Shut up and write – that is what you have to tell yourself when excuses murmur insidiously to your weary writing fingers. My box of excuses for this week is filled to the brim, and their validity does not trump my desire for absolution. So I put my fingers to work, banging out words in no particular order, hoping that a smidge of an idea might emerge.
My head has been crammed not only with excuses, but also with dreams, worries, and musings. I’ve been dreaming about my kids, about Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl, going off on their own, heading for college and life beyond. It must have been the hailstorm of reaction to Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother that infected my dreams. I know it inspired my musings. Of course, I was too easily taken in by the Wall Street Journal‘s provocative excerpt, and it was Ed who cautioned that I needed to know more of her story before I jumped to conclusions — and too easily to condemnation. I was mollified when I read more about Amy Chua’s reaction to public outcry about her verbally abusive parenting methods. Her statements seemed measured and her vision changed by her daughter’s reaction to her highly critical and obsessively narcissistic style.
Ed laughed when he read the WSJ excerpt and wrote me, “I don’t like the seemingly verbal abuse. But if people love their kids, in whatever way they love them, they can be good parents. You need to think about parenting this way [Chua’s way] just to make sure you aren’t being over the top the other way.” I was sure he wasn’t taking this seriously enough. I was outraged at the racism I thought was involved in this invocation of “Chinese” motherhood and not only at Chua’s cashing in on the stereotype, but also her use of the stereotype to abuse her own children.
It is quite a bit easier to point fingers at other parents than to look inside oneself and seriously evaluate and admit failings and missteps. Too easily, I was taken in by the debate, and I was outraged at Chua’s tactics – what she described seemed like the well laid plans of generals in war rooms. We all know how those plans turn out. When I finally emerged from the fog of finger pointing, I contemplated my actions as a parent.
Since Chua bravely bared her most intimate moments with her children, I suppose I should write about a few of mine. Just to be fair.
On the way to school on Tuesday, the person in front of me at a red light started to back up in order to snag a parking spot (an illegal one, mind) and nearly smashed into me. I moved out of the way, but also honked at the driver and muttered about the stupidity of people so desperate for Starbucks that they risk causing an accident. Gorilla Girl noted, “You always talk to the other cars, Mommy. Why didn’t you say shit? Sometimes, you do.” I’ve posted about this word before, and about Monkey Man’s use of it at just the right moment; I thought it was safely filed under experiences done. But here it is again, and I spent the rest of the drive trying to reason with a four year old about why that word should not be used by her. Frankly, I am sure she didn’t buy my explanation and I should not be surprised when she says it again with that glimmer in her eye. I could be channeling my dad, who often told us, “Do what I say, not what I do,” by way of excusing his two-pack a day cigarette habit. Not particularly convincing, effective, or honest.
When it comes to honesty, I can say that like Amy Chua, I do hope for the best for Gorilla Girl and Monkey Man in each of their futures. However, unlike her, I am not willing to sell my soul nor my children’s to be sure that they find happiness by getting into Yale Law School and earning a gozillion dollars. Maybe I could take a hint from Chua and get them going on ballet lessons and piano lessons so they can at least get into college. Here is another of my failures – I have not signed either one of them up for lessons of any sort. I know that Gorilla Girl’s playmates at school take ballet lessons but she has never really asked to join in, and she seems perfectly happy to mimic their dance moves in her own free form way, and even pretty confident about chastising her sister, Hanna, when her dancing does not meet Gorilla Girl’s standards. Oh, if I only had a photo of Hanna and Gorilla Girl in our kitchen, doing some sort of Rocky Horror version of Swan Lake to a John Mayer remake of a Tom Petty song (on Hanna’s ipod). Lessons will have to wait, maybe until they are requested.
One thing I have in common with Chua’s war room plans – no playdates. We don’t do them, maybe because we have two kids the same age who play together so there isn’t a need. It could also be that I am just lazy and/or perplexed by the idea of asking the parents to come and play. I am not against playdates in any sort of diabolical way, I just haven’t gotten around to planning them. I do have an aversion to them because they seem too proscribed and yuppified. I’d rather kids just figure out how to play together and get on with it. Am I shortchanging my kids by not organizing these events? Are they suffering from a lack of social interaction? They spend significant time with family and our friends. I guess that is the problem with playdates; the parents have to like each other, too.
Ed’s right about this, of course. I do love Gorilla Girl and Monkey Man, and even when I make mistakes, often, they forgive me and love me back. My shut up and write led me here, to realizing again that my kids love me, even if I don’t deserve it and even if I mess up. I should try to shut up and write more often!