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by Rayne

Partially Chinese Mother Is Only Partially Superior

3:02 pm in Culture, Education by Rayne

Fortune cookie cupcake (photo: abakedcreation via Flickr)

Last weekend’s piece in the Wall Street Journal by Amy Chua whipped up a firestorm of debate about parenting techniques heightened by racial, ethnic and cultural tensions.

What a pity, really. This should have been an opportunity to talk about the challenges parents share in common rather than polarizing them into Chinese/Western, obsessive-compulsive/loosey-goosey, dictatorial/complacent factions.

I should point out for starters that the Wall Street Journal’s bought-by-News Corp. editorial team kicked this off with the crappy, inflammatory but traffic-boosting headline they put on Amy Chua’s essay — “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” is just begging for a beat-down, isn’t it?

And I say that as a person of Chinese heritage.

Chua didn’t do herself any favors, either; she comes across as a real tyrant who in just the right community and state might be labeled an emotionally abusive parent. She’s sold herself on the notion that it’s just the Chinese way to bully children into complete submission.

Granted, she does say other groups will do the same thing, but still, there’s this smugness about her background. And granted, this particular essay is an advance peek into her book she hopes will sell like hotcakes; there’s some hyperbole to be expected but this seems a bit excessive. (You can be certain that when someone claims to speak for half a billion people of a single cultural group and gender, there’s some hype involved.)

On the other hand, I’ve gotten some mileage out of her essay here at my house. I asked both my blonde-haired, Asian-eyed 13-year-old and 16-year-old kids to read Chua’s piece; both of them had the same reaction, their eyes wide with disbelief that a parent could possibly be more demanding than their own mother.

“No sleepovers — ever?” said the 16-year-old, stunned at the prospect of not having a girls’ night with her peeps.

“No television, no video — ever?” said the 13-year-old, his thumbs moving in unconscious sympathetic reaction to the loss of an invisible game controller.

“Yeah,” I said, “Imagine if I went full Chinese mother on you and expected better than 3.85 grade point averages out of you. Just think of it!” I rendered my best imitation of my Asian auntie’s high-pitched laugh.

They were terrified. Good.

But not really… Read the rest of this entry →

by Rayne

An Angry Mother on the BP Oil Spill

7:09 pm in BP oil disaster, Culture, Education by Rayne

As a mother I am furious about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for so many reasons. How did we come this far past the Exxon Valdez only to find ourselves in an environmental disaster of a magnitude exponentially bigger? How did our government become so corrupted by corporatism that it simply failed to do its job? Why are corporations still acting as if the U.S. has no power over them, as if it is acceptable to weigh out the cost of paying damage claims against profitability?

It’s nearly impossible to explain to a child or a teen why any of this after they’ve been taught American history and told by school and parent how to be good citizens of this planet. How does a parent explain that the rules are different for corporations? We ask our children to learn to anticipate the worst, prevent it if possible and pick up after themselves. And yet business doesn’t have to do the same. It goes against everything we teach our young ones about integrity and fairness.

Beyond the fury is sadness. My child started pre-school in 2001; the month when we should have been marveling in the massive changes which came in his socialization and development were spent instead in mourning and in fear because of terror attacks on this country. We’ve only now reached a point where terrorism is looked at with skepticism first instead of acceptance, just as he’s becoming a young man.

Half way between there and here we saw two wars, Katrina and economic free-fall. It was hard to explain all the hows and whys of a family member who went to serve in Iraq and came back with PTSD, challenging to explain why people were abandoned to their deaths in New Orleans, and difficult to explain why some classmates’ families have lost their jobs, their health and their homes.

And now the Gulf of Mexico hemorrhages oil. The magnitude is difficult to put in plain words for him even though he’s nearly a teen, like trying to demonstrate how big a million or a billion of anything might be compared to any one thing they can hold in their hand. This disaster is so big it will be here when he leaves middle school for high school, graduates from high school, and probably still be a foul mess even as he walks for his Bachelor’s degree. It’s more senseless than any other topic we’ve discussed at home since he started preschool, and it’s gaining a life of its own.

It will be a constant for years to come, a marker which divides past and future, just as 9/11 has for most Americans. We’ll talk about before the spill and after the spill for a long time to come. Read the rest of this entry →

by Rayne

An Angry Mother’s Take on The Firing of Central Falls’ Teachers

10:58 am in Uncategorized by Rayne

There’s a very big hole in the center of the story about the firing of all teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island.

