Sunday, February 27, 2011

Are you a tiger or a kitten?

The text for today's Mom Moments column was a wee bit long and was cut down in the print version of the paper, so I'm posting it here in its entirety:

Are you a tiger or a kitten?

There’s been a big stir about a recently released book by Amy Chua, a professor of law at Yale University who has also authored two other books, one of which has been on the New York Times best seller list. “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is her latest publication. It’s about the strict Chinese style of parenting that emphasizes academic achievement and creating musical prodigies.

In an essay that is an excerpt from the book that appeared earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” she cites grueling hours of violin and piano lessons, the expectation that every grade brought home be an A+, yelling and screaming and her daughter and even calling her “garbage” as some of the techniques that “Tiger Mothers” use in raising their children.

There are admirable lessons instilled in children as a result of this parenting style that she mentions: having confidence that your child can do anything, perseverance and not giving up quickly when you’re not good at something, drive to succeed and do your best. However, its how she goes about getting those results that has raised eyebrows among American parents.

Forbidden in her household are playdates and sleepovers, being in a school play, getting a grade that is not an ‘A.’ Three hours of nightly practice on an instrument is the norm as is refusing to let kids choose extracurricular activities or watch television. Humiliation and degradation in the form of verbal expression are acceptable. Some examples she gives are “Hey fatty – lose some weight” or “You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.”

While I’d agree that academics should be very high on the priority list, I think American moms also take into account the child’s overall happiness and also consider that at the top of the list. The culture she describes is what you might hear some older generations of Americans talk about – an old school approach with the belief that failure in academics brings embarrassment or shame to the parents, that children are born indebted to their parents and obligated to repay them through obedience, that children are to be seen and not heard or without opinions since the parents know what is best and will enforce what they think is proper. Beating the competition is paramount and being better than everyone else is the ultimate goal. I don’t want to knock that kind of dedication and drive, but I just don’t have such a narrow focus. What’s wrong with a kid that’s well-rounded and good (but not perfect) at a lot of things?

There is something to be said for old-school parenting – it was often successful in bringing up children who were respectful - and often fearful. Sometimes that bit of fear motivated kids to tow the line. Today’s generation is certainly one that seems to have more of a sense of entitlement and has been accused of having less of a work ethic, but they’ve also acquired many positive traits. Today’s kids are creative, fast-paced and tolerant.

As crazy as this “Tiger Mom” approach sounds to many of us, we can also look at the other end of the spectrum to parents who may be considered “kittens” by comparison and see faults as well. If you’ve ever tuned in to the television series “Super Nanny” you have seen parents where the children undoubtedly control the house – refusing on a regular basis to do what is requested, causing chaos and throwing tantrums.

I’d like to think that the majority of American mothers fall somewhere in between. Personally, I could never parent the “Tiger Mom” way. I know I could certainly stand to improve some of my parenting techniques to encourage my children to take schoolwork more seriously and push them more when they aren’t interested in an activity. It just seems like a great cost to drill your children into doing what you want them to do and not giving them an opportunity to really enjoy childhood.

However, any great classical symphony musician has gone to great lengths to get there. You don’t get there without practicing every day several hours a day. But, somehow I’m ok with my kids not being concert pianists. When kids have a passion, it comes out. Why not nurture those talents – even if it’s choir or painting or soccer or web design or ballet – instead of playing the violin?

I made the producer cry

Today I did something I've only done one other time in my life. And I wasn't successful the first time, so I gave up.

Today I went to an audition. It's for a production to take place in May at the Valparaiso Opera House called "Listen To Your Mother." The production debuted last year in Madison, Wisconsin and this year will expand to several other U.S. cities. It's local mom writers reading about motherhood.

I figured I'd give it a try and went to a casual audition this afternoon in the corner of a coffee house. I know I didn't give much of a "performance." I simply read something I wrote off paper while seated at a table with the mom who is producing it. Although I felt like I was talking too fast and not making eye contact enough since I was looking down reading off the paper, I glanced up at the end of the audition to see the producer crying. I guess that's a good thing knowing that the sentiment still got through.

I'll find out later in the week if I made the cut. At first I thought I'd just keep it quiet and not tell anyone I auditioned. Then if I made it, I could boast, but if I didn't no one ever had to know that I tried out and didn't make it. Then I realized that there's no failure in not being selected, but rather in not trying at all.

My only other audition experience was sophomore year of high school when I tried out for contest play. I don't know why I didn't try out instead for the fall or spring plays where there were many more roles available and it wasn't for a serious competition. I was up against the resident drama queens who had been in every production the department had ever put on. And our school was known for placing high in such contests. It wasn't likely they'd throw a newbie in there.

