Barbara Walters: Moving past limits to make us listen

Barbara Walters: As legendary news reporter Barbara Walters presents her most fascinating people of 2013, one mom awards her 'Most Valuable Parent' for her role in overcoming teasing about her speech to deliver her message beyond limits.

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
Barbara Walters attends the Broadway opening of 'After Midnight' in New York on Sunday, Nov. 3.

Barbara Walters may have named Hillary Clinton and nine others as her most fascinating people of 2013, but to parents with kids teased for their idiosyncratic speech and a dream of public life, it is the host herself who should be celebrated.

"We don't use the word important that's why we say fascinating. They make us look at them," says Ms. Walters.

While Walters prefers to stay behind the scenes reporting on those who make us look, such as Miley Cyrus and Pope Francis, she herself has earned the respect that makes us listen.

A woman once mocked by the world after Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner embellished Walters’ idiosyncratic speech and dubbed her “Baba Wawa,” she is now someone the world stops to listen to when she names who is most fascinating.

I regret today that as a teen I joined the crowd doing my impression of Radner impersonating Walters. I pay for that lapse in judgment every time someone makes fun of my youngest son, Quin, age 10.

Quin was born with Asperger's syndrome and some added development issues and did not speak a sentence until he was age three.

When he began to talk we needed speech therapy three times a week to help him become intelligible.

Yesterday, I was called to his school for yet another team meeting to try and help him overcome his most notable issue – “the lisp.”

Quin doesn’t say the letter “S.” Instead he says “TH” in its place. If he were voicing the character Woody in Toy Story he’d exclaim, “There’s a thnake in my boot!”

It seems that little difference in speech makes a big difference in how much a parent worries about their child’s success.

Quin dreams of being a scientist on TV – the next Bill Nye – teaching the world about everything from chemistry problems to what color a mirror really is and why.

However, when Quin tells people he meets about his dream, they tend to give me a sympathetic eye-roll that says, “Oh that’s too bad. The lisp will hold him back.” Often, other moms will actually say those words to me along with the look.

That’s when I have to go breathe into a bag and try not to drive the poor kid nuts by becoming the pronunciation police, making talking a misery for him.

In light of yesterday’s speech therapy meeting and Walters final special, I’m thinking I need to bring some attention to Walters herself.

Perhaps if I do, parents will not knuckle under to peer pressure and end up steering their child away from a dream just because their child does something imperfectly.

Walters, the adoptive mom of one, said last night during her special, "I regret not having more children. I would have loved to have had a bigger family."

She may only have raised one child at home but her life’s work and the example she set should be part of many families.

That’s why I am naming Walters my MVP of 2013 – Most Valuable Parent.

Despite the mild speech impediment that the camera added a million pounds to, Walters was able to muster unruffled, dignified delivery of the news that commanded attention and respect.

Walters became the first woman to co-anchor a network evening news program in 1976 and then co-hosted “The Today Show” in 1977.

She famously conducted the first joint-interview of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Walters was also the first female news anchor on national US television, and possibly the first news anchor to make more than $1 million a year.

Her mild speech impediment didn’t break her, but rather became a footnote to her resume as an icon.

Today how Walters pronounces words means nothing.

All that matters is the fact that she says things we need to hear.

It was her classy bravery through being mocked and bullied over her speech, plus her innovation and commitment over the years, that gives her more street cred than any parent can hope to wield.

If you want to be fascinated, go look at Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball. If you want to know what success sounds like, listen to anything Walters has to say. 

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