Last week, during a snow day, my oldest daughter Ling-Ling read all of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and really enjoyed it. I finally finished it this afternoon, on yet another snow day, while taking Ling to her physical–the same physical I forgot to take her to last week because, yes, it was a snow day.
To my annoyance, Ling kept reading over my shoulder, saying things like, “Oh, this chapter gets sad,” and “This chapter is funny and. . .”
“Uh Uh Uh!” I said while pretending to slap her face, “Shh, quiet! You’re ruining it for me!”
But she kept going until I threatened to take something precious away and the pediatrician finally walked in the door. This is why I needed my own copy of Harry Potter 7. My kids have the leisure to read Amy Chua or Harry Potter, while I cook, shop, work and keep the family going.
All to say, I’m clearly a Western mother.
So here are my quick responses to the book:
1. I really liked it. I laughed out loud. I stayed engaged. All my outrage was already spent on Chua’s WSJ article, so I just enjoyed the ride. Chua is funny, self-deprecating, brutally honest about her own foibles and clearly slightly (or even majorly) crazy. But the whole point of self-deprecating memoir writing is to bare one’s soul so that readers know we’re crazy. You, the public, are supposed to laugh knowingly along with us.
2. I loved the insider jokes, ones most likely only other Chinese/Asian-Americans can properly understand or appreciate. Riffs on White men with “Yellow fever,” or how 2nd generation Chinese women generally marry White men, or how we worry that our 3rd generation children are just soft, or examples of the foibles of Chinese parenting had me cracking up. She doesn’t couch these (often throwaway) comments, so for some they may be offensive. But as a woman who’s been part of a string of Asian interests for more than one man, someone’s finally talking about my world! (I was sure my husband had “yellow fever” because he’s the profile of White men who date Asian women, tall, thin, sensitive, gentle, good listener, somewhat melancholy. He kept protesting that I was the first Asian woman he ever dated. I came back that if he actually lived in places that had an Asian population, he would have dated a string of Asian women. Poor guy, no way he could win. . .)
3. I feel insecure and underachieving. She went to Harvard for 2 degrees, teaches law at Yale, has published 3 books the latest of which is on Amazon’s top 10 list, AND produced 2 daughters who are musical prodigies and straight A students (plus the younger one plays tennis). I haven’t done any of those things. Enough said.
4. I feel lazy. Chua has spent hours upon hours drilling and training her daughters in math, piano and violin. I haven’t. Enough said.
I brought the book with me to the elementary school ice skating party yesterday (it was early release—we had early release and then another a snow day—kill me now. . .) I had left the book jacket at home for no reason other than it fell off and I never bothered to put it back on, but another mom noticed what I was reading and asked what I thought. Having just laughed out loud from some quip, I said without thinking, “I’m really liking it!” Then thought, “Oh no, what have I just done?”
Thankfully, the mom didn’t immediately excoriate me but asked why, and I told her all the points I wrote above. She said it was a good thing I had left the book jacket at home, otherwise I would have been inundated with questions and not had the chance to read the book in peace.
I realized I might have also spent the entire ice-skating party defending Chua—because at the end of it all, the book leaves me with more questions than answers about parenting, both Chinese and Western, and that’s a good thing.
As I drove Ling to swim practice tonight (another sign that I’m not really a Chinese mom—that I let my kid, nay even encouraged my kid to do a sport even though she has almost no chance of ever being great in it), I asked her how she thinks I should parent in light of the book. She said that the book made her feel like a failure given that she’s not a concert pianist or a straight A student. She also said she thought that if I had pulled an Amy Chua rather than a Kathy Tuan-MacLean parenting style, she might be a higher achiever.
“Is that what you want? We have 3 and a half years left to go—should I push you harder?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Before I read the book, I thought I had it pretty bad already.”
But before we got to the Y, after much prodding and pushing, Ling said she thinks I probably parent like Chua does at the end of the book, where she comes to some middle ground, except I had that concept the whole time and that was a good thing.