Parents: Life’s Sneaky Dreamkillers

Don't be fooled: Her mother may someday tell her she'll never be the first woman to sing "Run the World (Girls)" on a space shuttle.

As he accepted a BET Honors award for his storied filmmaking career, Spike Lee spoke one of the truest, saddest, most poignant statements ever.

“It has been my observation,” he said, “that parents kill more dreams than anybody.”

I shook my head and clapped in furious agreement. Yes, Mr. Lee. You don’t have to wait for your 11th-grade chemistry teacher to tell you “you’re smart, but you don’t have the logic to the complete the labs.” Sure, she can shatter your dreams of attending Johns Hopkins Medical School–rendering all your hours of studying the MCAT guide and college biology textbooks over summer vacation futile–but your hopes can crumble much earlier. The blow needn’t come from strangers tossing your resume or disgruntled online commenters with their drawers in a wad about their own deferred aspirations.

Undoubtedly, the jab that smacks your dreams to the mat can come from your parents, the people who gave you your chromosomes, the people you’d expect would offer you the most encouragement and support. Shameful.

Now, I must admit I’m coming from a slightly different angle here. Except for the stint in sixth-grade erotica, My parents always encouraged me to pursue the career that would fulfill me. At 11, it was medicine. I promised my mother I would become a doctor, and though that pubescent hope is still possible–Me, Ph.D sounds pretty good–I will most likely never be a physician. Now, thankfully, that is okay with me. It wasn’t when Ms. Chemistry Dreamkiller so smilingly offered me her .02 about my scientific aptitude, but today, I’m comfortable with being a patient. At least I can win trivia games with my knowledge of the periodic table.

[Which is the only other element besides mercury that is a liquid at room temperature? Bromine!!]

Some parents, though, really do kill their kids’ dreams, either by telling them, flat-out, that they’ll never get into college, Hollywood, or anywhere else, or indirectly leading their starry-eyed offspring to another vocation. You’ve probably seen the completely sane dance moms on TLC.

I understand how big dreams can sound to practical folks. I still get the courtesy nods–“Oh, ok, that’s good,” with the patronizing smile–when I tell some people my dream is to write for a magazine in NYC. I can’t be upset though, because that’s the same nod that I, admittedly, give to 35-year-old aspiring rappers. Some dreams just seem to farfetched for others to grasp, including parents. Parents are people, and people are judgmental.

But what good would come of us if no one dreamed of anything even remotely spectacular? We wouldn’t have half the amenities–shoot, even pants with zippers–if someone hadn’t dreamed sideways. And if the encouragement to dream big begins anywhere, it should begin at home and then in school, the two places children spend most of their time.

The world is going to give children enough heat. That’s why parents should instill genuine confidence in their children, confidence that compels youngsters to think boldly yet prudently. Kids should always get a healthy dose of realism and flexibility: Telling a child she’s a lazy bum is no better than telling her she’s the smartest kid in the world, as both statements leave no room for variation. But for the most part, parents or guardians should be the child’s first cheerleaders, even if the aspiration really is off the charts.

Without wild dreams–and someone to believe in them–Spike Lee, Steve Jobs, Oprah, and many, many more people would just be (or have been) regular old folks taking up seats on the Metro.


Alphabetical Advice

Sometimes the most basic chunk of wisdom can carry you through the day. So, for your personal reflection–and hopefully, application–here are 26 inspirational nuggets, alphabet-style. Enjoy!


Accept that you can’t control everything.
Bring your own positive energy to the party.
Cherish the time you spend with family and friends.
Devote yourself to a drama-free life.
Educate yourself indiscriminately.
Fix problems before they worsen.
Gush over the simple pleasures.
Hold on to the passion you had as a child.
Invest in your talents.
Judge food and movies, not people.
Keep an emergency fund.
Listen when someone tells you about his or her struggles.
Measure happiness on your own scale.
Nourish yourself with whole foods.
Offer your seat to a person in need.
Pull your head up when you feel low.
Question the things you’ve believed for years.
Roll up your sleeves and try gardening.
Shake your tail a few times a week.
Trust yourself to make the right decision.
Unsubscribe from mindless gossip.
Vary your daily routine.
Write letters to your past and future selves.
X-press yourself honestly.
Yield to warnings.
Zip your lips and listen sometimes.

What other alphabetical advice can you think of?

Be Faithful…to Yourself

Be faithful to yourself. You need you.

Over the past several years, I’ve been cheating on myself.

With wistful eyes glazed by the sugary lure of Kate Hudson rom-coms, I’ve lingered in halfhearted relationships. I’ve listened to men tell me they want me to keep my hair and nails done. I’ve lain on my back when I wanted to go to sleep or go home. I’ve tried to make it work, knowing I didn’t have anything more to offer a man who gambled with my love for too long. I’ve spent money, time, and energy on men I knew from the beginning were leeches ready to drain the lifeblood from my veins.

I won’t get any of it back. But while I’m still here, I have a chance to recommit to myself the way I would commit to a man.

If I were in a serious relationship, I would be faithful. I would listen to my man, try to meet his needs, encourage him, and spend time with him. As I learned to trust him, I would give him the benefit of the doubt before I listened to others. I would treat him respectfully and fairly. I would criticize him constructively and compliment him frequently.

