When I was little, ‘Princess Diana’ (correct form: Diana, Princess of Wales) was my childhood role model. I wanted to meet her as I was quite certain she would understand me. We’re both July babies, after all. She reminded me of my favourite childhood Disney princess, Cinderella, most likely because both were sweet and blonde. Therefore, I wanted to be like ‘Princess Diana’. I was around 8 or 9 when I started my first etiquette lesson. Though I cried buckets struggling to sit like a princess and walk in a straight line (my feet turned inward so I often tripped), years of determination and perseverance paid off. Eventually, everyone complimented me on my perfect posture – if nothing else. It was my posture that helped me in ballet, not the other way around. (Unfortunately, I’ve since slouched more often in recent years which is definitely the reason my back hurts so much!) I was also so inspired by the Princess’ charity work, as well as that of Mother Teresa (another role model of mine), that I was determined to do the same. I dreamed of going to Africa someday to give children hope (no, I’m not stereotyping the continent as being super poor but truly beautiful and in some ways, underappreciated). I dreamed of working in an orphanage, surrounded by abandoned babies who would receive so much love from me. If ‘Princess Diana’ was known as ‘The People’s Princess’ and the ‘Queen of Hearts’, I wanted to be the ‘Children’s Princess’.
You can only imagine how devastated I was in 1997 when I learned of the Princess’ death, followed by the passing of Mother Teresa. Two role models gone in one year. I still had my Disney princesses but it wouldn’t be long when I had to keep that a secret or be laughed at by my peers (they laughed anyway). They were all over ‘hot’ celebrities who were the complete opposite of me or whom I wanted to be.
Fastforward to 2011.
Kate Middleton has married Prince William and has become the Duchess of Cambridge. Suddenly, girls and women have reignited their dreams of becoming or being like a princess. Newspapers and magazines had spreads of what the Duchess wore. This fed the hungry [female] public which sought to emulate the Duchess’ style. Every public visit the Duchess makes is watched closely and many girls and women (as well as boys and men) have become inspired to follow in her footsteps. They’re determined to work out more, to do more sports, to volunteer more. The Duchess of Cambridge is a breath of fresh air role model in this polluted world.
I’ve been volunteering with children for many years. I used to love children but what I realised recently is that I loved their admiration. For in the past 2 years, handling a class of Kindergarterens turned out to be too stressful for me. Quite often, [most of] these kids didn’t care to listen to me or hang on to me. I felt unloved and I was relieved when the parents picked up their little brats. “I’m tired of teaching Kindergarten,” I exclaimed to those close to me, “I am not called to be a teacher. I can’t stand First World entitled children.” (It’s true though – I prefer poorer, more grateful children.)
This past weekend, however, taught me to think differently.
In the world of Biebers and Cyruses, I’ve given up on the world. I already expect very little of children and teens because I believe that we have nothing in common. I was talking to another Sunday School teacher from my church about how I could never lead the youth because I’m clearly a loser in their eyes and our tastes are very different. She negated my comment and said that my style is now ‘cool’ and they wouldn’t see me as a loser. Despite the fact that I couldn’t quite believe her, I realised the flaw in my attitude. By giving up on the ‘little ones’, I was leaving them to the influences of others. We always look to famous people, after all, but we’ve forgotten that we are also role models, whether we want to be one or not. Sometimes we make good choices and other times, we make regrettable choices. We can’t necessarily control what others choose to copy. If those in the spotlight, particularly those who clearly have a younger fanbase, are obliged to ‘watch out’ more often and apologise for their actions, we have just as much responsibility to do the same. You might not know little Suzie or Bobby over there but they’re watching you.
On Saturday, a guest youth pastor asked the crowd whether they could think of a teacher or mentor who’d made a huge impact on their lives for over 20 years. One lady aged around her 80’s or 90’s remembered her first grade teacher. Imagine that! Her name and maybe face have been forgotten but who she was and what she did lived on in her pupil’s memory.
It’s ironic that I wanted to be the ‘Children’s Princess’ and when given the chance to be that woman, I’ve given up on the children. What good is that especially when I grow older and have to rely on the younger generation to care for me (i.e. my generation)? If we treat them poorly, what obligation do they have to care about us? What will become of the world if we say, “Go ahead and be spoiled brats! I give up on you!”
Yesterday I decided I would show more understanding and patience to my pupils. They are still children after all and none of them were put into super-strict British schools or etiquette classes (are there any in Vancouver?). I try to remind my Kindys to remember the magic words, to think of others kindly, and to follow the rules. In return, I try to thank and commend them for being well-behaved. It is my hope that they won’t forget these important lessons, even if they might forget who I am in coming years. I know I’m not perfect but it’s very encouraging whenever my current and former pupils acknowledge me outside of class. I hope I did something right!
While I still don’t plan on continuing on as a Sunday School teacher after this summer, I hope to ‘start’ (I can’t do this alone) an etiquette class for poorer girls in the Vancouver DTES, but open to girls of other classes. While girls are still young and inspired by their favourite Disney princesses and heroines, I want to share with them what I’ve learned and how these lessons can empower them. I want to be their fairy godmother and see their delighted faces as they twirl around like a princess. I want to be like an older sister to them or an older friend, just like I’d been when I was younger. I want them to run after their dreams.
That’s the role model I want to be. 🙂
What sort of role model do you want to be?