When my over-achieving, under-utilised hubby introduced me to the concept of ‘TigerMom’ six months back from the WSJ excerpt of the book- Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I had a very violent reaction. I couldn’t digest many of Amy Chua’s methods- like calling her daughter garbage, or not allowing her food or bathroom till she got a particular piano tune right, or threatening to donate her dolls to the salvation army etc. ‘What kind of sinister, fire-spitting dragon mother does that?’ I protested in indignation, shouting down Hubby’s support of her ‘sensible points’-he got so burned by my reaction that he hasn’t dared to go near the subject of ‘parenting styles’ ever since.
But since then the world has discovered Amy Chua. After all, the western model of everything has failed. After all, Asian children who toiled at their books while their American counterparts watched GI Joe have completely taken over Ivy league. After all, our own parents could have been closely related to the Tiger mom, and it did work- for most of us.
The general consensus seems to be that the western style of ‘no-pressure’ parenting is a breeding ground for innovators and genuises. Whereas the Asian method of discipline and hard work is a great success plan for the rest of us. So, given that genuises find their own path eventually, it seems prudent to prepare your children for the tough world out there- the Tiger mom way.
‘Finally!’ Hubby’s eyes shone with excitement when I told him. ‘I knew you’d come around!’
‘Yes,’ I squared my shoulders resolutely. ‘No more Ms. Nice-Mamma. I am the new Tiger Mother- Ma Sherawali, if you please!’ I snorted.
“But the kids are watching cartoons,’ Hubby observed.
‘…Starting tomorrow!’ I declared defiantly. He didn’t challenge me in my new Sherni avtaar.
Just to clarify- I am as removed from a Tiger Mom as I could ever be. Just like with most things in life, I believe in letting things be and life will take its own course. Which sounded like a loser attitude, until philosophers started calling it ‘laissez-faire’. Now it simply sounds intelligent and well-researched.
This time, I was serious. I even wrote down my version of Amy Chua’s rules
1. No grade below A, No rank below 1: My kids are just in Kindergarten, but their teachers mentioned that it would be nice if Khushi got some writing practice and Lakshya got some colouring pratice done during the holidays. At the time, I ignored them-who writes nowadays? And colouring? Hadn’t they heard of photoshop? But now i realised that was my western mindset of blaming the system rather than your own child. Right, daily practice for atleast an hour.
2. No TV or computer games: Ok, that robs me of my-much needed one hour of sanity when the tots are propped up in front of the telly, but Tiger moms are built on sacrifice. Ooooh… maybe I should just cut off cable, in keeping with frugal asian values.
3. No play dates: That means no gossip on the playground, no mall trips with my BFF and for ‘work-at-home’ me, complete social isolation. But no matter, Tigers don’t hunt in packs…or errr…do they?
The next day dawned. I muttered ‘Bolo Maa Sherawali ki jai!’ and dragged my cubs out of their cosy dens.
First up. The new, prescription, protein-enriched, non-chocolate malt drink. Apparently it is supposed to make chidren taller and stronger by 0.25% compared to the other advertised products.
That didn’t seem to impress my kids who rejected it outright, calling it ‘goo’ and ‘poo’. Normally I would have given up and changed it to hot cocoa in 5 minutes, but this time i stood my ground. Bewildered by this change, the kids somehow swallowed the ‘goo’.Already Khushi was looking affronted and Lakshya was looking just plain confused. Ha! Today was the first day of the rest of their lives.
After a breakfast of egg whites and brown toast, I propped up the table with new practice books, drawing sheets, sharpened pencils, crayons and lots of erasers and sat on its head, calling for attention. Only my cubs didn’t seem to really get the point. As usual, they ran around the house scattering and breaking things, completely ignoring the irate grown-up banging a plastic scale on the table like a gravel.
Ok, time for the Battle hymn of the Tiger Mother.
I prised them apart and lectured sternly, throwing in words like ‘ambition of life’, ‘tough world out there’, ‘hard work’ and ‘straight As’ for good measure. Finally, they were confused enough to be led to the table.
