Friday, December 16, 2011

A Discussion on Amy Chua's 'TIGER MOM'

A dialogue with hubby after reading the bestseller ‘THE BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOM’ by Amy Chua.

Me - I started reading Amy Chua’s much-talked about “The battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” with the pre-set mind that I am not a Tiger Mom and I never want to be one. And my, my, wasn’t I proved right?! Can’t imagine that a mother could go to such heights!

Hubby - You mean depths?

Me - Yeah! Again if I were Amy, I would never expose myself in such a negative light!

Hubby - My question is how did the girls agree to this autobiographical book?

Oh, Amy mentions to seven year old Lulu, she’d put down in her record file, every word and gesture of their love-hate relationship and she’s okay with it – as long as the ‘love’ part gets mentioned!

I do hope the two girls carve a niche for themselves in the world of music after all the efforts of the Tiger Mom and all the publicity and audience-expectations through this bestseller!

The very fact that this book is about Chinese parenting versus Western parenting made me sit up. Firstly as a parent. Secondly as an Indian – curious to know how close our way of parenting is to the Chinese model! And also because I think we Indians come close on the heels of the Chinese with respect to academics / arts. Surprisingly, the Chinese too still persist on rote learning, drills and practice. “Children in China practice 10 hours a day”. Can you believe it?

Don’t they top the medals tally at all the Games all the time? And aren’t they top scorers in academics too? I’m proud that Indians come a close second in academics – and that’s because most urban Indians still attach almost exclusive importance to education.

I remember my dad telling me, “Check your answers at least twice after completing the examination. And don’t forget to solve extra problems if you have the time” – Amy says something similar.

And my grandpa’s wisecrack was, “Never say ‘I thought so’ and ‘I did not think so’ about any question - always think right!”

The middle class Indians’ stress on education is remarkable as it is the trump card to a successful career. That explains the mad scramble for coaching classes to make the cut to the premier institutions!

But I think it seems nothing compared to the Chinese mentality!

That’s what we gather from the book! However India also has some interesting stories of grit and sacrifice and total involvement of parents in their children’s achievements. Like the dedication of Margaret Amritraj in shaping her boys into tennis aces!

Or for that matter Hema Malini’s Amma or Sridevi’s mother who paved the path for their daughters’ star status!

Remember Amy chooses the piano for Sophia and the violin for Lulu – so there would be no competition at home! But we in India are famous for the dancing duos and singing siblings and all is well! May be we are generous and feel there is room for all!

Ah, that brings me to another point – sibling rivalry. You’d think Amy is trying to avoid sibling rivalry through her choice of instruments for the girls. But she’s always comparing them – with the excuse that she is only expressing her confidence in the skills of the ‘underdog’! We’d never indulge in that as we still believe it will undermine the child’s psyche.

I fully agree. But like the Chinese, we Indians also believe in the notion that parents know best what’s good for their kids. Yes, parents have dreams for their kids – a doctor wants his child to be a doctor and an engineer likewise. Some parents lay down the law at home. But most Indians these days are not as rigid as the Chinese.

Nor are we as flexible and easy-on-the-kids as the ‘Westerners’ who, right from toddler years give the kids independence. Like, “Which outfit would Jack like to wear today?” And the two year old would pick up a shorts and a short-sleeved shirt on a cold day. I’d opt for the Indian way any day – parents choose what’s best for the kids in the early years till they imbibe the expected code. Of course they have the liberty to modify them to suit their attitude when they grow up. Or if parents really want to be broad-minded, they can give them a set of options to choose from – which is nothing but guided independence!

Doesn’t Amy’s dad remind us of the typical Indian father? He tells Amy, “You will marry a non-Chinese over my dead body.”

A line straight out of a typical Indian movie!

And “with the passage of time he and Jed became the best of friends” – again not a surprise to us Indians!

As Amy mentions, Asian mothers are considered “scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids’ true interests”. Actually they are willing to sacrifice much more to prepare them for the future, “arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.” And in return they have expectations of gratitude.

I should say Indian mothers too are the architects of their children’s lives. And they are overbearing and dominating even after the kids are grown-up and settled – resulting in a tug-of-war with their daughters-in-law!

And in extreme cases – torture and dowry deaths!

