Thursday, February 24, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

I recently read this book by Amy Chua, a Chinese-American woman who teaches law at Yale University. The book is a memoir about the parenting methods she has used in raising her two daughters Lulu and Sophia, now approximately 15 and 18 years old.

Chua was raised as a first-generation American by highly successful Chinese parents who expected great things of her and her 3 sisters. Chua "defied" her father by applying to and attending Harvard University instead of going to Berkeley, the school he had chosen for her, at which he is a highly-regarded professor of electrical engineering.

Chua met and married Jed Rubenfeld, an author who has written several books and is also currently a professor at Yale Law. When Chua and Rubenfeld had their children, they decided to parent the girls the "Chinese way" by Chua and raise them to be Jewish by Rubenfeld.

The book tackles the topic of strict "Chinese" parenting versus relaxed "Western" parenting. Chua demanded that her children achieve straight A's (an A- was unacceptable), play either classical violin or classical piano, and generally achieve higher success than other children their age. She did not allow her daughters to attend sleepovers, join any "unnecessary" extracurriculars that might have distracted them from their music or schoolwork, or to pursue other hobbies for the same reason. She insisted they practice their music at least 3 hours a day (even on holidays abroad) and to study just as hard for school.

Here is a list of things Sophia and Lulu were NOT allowed to do (quoted directly from the book):

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.

Chua shares many anecdotes in which she shouts at her daughters and pushes them so hard they are driven to tears. She demands perfect work from them and pronounces anything she considers less than perfect to be worthless. In one story she angrily refuses to accept homemade birthday cards from her daughters because they "look as though they were hastily made in 30 seconds and could be way better if more of an effort had been made". (Paraphrased by me.)

Though it is clear that Chua may have been overly harsh with her daughters, they have both become highly successful. Sophia made her piano debut at Carnegie Hall at age 14. Lulu has similarly stunned international audiences with her mastery of the violin. On top of that, both girls have maintained straight A's in every class at school every year.

As the story progresses, Chua describes how her classic first-born Sophia seemed to thrive under her strict method of parenting. Lulu, however, ended up rebelling and angrily fighting her mother. We discover that she now no longer pursues the violin to the same degree and instead has turned her focus to other things, like tennis.

Towards the end of the book, Chua seems to gradually change her mind about "Chinese" parenting as Lulu stubbornly resists her demands and all hell breaks loose within the family. Chua finally comes to the conclusion that each child is different and requires a custom approach in order to reach the best of their ability. As she reaches this realization her relationship with Lulu does a 180 and the dynamic within the family dramatically improves.

Reading the book, I surprisingly felt conflicted in how I felt about Chua. I fully expected to hate her for being so "mean" to her kids. Plenty of the situations Chua shared made me uncomfortable and even angry; I found myself mentally yelling at her for some of the choices she made, and I even felt personally affronted at times. Ultimately though, oddly enough, I began to realize that I might just admire Chua after all.

Here's why. I have always felt that a gentle approach is crucial in raising a confident, secure child. I strongly disagree with those who spank their children and I have shameful childhood memories of being treated badly by various people of authority in my life, ie: teachers or church leaders. (Don't worry Mom and Dad, I'm not talking about you.) My plan has always been to treat my children with respect and to allow them to explore their own interests on their own terms. I've always felt that it's impossible for a person to tap into any talent or creativity they have unless that person is deeply self-motivated.

As I thought harder about the book, however, I began to reflect upon my own life. From the time I was a very little girl I was passionate about ballet. I begged my mother to let me take lessons when I was 5 years old. I started lessons just before I turned 6, and I stayed in lessons for several years. As I got a bit older, I began to lose some interest in ballet. It wasn't "cool" at the time the way it seems to be now. I had classmates and friends who made fun of me for liking ballet. I began to feel bored by it and resentful that it took up a lot of my time. I fantasized about not having to do anything or go anywhere on the nights I had class. I expressed this to my mom and at first she was hesitant about letting me quit. She insisted, "You'll regret it when you're older." I told her I didn't care, that it was my life, that I preferred to quit. Eventually I wore her down and she let me stop going.

Many years went by and I tried a variety of other things: gymnastics, Irish dance, tennis, flute, clarinet and basketball. I quickly lost interest in each of those things as I didn't have any real passion for them. During all of those years, I felt a nagging ache of regret for giving up ballet. It was definitely a pain to have to take classes, or to have to be disciplined about it, but I began to suspect that it just may have been worth it had I stuck with it.

Eventually I started taking ballet again, but by this time it was too late to really be invested in it. I was too old to do anything real with dance and though I enjoyed being in that world again, realistically I knew it was just something to do. At this point I felt deep regret at not sticking with ballet. I even felt annoyed that my parents weren't tougher with me even though I was the one begging to quit at the time.

