Saturday, January 15, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Husband Mother

My husband has given me an assignment. It came about like this:

Currently in Illinois, my beloved called home just in time to hear me reach my uppermost threshold in exasperation, very close to having a nervous breakdown as I buckled under the relentless din that Thing One and Thing Two were dishing out. I kept sending them away, insisting on just a few quiet minutes in which to speak to their father, but they kept rubber-banding back to me, mouths and voices going incessantly. Jesse finally instructed, "Turn on them and yell, 'GO! NOW!', short and sharp." Fed up, I did, and they froze, mid-yap. Cowed and shrinking, they slunk down the stairs to their room. The baby said, "Mom, that made me scared of you," but I was so damn grateful for the silence that I didn't let it bother me.

For the first time in a long time, my OTRT love and I were able to have the semblance of an actual conversation. He said, "There's this book on the best-seller's list. I can't remember what it's called...something kinda like...the title's along the lines of 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'. Anyway, it's about this Chinese woman who married a Jewish man and they made an agreement-the children would be brought up in the Jewish faith, but raised using the "Chinese" method of parenting."

I laughed and told him that I knew what he meant, having read everything that Amy Tan ever published. A "Chinese" mother doesn't worry about their child's psyche: bring home an A- and she'll harangue and harass and call you 'worthless' until you get back in line and bring home that A+, thank-you-very-much!

We laughed some more, and then he said, "Maybe you should raise the kids a little more Chinese." I said, "That would mean insulting Winter when she struggled with math." He said, "That's right," and then I got dead serious and said, "I could never do that. I don't believe in that." I could hear him smile over the phone and his voice softened and he said, "I know that."

I swapped out the boys' toy boxes for them for a bit more reprieve, and then my husband asked, "When was the last time you worked on your book?"

I stammered, "No, no. I'm having some sort of...problem. I mean, I've looked at it, but you don't understand, I can't even bring myself to write a blog. I can't even write a letter, and I don't know..."

He interrupted me, "That's it! I'm raising you Chinese."

I burst out laughing, "What?"

"Seriously. You're worthless. Other people write books! (I'm cracking up) No excuses!"

"God, I love you!"

"Here's your assignment..."

"No, seriously, I can't! I have to do dishes, and..."

"No Excuses! (More gales of laughter) Your assignment is to look up that book on the New York Times bestseller list-just type in bestseller and Chinese-and then write a blog about it. 500 words."

"Jesse, I..."

"Shut it! I'm raising you Chinese! Do it or I'll call you worthless again!"

"Okay," I laughed, "but if I don't get a comment from Jesse Mohn on my blog telling me that I'm worthless, I'm not doing any more assignments."

"That won't work. You know that I don't have access to the internet out here. I can't..."

"You're worthless! No excuses!

"Other people can access the internet...! (more laughter)"

Can you see why I love him so much? So. I looked up "bestseller Chinese" and found this article. I'd told Jesse that I wouldn't mind reading it (the book), just to understand the thought process behind the "Chinese mother" way of parenting, and after reading this article I have to change "wouldn't mind reading it" to "really want to read it." A lot of Western readers are screaming, "Abuse!" after taking in a few of Chua's examples of "tough love", but two quotes from Amy Chua's article/excerpt ("Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility..." and "It's not that Chinese parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It's just an entirely different parenting model.") have me leaning further into the "for her" camp than the "against her" one.

One of the mantra's that the Mohn babies have heard from (and will continue to hear from) Jesse and I ad nauseum is, "Sometimes in life you have to do things that you don't want to do. Sometimes (in life) you have to do things that are hard." I think that Amy Chua's brand of parenting is designed to prepare kids for that. Do I have the stomach for her method? Not so much. But I can't condemn it, either.

(And) hey, that's how my husband raised me, and look how great I turned out! Seriously, though, what do you think? (No, not about how I turned out! About "Chinese mothering"...) Check out the article (linked above) or the book and give your opinion in the comments. Or else just, you know, tell me I'm pretty.