So, whether or not I make in on the stage in May, I should be proud of the fact that I tiptoed out of my comfort zone to attempt something I never thought I'd try again. And I made someone cry in the a good way.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Is it too late for a new year's resolution?

Better late than never. At least that's what my mother always told us. She's one of those people who is never ever on time. For anything. I inherited a bit of that tardiness.

Here it is eight weeks into 2011 and I saw a posting on Facebook the other day that led me to a blog by a radio disc jockey related to a new year's resolution. Apparently several of the DJs on our Chicagoland country station agreed to following this resolution together. It actually sounded like something I could follow through with for the entire year. It was to get rid of a bag a week - that's 52 bags over the course of the year.

With a family of seven squeezed in to a small cape cod-style house, we're short on space. Every closet is crammed. Every cabinet is overflowing. My husband in constantly urging me to purge. So, it seemed like a good idea. However, since I was already 7 weeks behind, I knew it would take some major organizing to catch up and get rid of seven bags. Over a couple days, I was able to do it without any problem. Here's what I've gotten rid of so far:

Bags 1 through 4 were filled with items from the bedroom of my two youngest boys. Most of it was under the bed of my 5-year-old, who is an absolute hoarder. They could start a reality show on hoarder kids and he would fit. He is constantly collecting little things in Ziploc bags. I can't tell you how many little plastic bags I found filled with happy meal toys, paper clips, erasers, stickers, pencils, papers, Tupperware lids, little army men, LEGO bricks, plastic spoons, batteries, rubber bands and other various items. They weren't full-size garbage bags, but rather plastic shopping bags, so probably equal to 1 1/2 full size bags.

Bags 5 and 6 were paper bags that I filled with books I plan to pass down to my nieces. On one hand, I have this thought that books are meant to be shared and passed on. Really, how many times can you read the same book? Well, not so many times if it's a 400-page adult novel, but for a child who hasn't yet learned to read or is just learning, there's no such thing as too many times. I've read some books on the shelf so many times I have them completely memorized. Some are hard to part with because I can remember reading them to my teen and pre-teen back when they were little enough to fit in my lap. However, I decided it was time to slim down the book collection and keep only what would fit on their bookshelf in their room. Now the key will be to pass on or donate more books as they get new ones so it's not spilling over into piles on the floor or boxes full in the closet.

Bag 7 was filled with various pieces of clothing that no longer fit the boys or that I haven't worn in some time. It's filled and ready for the next Goodwill drop off.

Bag 8 was filled with some of the like-new name brand 4T clothing that my youngest has outgrown. All five of my children are boys, so clothes tend to just keep getting handed down until they either are worn out or have been outgrown by the youngest. For the past couple years, I've packed up the clothes that were too small and passed them on to my 2 1/2 year old nephew. Problem is, he is now the same size as my 5-year-old son. So, I decided I'd pull out the pieces that were in good condition and that I'd buy if I saw at a garage sale or second hand store. I listed them on eBay, so not only am I getting rid of something no longer being used, but I'll get a little cash out of it. Well, I'll get some in my PayPal account, that is - that I know I will turn around and use to bid on other clothes on eBay. At least it will help fund the additions to their wardrobe.

At this point, I was technically caught up, but I'm on a roll, so here's what else I've done:

Bag 9 - I continued through the closets, pulling out shirts that the older boys aren't wearing and will be posting them on eBay as well.

Bag 10 - I went through all the extra shoes, boots and sandals we had. It was quite an accumulation. Within a few minutes I had a full-sized garbage bag loaded with kids shoes to get rid of. I also filled a small bag with shoes that had no match anywhere in sight - probably 6 of them!!!! They went in the garbage, which surely means that the matches will suddenly appear out of nowhere.

Bag 11 - Inspired by a friend's recent Facebook status asking how often you replace your sheets, I decided to take inventory. I realized that I had a dozen sets of queen-sized sheets. Each time I got a new set, I kept the old. I don't know why. I guess I was thinking that at some point one of the kids might acquire a queen size bed or we'd get a camper and they'd come in handy. But when I looked at them and thought back, I realized that a couple sets we had before we even got married - and we've been married almost 20 years. I never threw away a set of sheets since we've been together. Obviously, most of them have seen better days. Some got pitched, some went to the garage to be used for rags or painting. I'm down to 4 sets now.

Bag 12 - We cleaned a couple shelves under the basement stairs. Moved some to the garage, but pitched a bag full of stuff we didn't even know was there.

This week, I hope to get through a file cabinet, where I'm sure I can easily fill a bag of recycling and my Tupperware and Rubbermaid containers where I'm sure I could fill a bag of containers without lids or lids with no corresponding containers.

Unlike a diet, a grueling workout routine or a huge lifestyle change, this seems to be a resolution I can make work. I'm off to a good start. I'll blog later on to post my progress. Hey, better late than never, right?