Ha! I had heard that a firm hand could etch stone.
They sure looked stonily at me as I explained the purpose of the books and sheets and demonstrated desired results. And then I handed over their new crayons and pencil boxes.
All hell broke loose. Within minutes the crayons were fought over, books ripped apart and sheets torn up.
Normally, in such situations I would have threatened them with No TV! or No going to the park!- but no entertainment was the norm now. At the end I just shouted ‘GO TO YOUR ROOM! YOU ARE GROUNDED!’ They quietly slunk away.
What would a tiger Mom have done? I was feeling pretty proud of myself until I went to their room half-an-hour later to find them sprawled with all their toys on the floor, enjoying themselves and not looking punished at all.
Firing up, I dragged Khushi back to the table (err…I would work with Lakshya later) and handed her a book and a pencil. To my surprise, she docilely bent over her book. I heaved a sigh of relief and made my way to the kitchen.
Five minutes later Khushi was there. She loved watching me cook and normally she would sit at the counter-top, handing things over to me. Today, i shooed her away. After going back and forth several times, I was forced to conclude that Khushi wouldn’t get any work done until I was sitting there with her. So I gave up, switched off the gas and plonked myself next to her.
With nothing to do, I decided to watch her every move with Tiger mom commitment, determined to teach her to dot her i’s and cross her t’s with centimeter precision. After an hour’s work with a ruler and an eraser, we held up her book to examine the masterpiece.
‘Is my writing ok now?’ Khushi asked, biting her lower lip petulantly.
‘Yes,’ I announced at last. ‘Your ‘a’ is fine. Now we just have to do the rest of the alphabet!’ Surprisingly she led out a wail of protest, shouting out things like ‘too long’ ‘I am tired’ ‘why are you acting so odd?’ Really, children today have no patience.
Then Lakshya stomped out. “Where’s my lunch?’ Oooops….
By the evening I was closely resembling a haggard, aged tiger in urgent need of medical intervention. Shaking myself off, I resolved to trudge on.
Next on the agenda: music lessons. Amy Chua believes that classical music inculcates discipline and excellence, which must be true because I have neither, and that must be because my parents never sent me for classical music lessons. I downloaded basic ‘saregama’ tune from the internet and gathered Khushi and Lakshya around for their first music practice.
After half an hour of three screeching hyenas, I was considering the possibility that my tone deafness maybe herditary. Then Tiger Mom’s sermons came to my mind. That ‘being born different’ was just an excuse. ‘Even losers are special in their own way!’ Chua had once declared scornfully to husband Jed. So I rolled up my sleeves and steeled my heart.
“If you don’t sing well,I will give each and every one of your ‘cars’ characters to the maid’s kids!’ I announced, not meeting my children’s eyes.
Total silence followed this. I could see Khushi’s eyes well up and her nose go red. In the old days, that would simply melt me into a remorseful putty, but today I held my head high and breath tight.
Until little Lakshya knocked the wind out of my sails. He engulfed me in his little arms and broke into a song he’d learnt in school recently,
‘I love you mummy, my dearest mummy. I love your hugs and kisses tooo…’ he crooned in his broken baby- doll voice. I gulped several times.
Seeing my reaction, Khushi too joined in and away they screeched in a broken tune with half-forgotten words. ‘I love you!’ they both ended in a squeak and giggled.
Suffice to say that when hubby came back from work, he found the Tiger mom and her two happy cubs gleefully munching popcorn and watching Tom and Jerry. ‘Battle hymn of the Tiger Mom is a theorotical concept,’ I declared before he could comment. ‘I tried it, it doesn’t work!’
‘Battle hymn of the Tiger Mom? ‘ he retorted. ‘With you, it must have been more like the nursery rhyme of a playful pussycat. No wonder…’ but he didn’t get to complete. The tiger cubs had drowned him with their welcoming hugs.