But if I’m willing to do all of that for someone else, I must do that for myself, because I deserve my devotion first. I need me. Before I can have a meaningful relationship with anyone else, I need to make sure I’ve met my own needs. I must love and care for myself primarily, then spread that love to deserving others. Take it from flight attendants: You can’t be any good to someone else if you’re barely breathing.

In a world full of people who think they know you better than you do, who think it’s your job to spoil them, who try to confine and condemn and control and confuse you, it’s up to you to be faithful to yourself, to the person you know you truly are.

This Valentine’s Day–and every day–commit to you. Don’t cheat on yourself with the Mr. (and Ms.) Wrongs. Love you, respect you, listen to you, and make you a priority. Buy yourself flowers, candy, cards, moscato rose, whatever makes you smile. Write yourself a love note and mean every word. And when someone tries to jeopardize your relationship with yourself, give that person a stiff boot in the rear. Doing so doesn’t mean you’re bitter or cynical–it just means you know how valuable you are and you aren’t willing to settle.

You Only Live Once…

Sorry, Drake. YOLO is not a get-out-of-jail free card.

I have serious issues with the in-vogue motto “You only live once,” or, as Drake says, “YOLO.”

It’s all well and good to enjoy your life, create experiences and pursue your dreams. Because life is so short, no one should waste it on things–and people–they don’t care about.

My problem is with the notion that YOLO is a license to tat your entire body (mucous membranes included), drink Ciroc with your Wheaties, booty-call your best friend’s boyfriend, let your daughter wear shorts on an 18-degree day, and snort packets of Splenda.

The fact is that, yes, while we do only live once, our actions have consequences that we’ll reap in this lifetime. I, for example, like to talk on the phone all night. You only live once, right? But my body pays for those consecutive late-night gabs. And that’s only a teeny-tiny example.

Any gossip blog offers myriad images of the “live fast, die young” mentality. Almost every day Rihanna gets a new tattoo, another ZZ-list celeb gets cement in the hind parts, and a singer throws 5,000 dollar bills on a stripper while throwing back Henny. But no matter how much money, popularity, or talent any of us has, a life lived too far on the edge can be fatal.

One of the most beloved singers ever, Whitney Houston, is an unfortunate example of this fact.

Of course, we should extract and inject as much happiness, peace, energy, joy, excitement, and purpose from and into life as possible. We should be ourselves unapologetically. We should chase our lifelong dreams even when others think we’re better off staying home.

We should not, however, think that we can do what we want without consequences because we’re young. Or sexy. Or rich. Or cool. It’s not cool to hurt others or eat, drink, smoke, and party to excess and stamp YOLO on the deal.

Though we only live once, we–hopefully–will have to live with our choices many more days. We’re free to “do us,” but we’d all be better off making choices we won’t someday regret.

Roland Martin: Tomfoolery By Any Other Name


Enjoy your vacation!

In case you haven’t heard, CNN suspended Roland Martin, a political contributor, for a pretty tasteless–to put it mildly–tweet about a David Beckham’s Super Bowl commercial.

Most people I’ve talked to have said that the gay community is too sensitive. Others say that he shouldn’t have been suspended, that only a foolish person would take his comments literally. But this isn’t about gay or straight or whether slapping the “ish” out of someone is appropriate vernacular for a prominent journalist.

This is, simply, an issue of human rights.

If he had changed just one word–“person” instead of “man”–his tweet would have taken on a far less offensive flavor. We’re not talking about animals here. We’re talking about living, breathing people with feelings. Martin has every right to his opinion, but he should have known his tweet wouldn’t sit well with some people.

Yes, the reasonable person would assume that Martin was only speaking figuratively. But whether he was speaking in jest or truly meant to start a slap-fest ’round the world, he’s a public figure. There are some things you just can’t say when you’re a talking head on a national news channel.

I hope Martin gets some much-needed sensitivity training during his involuntary vacation, plus a heavy dose of common sense. No matter who you are, public recognition plus public foolery always equals public shame.

A Nude Day

Being nude in front of others isn

When my older sister suggested she, my younger sister, and I go to a spa that required nudity in certain areas, I was concerned. I had in mind the crazy image of some nudist cult with men and women swingin’ their private parts while slurping wheat grass smoothies. My stomach is quite delicate, mind you.

But I got naked in front of people I didn’t know. And it wasn’t a big deal.

I’ve never been one of those brave women who bare all at Bally’s or even change clothes briefly in front of others. A year ago, I would’ve tried to wrap four or five of the hand towels they provided around me. But–pardon the anatomically incorrect pun–I boned up. I took a shower and waded nude in a hot tub in front of women I didn’t know, and it didn’t kill me. No one pointed. No one stared. I didn’t care about anyone else, and no one cared about me.

After soaking in the hot tub, I lay on a table while the esthetician scrubbed my entire body down to the white meat. She saw everything–and I mean everything. It didn’t matter, though. What matters is my skin is baby-bottom smooth. And to top a fabulous morning off, my sister presented us with all-expense paid trips to Jamaica!

So, the moral of the story is simple: No one cares about your hiney or any other parts of you that you obsess over. And if they do, they must have some personal issues. Being nervous just draws negative attention to you, so let it go. Take it off and enjoy being in your skin. Accept it, own it, love it.

Just don’t do it like Erykah Badu on a busy Dallas street.