Friday, December 16, 2011

I am a Tiger daughter.

I just finished reading Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua. I read with interest many of the articles that came out earlier this year when it was published, then forgot to ever get it from the library until I read a review recently on someone's blog.

It is a slim book, much smaller than I expected, with short chapters, and it reads like a novel. Zoom. I finished it in two lunch breaks plus about an hour Wednesday evening.

Wow. There is a lot there. I'm not (yet?) a parent, so all of the parenting style stuff is theoretical for me from that end still. My parents were, I suppose, somewhere in between Chua's "Chinese mother" and "Western parent," as are probably most parents. The sibs and I all turned out fine, anyway.

The thing that struck me the most, however, is how much of her story was rich people problems.

I mean, they traveled all over the world. Which is wonderful, don't get me wrong. But it seemed like every chapter was about how much money they spent on those two darn kids. Private piano and violin lessons. Group piano and violin lessons. Private lessons in other states. Private schools. Ball gowns. Travel. Fancy instruments. Catered parties in hotels that I know how expensive they are because they're the ones my boss stays at and dang, girl, I used to think a Sheridan was pretty fancy. I think every chapter includes some tossed-in little remark about the thousands of dollars the family is spending. Which is great; I hope to have lots of money someday. But.

My siblings are musicians. My sister's flute cost almost as much as my car. But she started out on a borrowed hand-me-down flute from a girl at church. My brother had a rent-to-own used plastic clarinet. My parents scrimped and saved to get them a half-hour lesson each week. They are both amazingly talented musicians--I am sure not as skilled as the Chua girls, both because they did not put in hours and hours every single day practicing since they were three (my siblings started playing in middle school) and because they were not studying with world-renowned musicians as private daily tutors--but they are both very good and are turning their passions into careers.

It's not Chua, who was reared as a poor-to-lower-middle-class daughter of poor immigrants, who played at Carnegie hall. It's her daughter, reared as an upper-middle-class-to-wealthy daughter of two well-known lawyers/Yale law professors/authors. How much of what they achieve is due to Chua's intensive Chinese parenting and how much to her intensive spending of American money?

Certainly one can achieve these great things even without a lot of money, and then only through the sort of hard work and dedication she describes. But the money sure opens a lot of doors and smooths a lot of roads.

Other than the money, I see a contradiction in the results Chua says she wants--successful daughters--with how much she does for them. Let's see. I'm not sure how to say this succinctly.

For example. Chua complains at one point about all of the projects her kids' tony private school come up with, and how she has to decide which architect to hire to build an authentic medieval building for one of her daughters.

Hold on a second. Wasn't the assignment for the daughter to build a building? Apparently all of the private-school-parents did these projects for the kids. But what the heck is the point of that education you're buying your kids, if you (or your hired labor) are the one doing all the work?

And I remember sitting at competitions with my painstakingly crafted project and looking at the projects of the private school kids, shiny and fancy and professionally done. Mine would be cobbled together from paper towel tubes and scrap fabric and cheap poster paint, and theirs would be solid wood and machine quilted and airbrushed. It's a generalization, for certainly lots of public school parents do their kids' projects for them, and lots of private school parents allow the kids to do their projects themselves.

This always bothered me, and I think it's perhaps the best part of my own parents' parenting: we did it all ourselves. All the schoolwork, all the dioramas and projects, all the crafts, all the 4-H projects, everything, we did. Did Mom truck us around to the store and pay for our supplies? Yes. Did both parents answer questions and give assistance when necessary (teaching us how to use power tools, lifting heavy objects, overseeing work with hot stoves)? Yes, though often the answer to a question was, "Look it up in the dictionary/encyclopedia/some book somewhere." (Remember life before Google?)

What was the point of anything we did, if we weren't the ones doing it? If we wanted to do something (sing in choir or play in band or 4-H or show dogs or all the different things we did as children), we stated that goal and, with help when we were little and less when we were older, we figured out the actions necessary to work toward it, and then we took those actions.

Chua, in a way, does everything for the girls. She chooses which instruments they will play, she chooses how much they will practice and with which teachers they will study. She finds them tutors and signs them up for auditions and enters them in contests.

To be fair, she does confront this dilemma of choice at the end of the book, and I don't want to give too much away. Mostly, I am thankful for the balance my parents found, and hope I can provide something of that to my own children.

But being myself a stubborn Tiger, I'll probably ruin their lives and make them miserable. At least they will inevitably think so when they're thirteen. ^_^

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