My parents were great to me when I was young; they absolutely encouraged me to pursue my dreams and they made me feel that I could accomplish anything I wanted to. The problem was, they didn't get really tough with me. They didn't push me to see the importance of sticking with something that could pay off later in life. They were too easy on me, and because of that I ended up quitting something I could have been successful at! While reading Chua's memoir I began to realize that maybe I needed someone to force me into something I didn't care much about at the time. I needed strict discipline and someone to call me on my laziness.

As a result, I think I've changed my mind (somewhat) about parenting. Obviously each child needs a custom approach according to their unique personality, but honestly? Kids don't know what's important in life when they're 10 years old. Kids don't understand that persisting with ballet, violin, tennis, whatever, can open doors later on and shape them into incredibly accomplished people. Sometimes kids need to be pushed, and pushed hard!

I don't want to be harsh with my children, but I want them to come to a full realization of their potential. Unfortunately this means being relentless with them at times. Life isn't easy, and being accomplished at something doesn't just happen on its own. This is an opinion Chua maintains throughout her entire book: being forceful with your children and pushing them hard shows them you strongly believe in their capabilities. Not accepting anything less than their best communicates that you believe your child is brilliant. It says, "I know you are incredibly smart. I believe you are capable of being highly successful. I don't want you to get used to producing less than what you are potentially capable of producing." It takes a lot of parental pressure to get your child to keep going when boredom strikes and that child has no way of fully grasping what life will be like 10 years down the road.

I don't completely buy the tough love parenting style however, and evidently, neither does Chua by the end of her journey. Unfortunately she has received a lot of criticism from "Western" parents who have accused her of being an awful mother. What these critics fail to see is that Chua wrote her memoir (yes, MEMOIR, not "how-to manual") to communicate that being demanding of her children was crucial to their success, while at the same time listening to them and supporting them in other ways is equally important. I believe Chua does regret some things she's put her daughters through, but she also stands by the value of her "Chinese" approach. I think I agree with her.

I hope Chua's critics look deeper into the book and read into the subtle wistfulness she reveals because she took the wrong approach with Lulu. In the end it is apparent that she still values strictness and placing high standards on children, but that flexibility is also important.

As well as being thought-provoking, the book is sharp, witty and pleasantly full of humour. Chua manages to poke fun at herself and be unapologetic about her choices at the same time. As much of a task-master as she is in the stories, she is actually pretty hilarious. I highly recommend this book!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Busy...ish? I think?

I'm beginning to understand moms who stay home all day and complain they never have enough time to do anything. And I only have one child! It's amazing how when I get up in the morning, every time I look at the clock several hours have flown by. Sylvan doesn't sleep very often during the day, and when he does he tends to take short cat-naps. It's incredibly hard to do simple things like laundry or cleaning up the kitchen, when 30 seconds into my task I hear a little voice screaming for food, a diaper change, wanting to be held.... who knows what!

I'm not complaining though, when my little guy cries I generally get a chance to watch something on Netflix or hang out in the living room with a snack while I care for him. Could be worse. :)

Sylvan is over a month old already... I realized that the other day. It's true - time does fly by so quickly it hardly seems possible. We've noticed he has started looking around a lot more... it is obvious he can see a bit further than before and he intently studies certain objects. He can follow an object with his eyes, and he is so alert when he's awake.

He has officially started smiling responsively, though not very often yet ... I will try uploading a video I took yesterday proving this! You'll also get to hear my RIDICULOUS (but funny) baby-talk voice. Maybe Sylvan cries and fusses a lot for a reason???

He has what seems to me like a very strong neck... lying on his tummy he can lift his head (quite aggressively) and hold it up for a few seconds before it bobs back down.

He seems big to me, but I'm not sure what he weighs now or where he's at on the scale of what's average for babies his age. It doesn't really matter to me though, as long as he's healthy and likes my kisses :)

Last week we had the opportunity to have my friend Claire over to take newborn photos of Sylvan. Claire is an amazing photographer and I was ecstatic with the results of the photo shoot. It made me realize how crappy my point and shoot camera is because Sylvan looks a lot different in my photos from her photos! It also helps that she is very talented... and takes photos for a living... and has an amazing camera... but Luke and I would like to invest in a much better camera than the cameras we've been using. What better reason to take photos than a brand new baby, and a cute one at that?

Anyway, I'll try uploading that video... and maybe a couple photos too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Baby-Crying Survival 101

When you're caring for a small baby who likes to cry a lot, you begin to find that you begin to try anything, EVERYTHING, to make this baby stop screaming. I have noticed that I've started doing strange things without even realizing it.

