If you’re a mom, and if you watched Ardmore’s Benj Pasek accept the Academy Award for best original song for La La Land’s “City of Stars” last Sunday night – you likely felt you got an award, too.
The joyous 31-year-old dedicated his win to his mother, who was also his date. Then, the Friends Central grad leaned into the mic to thank her for letting him “quit the JCC soccer league to be in a school musical,” and said, “This is dedicated to all the kids who sing in the rain and all the moms who let them.”
That’s when the camera panned to an ebullient Kathy Hirsh-Pasek. Wearing a string of oversize pearls, haute couture, and a smile wider than the Dolby Theatre stage, the Temple professor, author, and child expert jumped out of her seat, threw her arms open, and beamed motherly love to her son.
— ABC News (@ABC) February 27, 2017
She squealed. She grinned. She air-hugged. It might have been a Hollywood moment. But, as any mom who watched knows, it was mostly a mom moment.
Hirsh-Pasek has spent her career studying childhood and infant development. She’s written a dozen books and more than 150 articles on the topic. Her appointments and awards couldn’t fit in this introduction.
And up there, on stage, her grown-up son (one of three) offered televised proof: In that moment, all her hard work, all her parental love, all her research was vindicated.
Here, the senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, adviser to the Please Touch Museum, and current idol to moms everywhere reveals how it all felt, her secret to amazing parenting, and the designer she was wearing — all while driving to teach an honors psychology class on campus in North Philly.
It’s been a few days. How are you feeling?
Oh, my god. I hope this thrill doesn’t go away for a while. This is an out-of-body experience. It was just amazing. This week, we all live in La La Land.
Surely you expected Benj to win. But did you expect that speech?
I had no idea that he was going to say that. He had told his brothers, but he hadn’t told me. It was such a pleasant, lovely response to getting an Oscar. He turned it from being about him to being about me. It really is for moms everywhere.
Did you always suspect he was going to be a songwriter?
There isn’t a kid that doesn’t dream of being on stage at some point, and it really, honest-to-gosh is a dream. It’s a dream that many, many parents -- they let their kids have some dancing classes and some theater classes, but they really would rather their kid not go down that road. The truth is, it really can happen to your kid.
If you don’t mind sharing, how?
Parenting is not easy. We have a tendency to be directors instead of coaches, to think that we can make our children what we imagine. But what I did, and what I write about: Our real job as parents is to nurture our children into becoming what they can become. When you watch a person develop who they are, there is no greater joy for a parent.
You just let kids be kids?
The thing I take most to heart with parenting is you never know. You really do never know the direction kids will go. You want to expose kids to different things, like soccer. Not that he’ll be a soccer pro, but he’ll be a well-rounded human being. Benj had a knack for acting and a wild and vivid imagination.
Benj was a stage guy from the get-go?
When he was really young, maybe it was middle school, he had one note in The Sound of Music that brought the house down. He had a beautiful, stunning voice and still is a great singer. It’s a delight to hear him in concert.
Don’t want to presume here, but I’m guessing your other two sons are doing just fine, too.
My youngest son is currently getting his Ph.D. in social psychology at Penn State. He is studying religious intolerance -- which is a growth industry. [My other son] is a professor at the University of Michigan. He teaches political communications. Hot topic. I also have a fabulous daughter-in-law and a beautiful 22-month-old grandchild.
Enough of this. Who did you wear to the Oscars?
Rubin Singer. He’s a young designer who has also done some stuff for Alicia Keys and Beyoncé. The reason that I wore his gown had nothing to do with his acclaimed clientele. It had to do with being on the sale rack at Neiman Marcus in King of Prussia when I was looking for a gown and trying to find anything -- and I mean anything -- that you could wear when you’re a 60-year-old woman.
Nice score. So, you’re a fashionista, now?
Ha! As an academic, to dress up is to put on real shoes instead of sneakers.