This week it was easy to see the diversity in the news since all anyone could talk about was the Tiger Mom and whether they were one, knew one, or had seen one on the subway.
Meanwhile, a smaller cover story on Time magazine was about the shocking increase in concussions in our children.
And two people told me about the movie Race to Nowhere, in which our children talk about how they are skipping lunch to take more AP classes and how exhausting it is, even causing weird nerve problems.
So, here’s what I want to know: if it’s Chinese to make your kid work too hard, aren’t we all Chinese enough?
I’m not sure I understand what’s going on. The Tiger Mom idea was that if we are not Chinese, we are too soft and undemanding with our children. Then, I gather, it came out that you don’t have to be Chinese to want the most from your children; you could even be from Ghana! That’s nice. But I’m not sure it makes sense, whatever the cultural component, to be that involved, anyway.
David Brooks in the New York Times said that if you really want to Tiger it up, try arranging a playdate for your kid, where he or she will have to negotiate, and learn groupthink. This in turn will lead to the kid’s ability to understand metaphors better and anticipate an audience’s response.
Every day after school I watched the 4:00 movie or the 4:30 movie and I made myself a snack of Ritz Crackers, mayonnaise, and cheddar cheese. I was never that great at standardized tests, in part because they made me anxious. But here’s what I am great at: being alone.
When do you need to be great at this? Well, at the motor vehicle bureau. Or when someone decides to leave you. Do we want to raise a nation of children who are great at these loser-ish tasks? I don’t know.
I’m just not sure that I’m so impressed with the decision to make all of these statements as writers, journalists, and people of intellectual repute that imply there is a cultural component to ambition. I think it leads to something sad and lonely.
This week at my high school (no, I’m not in high school, I just have arrested development), a young lady of Asian descent came up to me kind of desperately and said she had been tutoring for three years now in order to buy the origami paper to make a thousand paper cranes. She said that according to the custom, when you make a thousand paper cranes you get one wish.
She said that she hadn’t gotten anyone to care or think this was very interesting except for the advisor to the Asian Cultural Society. She said that she was determined to see the cranes up in our school before she graduated.
I thought this: what a solitary task—the tutoring, the crane making, the wish, the empty soliciting. She had taken the initiative to do all of this alone, and not many people had noticed, and the thing she had tried to do was beautiful.
This is the difference between what this child is doing alone and what other children raised according to my theory are doing alone. The children raised according to my theory are on Facebook, writing words on their forearms with sharp objects. They are in the bathroom doing drugs, but alone. What I would like to know is which playgroup teaches children to be happy alone and devote their solitude to graceful, enriching optimism.
Maybe it’s the playgroup—and this is really offensive to everyone, sorry—where the child isn’t dumped as having had enough eye contact with an adult after early infancy. D.W. Winicott and Piaget and the “What to Expect” people make it very clear that young children need eye contact with an adult to feel validated, and to feel their egos develop appropriately. But what about as they grow?
How did it happen that the child who was so dutifully nurtured or over-nurtured at an early stage is the same teen who doesn’t sleep because of AP exams? Is it possible that no matter what culture you belong to, you have stopped making meaningful eye contact with your child because your child is busy and you are busy?
Maybe that’s why all that dinner table research is supposed to be real: maybe children who eat dinner with their families do end up happier and higher functioning. It could be for a reason that is different from income group or cultural affiliation: it could be because they are valued at home, and someone has stopped being busy long enough to make eye contact with them.
I propose that if we can’t eat dinner together, we do something that involves eye contact. I think it would be good for me, the same way having a cockapoo at the door when I come home from a long night of trying to work and raise my children makes me feel better. The cockapoo looks me in the eye and says, Yes, you are worthy. And I feel worthy. If we can’t all be Chinese and our children are so busy playing soccer, basketball and football that they all have concussions, maybe we could at least make an AP board game and play it, and then look up at children who are smarter than we are when we mess up. And if we look high enough, we just might see some paper cranes in the sky.