“Mommy, I really need to write a letter to Lady Gaga. Do you think we can find her address on the internet?”
“I’m sure we can, honey.”
“When she get’s it, do you think she’ll write back to me? I have some questions I want to ask her.”
“I’m not sure, honey. She’s a really busy person you know. But if she doesn’t answer, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t appreciate hearing from you or that you’re not important.”
I have some mixed feeling about my 8 year old son writing a letter to, and expecting a response from, one of the most famous and popular artists in the world. Not because I don’t like her; quite the opposite actually… And, not because I think it’s inappropriate for an 8 year old boy to love/idolize a female pop artist. In fact, the reason I have reservations about it is because A has so much love and admiration for her and I *know* he will be devastated and heartbroken when he never gets a letter back from her.
A has quite recently become Lady Gaga’s biggest fan (at least according to him). There is not a moment that her music is not blasting from his little Bluetooth speaker in the playroom or while doing his chores. He even asks to play it in the car wherever we go. He has become an expert dancer to her songs available on Just Dance. Initially, I assumed this was just a phase that started after I watched A Star is Born and subsequently went on my own little Lady Gaga binge. However, it has persisted and only gotten more intense. I was actually caught off guard when he asked if he could write a letter to her because he’s never shown a remote interest in writing letters to anyone else (even Santa).
“Honey, why do you want to write a letter to Lady Gaga?”
“Because I just think she is so inspirational, Mommy. I mean, she’s really talented and she writes her own songs and she’s such a good singer and she can play the piano… I just really love her, and… well… I just really lover her.”
Up until the very last part of his response, I assumed that he was just repeating parts of conversations that my husband and I have had regarding Gaga’s artistry. However, A became shifty in his own body and drifted his gaze away from me as he finished his last sentence. A, as you may remember, was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism (Asperger’s) when he was 4 and since then we have been working on his body language and eye contact. He has made amazing progress, but when he gets emotional in any way, these aspects of his behaviour are the first things that he loses sight of. I knew this subtle change in his body language signified an element of discomfort in what he was about to say before he repeated “I just really love her.”
At this moment, I realized that this conversation deserved more energy and attention than I had invested thus far. I stopped what I was doing and brought A over with me to the sofa.
“Honey, Is there something else about Lady Gaga that you love?”
Fumbling nervously with the hem of my shirt, he looked down at the empty section of sofa between us and said:
“It’s just that she’s like … the first person who really seems to understand what it’s like to be me.
And, she’s really famous…
And people really like her…
And she’s not afraid to be herself…
And she’s really good at music. So I thought maybe if I told her that, it would make her happy and that maybe I could maker her feel good about herself too.
My heart broke just a tiny bit for the heartache that came through in A’s voice as he said this. Over the past year or so, He’s begun to realize that he’s “different” from other kids. He doesn’t fit in as much, he doesn’t make friends easily despite being an outgoing kid, he struggles with his ADHD behaviours, and he is often teased and taunted by the older kids at school. We’ve had many talks about how it’s okay to be different from the people around him, and that the things that make him different are the same things that make him remarkable. But, he’s also getting to the age where that stuff doesn’t really matter, especially when it’s your parents who are the ones attempting to reinforce it.
“What do you mean, honey, that she understands what it’s like to be you?
What makes you think that?
“Well, it’s just her songs. Like, some of her songs are just fun and up beat and make me feel good, but some of them say things that I wish I knew how to say for myself.”
This small tidbit of conversation took me by surprise a little. I know A is a sensitive little guy, but I never thought that he would actually pay attention to the meanings behind the words of a song. Regardless of this fact, given A’s difficulties as the “odd child,” I assumed he was primarily referring to “Born This Way,” Gaga’s iconic song about embracing who you are. Of course, I was wrong (at least mostly…).
We continued talking about the songs he likes and why he likes them. After discussing all the classic Gaga songs that have been blaring in the house of late, including “Born This Way,” he finished by asking me if I had ever listened to her song “‘Till it Happens to You.”
