Do as I say. And as I do.

Debbie Allen, fame, kids from fame, Fame Dance, fame  30th anniversary.

In 1987, Debbie Allen was interviewed by the Philadelphia Tribune on life after the end of her hit television show Fame.

In the story, Debbie Allen discusses her plans for her then-three year old daughter Vivian.

Her exact quote about Vivian’s future:

“I don’t care if she can add or subtract, as long as she can tendu (basic ballet move).”

I was only 14 years old when I read that article. But it stuck with me. Is that wrong to impart your dreams for your child at such a young age? What if Vivian hated dance? What if she’s just not built for it? What if she turned out to love math? And became an accomplished mathematician? Debbie would not be satisfied if she was not also en pointe and could execute a flawless tendu?

I could not imagine how it would be healthy for a mother to want expect her daughter to follow in her footsteps that way. She was three years old!

Well, for Debbie and her daughter, it worked. Vivian Nixon recently made her debut on Broadway in the play Happy Feet. She also played the lead role originated by Julia Roberts in the television adaptation of Steel Magnolias. 

Oh. And she can dance.

Are you happy now Mommy?!

Are you happy now Mommy?!

I was so pleased to see Vivian excelling in the arts, just as her mother demanded dreamed. But I vowed that I would not impart my dreams onto my child.

And then, I gave birth to my daughter.



My husband and I could not think of anything to name this poor child. They don’t allow you to leave the hospital without a name so on the last day, we were throwing out stuff and vetoing everything.

Lillian, (my favorite English teacher), Paige, (get it?), Octavia, (Octavia Butler), and Zora, (Zora Neale Hurston.)

We settled on Zora. With the middle name King.

I liked it. It was strong. And I can’t lie, I envisioned how it would look on the spine of her first book. It was my job to made sure she had a hot byline!

And then I caught myself. What if she doesn’t want to be a writer? Why are you choosing this two day old baby’s name based on a potential future as a writer?

I ripped up the paperwork with the name Zora on it and we started over. Zora’s my favorite writer but I didn’t want my daughter to think I was trying to imprint that on her.

I wanted her to say, my mom named me xyz because it means abc. Not, my mom named me xyz because SHE loves xyz. 

Back to the drawing board. My little sister came to the hospital with a suggestion.  It’s traditionally a boy’s name and it means builder. Coupled with the middle name King and her dad’s last name, I could still see it on the spine of a book.

Fast-forward three years later and Tog is in nursery school. (Her name here on the blog is Tog. It means The Other Girl. Her big sister T.G. is The Girl.)

One day at age three, she comes home from nursery school with a book and a post-it note tucked inside from her teacher: Tog is now reading. Please have her read to you nightly.

Tog was a fluent reader by the time she was four. And she began writing and illustrating her own stories shortly after.

Now I’m her mother. So of course I think she’s awesome. But I can be critical too. And as an editor and writer, I can honestly say that Tog has something there.

And now I’ve become Debbie Allen.

 I don’t care if Tog can add or subtract, as long as she can write a compelling narrative.

I already told Tog, if she’s not a novelist, I’m disowning her. And I ain’t paying for med school or law school or any of that crap. She can forget it. If she’s not getting an undergrad degree in English and then an MFA, I ain’t paying for jack.

Of course I’m joking.

But I am laying down the framework for a future writer. There is an organization called Writopia in NYC that works with children with writing promise beginning at age 8. I submitted a sample of her work and finagled 6 year-old Tog up in there. Now every Sunday morning we traipse into the City and she learns about plot, conflict, character development and the fundamentals of story-telling and illustration.

Last week, her instructor pulled me to the side after class and whispered: Tog is good. I said, thanks! Her face was serious. No, she said. I mean she’s really good. We want to enter her into some contests.

David Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants, funds a film festival every summer and several of the young Writopia writers submit their stories. Some stories will be adapted for the stage and actually produced with set-design, actors and the whole nine at an off-Broadway theater.

