Friday, February 4, 2011
I Was an Unwilling "Tiger Mother"
But we didn't stop. I told my husband about our otherwise compliant daughter's reluctance. And he didn't care. She must continue.
On the playground, my darling daughter skipped and played and laughed, but on the piano bench she performed acrobatics I never knew a small child could do. She would sit on the bench and lean backward, in a demonstration of amazing abdominal-muscle strength, her head leaning so far she nearly formed a Cheerio around the bench. I had a heck of a time getting her to straighten up and play the next ditty, "Up and Down the Street."
Sometimes she'd sit, back straight with fingers poised over the keyboard, and suddenly slip her torso down between the bench and the base of our upright piano, effectively disappearing onto the floor. She'd need to go to the bathroom, a lot. She needed a drink. She leaned back and slipped down and flattened herself against the piano bench and found all sorts of interesting things out the window.
Nearly a year went by, and Darling X had her first recital. She was so nervous she was shaking. She found a new hiding place, this time in the yard, and we nearly missed the event. At the recital, bone-china teacups were set out, and little petits four beckoned with pastel sugary-frosting, an irresistible draw for a nearly-five-year-old. But Sweet X didn't even notice. She was looking for another closet.
She quaked while awaiting her turn to play, and ended up flawlessly performing her three songs. The smiles and congratulations from her warm and encouraging teacher were ignored as she asked to leave.
I discussed Child X's dislike for the lessons and practicing with her teacher. The teacher replied that darling X was doing well, and progressing, and it was better to ingrain practicing as a normal part of her life so she could make the most of her talent. How the teacher evaluated the potential of a four-year-old whose greatest feat was completing "The Pretty Little House" was beyond me, but I felt duly chastised for doubting the enormous potential of my budding prodigy. It must be my own laziness or incapability to motivate at issue here. After all, little X was pleasant at her piano lessons, and did exactly as told.
Of course, the teacher never saw X when she was Rubber Girl.
I told my husband nearly every day about my frustration trying to inspire Sweet X to practice, and to make her musical education fun. "I don't want her to quit now," he replied. "She needs to keep going another year."
He might as well have clicked the cell door shut behind me, and thrown away the key.
Which he did three MORE times. Our daughter completed four years of piano lessons, from age 4 to age 8. She went to two more recitals, after which I asked the teacher if, please, X might be spared from performing.
At our ongoing practicing battles, I made up unlimited little rhymes and codes and sing-song reminders, and she immediately "forgot" them. I repeated them. To this day, I remember some of them, and when they pop up, and I mention "do you remember....?" to my now 24-year-old non-piano-playing daughter... she does.
Two waffles and an egg. There, I said it--that was my response to her refusal to hold her hands above the keys as if enclosing an egg. She kept saying it was "too awful, too awful!" so I morphed it into "two waffles and an egg," as she rightly corrects me about this memory. But still, whenever I encounter waffles and egg, it all comes back: my darling, wonderful, normally-cheerful daughter using her considerable intellect not to absorb musical theory but to change the subject and twist her little frame so her head would be as far from the keyboard as possible.
I begged, begged my husband, after four years of torture, to let daughter X stop her piano lessons. Again he was against it, and wanted her to "learn persistence." It only takes tenacity, after all, and you can accomplish anything. There are no failures, there's only lack of effort.
I finally stopped acquiescing to his insistence. Our daughter was definitely brilliant, but by Golly, if she was ever to become a virtuoso, she'd have to do it without me coming up with breakfast-food teasers.
The piano teacher was astonished. Puzzled. I don't know why, because I'd regularly told her of X's resistance. Maybe she was shocked because never before had any of her progressing students quit. Or maybe because never had my complaints led to anything--we always returned for our weekly lesson, and obedient little X had made progress. Well, no more.
There were some benefits from this four-year ordeal. Not in terms of X's musical education. She retained very little of what she'd so painstaking (my pain) practiced. But I learned how to play the piano. Not very well, because I never practiced, but I could read music, and learned a passel of little songs and even a few easy classical pieces.
We still have the piano booklets inside our piano bench. The pages are yellowed, but the stars pasted atop each one still shine. I'm not going to take them out because nowadays, looking at mementos of my children's childhoods makes me sad rather than warm and fuzzy inside. This is the first year I'm an empty-nester, and my house seems just too quiet, without my son's ukulele, the "b-l-l-i-n-g!" of instant messaging, and, way back in the echoes of my memory, the halting scales of "The Swing."
Amy Chua, you've got a great book and deserve your success. I've defended you to my friends, who just read the headlines and sub-heads and didn't see that you provided a warmly loving and laughing home to two supremely lucky daughters. But I'm no Tiger Mother. I'm Jewish, and believe me, there are plenty of Jewish mothers far more Chinese than I was with my little X. No, it's me--I haven't got the mettle, the moxie, the fortitude to stick it out.
And ya know what? Everything worked out just fine.
P.S. the photo above is not my darling little X.