Amy Chua has claimed that her bestseller "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" is not a parenting guide for lax Westerners. She insists that it's a memoir of her own experiences and not meant to supply "news you can use" -- as we in the ladies' magazine business call it.
I wish the Tiger Mother book were a service-y collection of tips, tricks and how-tos. For instance, I'd like a handy flow-chart to teach me how, exactly, Chua got her two daughters to practice their instruments for four hours a day. When I asked my 12-year-old daughter Lucy to start sawing away on her violin last night, she said, "When this video is over. Check it out. It's called 'Fat Cat Doesn't Want to Diet.'"
As a sucker for any cat video, I watched. Then Lucy showed me five more. Half an hour passed, and she hadn't scratched out a single note. We laughed together, but so what? She won't get to Carnegie Hall by giggling with her mom about lolcats.
Maggie, my 15-year-old daughter, chronically puts off her homework until the last possible minute. How did Chua get her daughters to do math drills until their brains spilled out their ears? Western Moms need to know! "Do your homework!" I nagged Maggie every 15 minutes for three hours.
"Five minutes," she said.
I'm desperate for a step-by-step breakdown of humiliation and shaming techniques. Where's a snappy Top Ten Rules for physical intimidation? I attempted Tiger Mother tactics. "If you don't start your homework immediately," I said, "you're grounded! No sleepovers or play dates. No dinner!"
"You want to deprive me of friends and food?" asked Maggie. "If you think that's the right thing to do, who am I to argue?"
That got me nowhere. So I tried this: "You're... you're garbage!"
"And you're sassy," Maggie replied, which made us both laugh.
You see? I'm flailing here without a bullet-point Tiger Mother methodology. Does one first threaten to throw away the toys, or start by denying them bathroom breaks? Obviously, I'm doing it wrong. Whenever I issue an order, my kids roll their eyes and tell me to take "a chillaxative."
Maybe I started too late in my their lives to bend them mercilessly to my will. I curse myself for allowing them to develop insufferable minds of their own. And I blame myself completely for their having friends, laughing a lot and expressing themselves.
Maggie and Lucy blame me, too, for everything I've done wrong as well as anything I might've done right. But, since they're not on the Dean's List and haven't played Carnegie Hall, I can't imagine what that might be.
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