Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Chinese mother.

The other night a friend posted this article from the Wall Street Journal, provocatively titled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," an excerpt from the upcoming book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. (It is important to note that the title of the article was most likely chosen by the WSJ to be as provocative as possible). The response amongst my American-raised Chinese friends was immediate: some things rang true, but ultimately none of us can remember being called "garbage" by our parents.

There are a lot of things our childhoods had in common, my other Chinese-American friends and I. We spoke Chinese at home. We had a hot-water dispenser with pink or purple flowers on it. We none of us wear shoes indoors. We don't hug each other. All of us washed vegetables and learned to make dumplings at an early age. The fact is, all these little things become insignificant compared to a greater fact: I had an amazing childhood. That my parents' love for me and mine for them is unspoken does not diminish it in any way. At all.

Talking about parenting is tricky. It creates yet another way for people to judge each other, to measure themselves against someone else's standards. In many ways, my parents weren't like other parents I knew, like their friends. It would take too long to explain all of the freedoms I had, all the experiences that make up my childhood. I remember now, why I played piano, why I practiced every day for an hour. I hated practicing. I would prop a book or a magazine against the music and play while reading. But I hated the idea of giving it up even more. It wasn't a chore, a burden, but a privilege, I was told. If I didn't want this privilege it would be taken away.

I cannot look back and say I regret anything about the way I was raised. Praise was rare, and all the more valuable when it was received. Criticism was freely given, and either stung me into apathy or improvement. My father can given a lecture on disappointment that seems to last for days, and my mother has a temper that could frighten Cerberus. There are things I am confident about - making ice cream, photography, finding obscure things on the Internet - and things that I am not - baking with egg whites, my looks, my writing. But I am grateful for all of it, because they are all part of the entirety of my life.

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