Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Anthem of the Sassafras Mama

Before I read her editorial in the Wall Street Journal, I heard an interview with the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua.  Her advocacy of high-achievement child-rearing horrified me.  Then it reminded me of an incident last spring, when I volunteered to take one of JT's classmates along with us to a local baseball game.  The classmate, a child born in the United States but being raised by a family born outside the western world, was unfamiliar with the sport.  JT had baseball practice before the game and so his buddy, let's call him X, and I and I sat in the sun, read our books, and visited about baseball while JT wrapped up his practice.

As we walked to the car to head off to the game X asked me, "why would you play baseball?"  And I responded by asking about what he does with his free time (he doesn't play a sport but I knew that he takes lessons in violin, studies a foreign language, and goes to chess classes).  And when I asked about those activities, hoping he would tell me he does them for fun, X instead confirmed my fears as he explained, 'I do those because my mom says that I should."

Not my sort of childhood.

Like many parents, I have encouraged my son's interest in a variety of activities.  But, unlike the Tiger Mom, after that introduction, I've followed JT's lead and let him select the activities which have provided fulfillment to him.  I don't pack his weekend and after school hours with so-called enrichment.  Instead, I encourage him to play.  And by play, I mean play: run around outside, ride his bike, dig in the dirt, and otherwise explore the world.  He attends a school filled with the children of driven parents and sometimes, when they ask what JT will be doing over the summer, I respond by saying, "I run an old-fashioned childhood so he's going to be a kid."  I mean it.

It may very well be that in failing to secure his fluency in another language and violin, I have doomed JT to a life outside the walls of the Ivy League.  And if so, be it.

What I want for JT is not a series of accomplishments from a childhood given over to lessons and resume-building.    Instead, I want for him a life filled with creativity and a rich imagination; a life inspired by a thirst to know and understand more.  I want him to do his best and to please himself; to be proud of his real accomplishments and mindful of his privileges in life.  I want my boy to figure out how to learn from failures and mistakes.  I want him to be resilient and confident.    I want him to love learning for the sake of the power of the ideas, not for the grades.   I want him to be a whole person, not a series of grades, test scores, and numbered achievements.

I want JT's childhood to be the foundation for a happy life.  And sometimes happiness is a lot harder to find than perfection, a reality that I think is lost on the Tiger Mom.


Shark Butt said...

Happiness is way harder to find then perfection, he's happy and damned near perfect.

Nichole said...

I totally agree with you, but I have to add that I sense an overwhelming underachievement in some folks aged 15 - 25. Part of it might be that they have a case of the "fuck-its": they figure they can't ever really meet their parents' expectations so why even try? But part of it is the fact that many children are overindulged and lack responsibility and accountability. I'm hoping that the recent economic downturn will turn out a generation of hard-working, innovative kids. I don't want to sound old-fashioned, but the saying about idle hands is true.