I just started reading a new book. Actually, I’ just started reading two new books and am rereading 3 old books. That’s how I stay focused, I need to multitask or I loose concentration. I’ve always been this way. When I focus, I am incredibly focused, but in a way that burns me out a bit, so I have to switch my focus to something else and this is where my whole cycle begins, ends and begins again.
However, “Battle HYMN of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua isn’t as much of read as it is actually is a reliving of my childhood in so many ways and at the same time has me wondering, did I try hard enough or do enough during my formative years? When you read a book like this you can’t help but make constant comparisons and it is just so Chinese to always wonder, comparatively, “Did I do enough?”, “Do I do enough?”, “Am I enough?”, “Will I ever be enough, for me or for anyone else?”
There are insane similarities in the manner in which Chinese Mothers operate. They compare, they pressure, they threaten, they spank and they punish. They teach you to be humble, but to make sure you are the best so that you have something to be humble about. Anything you do has to have the end goal of a gold medal or better. Mediocrity is unacceptable, but why should that matter because you are a the child of a Chinese parents so you automatically are supposed to achieve nothing but the best? You can do well, but you if you aren’t “The Best” your mother will ask you “What’s the matter with you?”, “Why are you wasting everyone’s time?”, “Why are you wasting your talent?”
I firmly believe I was born to defy every single Chinese demand made by Chinese mothers. I never thought of the Chinese Mother as a Tiger, more like a Dragon Lady. At the same time all I ever wanted to do was make both my parents happy, but I always was more concerned, or perhaps, afraid of hearing my mother nag or yell at me, again. There’s something about being raised in a childhood environment with the undertone of fear which I think has actually made me really fearless.
My mother had our phones tapped and private investigators follow us when we were growing up. We do live in NYC, so I can’t say I blame her for anything she did to protect us. There’s no rule book on how to be a mother and one thing I can always say about my mother is that she definitely did her best and then some. She always reminded me that you cannot make mistakes with children, it is her job to protect us because you can’t undo damage, scars stick with you for life and this is where she was overbearing, controlling and suffocating in many memories, but I have to say, as an adult who is not a parent and still single, I understand her more with the years and I often wonder to myself, “What kind of mother would I make?”. I love all children and feel that children belong to us all and I joke around with my gay husband that I dread the day I might have a daughter, because the way I know the world now, I might be crazier than the craziest moments I have memories of my mother being. I say it as a joke, but I was just on the phone with him last night and I said, “I feel so sorry for the girl who might become my daughter, because I will be that crazy mother who follows her around with a shot-gun in hand, at all times”. He laughed, but there was a moment of broken hesitation where I think he fully understood that I wasn’t joking, but this is just in the now, and who knows if I ever actually will get married or have children. Besides, I am actively a part of my family business and having a Tai Chi school is about having an extended family, so, in a lot of ways, I get to practice my mothering skills, but in a less over-protective way. Upon finishing this book I can’t hep but constantly wonder, “What kind of mother would I make”, but most importantly I actually wonder if I would have the ability, intelligence, bravery, strength and fortitude to be as phenomenal a mother as Amy Chua and My mother Priscilla Chen.
I remember watching my mother rush us from activity to activity growing up. As a kid I remember thinking “How on earth could I be a mother?” because I knew there was no possible way I could keep up with mine and she was the one who was taking us all over the place to each and every single planned event. I have no freaking idea how she did all of this while helping my father build a successful business. As the oldest of two children I really did think this all the time. Recently, I have expressed this my mother too and she was so shocked that I ever noticed and now appreciate the amount of time, effort and non-stoppedness she devoted to her children, she thought I never noticed, but what was ever more touching, was when I asked her how she did all this and how she still manages to do all this she just simply says “Tiffany, when you love it’s easy”. The simplicity in her answer is also the powerful complexity of what it is like to just be a Mother.
