Tag Archives: parenting

My kids say funny stuff, too 2

5 Sep

featuring my son, 16 years old

My son is now at the age where he leaves for hours at a time to meet up with friends and do constructive things like drive from mall to mall visiting their favorite stores. I say visiting because, between them, they have almost enough money to get a fast food meal and put half a gallon of gas in the designated driver’s car.

I know a little bit more about the aspirations of some of my son’s cohorts than is comfortable for a woman known to worry about things like being sucked out of an airplane toilet. I know, for instance, that one of his group really, really wants to try LSD or just about any mind-altering substance.

Recently, Son came home from one of his mall inventorying ventures along with three other young men. I was coming down the stairs just as they opened the front door so nearly collided into Son. He was smiling; he looked happy. This is not a state I am accustomed to in him. Mr. I Want To Drop Acid and See God was with him.

I surveyed the situation and said the first thing that popped into my head.

“Are you high?” I said. He and his friends looked at me like I was insane. Now, the minute it came out of my mouth I knew it was probably not the best way to greet my son and three young men who tower over me, but there you are.

Later, reviewing the incident, I asked my son, “God, what on earth was I thinking!?”

“I don’t know, Mom,” he said. “I was like ‘Hi, Mom!’ and you were like ‘Hi, Drug Addict!'”

Head of the Class

9 Aug

Image: Designtechtonics.biz

Not too long ago, in my newspaper column, I wrote about my son’s friends being given cars by their parents. I had heard that kids with cars—and I don’t mean Power Wheels—was pretty common here, but didn’t really believe it until one newly minted driver after another was given a car. And we’re not talking old cars in funky colors, like the mustard yellow Pinto that was my first car. Two of my son’s friends were given new Priuses. Or is it Prii?

I wrote that no kid should be given a car, especially a kid who just learned how to drive. Let that kid buy a car and he’d appreciate it, care for it, drive it with caution, fill it with gas using his own money. Until he could do that, I wrote, my son would be asking to borrow the family car. I mentioned that we can’t afford to buy our son any car, but even if we could, there’s no way in hell that we would.

I was accused of having class envy. You need to understand where I live to fully appreciate this accusation. Money magazine has named Naperville one of the 10 best places in America to raise children—more than once! There are a lot of reasons to like Naperville: good schools, nice houses, lovely downtown near the historic district. A river even runs through it.

In Naperville, you could live here.

With all that good publicity from Money magazine, lots of people moved here in the past 20 years or so. So, you’ve got the old timers who mostly live in the old neighborhoods. Back when I was a kid, houses in those neighborhoods were very affordable for a young family; my own family almost moved there. If you moved here in the good old days, your $25,000 house is probably worth more than $500,000 now. Wealthier people have moved here and built even more expensive houses. And less wealthy people started moving here when builders started turning farmland into subdivisions; I live in one of those. Today, we even have town houses, condos and (gasp) apartments.

Or you could live here.

Or here.

What started as a pretty nice small (white) town has become a city of more than 140,000 people replete with every race, religion and socio-economic grouping. We even have a prostitution ring and a heroin problem.

In that context, I understand the anxiety that pushed an obviously wealthy long-time resident to think that when I said “ there is no way I’m giving my son 24/7 access to something that is a proven killer, particularly of boys” what I actually meant is “rich people suck.”

I don’t think rich people suck—well, not all of them. There are rich people that suck and poor people that suck. I’m equal opportunity when it comes to thinking someone sucks. So, me with class envy? Nah.

I have had several other types of envy. Like kid envy. There are children who make their beds every morning, get their own breakfast and go happily to school. There are children who join in school activities, practice their music lessons, do their homework and help around the house. There are children who respect their parents, walk the dog, get good grades and brush their teeth. These are not my children.

Frequently, I find myself wishing that my son were more involved in activities at school, such as anything. And I would love for my daughter’s room to not look like Lord Voldemort could hide in it. But, then I wouldn’t have a son who calls me on his cell phone and says, “Hey, Mom. I’m sitting on a couch on the corner of Sanctuary and Lowell.” When I drive to said corner, I do indeed find my son sitting on a discarded sofa, kicking back like a football fan on a Sunday afternoon.