Of course I had heard that song before. Of course I knew all the words to that song. As a survivor of sexual assault, of course I knew the power in that song. And, naturally, I became alarmed that my 8 year old son was suddenly talking to me about this song meaning something to him. I treaded carefully…
“Yes, honey, I have heard that song. What is it about that song that makes you feel like she understands you?”
“Well, first you can’t be mad at me…”
This is not what I wanted to hear at this moment, but I nodded at him reassuringly and allowed him to continue.
“I was listening to you and Daddy talk* about Lady Gaga’s movie** and how you thought it was really great that she talked so much about her anxiety and how she is scared that other people are not going to like her. And, you told me that a lot of people have anxiety but that no one really talks about it because some people think it’s embarrassing. So, I just think it’s nice that she wrote a song about having anxiety and having all the people around you not know what it feels like to have anxiety.
I was stunned.
How does an 8 year old boy listen to a song about sexual assault and interpret it to be about anxiety and its associated societal stigma?
How is it that this little boy of mine not only struggles with anxiety at such a young age, but also struggles with shame because other people project an attitude of ambivalence and unimportance about his struggles?
A’s anxiety isn’t a surprise to me. He began struggling with it almost 2 years ago and it’s not uncommon for children like him to have anxiety. However, his anxiety is almost debilitating for him. We have been to therapists and psychiatrists, we’ve done workbooks and meditation, and I even talk to him about my problems with anxiety and what I have done to manage my anxiety throughout my life. Short of anti-anxiety medications, which I am hesitant to use for him, we have tried everything to get his anxiety under control. As someone who struggles significantly with anxiety myself, he feels comfortable talking to me about his “worries” and I think I do a reasonable job of understanding him and supporting him. However, I suspect it stops there. Even my husband doesn’t understand it, and I have caught him (and reprimanded him for) telling A to “stop being a baby” or “get over it” whenever his anxiety manifests itself in some way or another. Even after we had this conversation, A asked me if he thought Daddy would get mad if he played the song for him to try and get him to understand how he feels.
After this powerful revelation from my my not-so-little child, I asked A what questions he wanted to ask Lady Gaga:
“First, I want to ask her what her favourite song is.
Then I want to ask her what she does when her worries get really bad.
I also want to know how she got to be so famous even though she has anxiety.
And, I want to ask her if kids are allowed to come to her concert in Vegas
because I want to save up my money to go and see her.
So, for the past week or so, A has been diligently working on his letter to Lady Gaga. He has even been using his neatest printing (which is something that we can never get him to do for his school work). He is dedicating more time to this one thing than I have ever seen him do with anything before. I am very thankful that he has found an outlet for his frustrations surrounding his anxiety and that, in writing to her, he feels like maybe he can return to her some of the feelings she has given him. However, at 8 years old, he is too young to understand that fan mail is not something that usually garnishes a reply, especially from someone as popular, coveted, and busy as Lady Gaga. I know I could try to explain this to him, but knowing my son like I do, he will wait for her response to his questions, believing that their mutual struggles with anxiety will prioritize his letter to her above all other fan mail she receives.
I never cease to be blown away by the insight and intelligence that my son exhibits in the most interesting ways. When he is committed and interested in something, he will never let it go. I hope this serves him well as he gets older. (Yet, I don’t know how to break it to him that he will never be able to save up enough money to see Lady Gaga in Vegas…)
In the end, while I suspect (at least I want to believe) that Lady Gaga is the kind of person who would be honoured to receive a letter like A’s and would provide an honest and genuine reply to him, I also know that his would be only one of thousands of letters she receives and there is no way she can read or even consider relying to all of them.
So, tell me, what exactly is a mom supposed to do in this situation?
*We often get frustrated because A will eavesdrop on our conversations, and he knows he’s not allowed to do this
**Referring to Gaga’s Netflix Documentary, in which she discusses her personal struggles with anxiety and her worries about her new album being “uncharacteristic”