Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Kids and Maids - 2

I have written before about why I am uncomfortable with children being left entirely in the care of maids.  Once again, I reiterate that I know that many people don't have a choice, but yet, I have to stress that leaving kids with maids calls for far more monitoring than is currently done, from what I see.

Here's another incident. Puttachi's friend K was visiting, and both of them went to the park to play.  There, a child X, of the same age as Puttachi's came out to play, accompanied by her maid.  Puttachi and K were on the swings, and the child apparently wanted to play on the swing too, and there are only two swings..

So the maid came over to Puttachi and said, "Your father is calling, Go go."   Puttachi, with her newfound street-smartness, said, "No, I can't hear anybody, I won't go."  But K got up and said, "Let me go and look."  The moment K got up, the maid caught hold of the empty swing, and the other child came running and sat on it, and both of them laughed and laughed at K.

K felt sad, and Puttachi felt sorry for K.  So she also got off her swing, and they went to play the seesaw.  No sooner did they sit on the seesaw than X said she wanted the seesaw.  So the maid  came over again, and said, "Really Puttachi, your father is calling."  Puttachi refused to believe her, but K again said she would go and see if it was true.  Puttachi asked her not to go, but K got off.  Sure enough, the maid came running, caught the other end of the seesaw and tried to get X to sit on that end.  But Puttachi was angry, and she sat down hard so that the other end of the seesaw was up in the air and wouldn't come down low enough for X to sit on.  Meanwhile, K came back, confirming that indeed, nobody was calling for Puttachi.

So this maid lied to and cheated another child to get X to play whatever she wanted.  So what is X learning?  I have already noticed a sense of entitlement in that child.  Added to it, she is being told that cheating to get your way is okay.

Puttachi told me, "Can you believe that that aunty did this, Amma?  When  you want something, you have to ask politely. I would have given her my swing in a while if she had asked me.  Instead of that she lied to us."

I'm troubled by this.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tiger mother, Mouse mother

A couple of years ago, this article made big waves on the parenting scene. - Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.  The piece is an extract from the book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua.  All of a sudden, everybody was talking about it, there were reams written about the horrendous parenting style of this lady and people were wondering how her children are even normal.

I read all the opinions.  Buried amidst all the negativity was a review which suggested that this one article is not all that the book is about.  That made me want to read more, and finally, last week, I read the book.

Amy Chua is a second generation immigrant from China, living  in the US, married to an American, and raising two daughters in the Chinese style of parenting.  First thing I learned - this book is not about parenting.  It is just the story of a mother trying to bring up her daughters with the parenting style that she herself grew up with.   Second, unlike the provoking title of the excerpt - "Why Chinese mothers are superior" - nowhere in the book has the author said that Chinese parenting is superior. She has frequently brought out contrasts between Chinese and Western parenting, but that's it.   Third - and most important - she has been very honest about how this style of parenting worked with the first daughter and backfired with the second one.  In fact, this book is about the mellowing of Amy Chua's parenting style.

So, the title of the excerpt on WSJ, combined with what the excerpt was about - made  Amy Chua very unpopular indeed (And I'm pretty sure it didn't hurt the book's sales!)

I am not going to endorse the Chinese way of parenting, because I don't agree with that kind of authoritarian parenting.   It strives on pushing the child to achieve its highest potential, trying to bring the best out of the child,and going all out for it, even if it involves strict discipline and unquestioned authority and rote learning. But I could totally understand that kind of parenting, and the Chinese belief that children owe them everything, and demanding unconditional filial love and devotion.  That's very Indian in nature, so I could "get" it, but was still able to view it dispassionately.  I can understand why Westerners, on the other hand, find it horrifying.

But what the book did for me was make me think.  Sometimes about things totally tangential to the main topic.

1) The author says that western parenting assume fragility, while Chinese parenting assumes strength in the child.  This is something that really made me reconsider my approach to several things in connection with how I bring up Puttachi.  S, that way, is tougher with  her than I am - he assumes strength, I assume fragility.  (Less than some others do, but still.)  Perhaps believing that your child can do something (but not pushing, just aiding) can actually give the child confidence, enable her to actually do it?  I'm sure, yes.