I have had penis envy, too. When I worked in public relations, I made a fairly decent salary. We bought our first house on it. But, if I had a penis, I would have made $25,000 more. That would have also made us a gay couple, but we’re ok with that. Hell, we adopted our second child and lived in Oak Park for a while.

Do I even need to mention shoe envy? Massive quantities of shoe envy here. My sister and her daughter have truly gorgeous shoes and they wear the same size, doubling the number of shoes available to each of them. Not fair, right? When my husband finally got his PR business off the ground, I could buy truly gorgeous shoes, too. I paid lots of money for some pairs. I still swoon over the Italian ones made completely of leather. Does that mean I envy myself my shoes? I think it might.

I certainly envy my daughter’s shoes. She has narrow feet. With a lot of obese children in the US, they make cheap shoes really wide these days. So, the Empress—I mean, my daughter—can only shop at the pricey children’s shoe store in town, or Nordstrom.

But the envy I’m most likely to suffer is Writer’s Envy. Like most writers, I read a lot. I read all kinds of things, from crappy fantasy to classic literature. And when I find truly good writing, I want to crawl in a hole and never touch my computer keyboard again. I feel like Mike Myers and Dana Carvey meeting Aerosmith in Wayne’s World. “I am not worthy,” I think, “I am not worthy.”

Being bipolar actually has its benefits in dealing with Writer’s Envy. Reading something truly fabulous will send me into a tailspin. But all I have to do is wait for the next mania train to pull into the station and I’ve got myself convinced I can write a bestseller . . .in a month . . .while still working . . .and raising my kids. You jealous yet?

Is Gun Control a Hopeless Case?

26 Jul

I thought about not posting today. Not just not writing. No guest post; no re-blog. No “I’m taking a vacation, see you next week.” Nothing. See, I spent the week wondering what I would write about the Aurora shooting. It seemed I really should write something about the Aurora shooting. It’s a tragedy and not recognizing it feels callous. Writing about funny things my kids say, weird places my dad thinks he’s been and other trivialities seemed disrespectful.

I don’t believe I’m a callous person nor disrespectful, so then why have a struggled so much to find something coherent to say about what happened on July 20?

Because I’m not surprised it happened. And I’m not surprised at the aftermath. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Northern Illinois. Strip malls. Fast food places. Someone goes crazy with guns. The media goes crazy reporting on it. Some people say we need gun control. Some other people say guns don’t kill people. It goes around and around and nothing changes except the people who die.

I tried to find a place of righteous anger. Nothing relieves a sense of helplessness better than a good head of steam. I couldn’t find a thimble full of steam, let alone a head.

I’ve been a gun-control advocate for a long, long time. When I read the Bill of Rights, I agree with the dissenters in Columbia v. Heller and don’t leave the “well-regulated militia” part out of the Second Amendment. I have no problem requiring guns to be registered. I register my kids for school every year, filling out the same stupid information on the same freaking forms even though none of it has changed from the year prior. Though I firmly believe my children are shortening my life, kids aren’t generally considered lethal weapons. Surely someone wishing to own a gun can endure the inconvenience of registering it.

I have supported handgun bans, too, and certainly got in line to ban assault weapons. Someone wants to rape me or take my purse, they don’t need to shove a machine gun at me or hold a pistol to my head. They’d convince me with a knife. Hell, I’m so small, I could easily be overpowered by just about any determined criminal.

As with all issues that interest me, I researched gun control before forming my opinions. So, when the same old “no guns, yes guns” points and counterpoints got trotted out over the bodies of the Aurora shooting victims, I revisited gun control issues.

And now I feel helpless. We can ban gun sales. We can stop manufacturing guns. We can make it illegal to own guns. (Oh, shut up! Yes, you can keep your rifle for hunting and shooting the heads off home intruders. Tuck it under your bed with your slippers.) We can do all of these things and we will still have too many guns.

We like to say things that will always be with us are like cockroaches. But cockroaches are biodegradable. Guns aren’t. Guns are like pennies. There are billions of pennies floating around the world and unless someone gathers them all up and melts them down, they will continue to float around. Same with guns.

I’ve heard a joke about lawyers that goes something like this: if you took all the lawyers in the world and put them at the bottom of the ocean, what would you have? A good start. If we took all of the guns in America and put them at the bottom of the ocean, I think we’d have a good start, especially if we start with the assault weapons.

