The death of Jett Travolta saddened me deeply. I am very sad for his parents and sister, who lost a beloved family member and who must now bear their grief under a very bright spotlight in the public eye. I am also very sad to see that now -STILL- there is endless speculation about whether Jett was Autistic or not.
My short answer to this question is What does it matter anymore -if it mattered at all? He's dead.
But the long answer -if indeed there is an answer- is that it was ...IS nobody's business except Jett's and his immediate family. It is private information. But somehow, people seem to think that because celebrities are famous, they have to open every facet of their lives (and their children's lives) to the world. This is not the case. All people, even celebrities, have a right to privacy.
Another thing that burns me: Beneath all the speculation there was the subtle subtext -unspoken- that the Travoltas somehow never acknowledged or admitted to their son's "autism" because of their Scientology religion. There is a subtle judgment in the media pertaining to this, the unsaid words: "unacknowledged", "untreated", "ignored", "neglected". Again, their religion is their business, and no-one has a right to judge them for it.
Now some people may say that if Jett were Autistic, the Travolta's -being public figures- had some kind of responsibility to share that with the world to raise money and awareness and to make Jett a poster-child for Autism (or Epilepsy), kind of like Jenny McCarthy did with her son, Evan.
Some public figures do choose to go public with illness and disabilities. Lance Armstrong has done a lot for cancer awareness and Michael J. Fox has raised a huge amount of awareness for Parkinson's disease. But gong public was their choice as informed adults. And although it definitely helps a cause to have a celebrity spokesperson, no celebrity who has an illness or a disability owes that cause anything at all.
Especially if they are underage.
Jenny McCarthy chose to go public with her son's Autism -or Autism-that-used-to-be-but-is-allegedly-cured (and don't even get me started on that one!). I often wonder how Evan Asher -that is his name BTW, will feel about his mother's telling the world his diagnosis and plastering his face on book covers before he was old enough to object? I wonder how it will impact him when he comes of age to be known to the world as Jenny McCarthy's (formerly -OK let's not go there) Autistic Son? That's a pretty big magnifying glass under which to live your life.
Now I know there is a tinge of hypocrisy here. I blog about my own children and their diagnoses. However, I don't parade their pictures here. Heck! I don't even use their real names! I don't think talking about them to the few hundred people who read this blog is the same as pulling them out to stand in front of stadia full of people at Autism conferences, clearly overwhelmed and covering their ears against the noise. Not unless they WANTED me to (and why would they?).
And they don't
Now I know that Jenny McCarthy and Autism Speaks have raised a lot of awareness -I don't particularly like or agree with all of their messages or how they went about it. But they raised awareness.
How are they raising their children?
In my head, it all comes down to the concept some people seem to have that children are "owned" by their parents and do not exist as people in their own right until they are 18. Even worse, some people seem to think that children are some kind of communal property. It takes a village to raise a child, right? But no. That does not give the village full access. Sorry.
We do not own our children. Our children own themselves. We rent our children for a few years, and it is our responsibility as parents to ensure we damage the goods as little as possible. By the same token, we have no right to another person's child. They don't have to talk to us if we address them. They do not have to smile if we smile,. they do not have to tolerate us ruffling their hair, no matter how nice or affectionate we are. They are their own people and they owe us nothing.
I always thought that most people feel as I do. Until I almost came to blows in the obstetrician's office over circumcision. The doc was practically insisting I have a boy circumcised -to the point where I feared he might "forget" my objection and do it anyway. Whereas I took the position that I had no right to cut pieces off a body that did not belong to me. What if he grew up and wanted his foreskin back? If I left him intact, he could make the decision himself -painful as it may be- later in life. We argued -heatedly- for about 10 minutes. Finally I said "I am happy to teach him to wash, but I will not cut any pieces off him without his permission". As he was still in utero, permission could not be granted. So we left him intact.
I was kind of shocked to discover that some (many) people don't share my views on this. Some people seem to think of children -especially young ones- less as individuals and more as property. I recently fielded a question from a lady concerned that her preschooler hated people touching her. How could she change this? Well, my daughter had the same issue, but I didn't think of it as a problem. She owns her own personal space, and if she doesn't like strangers putting their hands on her, who am I to tell her she must tolerate it? I think it is just fine for a person -especially a girl- to be protective of her personal space. I am not going to teach her that it is OK to allow strangers to maul her. I made this point and the other mom was kind of taken aback "I never looked at it that way".
Personal space is a right.
Privacy is a right.
I don't know the full story of Jett Travolta and it is none of my business, but I do think the Travoltas were right to keep his business private and to keep him shielded from the press. I do wonder maybe if he had had the chance to grow to adulthood, would he have made the decision to go public with his Autism (if any) and seizures?
We'll never know now. He won't get that chance. It is very sad.