Bristol Palin is her own person. She may be known to the world as Governor Palin's daughter, which is a distinction of which she is quite proud; however, there is much more to Bristol, who is now forging her own way in the world.
In an interview with Ms. Palin, I discovered just how independent and free-thinking she actually is. I took note of her ability to simultaneously handle questions, relate her personal story, and tend to her son--who was pursuing the acquisition of another popsicle. I got the sense that Bristol Palin definitely knows who she is and what she believes. I remember the first time I watched Bristol being interviewed. This was not that girl. This was a woman with her own convictions and the voice to articulate them. This was a mother whose worldview is clearly shaped by her child and concern for his future. One cannot deny that being Sarah Palin's daughter has helped form who she is, and she talked about that. But make no mistake about it. This is her story.
In surprisingly transparent fashion, Bristol opened up about "Dancing With the Stars," her abstinence advocacy, her mother's political career, and her own future. When discussing the 2008 campaign, she shared her greatest highs and even the lowest low.
We began the interview discussing her participation in "Dancing With the Stars." Admittedly not a seasoned dancer, one would wonder how she found herself in such an unlikely position. This was not something Bristol pursued. The offer came to her, and in the spirit of trying something new that would be positive and a comfort-zone buster, her response was a resounding, "Yeah, let's go for it!" I wanted to know what everyone wants to know. "What did your family have to say about it?" Bristol was clear in saying that she is independent and made up her own mind to participate. It wasn't until after she did her research and signed her contract that she informed her parents. They, of course, know that she is an adult who is committed to doing what's best for herself and her son, Tripp. Concerning her mom, Bristol shared, "My mom is going to be my biggest fan. She'll be there cheering me on," which refutes the lies out there that the Governor is not in Bristol's corner. I think she has a bigger fan than even her mother, however. "Tripp's loving it!" she said.
"DWTS" seems to be a grueling schedule. Rehearsal starts at 9 a.m. With only a break for lunch, Bristol doesn't return to her "home" until 5 p.m. each evening. Not only does her day include dancing with her partner, but she works out for about an hour alone before knocking off for the day. When I asked her if she has ever thought, "What in the world have I gotten myself into?" and if she's wanted to throw in the towel, she responded, "Surprisingly, not yet." However, she admitted that this is quite the challenge, but definitely one that she is enjoying, and having a good relationship with Mark Ballas, her partner, only enhances the experience.
One challege she's had to face is feeling uncomfortable being sensual and sexual, both in attire and in dance movements, which is expected from "DWTS" participants. "I don't have a sexy bone in my body," Bristol said. So how is she handling it? She says to herself, "I'm playing a character as any actor would do." This mindset has helped her relax and become more comfortable in the last few days.
The 19 year old does more than dance, and this is perhaps the most impressive thing about Bristol. She also has her own PR and consulting firm, is doing speeches, and, of course, raising a toddler. Not at all prone to lifting up herself, Bristol sees what she's doing as nothing more than what "other single moms who are working, providing, and juggling everything do." It is not lost on her, however, that her support base is a strength that provides her with these opportunities. She readily states how blessed she is.
Speaking of blessings, I asked Bristol about the role of faith in her life. Her response was that faith is huge for her. Not preachy at all, but in what is clearly a major tenet of the Gospel, Bristol shared that she made a decision to live a life of faith. She approaches things in life with this question in mind: "Is this moral?" Someone else preferred the phrase, "What would Jesus do?" but the principle is the same. It is quite obvious to me that her upbringing in the Palin household influenced the faith she holds so dear, and yet it's also quite obvious that it has become her faith, not just Mommy's or Daddy's. Bristol's acknowledgement of being blessed is her own inner awareness. When she discussed faith guiding her decisions, that was, as she said, her own personal decision, and I could hear that in her voice.
Abstinence is so often linked to faith, and Bristol has chosen to be a spokesperson for the cause. She has given her voice to promoting it, yet she is well-aware of being criticized because she, a teenage mom, advocates abstinence. Nonetheless, her stand remains the same. We live in a culture that looks down its nose at abstinence, as people buy into the idea that encouraging it doesn't work. Why, then, wouldn't she simply encourage safe and responsible sex? Why abstinence, instead? Bristol's common sense response was that abstinence is the only way one can be sure to avoid pregnancy. "I know first hand that contraception is not 1,000 percent effective-- no matter how safe I thought I was being." Only abstinence is error-free. Anything else is a risk not worth taking, she said. "Just wait until you're married." Her message encourages saving yourself for your spouse, someone who actually loves you enough to give you his heart completely.
Bristol delivered her first speech last week at Lifehouse Maternity Home in Kentucky, a home for pregnant women with no place to go. She moved the crowd, and reportedly "there was not a dry eye in the place." I asked her why she thought the response to her was so great. "What was it about your message that people latched on to?"