But we will never get all of the guns to the bottom of the ocean. We will never even agree that a good number of guns should be at the bottom of the ocean. Until we have the economic, political and civic will to understand that guns and their proliferation are a problem for those who want to own them and those who don’t want anyone to own them, we will be awash in guns and the concomitant violence.

What makes me feel even more hopeless in considering the Aurora shootings is that we need terrible tragedies to force us to consider the consequences of being the most heavily armed society in the world. And such tragedies have little to do with the true costs of having so many weapons so readily available. Someone as clearly unstable as James Holmes would definitely have found a way to make a murderous spectacle of himself whether he did it with guns or machetes.

The highest cost to us of gun violence takes place all day, every day. Caring for a single gun shot survivor—from the time he hits the ER to the day he dies—can cost more than $600,000, not including lost wages and other indirect costs. Gun violence doesn’t just cost us in health care, but in costs for increased security, such as metal detectors; costs to prosecute, defend and incarcerate offenders; and in the emotional and psychic costs of raising children in a violent, unpredictable world.

There is no way to make sense of a heavily armed man walking into a movie theater and shooting as many people as he can. We can spew our entrenched beliefs about guns and gun violence at each other all day, every day and it won’t begin to prevent another James Holmes. In fact, choosing to discuss gun violence only when it is demonstrated in its most spectacular form disrespects all victims, whether they were shot in a movie theater or an alley.

Screw Waldo! Where’s Dad?

23 Jul

This week, I begin experimenting with my Monday post. I had been posting a link to my Naperville Patch column. In a sign of the times, the Patch is no longer carrying opinion pieces written by people with, you know, opinions. Said people like to be paid. Said news source figures they can get people to write blogs for free. I have, indeed, gone to the dark side and agreed to write a blog on the Patch covering the same topics I did in my column: parenting and suburban life. For now. But that doesn’t mean I have to send y’all to the Patch! Oh, no, no! You can read my excellent verbage here. Benefit to you? I leave in the snarky, nasty bits I can’t really put on a family media outlet. Enjoy!

Maybe you’ve seen them. The Proctor and Gamble “Thank you, Mom” commercials showing moms around the world getting their little athletes out of bed, shuttling them to lessons, washing out their work out gear, biting their nails at meets—all so the tykes can grow into Olympic athletes? Another shows athletes arriving and competing at the Olympics and each athlete is portrayed by a child ‘cause “in their moms’ eyes,” the ad states, “they are all still kids.” The spots have gone viral on the Internet primarily because they’re real tearjerkers.

They make me cry, too, but not only because of their sentimental portrayal of the sacrifices moms make for their kids. I’m saddened the whole campaign focuses on moms as if they are the sole reason athletes are able to rise to the pinnacle of their sports.

Tell that to Apolo Ohno, raised by a single dad who juggled 12-hour shifts at his hair salon with caring for his infant son. Dad got Apolo into competitive swimming and inline skating to keep his son from becoming a latch-key kid. When Apolo switched to speed skating at 12 years old, his father drove him to competitions throughout the US and Canada then got him into the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center at 13. Apolo is the most decorated American Winter Olympic athlete in history.

Gymnast Nastia Liukin and tennis player Serena Williams are coached by their fathers. Ireland’s Katie Taylor, also coached by her father, is following in his footsteps; she’s the world women’s boxing champion.

Virtually assured of a slot on TeamUSA in 2016 is 13-year-old diver Jordan Windle, who nearly qualified for the 2012 team. Jordan, adopted from Cambodia at age two, will have two dads to thank should he achieve his dream.

I have nothing against giving mom a pat on the back but the P&G spots make me queasy reinforcing, as they do, the idea that raising children is a woman’s job. My nausea is increased as I watch the P&G moms doing the laundry, washing dishes, shuttling kids in their big fat minivans. Yeah, someone has to drag the cranky, sleepy future Olympians out of bed but in our house it’s Mom during the week and Dad on weekends ‘cause, you know, we both work. Good luck finding a mom doing anything but home and kid care in these spots. And dad? The only one you’ll see is sitting on his butt watching his daughter on TV.

Twenty-four percent of children in the United States are being raised by a single mother. Abundant research shows the presence of responsible, involved fathers reduces poverty, prevents child neglect and abuse, increases child health and academic performance and decreases discipline problems, among many other benefits. In that light, leaving dad out of the picture in an advertisement seems irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst. P&G claims it is the “proud sponsor of moms.” How hard would it have been to be proud sponsor of parents?