I talk a lot when it's just Sylvan and I in the house; I've found that the sound of people talking seems to calm him down a bit. I have conversations with him, with myself, with the TV, with things in the fridge, with clothing and with furniture. Anything to make soothing talking noise.

A lot of songs become lullabies. Traditional lullabies, definitely, but also any other song stuck in my head that could be modified slightly to sound like a lullaby. Songs I have sung to Sylvan lullaby-fashion include:

Carry On My Wayward Son - Kansas (sung verrrrrrrry slowly and soothingly)
D'yer Mak'er - Led Zeppelin (sung very happily)
Bicycle Race - Queen
Summertime - Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (this is the version I picture in my head)
Any Christmas carol

I've also learned that I am one of those mothers who uses sickly-sweet sentimental nicknames for her child. I have referred to Sylvan as "Honey", "Sweetie", "Precious", "Teensy Baby", "Schnookums", and list goes on.

On an even stranger note Luke and I have come up with some pretty random made-up nicknames for our little guy. I'm not entirely sure where a lot of the names have come from. Some of the more popular ones we've used are, "Mister Baby", "Bee", "Honey-Bee", "Poopy" (this is a new one I've started using. I should stop), and "Mister Fussy". Actually, any of the Mr. Men names have been used interchangeably depending on the situation.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, the crying increases to a fever-pitch. We usually end up prancing bouncily around the kitchen holding Sylvan up to our chests, cooing "Baby! Baaaaaby! Mister Baby!".

Yes, I have witnessed Luke prancing.

The prancing is sometimes necessary... helps get the burps up. Sylvan's burps that is.

Ahhh yes, how life with a baby has changed us!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Life as we know it ... now

I realized a second ago how long it's been since I last blogged. Sylvan is now 3 1/2 weeks old, and I can't believe how quickly time is flying by! Actually, time has been going by slowly AND quickly, if that makes sense.

We've been having very VERY long nights. Sylvan seems to think he should be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed from midnight until sometime around 4 am to 6 am, and fast asleep all day. This wouldn't be so hard to deal with except for the fact that he likes to scream his head off while he's awake. Not easy to deal with in the middle of the night. We've heard it said, "sleep when the baby sleeps!" but that is easier said than done when there are things to do during the day and it's bright outside. I am not a good nap person as I always feel like it's impossible to sleep during the day. I've been able to get a few naps in here and there so I don't feel too over-tired, but this has still been quite the ordeal. If Sylvan is colicky we're hoping he grows out of it. If he's not colicky, we're hoping we figure out why he likes to scream all night. Sigh!

Things have gotten a lot better for me since the beginning. At first I was really weak physically as I had lost so much blood. I looked pale all the time and felt shaky and light-headed just getting up from the couch. I have tons more energy now, and I feel a lot better too since my stitches have had a chance to heal. It's amazing how much difference feeling physically well can make on your general outlook.

We had a few feeding issues as well and I am now mostly bottle-feeding Sylvan with expressed breast milk. I had a really hard time accepting this but I'm thankful he is at least getting breast milk and not formula. I'm choosing to pick my battles... one of the things I'll have to get used to doing a lot more now that I'm a parent!

We have really enjoyed using cloth diapers and the diaper service has really made life a lot easier. I occasionally use disposable diapers when I have to go out during the day but we almost always use cloth. I can't imagine having to wash them myself though!

Now that Luke is back to work after taking several weeks off we are trying to get into a routine. We had my dad and his partner Val staying with us for a week over the holidays, so Sylvan wasn't born at the greatest time for a routine to be set, as fun as the holidays were! It feels a little like a let-down for me now that the holidays have come and gone and the party is over. But a routine will be good for us.

Speaking of 'let-down', breastfeeding has sure change my perspective on the lyrics of a few songs... I can't help but giggle now when I hear certain songs like "Pump it" by the Blackeyed Peas, for example... or "Beautiful Letdown" by Switchfoot. Heh heh heh.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Introducing Sylvan William!

Well, as most of you know, our little Sylvan was born last week! He was born at 7:31 am on Thursday December 16 after 27 hours of labour. He weighed in at 8 lbs 11 oz and 21 inches long. Or as Luke likes to say: Sylvan is 1'9" ... ha ha.

Here's the birth story (if you so dare to read it):

On December 14th, I had to go in to the hospital for some tests to be assessed as Sylvan was about a week overdue at that point. His heart rate was monitored and I had an ultrasound done. The ultrasound was fine, but the non-stress test to measure his heart rate showed the heart rate wasn't as consistent or strong as it should be. My midwife had an obstetrician assess me, and he suggested I be induced the next day. I really didn't want to be induced so I had a little cry-fest but then realized being induced would be better than having a C-section. We went home and got our hospital bags ready.

