I met her at the door as they released each of the students to their parents. Expecting a thrilled excited look on her face, I was instead met with tired eyes and silence. Totally not like my kid unless she’s new someplace, or uncomfortable. I thought to myself how I should approach this: should I be angry that she’s not thrilled with her summer theater camp, or angry that someone may have wronged her, or angry that she’s not appreciating the camp we paid a pretty penny for, or just angry? Apparently, I default angry.
We walked to the car, where she picked up the Nancy Drew book, the original with the yellow cover, that we got at the local independent book store we love, flipped it open and shoved her nose into it. Instead of listening to Glee versions of good songs (and Glee versions of bad songs, making them even worse!) on the way home, we drove home in silence.
She is exhausted from 6 hours straight of rehearsal for Annie Jr. I think she’s tired of being ‘on’ for all that time, learning something really new: acting and dancing and singing… she’s beat. Her balance is to bury her nose in a book, escaping into another world, with no physical, mental or emotional demand on her at all. She perks up again after snacks and dinner but desires to go to bed early, flip on her bedside light and read for as long as her little eyes will stay open.
First, I’m thrilled that she knows what her person needs: quiet, or stillness, and no demand. I hope she takes this lesson with her into her adult life and yes, I will make a verbal note of it with her to drive the point home.
Second, and more selfishly, I’m a very proud Chinese mother right now. Not just a proud parent. Not just a proud mother. I’m a proud Chinese mother. Why? Because for a moment, I have a ‘proper’ ‘Chinese’ daughter, who wants to read incessantly. I don’t recall being a reader growing up.
I grew up with two insanely, at least to me, smart sisters who read all the time. I grew up hearing stories of how their teachers gave them encyclopedias to read *backwards and upside down* because they had read all of the books in the school at the time. I don’t know if these stories are true but I believed them and so I thought to myself, even at an early pre-school age: “eh, why should I read if they already do?” And so I did what I really enjoyed: playing outside, in the dirt, with the bugs, with or without a sister or friend I didn’t care, but I remember it being more quiet out there. I thought to myself: “I could succeed out there, outside, with my dirt and bugs, clean air and in my own head.” However, this was not the action of a proper Chinese daughter.
I remember going to dinner in downtown Boston with a boyfriend at the time. We were seated in one half of a large horseshoe booth. A Chinese family were seated shortly after we were on the other half: a stern-looking Chinese father, a modest and proper Chinese wife and a young Chinese daughter, straight hair and bangs with her nose buried in her book throughout the meal. “What a proper Chinese daughter she is,” I thought to myself. “I was never that good,” I thought to myself. “I wonder if I’ll always disappoint ‘my people’?” I thought to myself, with an imaginary thump to my chest a la Celine Dion mid-ballad. Was I happy to ‘always disappoint’ or sad?
But here I am, with my own daughter, having gotten her into a summer camp program that is so demanding of her that to maintain stasis is to disappear into a book, to find solace and stability in a 1940’s mystery.
This of course, makes me question my parenting, because doesn’t everything make me question my parenting?
Should I be more demanding of my daughter, challenging her more so that book reading is her escape? Would that raise her level of confidence and competence? Wouldn’t she rise to the occasion, becoming a more talented and refined woman? Or are those Tiger Moms, with children who bury their noses in books constantly, actually harming their children by demanding of them levels of focus and skill that is beyond both their appropriate development and their desire for happiness and joy? Is happiness and joy our only goal? Should it be?
I’m a proud Chinese mother because I love that she is reading. I love that she is in a program that is demanding of her. I love that she has found balance in a short amount of time. I’m a proud Chinese mother because I have a daughter who is hard working, and curious and kind and also sassy, and silly and funny. I’m a proud Chinese mother.