Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In which I understand the Tiger Mother

A year or two ago, I read The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and participated in a great discussion of it with a book club. I remember being fairly appalled at her description of the time she forced her daughter to practice a difficult piano piece until she got it right, making her stay at the piano and threatening to do all sorts of things if the child didn't get the piece down, including burning her stuffed animals. Thought I, that would never happen in our home, for I don't value musical achievement that highly. Ah, foolish woman, thought the universe...there is something that you value quite a bit: mathematics.

Yesterday was one of the those days that make a mother wonder if she's entered an alternate reality. The day started with the usual happenings, and then we began our math page for the day. Horrors! This one had sixty-four subtraction facts to accomplish. Never mind that they were all simple ones where the highest minuend was ten. No, the whole assignment page was numbers. Not a story problem about candy on the entire page! Dd7 (almost 8 years old now) hit a mental roadblock at the sight of that appalling exercise page. And I, tormented by visions of a daughter unable to subtract 2 from another number and sentenced to a life of English editing (not that there's anything wrong with that, but dd7 absolutely loves science), proceeded to force her to do it, making her start the page over every time she got a glazed look indicating that she was no longer doing math in her head and had instead turned her thoughts to her mother's meanness, the difficulty of the task, and the weave of her pants. Meltdowns, drama, tears, pouts, and occasional voice raising ensued--I think I was only guilty of the last, but I can't be sure. I found myself thinking of Amy Chua's threats to burn stuffed animals and understood where the threats came from. I'm happy to say my thoughts about threatening destruction to stuffed animals were never uttered aloud to dd7...but it could have easily come to that. What seemed to snap her out her stubbornness about the math page, after nearly two hours of Theater (a useful German word describing interpersonal drama, especially from tantrum-throwing children), was asking dd5 to do the subtraction facts aloud in front of dd7, which dd5 did in about five minutes.

After a lunch break, dd7 finally did her math facts in just a few minutes and her face wore a relieved smile. I was too exhausted to smile normally for hours afterward.

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