Early on December 15th I woke up feeling like I was having some mild contractions. I called the hospital to see what time I should come in to be induced and they said they were having a really busy day and they wouldn't be able to induce me that day (I was told this might happen). I had a feeling I was already in labour anyway so I was pretty excited to be told this and to be given the chance to have labour start on its own.

I had to go to the hospital again anyway that morning for another non-stress test, and while they were measuring Sylvan's heart rate they also hooked me up to a monitor to measure for contractions. I was having contractions about 7-10 minutes apart at that point and they were very mild.

I went home with instructions to rest and then to take a long walk to get labour pumping along.

When we got home I tried to lie down and rest but the contractions seemed to get a lot stronger fairly quickly. I came downstairs and Luke and I started timing them. Later that afternoon after my mom came over, my contractions were at 5 minutes apart for at least 1 minute in duration and we decided to call the midwife. She came over and we all hung out, keeping track of the contractions as I worked at coping through each one with the techniques I had learned in our prenatal classes. She checked my dilation and found I was dilated to 5 cm.

We kept hanging out. A few hours later my contractions were really strong and getting to feel very painful. It must have been around 11 pm by this point. I ended up throwing up because of the pain and my coping techniques were starting to feel less effective. The midwife checked my dilation and found that I was still dilated to 5 cm and that I hadn't progressed at all.

When she told me I hadn't progressed, my immediate reaction was "screw natural labour and a home birth, I want to go to the hospital!" ... I didn't feel disappointed by this decision and the midwife was in support of it as well.

We went to the hospital and got me checked in and situated in a labour room. The contractions were so intense I was starting to lose it as I didn't know what to do anymore to cope. I had to change into a gown and lie down on the hospital bed and that did not make matters any better as the only thing helping me by then seemed to be walking around to get through each contraction.

I was able to get a shot of morphine to help me relax between each contraction. It barely took the edge off the intensity of each contraction though I did feel a little more relaxed.

Finally the anesthetist was able to give me an epidural. At this point I didn't care that I hadn't originally wanted one when I had put together my birth plan. I felt panicked that my body wasn't progressing and the sharpness and relentlessness of each contraction was making me feel crazy! The epidural felt like heaven to me, and it wasn't as numbing in my legs as I expected it to be. I was able to relax and sleep for a few hours. Luke and my mom had to try and sleep in some very uncomfortable chairs during this time, so I commend them for being such troopers! I was also given some oxytocin to augment my labour and help me progress.

A few hours after my epidural the nurse checked me and I was STILL only dilated to 5 cm. At that point I started feeling panicked again because I was starting to feel some pain during the contractions. I told the nurse this and she checked the epidural and told me it was still working. I tried to sleep again.

Another couple hours later I started feeling a lot of pressure low down. I told the nurse, she checked me, and found I was fully dilated! She told me I could start pushing. Luke woke up to see they already had me pushing and hadn't let him know! He got up too quickly and almost passed out.

This part gets a little nasty, so if you get grossed out easily you can stop reading :)

As I started pushing, I started feeling intense, sharp pain on one side of my abdomen. The nurse again checked my epidural and found it was still working. Annnnnd then I started hemorrhaging... and to make a long story short, the OB came in, found the Sylvan's head was cranked to the side, thus causing me to tear and bleed and feel pain in that one spot. This was why my labour hadn't progressed well earlier.

The OB discussed with me the possibility of turning Sylvan's head with forceps. I wasn't feeling too excited about that because I heard forceps usually cause a lot more tearing, but at this point I sort of just wanted Sylvan out of there in with us in the real world... and for the pain to stop! The OB ended up just turning Sylvan's head manually, and in a few short pushes, out popped Sylvan! It happened a lot sooner than I expected it would once I started pushing.

It was all very emotional and wonderful when he was born. He scored a 9/10 on the apgar, because his hands and feet were a little blue... but he was breathing well and doing great otherwise. It was great to have my mom there too and she was the first family member to see Sylvan which was special for her.

We were able to discharge from the hospital later that same day. Since I had lost quite a bit of blood I was feeling really weak and shaky and I was white a sheet. Also as you can imagine I wasn't feeling too comfortable :) But we were happy to be able to go home as we knew we would feel so much more relaxed at home.

Since then we've definitely had some challenges as far as feeding goes, but every day has been getting better and we are starting to get used to being parents. Crazy to think we have a son!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Couldn't have said it better myself!

Thanks to my friend Kristi who posted this link on my Facebook wall... it really sums up how I'm feeling! And it's hilarious!

(Youtube wouldn't let me link it directly)