The P&G commercials are fictional dramatizations of idealized moms. If you’re still looking for an Olympic moment that will bring tears to your eyes, look back to 1992 when British runner Derek Redmond tore a hamstring muscle in the 400 meters. In pain, he hobbled to the finish supported by a man who ran onto the track from the stands—his father.

Check it out! I guest blogged!

29 Jun

Ordinarily, I eschew exclamation points in my writing but, golly gee, someone asked me to write for his blog and I did it! You can check out a bit of my experience parenting my son through one of the darkest times of both of our lives here:  http://blackboxwarnings.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/a-tale-of-two-meds-and-one-teen/

Read the other posts, too. The man who started the blog is also dealing with a son with ADHD and the meds that come along with it. And there are others who posted as well. It’s a valuable, developing resource for those of us taking drugs with black box warnings (means they can lead to all kinds of nasty side effects, like suicidal ideation and other fun things) and parenting kids taking those drugs.

Now, THIS is crazy!

28 Jun

Image from Zazzle.com

It’s Father’s Day. I’m sitting with my Dad on the patio.

“How are you, Dad?” I ask.

“Not very good,” he says, looking down at his hands. I’ve never seen him this sad.

“Your mother rejected me,” he says and tells me, through tears, that my mother left him.

I start to cry, not knowing which is worse, telling my father that my mother died nearly four years ago or letting him believe she’s still alive and left him.

“Dad,” I say, as gently as I can, “Mom’s dead. She died almost four years ago. She would never leave you.” He looks up, confused. He’s confused nearly all the time now.

“You took such good care of her, do you remember that?” He’s trying. “She had emphysema and you took such good care of her. She was just too sick. We had to let her go, Dad.” I wonder if he remembers making the decision ending life support. He believes me. He believes and he’s sad, but he’s calmer.

I visit my dad every week these days, but I never know where it’ll be. Last week, it was Denver. He was waiting at his hotel, while my mother and grandmother shopped for houses. They’d come to Denver for a convention, something they did a lot. Traveling to conventions, that is, not traveling to Denver. He seemed anxious about buying yet another house, but he’d never really been able to say “No” to my mother. I told him I knew the feeling.

Another visit saw us in Hong Kong, having dinner with a group of executives my dad clearly didn’t like because they’d kidnapped me. Yet another visit saw us in Rochester at a bicycle factory. There was our visit in an undisclosed location in Romania, where my dad told me he was forced to sit on a minaret to escape the men trying to capture him in Saudi Arabia. Recently, my sister married the Shah of Iraq, so we have an Arabian theme going lately.

My dad’s delusions are nothing compared to the other residents. There’s the woman who gathers all of the baby dolls and stuffed animals and arrays them on a table. She dresses them all and sets them down to sleep then complains about how she has so many babies to care for. There’s the 105-year old woman who was once a singer. She still tries to sing but it comes out as screeching wails. There’s the woman who sits quietly and, when she catches your eye doesn’t say “Hello,” but “I’m afraid.” “Afraid of what?” I asked. “Of dying,” she replied.

It’s hard not to make the leap to The Snake Pit or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or whatever look-inside-the-loony-bin movie was popular in your particular generation. This, after all, is what crazy people are and do.

But I know better. My father and his housemates aren’t nuts. They have a terrible disease that literally eats at their brains, destroying the web that connects a lifetime of accumulated memory and leaving them with a stew of thought they continually try to make sense of.

No. They are not crazy; I am. At least, that’s what my society says. I have bipolar disorder; I am bipolar. I never know which description to use, so I use both. But no matter how I reveal my condition, I get a universal reaction, spoken or no. “That chick is crazy.” Someone even told me, “Wow. You’d never know to look at you!”

I suppose that’s a compliment; the self-harming, judgmental thoughts, over-spending and insomnia don’t show on my face. Of course, the medication helps. More likely, it’s an indication of how crazy Americans are about mental illness.

I happen to come from a family of crazies. Alcoholism, schizophrenia, drug abuse were things I learned about early. None of the crazies looked crazy. Well, ok, the schizophrenic lived in another state, so I didn’t see him very often and can’t really say he never looked crazy. Still, “you’d never know to look” at any of them that they lived with demons.

So, I don’t usually tell people I’m bipolar, though I’ve been doing it more often lately. Maybe it was the “you don’t look” it comment; maybe it’s my own growing acceptance. I’ve been more active in the blogosphere lately and the anonymity it affords makes it easier for crazies to hang out and connect with each other.

In America, you can pretty much tell who’s a flag-waving conservative by, well, the flags waving on their houses. I decided, some time ago, to take back the flag. This is my country, too, I thought, and hung the flag on our porch.

So, I’m taking back crazy. I’m a mom, a writer and a teacher. I have two great kids and the obligatory pets that go along with living in one of America’s most famous suburbs. I’m happily married.

This is what crazy looks like, people.

C? Si! 100 posts and beyond

21 Jun

I’m not ordinarily interested in anniversaries, commemorative dates and other forced significancies. I barely remember how long I’ve been married and don’t really think it matters much. Frankly, staying married is really just a matter of not getting divorced when things get bad. Things have always gotten better for us, so being married for 20 years is more luck than hard work.

I don’t understand why we have to celebrate birthdays, either. I get older every year; so do you. Why do I have to go out to eat somewhere really fancy on April 22? Maybe I’d like to go out to eat somewhere really fancy on June 26 or October 13. I’m considering putting tokens in a jar for all of the events we’re supposed to commemorate. Then, if we feel like doing it up one day, we can just take out a token and celebrate whatever we happen to pull out. So, if I want to, I can celebrate my October wedding anniversary in March.

Publishing 100 posts on Snide Reply, though, is apparently something to crow about. I’ve actually published 101, but I didn’t write one of them. I recently re-blogged a post from sweetmotherlover, a blogger I follow. Because I’m busier than a suburban mom driving her kids all over town to various summer activites, I decided to break my no-commemorations rule. I am celebrating writing 100 posts by re-blogging the first post I wrote, two years ago. Back then, I had about 35 followers. Last time I checked, I had about 144145147. Not the biggest following, but more than I ever thought I’d reach. I happen to think my first is also one of my funniest posts and hope you think so, too. Enjoy.

Thanks friends, family and followers! I’ll keep writing if you’ll keep following.

How Old is Old Enough For Home Alone?

18 Jun

How old were you when you first stayed home alone? My kids think it’s great. I think it’s a terrible idea, imaging every kind of disaster possible. So, of course, I wrote about it. Here’s the link:

http://naperville.patch.com/articles/how-old-is-old-enough-to-stay-home-alone

Do you remember staying home alone? How old were you? I had an old sister and younger brother so was seldom home alone. Maybe that’s why I love being alone now. Hm….yes! Let’s blame it on the siblings!

I’ll meet you on the dark side of the mom

31 May

My children have their last day of school tomorrow. Technically, it’s really just their last hour of school before summer break. The school district is calling that hour a half-day; I can’t help but wonder why we wonder that our children have a hard time with math.

My kids will be home all day for 83 days minus one hour. We’ll reconnect. We’ll sleep late, go to the beach, make cookies, go out for lunch, run through the sprinkler, watch movies, go to the library. By then, we will have made it to about day six. And then I will want them the hell out of my hair.

I realize it’s not very mom-like to dread spending large amounts of time with your children. I realized this when I admitted that I could quite easily spend six weeks away from my kids without really missing them that much. I assumed that the six weeks would be spent doing things like, I don’t know, a writer’s retreat or teaching English in France or writing and reading on a beach in France. Whatever it was, it involved France. Further, I assumed there would be telephones and computers with Internet connections, probably even Wi-Fi, because—again, making an assumption—I figured that they have advanced technology in France. So, I could write and read on a beach in France and my kids could text me. We might even be able to Skype.

But I was reviled. The other mothers pounced on my uncaring attitude toward my offspring. How on earth, they thought, could I be separated from my kiddies for so long?  Apparently, these moms assumed they would spend the six weeks in a sensory deprivation tank. And that their partners would cease to exist or would instantly become insensible, incompetent boobs completely incapable of caring for children.

Admitting to being cool with a six-week vacation wasn’t the first time I realized there’s a dark side to this mom. That happened about two months after my son was born.

I remember falling in love with my son. Not loving him, but falling in love with him. Smelling the top of his head and swooning. Taking pictures of his tiny toes and the soft fuzzy back of his neck, then kissing both. I was smitten. At the same time, I sometimes had an almost overwhelming desire to spike him like a football in the end zone. What kind of mother fantasizes about slamming her baby into the Astroturf, I thought? A bad one, came the answer. A really, really bad one who should have her child immediately removed from her custody.

“This is completely normal,” said my therapist, admitting that while her fantasies were much less violent—she was just going to open her arms and let the baby fall to his fate—they existed nonetheless. Great, I thought, I’ve got a really, really bad mom for a therapist and her child should immediately be removed from her custody.

My therapist also thought it was completely normal when I admitted later that I loved IKEA because I could shop in the calming comfort of cheap Swedish design while someone else watched my kid. I even admitted that, gliding down the escalator, I thought, “I could walk out the door, get in my car and drive away. I could be a long, long way away before anyone even noticed.”

Eventually, I accepted the balderdash my therapist was feeding me: that good moms have deep dark fantasies involving their children. Just because other moms weren’t admitting it didn’t make it any less true.

I didn’t spike my son nor did I leave him at IKEA. He’s sixteen now and still living with us. We even had another kid. Though I have never fantasized about spiking her, I still have my dark moments.

My daughter cries about every little hurt, bump, or scratch she gets. She also cries when she makes a mistake or has an accident. Now, I’m not talking tears spilling gracefully from her cheeks. The biggest—and most racist—misconception about Chinese girls is that they are all delicate, quiet and well behaved. You know, that “uh, uh, uh, oh-oh, Little China Girl” thing.

There are no dainty trails of tears from my daughter; there is wailing, sobbing, whining and lamentation. It drives me crazy. It makes me want to smack her. It makes me clap my hands over my ears. I know these are inappropriate responses, so I calmly tell her I can’t understand her when she cries. She cries more because now she is not just in pain, but also misunderstood. I tell her I need her to stop crying. Now she is crying harder because she’s making mommy mad. I tell her she has to the count of five to stop crying. Now she is crying even harder because she’s being timed. I get to five and tell her I’m going to start charging her a quarter for every minute she cries. All the while, my inside my head voice is screaming “Suck it up, you little baby!”

My husband admits that he has had dark fantasies, particularly involving our son. Our son is not a demon though some have thought so. He has always been difficult and my husband came to parenting late. So, who could blame him when he screamed at his mother that at least he wasn’t “out whoring and drinking” when she mentioned how he might improve his fathering techniques.

Our daughter appears to have cured my husband of his darkest fantasies. Now he’ll more likely fall into despondency over his failures as a father. He does sometimes fantasize about driving away and not telling anyone where he’s gone. He admitted, though, that he’d just go to a hotel for the night and watch old movies in peace.

I realize I’m not painting a very loving picture of myself, but being honest about my darkest thoughts helps take away their power. There are days when going to the beach with my kids is exactly what I want to do. Then there are days when I’d rather clean the cat boxes. So, I’ll suck it up for the summer. The first day of school, though, I’m headed for France, at least in my fantasies.

Battle Hymn of the Pussy Mom

3 May

In my continuing effort to assess the parenting book competition, I recently read “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Lots and lots of people read the book; lots and lots of people thought the author, Amy Chua, a monster for how she treated her children. I’ll confess that I had an ulterior motive in reading the book, though. As the white European-extracted mother of a Chinese girl, I’ve been conflicted about how to raise her since the day I first bounced her on my hip. Maybe, I thought, I can learn something about raising a Chinese daughter from a Chinese mother.

Not that conflicted feelings about motherhood are something new. Second Guessing is the dirty little secret of every mother I know, right up there with buying print blouses not because they are pretty but because they can hide a boatload of baby spit up.

For me, Second Guessing started with giving my son his first bottle of formula. I remember filling the bottle, breast-feeding failure seeping out of me. The stuff smelled vile. How, I thought, could I feed this poisonous brew to my boy? What about his immunities? What about his IQ? Never mind his “failure to thrive,” which was obviously the fault of my faulty boobs, what about my mom cred? The little heathen sucked the stuff down like an alcoholic after a three-week dry out. Now, he’s seldom sick and his IQ is just fine, but I still feel like Bad Mommy every time I see a successful breast-feeder and her chubby offspring.

Bad Mommy still visits. Hell, I see her more often than I see my husband. She’s particularly active, where my daughter is concerned, around Chinese New Year. My husband and I have managed to cobble together a family life that incorporates his Jewish-ness, my Catholic background and a little sprinkling of Buddhism for flavor. We celebrate Passover using a haggadah we wrote ourselves that mashes together e e cummings, socialism and the traditional Passover stories. We have a Christmas tree that has some Chinese ornaments and Stars of David scattered among the bells, Santas and South Park characters. A statue of Buddha is the first thing you see when you enter our home. Well, that and a pile of shoes and backpacks.

But Chinese New Year? From an auspicious beginning of a party with like-constructed families, complete with dragon dance, we’ve devolved into dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. Sure, the kids get some money presented in a red envelope and I hang a string of fake firecrackers on the front door for ten days, but I’ll be the first to admit that our Chinese New Year celebration is pretty hollow.

Maybe, I thought, it’s pointless to try to celebrate holidays that I’m only familiar with through what I read on the Internet. We’ll go to Chinatown. We’ll watch the parade. We’ll go to that big, expensive banquet the Families with Children from China puts on every year. I made all these virtual plans forgetting that Chinese New Year takes place in winter and we have no money. It’s freaking cold in winter in Chicago. We’re broke. Hello, Square One.

Taking a different tack was easier once we moved to Naperville. One reason I chose this suburb is the concentration of Asians, Chinese in particular, who live here. The only area with more Chinese than Naperville is Chinatown. Since we came here for the schools and our son isn’t Chinese, we decided Naperville was the better option, though it still feels pretty foreign.

What I immediately learned on moving here is that celebrating Chinese New Year and eating Chinese take out every six months aren’t the essence of growing up Chinese. No, if my daughter was to truly feel Chinese, she’d need some Chinese parenting.

Chinese parenting, as I learned from my neighbors and Ms. Chua, is as exotic—and distasteful—to American sensibilities as thousand-year-old eggs.

When she was three years old, my daughter became fast friends with a Chinese girl being raised by Chinese people. My daughter’s friend took piano, dance, gymnastics and pottery classes. All day on Saturday, she attended Chinese school. My daughter took piano.  She practiced about 15 minutes each day, per my mother the piano teacher’s instruction. My daughter’s friend practiced 45 minutes each day; she was four at the time. Chinese Friend’s father, on hearing that I intended to let my daughter enjoy playing the piano and grow into a more ambitious practice schedule, said, “By then it will be too late.” He never explained what it would be too late for, but I left with the distinct feeling that I’d been Chinese parented. Bad Mommy kicked my shameful butt all the way home.

While Chinese Friend’s parents had nowhere near the ferocity of Tiger Mother Chua, they all had the same approach to parenting. Pushing a child to excel, accepting nothing but perfection and perfect obedience, creates successful adults. Failure is simply not tolerated. In contrast, my own parenting skills were downright destructive, guaranteed to produce complacent slackers and, eventually, the downfall of American society.

So, I pulled up my Tiger Mother undies and got to work. As it happens, I teach enrichment in math and English to a population of largely Asian children. I enrolled my daughter in the math program. We doubled her gymnastics lessons to twice per week. We grounded our son forever or until he is no longer failing American Studies, whichever comes first.

The result? My daughter whines about how hard her math enrichment homework is. We blow off the mid-week gymnastics lesson on a semi-regular basis. My son is home all the time, constantly complaining of boredom and boredom-induced hunger.

I am a failure at Tiger parenting. I am a pussy parent. I let my kids play when they might be practicing an instrument or completing extra credit. They have computers in their bedrooms. They go on sleepovers and have play dates. My son has had two girlfriends.

I wish I had the Tiger Mother’s selfless ability to let her kids dislike her. I’m going to have to be okay with my pussy parenting, though. My daughter makes straight As without prompting and according to Amy, only the piano and violin are appropriate instruments. My son plays the drums, guitar and can still fiddle around with a cello. So, while Amy’s daughters are studying into the night at Harvard, they’ll be listening to my son, the rock star, on their radios.

 

I know I have readers from all over the world. Tell me: are you a tiger or a pussy? What’s the prevailing approach where you live?

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