"They saw vulnerability in me. No one knew what I went through. No one knew the emotions I had when I had to tell my parents I was pregnant. People saw that I was being vulnerable. The audience was moved that I was so willing to put myself out there."
Indeed, my teaching in the public school has always been guided by this thought: "People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care." Bristol's willingness to share her heart, her experiences, and even her fears during a "less than ideal circumstance," created the response in the room. Attendees saw someone who had been there and done that and cared enough to offer hope. This is why I shake my head at people who say, "How dare she talk to me about abstinence. Look what happened to her." What they miss is that there is something to be gained from someone else's experiences, from their hurts and victories, and from their willingness to be a source of encouragement to others. If only the "perfect" were qualified to reach out to pick others up, we'd all be on the floor. So I commend Bristol for handling the criticism, staying motivated in spite of the skepticism, and being undeterred by the vitriol. Someone is depending on it.
Now, I wanted to find out about Bristol Palin. I wanted to hear her story. And I wanted to share it with the world. But I certainly would have been remiss--and a fool--if I did not take the opportunity to ask some questions about her mother. Bristol spoke honestly about growing up being "the mayor's daughter" and "the governor's daughter," which helped prepare her for the attention her mother drew during, and has drawn since, the 2008 campaign. Bristol shared that she is very proud of her mother, and she expressed tangible disgust for the lies about her and the obscene signs protesters carried--a practice which continues to this day. Not holding anything back, Bristol declared, "Those people make me want to puke."
Looking back to 2008, however, the lowest low for her was the day she sat on her mother's bed and, while watching television, saw her pregnancy revealed to the world. Governor Palin has talked about this moment and how painful it was for Bristol. The pain became more palpable, however, when Bristol shared the story herself. "I just wanted to hide under a rock. This was the lowest low I've ever had."
There were incredible highs for Bristol, as well. She recalled the long road trips and the huge rallies out in the middle of nowhere, where people gathered to cheer on the vice-presidential nominee. These are times not soon forgotten, no doubt, and my take on things is that Bristol would not have exchanged those experiences for anything. None of the negativity endured along the way could take from the pride of seeing her mother work hard to help her country and witnessing the overwhelming gratitude of multitudes of Americans.
2008 is behind us now, but 2012 is certainly on the minds of many in this country, so I asked the question. I did not ask Bristol if her mom would run for President of the United States, but I did ask her if she would like to see her mother run. Without hesitation, she said that she is definitely in favor of a Palin run for the presidency. Bristol knows that her mother would be good for our country, and discussed the qualities the Governor possesses that would make her an effective leader. Bristol cited intelligence, the ability--as a mom--to multi-task, and common sense. "I know she can lead our country in the right direction." Governor Palin, of course, is bold and unafraid, refusing to sit down and shut up. In the state of Alaska, she was known as the anti-corruption politician, and isn't that what we need throughout the entire nation? Bristol said yes. "She has a track record of taking on the big boys. She's a bull dog!" I like to call her a pit bull with lipstick or Mama Grizzly, as they say.
I was curious what Bristol wanted the Governor's most ardent critics to know, and again she spoke vehemently against those who have smeared and misrepresented her, questioned her abilities, and hated her for no sound reason. "I wish people would realize how intelligent she really is, how on-point she is." Those who are paying attention do, in fact, realize the truth about Governor Palin--and that number is increasing. The lies are being exposed, and people are embracing the common sense message Governor Palin brings, despite the agenda of the lamestream media.
I ended the interview by asking Bristol about her own future. Quoting her mother, she agreed, "The world is my oyster." There are many things she wants Tripp to experience, many things she wants to accomplish. But Bristol Palin is not just focused on the many opportunites that await her and hers. She possesses a unique, mature awareness of the opportunity she has to impact the lives of others. Bristol's focus, one not often held by a young woman of 19, was summed up in this question she voiced: "What can we do to help others?" And isn't that what life is really all about? The problem is most of us don't have this epiphany until we're much older. The awareness doesn't come by accident, either. It comes as a result of believing in something larger than self, and recognizing a responsibility to take the blessing you've been given and bless others with it. It comes from moms and dads who had the choice to retreat or persevere, who counted the cost, and chose perseverance because they deemed the task worth the risk. And it comes from looking around for someone with a story to tell, the courage to tell it, and a platform to use--and then realizing that person is you.
Bristol Palin has experienced much in her short years of life--good, bad, and much in between. She's allowed these to propel her forward into a future she's creating for her son, herself, and others. Yes, she may have stumbled here and there, as her critics like to point out, but she's dancing now. Yes, she's dancing now.