This month, my inbox flooded with friends and family urging me to read Amy Chua’s book excerpt, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior? Over dinner, Thomas kept asking me, “Have you read it yet?”
A week later, he tried to peak my interest with: “Our friends are really offended by Chua. Did you know she even received death threats?”
Finally, he summarized the story for me, hoping to engage some discussion, but I remained as quiet as the eye of a storm.
Maybe, because I never ever want to be labeled as a “Tiger Mom” or worse “Chinese Mother.”
When Kyra was born, I vowed never to parent like my parents. No four hours of piano practice a day. No rules about how my kids can’t date until college or go to prom or watch T.V. No demands that they must get As and pursue career choices as a physician or lawyer. And definitely no wooden spoons (for hitting little hands) allowed in the house!
Unlike Chua, I didn’t think my parent’s legalistic cultivation was a gift. American born and rebellious against my parent’s customs, I proudly resisted anything Eastern or Chinese.
We showered Kyra with kisses and hugs and constantly told her we were proud of her. We let her watch her favorite cartoons. When she talked about the future, we said she could do anything she wanted. I even told Thomas, I would be thrilled if she became a professional snowboarder! By three, she had settled on becoming a race car driver and that is still her number one choice today.
Meanwhile, she blossomed in academics, outdoor sports, art, music, and picked up languages intuitively. Hey, the Western style of parenting is working, I thought.
Until, my best friend started to ask me questions. Michelle is a Head Start Preschool teacher, pursuing a master’s in Early Childhood Education. Lately, she’s been interviewing me for an assignment on how culture influences parenting techniques.
“So do you think academics is more important or art?” she asked me over the phone as I waited in the hall for Kyra to be dismissed from her after school Chinese program.
“No, you have to pick one,” she giggled. “I want to see how well you know yourself.”
When I didn’t answer, she nudged me further. “Think about what Kyra does to please you.”
We’ve known each other since four years of age, so instinctively I knew that Michelle was teasing me about our dinner last month at a Chinese restaurant. Just after tea was poured, Kyra announced to the whole table that she wanted to do her workbook. With my dad, aunties, uncles, and Michelle’s parents beaming at her, she pulled out a math workbook from her backpack and started to wow her audience with additions and subtractions at levels well beyond her age. Embarrassed, I tried to distract her with my iPhone. “Here, why don’t you play a game?”
After a few minutes of “screen time,” she nudged my aunt sitting to her right, handed her my iPhone and said, “Pass this around.”
Soon the whole table shouted praises: “Kyra, you are so smart. You are writing sentences already? You know how to use notepad? How old are you?”
“Okay, fine!” I paced furiously in the hall. “She pleases me with academics. However, I want you to know that we’ve also enrolled her in swimming and ballet and I started teaching her piano.”
She laughed. “That’s good! I just wanted you to see if you knew that sometimes your parenting reminds me of your mother. But, don’t worry, you are a great mom.”
My ears burned and I nearly dropped the phone. Am I unknowingly slipping into my traditional Eastern upbringing? Wait, let me explain why Kyra had a math workbook in her backpack. Her preschool teacher had recommended her for the gifted program and I heard from other parents that these books would help her feel more comfortable with the entrance exams.
Then Michelle asked, “Next question, are you going to force her to practice piano a certain number of hours a day like your mom?”
“No,” I said heatedly. “I don’t know. I gotta go.”
Before I had a chance to think about her question, Kyra’s Chinese school teacher let out the class and approached me. “I was wondering if you could play the piano for our Chinese New Year concert.”
She did not wait for an answer, but hurried me into the classroom and asked Kyra and the other girls from the class to rehearse lines from the Feng Yang Flower Drum song. While they danced and waved drumsticks above their heads, the teacher described the introduction, conclusion, and transitions she needed me to compose. Kyra repeatedly threw her arms around me and hugged me hard.
I guess I had my mom to thank for starting me in piano lessons at the age of four and pushing me to perform and compete. Now, I could do something for my daughter that not many other parents could. I didn’t turn out that bad, did I