Amy Chua, also known as "Tiger Mom" spoke at my local bookstore last week. I had been thinking about her lately and was tempted to go.
I realized I wasn't all that interested. I grew up with my own version of "Tiger Mom." My Tiger Mom.
I was the only kid in the neighborhood who did not attend public school. When the yellow school bus picked up all my friends at 7:45 every morning, I was in my father's station wagon on the way to private school. When my mother picked me up at 3:30, I hopped in the front seat and unwrapped my celery sticks and peanut butter crackers. My mother had everything neatly wrapped in aluminun foil. These were the days before water bottles and juice boxes, so I inevitably arrived at my piano teacher's home with a dry mouth. Eat the celery last so you won't be thirsty.
Mr. M was a concert pianist. He only took a few students a year. It was the sixties and he shared a large home on a hill with his partner and two Afghan dogs. They barked at me every week for years. I have no idea why he continued to teach me. I showed little promise and even less interest.
On Mondays and Wednesdays I changed into my leotard and tights in the back seat of my mother's car. I took ballet lessons downtown with the most prestigious company in my city. Although my mother pushed and pushed, she could not will my legs to balance perfectly on my toes shoes. And she could not will Miss B. to cast me as Clara in the Nutcracker. Ever.
On the days I was not actually at a lesson, there was still a snack in the car. In my tiger mother's mind, there was no time to waste. She insisted I sit down at the piano within seconds of walking through the front door. I'd set the timer for one hour exactly and begin. Why are you stopping? I'd hear her call from the kitchen. I would quickly begin "Fur Elise" again for the fifth time. Go on to something else. She gave instructions from all over the house.
I started pushing the timer ahead little by little. My mother noticed the hour was going more quickly than usual and the timer stayed in the kitchen with her. My rebellion started in small ways.
After piano practice I went to my room for homework. I could hear my neighbor Robbie knock on the door to see if I could come out to play. The door always shut with Robbie on the other side of it.
The expectation was that I would finish my homework before dinner. If there was any homework left over I would finish right after dinner but that cut into reading time. Reading time was from after dinner to bedtime.
Like Tiger Mom, my mom did not believe in playing outdoors after school, or attending sleepovers on weekends. She did not allow me to watch TV.
I turned it on the minute she left the house. She'd return and promptly place her hand on top of the TV to see if it had been turned on. If it was warm, I was in trouble. More little rebellions.
I was expected to excel. This was my mother's purpose for me. My reason for being. If I was not going to be a prima ballerina, then I was going to be a concert pianist. I was going to attend an Ivy league college. This was my mother's plan for me.
As I debated whether I would listen to Ms. Chua speak at the local bookstore I thought about what it meant to be a loving mother. My own experience as a mother looked nothing like hers. I'd had fifteen years of living with my Tiger Mom. They were years filled with our collective angst.
Pushing me to be something I was never meant to be and never wanted to be frustrated us both.
As I hit adolescence, our relationship turned into nothing but an ugly power struggle. There was no semblance of a loving mother-daughter relationship.
It ended when I climbed out my bedroom window one night and didn't return until morning. I was fifteen. My mother kicked me out of her house.
The more I thought about Amy Chua reading from her book which she calls "a cautionary tale," I realized I had nothing to learn from her.
I had grown up with my own version of Tiger Mom.
I have to believe there is some sort of misguided love behind all the tiger moms and their need to push their children toward perfection.
I still have to believe.
My last pair of toes shoes~