorothy’s 91st birthday, I challenge you to find your hero and think of ways that you can be more like them. And while you’re at it, realize that you are probably someone else’s hero – act like it.
Happy Birthday, Grandma! And happy Friday to all of you!
– Mama Bear