Balancing painting, parenting, crafting and book loving one day at a time...

Balancing painting, parenting, crafting and book loving one day at a time...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Overactive Parenting

After all the press I've heard about Amy Chua's book,  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I figured I should go ahead and read it for myself.  Her book is about her desire to raise her two daughters "the Chinese way" which is more strict than the "Western" or "American" way.  She feels that the "Western" way of parenting is too lax and permissive.  For example, here are some things Amy Chua would never allow her daughters to do:

• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin

She makes her daughters practice their instruments 3-5 hours a day, while she stands behind them criticizing them for tiny errors.  She is unfailingly honest and completely obsessive about her parenting style.  This honesty saves the book from being horrific, as she is openly honest about what she is doing.

It is an odd book, and I'm not recommending her parenting techniques at all.  BUT, and this is a big BUT....I think she does have a point about the permissiveness of Western parenting.  The "everyone wins" mentality, where every kid is a soccer star and gets an award for just being on the team isn't really working.  We are producing entitled, lazy college students who think they deserve an "A" for just showing up to class, and have their parents complain if they don't get what they want.  I work at a college (and have for many years) and the "Millennial" generation who have been raised this way along with being "taught to the test" are nearly incapable of thinking for themselves or accepting that they can't do whatever they want when they graduate.  Of course, the current job climate will stop them in their tracks, especially the ones who come out thinking they "deserve" that high-paying entry level job.  They want to bypass the "getting their foot in the door" type of jobs, thinking it a waste of their time.  Their attitudes are appalling.
If we could just fall somewhere in between these two extremes, I think we'd be doing well.  Parents who have students in music or sports are not unlike Ms. Chua, with the endless practices and games or performances.  A generation ago, Little League started at age 9.  These days, parents feel that if their child hasn't started a sport by age 5 ot 6 then they just can't compete.  Starting a sport at age 9 with no former training is just asking for humiliation.  Late bloomers need not apply. 

On the other hand, and I'll play the devil's advocate here, if you want your child to be a "master" at something, then you SHOULD start them early, or have them practice for hours and hours.  Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Outliers, describes the :"10,000 hours" phenomenon.  He says that anyone who has put in 10,000 hours will have an edge or mastery over a subject, be it sports, the computer, academics or music.  So discipline has its advantages.  But balance is key. 

Being a parent in these times is no picnic.  If you read parenting books, prepare to be very confused.  Parents today worry if their child isn't growing fast enough, or if they have grown TOO fast.  They worry if they don't show musical talent or sports ability at a young age.  They worry about them being exposed to everything via TV and computers.  They worry about them growing up too fast, yet buy 7 and 8 year old's clothes more appropriate for high school. 

One of my worries is that my daughter (age 7 1/2) was more interested in the computer and TV and would not choose to read.  My son at her age was reading voraciously.  I couldn't get books out of his hands, he read in the car, at the table, in bed at night.  My daughter resisted my attempts to ply her with books.  She is  a math girl, and loves games, search and find books, puzzles, and sports.  This wasn't enough for me.  Being the good English major that I am, I was collecting a library for her while she was still in the womb.  I felt that there weren't enough good role models for girls on TV or the movies (and I'm right!).  The girls were either too mean, too sexy or too dumb.  For me, the girls I've admired have always been in books.  Jo March, from Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking, Caddie Woodlawn, and Laura from the Little House on the Prairie books, now THOSE were good role models.  Even new heroines like Hermoine Granger from the Harry Potter books were admirable.  Smart, resourceful, a bit rebellious, yet kind and strong were how I'd describe these girls.  I wanted my daughter to know about them.