Parents pay for the education throughout and some of them entertain expectations of gratitude in return! But such expectations will tarnish the bond, won’t they? A case of ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours’?!

True! Amy mentions about planning to have her parents move in with them when they become old and dependent. She also takes in Jed’s mom when she’s sick. The same holds true in the Indian household.

The big difference is - only the husband’s parents get the honors!

No lady, not anymore! Times are changing – with some having only daughters and with the fair sex taking up jobs, both sets of parents have started getting equal treatment.

I agree. The mid portion of the book has interesting tidbits about the extent to which an ambitious mother can go.

The threat of donating Lulu’s doll house to the Salvation Army, of no birthdays the next year and the year after… !

And horror of horrors – during a grueling practice session, not letting “Lulu get up, not for water, not even to the bathroom.” And we hate Amy for that – just like Lulu! Suddenly Lulu ‘did it’ – she beams, “Mommy look – it’s so easy!” And for a moment we admire Amy’s unstinting drive! But I can’t and won’t ever be her! Unlike her, I’ll never be ‘happy to be the one hated’! No way!!

You have to hand it to Amy – for her indomitable enthusiasm and resourcefulness in finding a piano and getting Sophia to practice it - whether they are vacationing in Chicago/London/Belgium….even India!

What a torture for Jed and the kids - not to mention her parents – to go through practice sessions even during the few days of outing! We should give full credit to them for their tolerance!

I don’t understand how the otherwise logical Amy is blind to the sacrifices the family makes to accommodate her idiosyncrasies!

She considers childhood as a training period. And with a vehement passion, she keeps relentlessly pursuing the music lessons of each of the girls – first Sophia’s preparation to get to Carnegie Hall, immediately followed by Lulu’s audition for the Pre-College program at Juilliard School in NY… As she admits, “there was no rest for the Chinese mother”.

Add to it Lulu’s food poisoning in between…..

Another episode – driving nine hours to NY and returning the same day for Sophia’s Computer Class beginning the next day. That too along with Sophia with her broken foot and pet dog Coco crammed in their car. Also paying for the teacher and her boyfriend by the hour to accompany them in a separate car – spending some 3000$ - for Lulu to perform in front of the famous Mrs. Vamos!

And the unbelievably expensive violin she buys for Lulu! Jed is aghast at their fast depleting finances. Amy coolly tells him her plan of cashing her pension funds. So obsessed is she with her daughters’ music! Just unbelievable!

I wonder whether her girls will pursue music as their profession after all the relentless endeavors of the mom. I’m just reminded about our sons’ admirable writing skills – witty humor oozing out of their pens!

I should admit our attempts to promote them were very mediocre!

Hmmm. But we did encourage them to write - they even ended up writing stories and cartoons during their school days – I still have the manuscripts!

If you were Amy, they’d have published a dozen books as teenagers!

I admit I don’t have the Amy-drive in me! Still my only regret is they don’t dabble in creative writing any more though they still have their wit and humor intact.

You can’t blame them …

I know I can’t … What I’m driving at is that even with the least of our efforts to promote our sons’ writing skills, I feel bad when they are not pursuing them. I shudder to imagine Amy’s reaction if the girls turn their backs on music or even give it step motherly treatment when they settle down in their careers!

Very true! Amy’s fierce passion jets out as she describes her role – not just dropping off Sophia and Lulu at their music classes but attending their music lessons – again not passively but taking down notes and yet again guiding them during their hours of practice at home! As a tenured professor of Yale, getting up at 5 spending half the day on her profession and devoting the rest with her obsession for her daughters’ musical excellence, writing books …. And with an equally academic hubby to boot, we can’t help wondering whether her day has 40 hours!

I like it when she acknowledges her gratitude for “the freedom and creative opportunity that America has given” her. And yet again when she says, “Thank God we live in America ….. where …rebelliousness is valued. In China, they’d have sent Lulu to a labor camp”…..

At the end of it all, Tiger Mom’s dictatorial control over her daughters might raise the eyebrows up to the edge of the forehead of - the westerners. We Indians will find it as a reflection of a mother’s extreme ambition - may be frown upon her and take the sides of her helpless kids.

Guess what? This autobiographical book which has been one of the bestsellers inspires and motivates fans like me to pen something autobiographical!

You got to be kidding………

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.

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