Amy Chua don’t take no crap from nobody. Snap. She, like her mother before her, is a Chinese Mother. By her definition, that means that she helps her children find their pride by lashing them to the piano and hurling sharpened chopsticks at them until they can play the complete works of Franz Liszt with their toes. She’s at ease with this. She came away from the experience able to write books and chew her own food, so who am I to judge?
Since the press started covering her new book on Chinese mothers, everybody hates Amy Chua. “Western” mothers who value their children’s self esteem; Asian mothers who feel that she has set Asian Americans back decades (apparently by defying conventional wisdom to paint them as achievement-oriented, serious people); unemployed welders from Duluth who are freaking sick of ObamaCare taking the Christ and guns out of Christmas; and Sarah Palin, who tweeted the following: “Mnstrm Med at it agn. Hatrs blame me for violent piano practice in Chn- Am homes.” I love the internet.
Amid the web-bub over Chua’s intense picture of the Chinese mother, I feel obliged to make the following point:
While I don’t have the stamina to be this kind of Chinese mother (and am fatter than my child, a further disqualification), I’d like Chua to attend one of my kid’s music assemblies (if she can stand to). Then I want her to unleash a rant on the kids, their teacher, and, if need be, Marlo Thomas. Ms. Thomas is free to be whoever the hell she wants to be, but I think it’s time she owned up to her role in decades of musical carnage at the hands of seven-year-olds.
The most recent musical tragedy was the “peace concert.” I like peace. As an advocate for many lofty social causes, I’d rate peace high up there. Even above sodomy. I like Bob Dylan. I liked my Bob Dylan tapes back when… there were tapes. In mid-December, Bob Dylan fell victim to my daughter’s school peace concert. The chimes of freedom fell silent amid the din of 200 kids mumbling
“(Forte) how many (pianissimo) mmmm must a hmm hmm hmm, before hmm hmm hmm hmmm hmm hmmm? (Fortissimo) The answer my friends, is blowin in the wind, the answer is blowin in the wind.”
The answer was blowing away with those timeless lyrics right behind it. The kids could have learned those lyrics had they not been asked to not-really-learn twelve other peaceful songs. Every one of which I dutifully sat through. It’s a bilingual school; I’m proud to say that my child is equally proficient at mumbling in Spanish.
At the risk of insulting the music teacher, the school, or the scores of temporarily lobotomized parents who survived attended the peace concert, that thing needed one heaping helping of Chinese mother, Chua style.
I fantasized about her sweeping in wielding a spatula and a rolled-up application to Yale Medical School. Mother Chua, Destroyer of Excuses. Like the racially-totally-not-okay Kato character of the Pink Panther series, she knocks us all over. We are not sure whether she a lunatic or simply smarter than all of us. Perhaps she’s both.
She bursts out of nowhere, shrieking at a frequency only dogs can hear. You will do better or you can’t go home! I have steamed crustaceans whose death throes were more musical than this! My fantasy screeches to a halt when I realize that it’s my own voice I’m hearing. For this moment, I am that combination Mrs. Chua and Kato, mentally tackling the music teacher in the name of Bob Dylan and of my own first grade music teacher, who forced us to play the recorder. When a child fakes playing the recorder, the instrument is silent and you’re left listening to the one (Chinese?) child who actually practiced and knows the song. Think about it.
Unless Amy Chua dreamed up her Chinese mother to get a rise out of the rest of us, I don’t think we’d get along. On the other hand, if Chua’s daughter someday saves my life with a groundbreaking surgery that she pioneered in between concert tours, I will be grateful to mother and daughter alike. My own daughter will probably sit by my bedside making fart jokes and reading me the baseball news. She knows me so well.
I won’t be a Chinese mother, Chua style. But still, this idea of excellence tantalizes me as I consider all of the things I’ll have to pretend to like over the next ten years. It seems ridiculous. After all, I don’t fake it with my husband. Why should something as worthwhile as peace be any different?
I know Amy Chua’s answer. What’s yours?