Sunday, July 5, 2009

Childhood dreams and their parents' realities

I moved to Los Angeles at the age of 12 to "make it" into show biz. Like many to come before, and many to come after, I never quite had my big break, but I had a few tastes here and there. Looking back, and looking forward as a mother with one daughter that loves to be in the center of the spotlight, I'm quite relieved.

We all know that Michael Jackson's legacy is not without its dark spots. We've all read about the various troubles that many childhood stars have had. We blame it on Hollywood, on uninvolved parents, on children growing up before their time, and all of that probably has some truth. Yet there are also some bright spots and beacons of hope for parents of aspiring actors and musicians to turn to: Ron Howard is a great example. Sarah Jessica Parker also seemed to survive it pretty well (for those who might not know, Sarah Jessica Parker starred as the title character in Annie on Broadway back in the day), and a few, like Drew Barrymore, were able to overcome earlier struggles. But parenting is not easy for anyone anywhere. Parenting through throngs of fans has to be a nightmare.

I recently watched the documentary "Life After Tomorrow" about many of the actresses that had performed on Broadway or in the national tour of Annie. Once upon a time, I was up for a national tour of Annie, so I was particularly interested to learn their stories.

They had all the expected fame and special treatment one would expect. Apparently, the Broadway cast got to spend a lot of time at Studio 54 (when it was - you know - Studio 54!), at the ripe age of 12! Their on-site tutors didn't have much authority to ensure that the kids actually got a valuable education. Some of the parents took advantage of their time away from their spouses to explore their newfound freedom, which led to a lot of divorces.

It was difficult for them to re-enter the "real world" after their year or so of fame. In Annie, once you reach a certain height, that's it. So with very little warning, these 12 or 13 year old girls were sent home back to their normal life. This is a difficult age for any girl, let alone one that's just stepped off the roller coaster. Many wished they'd had counseling to get them through this adjustment period.

Michael never got off the roller coaster. Many of the child stars from TV were pushed off when their series ended. In any of these cases, a strong support system was needed.

My mother also watched the documentary, and looked at that time in a whole new way. Whenever we had wondered "what if" had I gotten the job, we never considered what it would've meant to break up our family like that for a year. We never saw anything but the bright lights.

It's easy to make snap judgments about families that allow their children to pursue their dream. I watch my daughter now, and see how much she shines when she's on stage. I see a confidence in her that's not quite so present when she's not. I know how hard she's worked to perform so well. I see her thinking of others when she watches her spacing in a dance number, or gives her scene partner an encouraging nod. I know that every performance has given my daughter something I could never teach her by lecturing, or that she could learn in a book.

Yet I keep her away from the agents and managers and "opportunities" that we have here in L.A. I know for every job she'd book, there would be dozens more that she didn't. I know that I can't afford to jeopardize my normal 8 to 5 job to drive her all over town to the various studios and casting offices for auditions. And I know I can't, as much as I'd love to, give her the emotional support she would need to survive both the successes and the disappointments.

I try not to judge Jackson's family or anyone's family too harshly for helping their kids pursue their dreams. Still, there's a lot more to being a parent to a child star than many of us could ever fathom.

Originally posted on LA Moms Blog, July 5, 2009.

No comments: