This book is becoming a source of anxiety for me. I have read the first two sections and have come to the realization that Amy Chua wrote this and other books, taught at Yale, traveled, and did all sorts of other things, all while keeping her daughters on track to be competitive musicians. And she looks terrific – have you seen her? She looks young, fit and vibrant, so obviously she takes care of herself too. Her time management skills must be extraordinary.
And her daughters – not only are they extremely talented in music, they do incredibly well in school, too. She excerpts an essay written by Sophia, the eldest, when she was fourteen – I was so impressed with it that I had to read it aloud. Her vocabulary, her turn of phrase, and her subject matter – the creative process behind learning the piano piece that earned her a performance at Carnegie Hall – it sounds trite, but it gave me chills and made me feel blessed just to be able to read it.
Chua describes an incident involving birthday cards that I can’t stop thinking about. Her daughters gave her homemade cards on her birthday one year, and she rejected them because they were not up to par. She could tell that they were just thrown together, and she told the girls that she knew they could do a better job. She mocks “Western” parents for praising every little thing their kids do even if their work is shoddy. I know what she means but, while I agree with her, I’m not sure I would have the personal fortitude to reject a gift. I have read about false praise and I think it is damaging to kids. When Little Mama shows me her work, I am honest with her – if it doesn’t look like the house she was trying to draw, I don’t lie and say “what a great house.” Instead, I say something like, “you’re getting really good at straight lines. Keep practicing and you will be drawing beautiful houses in no time.”
Another part of this section spoke to me. Chua had been taking the girls to the same music school for years when she started hearing that maybe she should step things up a few notches to help the be truly competitive. One friend who pointed this out to her added, “maybe you just want to keep things fun.” I hope that my kids can look back and honestly remember an incredibly fun, happy childhood, but I also want them to learn a lot during that fleeting time. I plan to look around at the local preschools this summer to make sure she is in the right place this fall. Living in a relatively small town, we are very limited in our choices – the upside is that it shouldn’t be too difficult to explore every single one of our options. I want it to be fun, but can’t it be challenging at the same time? I know that some of their best learning takes place while they are playing, but they all do some classroom work – I want Little Mama to have the best quality classroom experience possible.
One more thing – as I have been reading this book, I have been rather astonished with the amount of money Amy Chua spends. Her parents are immigrants, and throughout the book she refers to herself as a Chinese parent. She holds other commonly-held Chinese beliefs, such as having respect for one’s parents and taking in elderly family members (my culture shares this tradition) instead of the Western way of putting them out to pasture, so it seems odd that she would be so different in this area. I guess she realized that she might be causing some raised eyebrows, because she explains this – she admits that her flair for extravagance is extremely unusual, and says she gets it from her father.
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