This article features quotes by students and teachers.

This one includes quotes by administration and union officials.

And this one includes quotes by education big wigs and pundits.

Notice the hole? It’s big, very, VERY big.

Where the hell are the parents?

I write this as I listen to my kids bickering in the background about the best way to present a science project which is due this week. I know exactly what phase they are working on right now, having finished a description of the process and the data chart and the graph of the data. And I will have a very good idea by the end of the afternoon whether the project is going to meet all the requirements of the project syllabus for a sixth-grade science class.

There’s another project going on here today, too; the older kid is working on chemistry and I’ll know by the end of the evening whether a paper has been completed in sync with an A.P. Chemistry syllabus.

Both kids will have shown me their grades on line by tonight, and I’ll have reviewed and signed my younger kid’s academic planner, reflecting the assignments and work done over the weekend.

School has taken up a big chunk of our weekend. OUR weekend, not just their weekend. This is my role as a parent, to answer some questions without actually doing their work, to find resources if they need them, to facilitate the learning process. And most importantly, to help set expectations. Failure is not an option here. Read the rest of this entry →

by Rayne

An Angry Mother on the Topic of Tiger Woods

9:20 am in Culture by Rayne

photo: Shira Golding via Flickr

My twelve-year-old son was watching the morning news programs while stowing his schoolwork in his backpack this morning.

"What is all this crap about Tiger Woods?" he asked me. "Most of it’s lies, I’ll bet."

Hoo boy.

How does one respond, after years of watching the media systematically under-report, pointedly omit, or misrepresent the truth on much bigger issues?

"There’s some amount of truth here," I told him. "Tiger’s made some bad decisions which are dogging him."

On cue, the boy gave me the shoulder shrug and the monosyllabic grunt which is supposed to pass for some form of acknowledgment, combining acceptance and rejection at the same time.

"I feel really let down, though; I really looked up to Tiger. He was one of the people I really admired."

I could hear the hurt in his voice, a little like a sharp stick jabbed into my solar plexus.

"Hon, you can still admire him. He’s still the best golfer in the world; admire his golf game. But he’s not just a golfer, he’s human; he’s made mistakes and bad choices, like all humans do, and you’ll have to come to grips with the truth that there are no perfect super-humans."

Blessedly, the news program changed the topic to some other fluffy piece of crap which is supposed to pass for news. My son’s attention span being about the same length as the previous report, he switched gears back to his school work and whether he has packed his lunch.

But this mother’s attention hasn’t changed. I’m angry now, left with unfinished tasks ahead, discussions looming about sex and responsibility and honesty and integrity brewing on the horizon. Thanks a whole lot, Tiger. Bunches and bunches.

At this point in my son’s development, I still have opportunities to have open conversations with him. There will be a day in the not too distant future — days, weeks, or perhaps hours from now — where discussing topics like these will earn me glazed-over eyes with energy focused in the other direction away from where the conversation might be headed. It happens with all teenagers at some point. It’s part of how they learn to separate from us and become autonomous adults.

Which means I will have to find the entre back to these topics in short order, before the door closes between mother and child.

In our household we talk a lot about karma, by which we don’t mean fate; we mean choices and their outcomes. Karma is often misused and misunderstood by westerners as another word for fate. In a very narrow sense, it is — but it’s a fate which is created by the choices one makes. When we choose something, we choose everything that goes with it. Good, bad, neutral or mixed, we choose all the possible outcomes which result from making a choice.

We’ve already had a passel of heated discussions this week about bad choices. It seems someone wasn’t straightforward about the amount of homework they has this past weekend, spending their time playing video games instead of working on a school project. The karmic wheel turned, though, resulting in a big scramble to get the work done late in the evening during the school week under elevated stress levels and with inadequate supplies due to short notice.

Bad choices made, like misrepresenting how much homework, choosing to play video games, ignoring resource planning, will likely result in pressure from team mates on this collaborative project assignment, an unsatisfactory grade, and a loss of privileges. There won’t be any video games this weekend, or computer — but that was a choice made last weekend. This is what he chose, and he’s going to have to accept it all.

And in the future, he should make better choices — like those which won’t come with an angry mother attached to them. Read the rest of this entry →