2) Amy Chua believes that you will have fun at something if you are good at it.  So, until you become good at that thing, she says, you have to work really hard until you reach that level where you start having fun.  This is why, she says, she pushed her children to practice music for hours everyday, whether they wanted to or not. [They are terrifying overachievers, btw]  How do you know you will like it unless you try and stay with it until you are moderately good at it?  That Is her line of thinking.    That extreme pushing, of course, I don't agree with, but this concept of - you have fun when you are good at it - and you've got to stick with it for a while before you quit - it is something to think about. And maybe apply in our lives. How, where - yet to be seen.

3) For her daughters' music, Amy Chua went all out.  Making them learn from the best teachers, pouring money and time and effort into it, commuting long distances if need be, even taking along the instruments on vacation (and booking hotels with pianos so that the daily practice doesn't cease)- and practicing during vacations even if it meant not being able to see the sights,  practicing into the nights, again and again and again, until every note is perfect....
This kind of dedication is something totally alien to me.  If I want something, I stretch a bit - and if I don't get it, I give up.  This is totally, absolutely wrong.  I know it, and people had told me all along that what I do is wrong, but reading this book somehow gave me the wake up call.  Again, not to the extent as in the book - that is extreme.  But to a certain extent, such dedication is a must if it is something you believe in and want to get better at.  S has this ability to stretch and then stretch more and keep stretching - and he makes me do it also sometimes, which annoys me because that is not my nature.  But for anybody to become even remotely good at something, this is necessary.  And now that is something I just ought to incorporate into my life. I have suddenly started worrying that I am passing on this laid back attitude to my daughter.  I hope she has S's nature, but meanwhile, it is time for me to wake up and brush the dust off myself.

Anyway, everything else aside, the book was a witty, funny, honest, sometimes scary account of life in Amy Chua's houehold.  It was an enjoyable read.  [Btw, here is her response to the comments on that original excerpt ]

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Puttachi had forgotten to take her English workbook to school one day, and so the teacher asked her to complete her work at home.  This was English composition, and one of the questions was, "My best friend is _____"  She filled it up -  "X and Y." (Names changed. Obviously.)
The next question was, "My friends like me because ________"

She:  Amma, I don't understand this.
Me: Ok, let me see... why do you think your friends like you?
She: I don't know.
Me: Think.  What is it about you that makes your friends like you and want to play with you?
She: I don't know... (totally confused.)
Me: Ok, let's think about it this way.  Why do you like your friends?  Why do you like X and Y?
She: I like them because they are my friends. (her tone was as if it was a very obvious thing.)

I laughed.  But then I stopped.  Could this be one of the secrets of a good relationship? Unconditional love and affection? Not liking someone for their qualities, but just because?  I'm sure there's something very deep in here, but I'm not able to put my finger on it.  See if you can help.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Change of plans

Remember how Puttachi wanted to be a doctor, teacher and a mother all rolled into one when she grew up? She had stuck to this "decision" for the longest time.  Things have suddenly changed.

In her words, "Amma, that plan got cancelled.  Now I want to grow up and become a scientist and bring the woolly mammoth back to life."

Friday, July 05, 2013

In another anthology

One of my stories found a home in the Pageturners"Across the Ages" anthology.   It will be published soon.

Funny thing is that as of now, two of my stories have made it into anthologies (previous one) - and both are about a female senior citizen in a park! (Not the same one, though!)   But the two stories couldn't be more unlike each other :)

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Puttachi stuff.

Puttachi was asked by her English teacher to write a few lines about her mother. Mother's name, what she likes to do, what she does for Puttachi, and what Puttachi does for her.  This was what she wrote. 

Oh yes I melted!

On our way to school, we pass a beautiful Indian Almond Tree (Badami kayi mara)   It had very long branches, and it covered the entire road.  We had seen its broad, lovely leaves turn a striking red, fall off and cover the ground with a thick carpet.  We saw the new green leaves sprout.  And now, the foliage had thickened, and the shade under the tree was particularly inviting. 

Just yesterday, on the way back, Puttachi had declared that it was her most favourite tree in the world, and that she would like to spread a mattress underneath it and go to sleep.

So, this morning, on our way to school, it was a shock for us to see that one of the tree's branches had snapped and fallen off, crushing a car underneath it, and blocking the whole road. And more importantly, for Puttachi, the sky was visible where there had been a canopy.  Horrors.  The dam burst and her tears flowed.  "The tree is not dead, Puttachi, the branches were probably too heavy for the tree, that's all," I said, but she wouldn't listen.  "My tree, my tree's shade!"  she cried, and she went to school with a tear-stained face.  Sigh!

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