If you’re a parent, you probably know about Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, the book by Yale Prof. Amy Chua that cheerfully condemns North American parenting practices as soft.
And just as cheerfully, she celebrates the “Chinese-style" piano-math drill torture of her own children as a successful program for overcoming adversity. That’s if adversity can be characterized as placing second in a math competition.
The whole thing is gloriously controversial. On the one hand, you have armchair sociologists who nod sagely and point to Chua’s parental rigour as proof the 21st century will belong to China. If it doesn’t already.
On the other, you have my own kids, who snort and roll their eyes and say “as if” a lot.
Chua once threatened to torch her daughter’s stuffed animals unless she learned to play a piece without flaws. Daughter played so diligently she ended up performing at Carnegie Hall when she was just 14. Chua was merciless. She made the kid sit on the bench for hours and play through dinner, even denying her water.
We had a piano at our place, too. Our kids sat on the bench for minutes, then took a dive, feigning epilepsy. After a couple of those sessions, the only person who spent any time around the piano was Douglas the cleaning person, who was not happy about the dust.
Once, one of Chua’s daughters placed second in a math quiz. She made the poor kid do 2,000 math problems a night until she regained the lead. My own kids have never done 2,000 math problems in their lives, combined, unless the math problem involves extracting $20 bills from the Bank of Dad and successfully not giving back any change.
By all accounts, Lulu and Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld are beautiful, well-adjusted young women who can leap tall buildings in a single bound while playing Flight Of The Bumblebee.
Dare I say it, but John David Sullivan and Ann Katherine Sullivan are, um, differently prodigious. Chef Iron John can whip up the world’s best Fisherman’s Stew while excelling at four increasingly difficult levels of Guitar Hero, while Annie is a modern-day Merlin, capable of plundering the secrets of the Tarot while adjusting your chakras for optimal energy.
They didn’t exactly raise themselves, but they were full participants. They’re not concert masters, nuclear physicists or radiologists, but they’re pretty amazing, and all we had to do was give up after five minutes of pretending to be Amy Chua.
So stay tuned for my upcoming parenting bestseller: Crouching Father, Belligerent Children.