Something I've learned with my daughter (who is quite stubborn), is not to force the issue.  If she sensed I wanted her to do something, she would do the opposite.  (Amy Chua had the good daughter 1st, followed by the rebellious one 2nd, whom she tried to break).  So I found myself biting my tongue a lot and letting her read things that interested her, even if they weren't the books I had in mind for her.  She would sit down at the grocery store with a teeny bop magazine.  I said nothing.  She'd want her bedtime reading to be a search and find book, I said nothing.  Her father read her mysteries over and over, Geronimo Stilton being a favorite.  Mysteries, like math, are like puzzles.  She enjoyed them.  I let her pick out her own books out of the library.  I tried non-fiction, stories of female heroes, like Amelia Earhart, or Marian Anderson.  She liked these.  I read her the American Girl doll books about the different eras in history.  She liked these.  She couldn't believe what it meant to be a girl before the women's movement changed everything.  Mom, that's not fair! she would cry incredulously.  Then she would want to know more.

Lately, I've caught her with the light on after we've tucked her in, reading a book.  I caught her the other day, sitting on the couch reading.  I went to to a book sale and let her pick out whatever she wanted.  She seems to have turned a corner.  I try not to draw too much attention to it, but I am secretly thrilled. 

Not every child is the same.  I must remember that.  I must have patience.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Women writers who make me laugh

Don't all of us need a good laugh now and then?  Especially after the non-stop rain we've had all April and into May...

So here goes.  Nora Ephron is laugh out loud funny.  Especially if you are a certain age, probably over 35.  Her two latest books of essays, "I Feel Bad About My Neck" and "I Remember Nothing" are those kind of books.  Nora Ephron may be known to many of you through her films "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle," and "You've Got Mail." 
Some highlights from the Table of Contents for "I Feel Bad About My Neck" are:  I Hate My Purse, On Maintenance, Me and JFK: Now It Can Be Told, and What I Wish I'd Known.  I think most women can relate about getting older, how they feel about their purses, and "maintenance", meaning, trying to stay younger looking as you age.  Her witty, often hysterical observances will leave you howling with laughter.  And since she has lived in NY and LA, and has known many interesting people, her stories keep the reader on their toes.

Ephron describes what motivated her to write this book: 

"When you’re young, you make jokes about how things slip your mind. You think it’s amusing that you’ve wandered into the kitchen and can’t remember why. Or that you carefully made a shopping list and left it home on the counter. Or that you managed to forget the plot of a movie you saw only last week.

And then you get older. "

You can tell just from the titles that you in for a laugh:  Who Are You? (about forgetting the name of someone at a party), Twenty-Five Things People Have a Shocking Capacity to Be Surprised By Again and Again, I Just Want to Say:  The Egg-White Omelette (how can you NOT want to read this one?), I Just Want to Say:  Teflon and I Just Want to Say: No, I Do Not Want Another Bottle of Pellegrino.  Then there is:  "The Six Stages of Email", which coming from the writer of "You've Got Mail" is just perfect.  She goes from confusion to obsession to hatred.  So true, and SO funny.

Now, for my next favorite funny author:  Maira Kalman. 

I first heard of Maira when I discovered her books for children:  Sayonara,  Ms. Kackleman about two children who travel to Japan; Next Stop Grand Central about the people and goings on in New York's Grand Central Station, Chicken, Soup, Boots and Ooh-La-La, Max in Love about a dog who lives in Paris. 

My children love reading her books and they are great for adults too.  Maira has this special ability to take something ordinary and have you see the fascinating bits in it.  In Next Stop, Grand Central, she describes all of the people coming in and going out of Grand Central, from the bassist going to his Greenwich Village gig, to the night watchman, to the lady and her dog visiting her ailing mother on Long Island.  The drawings are funny and the people she draws are described in witty, unexpected ways.

She continues this style of observation in her newest books of essays:  The Principles of Uncertainty and And the Pursuit of Happiness.   

The Principles of Uncertainty is a strange mix of observation, admiration, a wandering mind and an interest in historical figures and their unusual lives, all mixed up with a fascination with objects like sinks, tassels, hats and pickle tags.  Oh, and the backs of people as they are walking down the street in NY.  It's hard to describe.  Let me show you some pages from the book:

Her other book of essays is called And the Pursuit of Happiness and was a year-long series of essays in the New York Times, that coincided with Obama's Inaguration and her traveling to DC to see it, as well as her musings on important politicians and historical figures from Lincoln, to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to Thomas Jefferson and many other things in between.