Growing up, I had moments that felt tragic and there are enormous similarities in this book which also bring me to the thought that there is a lot of emotional content which is built into our DNA. In school I remember the whole idea of “Tabula Rasa” vs “Innate”. I never quite believed in the idea of “Tabula Rasa”, because in order to come to the understanding of “Tabula Rasa” I always believed that their needed to be a sufficient amount of “Innate” qualities built in. Nature is created through the evolution of response. The whole idea of evolution means we have to have an incredible amount of “innate” intelligence available in order to develop and evolve in the natural world. I always thought this way from childhood, because ideologies and personalities I believed to always come from a place deeper than any of could ever really know and we truly need a lifetime of living to constantly unearth. All of our layers of learning rebirth newer understandings. There is no black or white, we live in the grey and it is the grey where we unearth spectrums of colors and newer understandings of sound which we never saw or felt the day before. Life is always a matter of perspective and an ever evolving pallet of taste, smell and sound. Ironically, it is the iron hand of the Chinese Mother which is strictly about life being Black or White which helped me develop my tastes, understandings and thirsts for a broader and brighter spectrum of life. It is also the strict hand of the Genetically Communist Chinese Mother which also taught me to learn that understanding is truly learning and the greater you learn how to understand, the more you know to learn. Sometimes you do need the backdrop of a canvas of just Black or White to appreciate the internal vision necessary to help see beyond the basics of just being given the two options. Sometimes being limited is what helps become limitless, this is the incredible power of The Mind and as children you don’t understand how powerful your developing Mind is, is this why Chinese Mother’s seem to be genetically predisposed to pushing their kids so hard? Do Chinese Mother’s push their kids or, are Chinese Mother’s so acutely aware of the genius all children contain that they knowingly push their children with sometimes harsh tactics to get their minds to open up? After all, if there is anything that life teaches you, it is in the toughest moments where you actually push your mind beyonds its limits to find understanding, reasoning and ultimately, a solution. Nature created us as problem solvers, is there something that Chinese Mother’s innately know about this which causes them to push their kids so hard?
Reading this book shed a lot of light on how I am Anti-American when it comes to parenting. What do children actually understand? Really? Just think back to your childhood. Upon reflecting on mine I was influenced by mother’s Super Hero ability to expose us to everything possible. To actually list the number of experiences my mother has given me would be impossible, I know there are some details I can’t even remember. The amount of time and effort she devotes to her family is awe inspiring and intimidating whenever I wonder what kind of mother I would make. I’ve shared this with her. I’m not getting any younger and I’m past my prime for having children, but I also don’t know if I could be as good of a mother I would want my child to have and my mother says again, “Tiffany, when you love, when you really love and there is nothing you will love more than your children, it is all so easy. You’re so incredible with children, you will be a better mother than I ever was and I want to help babysit.”. Some of this I know is valuable advice, part of this I also know is my mom desperately hinting at wanting grandchildren and she always closes anything she can with saying “Grandchildren would make your father so happy”. I have to admit, I deflect against this by saying “Well, I’m not at that point in my life where I feel I have a life or have anything to offer a child at the moment and daddy loves it most when I’m in the ring, so maybe my baby will be giving him one more fight”. Mom very clearly tries to tell me that my fighting days have passed and I have to admit, I do agree with her, although I will only do so on this blog and never to her face, but if my life changes to the point where I feel I have more to offer than just another possible moment in the ring, I am sure I will openly admit that I was just going on the defensive with her, cause I have to say, I do imagine seeing my dad with his grandchildren, but maybe this is just something all women do when they are single at 40?