Tog recently told me she’s entering her piece into the contest–and fully expects to be chosen.

I  expect nothing less.

Dear readers: Am I wrong for this? Should  I let Tog choose her own path and not try to steer her in any particular direction? What if she sticks with it because she knows I want her to and not because she truly loves it?


P.S. Last week, Tog came across two of my books at a local book fair and almost exploded with excitement. Soon, the tables will be turned. And little old gray-haired Aliya S. King will be clutching Tog’s books with pride.

2013-10-04 17.35.46 copy






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12 Responses to Do as I say. And as I do.

  1. Hanif says:

    A Blog? Word? Finally! I feel that it is your job to lay that foundation. She’s going to take over the family business. Especially if it’s fluid and it works. If you were forcing her to write essays at 4 and the child couldn’t watch cartoons then I think that might be overboard. But she loves it and is good at it, C’mon son!

  2. Yesha says:

    Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it right!

  3. Carolyn says:

    We do better as we know better, mommy. But don’t overthink it. GREAT JOB with The Other Girl. Let me know when she’s published. :) xo

  4. It’s in her blood!

    No, seriously, my Mom saw I was interested in writing and next thing you know, she was pushing me to the front of the church to read poetry. I’ll always appreciate her for nurturing my dreams.

    Can’t wait until TOG’s first book is published. xo

  5. Amber Platt says:

    No its not wrong to expect her to follow you. I think it’s all about what the child shows you as she is growing that points you in that direction. I know my daughter won’t choose to go into music the way I have but she may write music. My son on the other hand I see writing singing and playing the music just like me. All of our children take something from us and make of it what they will. You only pushed when you saw what she was capable of. And that makes a good parent. Good for you and Tog! I hope to see her books out on the shelf soon!

  6. Kristyl JLS says:

    I think its wonderful to give a child a foundation and direction. And if she clearly has a talent for writing then she just may be gifted in that field. My only suggestion is to not flip a table if she decides to change her direction later in life. But I believe every constructive lesson our parents teach us give us the foundation to our own empires, even if its not verbatim and it veers from the “plan”. Guide and mold her natural talents, and when the time comes, support her decisions.
    Wonderful read, and great convo starter.

  7. max says:

    Raise your hand if you immediately googled “boy names meaning builder” to try to figure out what Aliya’s daughter’s name is.
    ….just me?

  8. max says:

    Also, I don’t think it’s wrong at all. My 10-month old twins have already been told a million times that when they grow up they will be going to Morehouse and Spelman. Because I always wanted to go to Spelman. For no reason other than the fact that I always wanted to go to Spelman. Is it fair for me to impose my dreams on my babies? No. But my parents had no expectations of me at all and as a result a d!cked around for a looooong time before I found ambition and direction. I think that’s worse.
    Besides which, if you raise your kids right, they will grow up to have the confidence and temerity to tell you they don’t want to do whatever it is you told them to.

  9. aliya says:

    Okay. First of all, Max you’re killing me, telling your 10 month old twins what college they’re going to. Hilarity. And Amber, I happen to know you were nudged in a particular direction when you were a wee lass. And it worked!

    And kristyl, that’s exactly my fear. I tend to be a table-flipper. My oldest daughter is an artist and I want her to go to art school. She wants to major in psychology. Grrr. Can you imagine? A mother who WANTS her daughter to be a starving artist?

    Hanif said as long as she’s not being forced to write and skip cartoons…. except that’s exactly what happens over here.

    @Carolyn @Jessica: Totally right. Can’t over think it. Gotta go with the flow. Easier said than done.
    Oh And Yesha. Thank you. I needed that.

  10. LaRia says:

    I wish my parents/guardians took interest in my likes and talents and nurtured them. Continue this for Tog, she will love u and appreciate you so much for it.

  11. aliyasking says:

    @LaRia I hope you’re right. But you know, many times, even if the child is succesful, they can be resentful! You see what happened with Beyonce and her dad. He did EVERYTHING to nurture her talent. And she fired him when she was at her height.

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