I love Miley Cyrus.
Go ahead. I dare you. Name any of the superstar's mega hits from her long-running Disney show, "I Wanna Know You," "The Climb" "Wherever I Go," and I will proudly flourish my iPod, which is chock full of her gutsy ballads.
For years, I've been rocking to Miley. Her unique brand of country/pop, that distinctive twang, her full-on "moxie," not to mention her comedic skills that rival Lucille Ball, have sustained me through the bland adult world: particularly grueling job interviews and slogging through the mind-numbing college application process with my eldest. Without Miley Cyrus, my landscape would have been one-dimensional: a tuneless world of Light FM and unflavored coffee.
Recently, my 9-year-old daughter stumbled upon the pop singer's controversial video, "Wrecking Ball." At first, Tamara, who is a veteran of the acclaimed Disney series and has committed every single episode to memory, was puzzled.
"Mom, why is Hannah Montana swinging from a ball?"
I swallowed. The time had come.
My daughter's simple inquiry was the beginning of a far more nuanced, philosophical discussion. Would she want to know why Ms. Cyrus was nude or more importantly, why she was wearing combat boots without going into battle? Perhaps, on a practical note, Tamara was curious if Ms. Cyrus had debated the merits of her cutting her long, luxurious tresses before sporting an androgynous buzz cut? Where were the rhinestone outfits, the overflowing rock goddess closet that had been exchanged for a Kate Moss, Calvin Klein-esque backdrop? Maybe I needed to introduce the term "feminism" or launch into a formal preamble about the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps I couldn't delay that dreaded word, "puberty" any longer and a lengthy discussion of all the rights of passage that accompanied it.
"What do you mean?" I asked my daughter.
"She looks like she might fall off the ball," Tamara said. She was concerned.
"Miley's fine," I reassured her.
Tamara was staring, sadly. "I miss her TV show, Mom. Where's Hannah Montana?"
"She's there," I said. "She's just grown up, that's all."
And then, as predicable as the back and forth pendulum swing of Miley's wrecking ball, I saw that my real parental duty was to reveal that "growing up" is a delicate process. While each of us undertakes our own "climb" (to borrow Miley's terms) and determines our unique destination, we invariably navigate the metaphorical "mountain" alone and in so doing, must learn to respect one another's journey. Or something like that.
The impending discussion reminded me of watching "Sex In The City" when my oldest daughter, Eliza, was in high school. Curiously, Eliza was never interested in or disturbed by any of the show's "sex" scenes. What did deeply perturb her about Sarah Jessica Parker was distilled into an essential, pragmatic question, "Mom, how can a freelance writer afford her own apartment in Manhattan and buy Manolo Blahniks?
I tried to stand in Miley Cyrus's Doc Martins. For just a moment, I imagined what it must be like to live life "front and center" where every nuance, every flash of my smile, real or forced, would be recorded for posterity and replayed in ridiculous Technicolor in a dizzying array of social media.
As an awkward and nerdy tween myself, an insecure adolescent who stayed at home dateless-- hiding my body beneath overalls and my acne behind thick editions of Jane Eyre--I would never have been able to memorize and deliver mindless dialogue every week in the midst of preening television cameras before live audiences. Never mind the pressure of going to work, like Ms. Cyrus, with the toughest boss I still have, my father, who every time I write anything asks, "can't you do better?"
As an "adult" I often wonder if I have the guts, like Miley, to follow my instincts, right or wrong, to their inevitable ends. But luckily, unlike celebrities whom we seem to revere and simultaneously revile when they surprise us, I have been fortunate to make my mistakes in private.
"Mom?" Tamara was waiting for an answer.
It was time to take the discussion in a new direction, to work with the metaphor of "construction."
"After she's finished with this project," I said. "I'm sure she'll get tired of swinging, get down from her ball, and come back an even stronger Hannah Montana."
At least, for all the years that the two of us have enjoyed watching her TV show and listening to her music, I hope so.