Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In which I embrace...

being a tiger mom and capitalization. Yup, 2011 is the year in which Lagerfeld embraces proper punctuation and grammar again. Or at least attempts to. We'll see how long this will last.

Much has been made in recent days of Amy Chua's memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother following a recent slate of interviews to promote the book and a polarizing excerpt, entitled, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" in the Wall Street Journal. I had no less than 4 different people send me the link to either the excerpt or sites referencing Chua and the fallout from her essay and book yesterday.

In short, I pretty much think Chua is bang-on. "Western" parents are waaay too lax on their kids and totally let them quit too early. It's a fundamental truth that things aren't fun until you get good at them and getting good at them entails practice, perseverance, and dedication. Whether it be music, knitting, cooking, whatever. You get good over time and it's inevitable that things are going to suck for a while. I think that Western kids are generally over-scheduled. What's the point in enrolling them in 10 billion different activities? So that they can be poor at all of them? What's the point in setting the bar low so that you can rejoice when they meet minimum expectations? I was raised in a way similar to that. My mum is notorious for offering frank (some would say, tactless and bordering on mean) criticism of my face, clothing, hair, and "thunder thighs."

My mum and Big D were both pretty strict with me, after being pretty lenient with my sister. I was discouraged from participating in extra-curricular activities (mostly because we lived far from public transportation and they didn't want to drive me) and hanging out with friends was also kind of frowned upon. Having a boyfriend made them apoplectic with worry about my virtue and my ambition. I really think they thought I was going to end up pregnant and working at a gas station with some of my less savory high school beaus. They didn't really drill me or oversee my homework the way Chua did with her kids, but failure to produce good grades would result in long, weekly, "family meetings" about how I was on a downward spiral towards welfare and they enrolled me in Kumon math.

I do think there's a happy balance, which Chua reiterates at the end of the article. In talking it over with the Dotytron yesterday, he said that he's definitely come around the Tiger way of parenting, seeing first-hand the aptitude and drive of the Asian and Southeast Asian kids he sees in the primary grades who are raised that way. He says he has a hard time applying it, but I think I'll be strict enough for the both of us. Big D drilled it into my head from a very young age that there is a right way of doing things and a wrong way (none of that namby-pamby, soft, "just give it your best shot" lowest common denominator pap for him). The Dotytron also thinks you should start off tough and then ease off once you've established the work habits and dedication and valuation of scholastic achievement when they're young. Set the foundation and then let them understand that you have faith in the foundation and trust them to have some autonomy and conduct themselves accordingly.

The thing is, this parenting style is an embodiment of the tenet of "do your best" - a tenet that so frequently gets perverted and mis-applied both in parents' expectations of their children and in the school system. A differentiated learning model at its best should be about expecting kids to do their best, but I really think all too often "do your best" becomes a cloak for the acceptance and valorization of mediocrity, which to me, is completely unacceptable. As a parent, I think you know what your kid is capable of, and accepting anything less than their best under the auspices of being "kind" is doing them a greater disservice in the long run, both individually and to their ability to participate and contribute to the greater community at large.

I mean, obviously I'm not going to force my kid to pick one of two potential instruments (if we're going stringed instrument, I would definitely prefer the cello) but I do expect my kid to apply themselves and understand that things being difficult and challenging are all building blocks to your mastery of a craft. I say this now - who knows what I'll be like or what Master T will submit to. Having said that, I do believe there is too much autonomy and agency given to the child. University is not being presented as an option in this house. Not while I'm paying the bills and not while I gave you life! (See...sounding like a Chinese mom already.)

My mum came over on Monday and helped with the boobla. It was so nice to have a visit with her. She was speaking Cantonese with him, which is something I've started doing at home. He seems to perk up a bit and really clue in when I do - maybe it's the change in the sounds he's used to hearing. My mum thinks he should learn Mandarin, but that's tough, since I don't speak Mandarin, but I guess we can learn together. The Dotytron downloaded the Rosetta Stone so that we can work on it, and one of the Tiger mom classes I'll send the boobla to is going to be Mandarin. So he'll do a summer sport, a music lesson, Mandarin and a martial art in the winter.

For dinner on Monday I made that tilapia braised with grape tomatoes and chorizo and arugala that I do all the time, served on orzo tossed with roasted garlic oil:

I also added some sliced red pepper and saffron to give it even more of a Spanish vibe. Last night I made us turkey and dumplings, with dilled cornmeal dumplings, adapted from this Gourmet recipe:

My changes include using boneless leftover Christmas turkey, using leeks instead of shallots and adding mushrooms, parsnips, celery, carrots, fresh thyme and sage to the poultry mixture. I also added chopped dill to the cornmeal dumplings. The dish was delicious.

Tonight we're having leftover freezer chili and cornbread. Because it's a snowy day I want to do some baking - I'm thinking either cookies or trying my hand at the Baked brownie recipe. The problem is, I don't have very nice chocolate with which to try it. My outing today with the Boobla is to the library and the grocery store, so we'll see if I can find some nice Ghiardelli squares or something there.



Chris said...

I read the excerpt and thought, "that's not Chinese parenting - that's just good parenting". But maybe I only think that now that I'm a "sort of" Chinese parent!
Chris H

karl lagerfeld, esquire said...

Hahaha, Chris - agreed! I think the Chinese v. Western dichotomy is just a useful shorthand she's employing.