There’s so much about this book, even in some of the harshest sounding moments that make so much sense to me now as an adult. Children do not understand life the way adults do and as an adult it is a responsibility to make sure that your child grows up with as few regrets as possible. You can’t turn back time and kids don’t understand this, they live life in the moment and they have this sense of presence which is enviable and maddening. Because they live so much in the moment, they don’t realize that your present moments have a direct effect on your future goals. As a kid I remember thinking the goal oriented nature of my Chinese upbringing to be exhaustingly fun. In some ways I resented it and in some ways I appreciated it. As an adult, I am endlessly grateful for my Mother and Father having pushed me. By nature I have an intense competitive streak, but not with others, my competition is purely an inside job. I don’t care to seem better than anyone else, because I was raised to know that we are all unique and the only thing we can improve upon is our own self. We can only be better than who we were. Competition is valuable because you learn other people’s way of doing things their own personal best, this teaches you perspective and your range of perspective is your true super-power. Nobody knows anything absolutely and anyone who thinks they do is just simply a fool and nothing is worst in my Chinese upbringing than looking a fool, this doesn’t just reflect on you, because how you carry yourself and how you respectfully choose to understand others is a reflection of where you come from and who raised you and there was nothing my mother drilled into me more than, “Do you want to embarrass all your father’s hard work and accomplishments by sounding like a fool?”, “What do you really know, you are one person in a whole world of people and cultures? Learning to understand as much as the world has to offer you is the only sign of true intelligence”. This is also why my parents took us on endless vacations which I used to think was torture. While dad taught all over the world, she taught us all over the world. There’s something about learning that is such footprint in my culture that I think its in my DNA. I remember when I had an ex’s niece and nephew with us on the weekends sometimes and I automatically turned into my mother. I wanted to plan activities constantly so the kids can learn about me and I could learn about them and we could learn about each other through learning new things together. One day the boy said to me “Tiffany, how come you always take so much time to explain everything to us? Everyone else just puts us in front of something and leaves us there.” I was so amazed at this question, he wasn’t even a teenager yet, but I have always been so fascinated by how innately children are incredibly intelligent and I love interacting with them, because I learn so much from learning from how they learn, maybe this is the natural teacher in me, maybe its just my mother coming out of me, maybe its my thirst for learning, maybe I enjoyed being appreciated during a period of my life where I was almost always being taken for granted. If there is one thing children do make you feel when they learn anything new from you, it is most definitely loved and if they appreciate the lesson that’s just an added bonus. So, when the boy asked me his question I said “I explain things to you because I am amazed at how intelligent you and your sister are, you are both so limitless in your abilities, you are smarter than I remember being at your age and I want to share my knowledge with you because I know you will always turn my thinking into something better and more interesting” his response made me melt. He said “Everyone treats us like we are just kids, like we don’t know anything, I like how you make us think, you respect us”. The next day, on a drive he asks me “Tiffany, do you love us?”, his sister chimed in and says “Yes, she does, but Tiffany, who do love most?”. This was one of my favorite memories of my life and after I explained my answer which is always more than just a simple “Yes”, the boy just says very matter of factly “Yeah, I know you do, I can feel it cause I didn’t understand how you could spend so much time with us, now I know”. The little girl was so sweet and said “I know you say you love both of us the same, but I know you love me more sometimes when I’m alone with you”. The more time you spend with children, the better you understand life, love and what it really is to be happy.
In reading the end of this incredibly brave book, I think my mother would give me a Traditional Chinese Beating if I ever dared to go as deep as Amy Chua, there is something so evolved in the way Chinese parents really do raise their children, it always seems as though the problems evolve when the Western Ways seep in. I believe that all parents want whats best for their children, but the vanity of Western ways have made it easy for them to criticize Eastern Traditions without even giving a retrospective look at how Eastern Cultures have produced successful professionals with scholastic accomplishments. More often than not, Chinese Mothers have produced successful children, while Western Ideals have created a culture where it is acceptable to disrespect your elders and throw your parents into nursing homes.
Western ways, while still being very new to the world love to judge, cry abuse and point fingers. It’s all quite juvenile.
I’d rather stick to a traditional way, steeped in respect reinforced by my Dragon Mother, Priscilla Chen.