Tag Archives: childhood

Tiger Mom Equals Bitch Mom

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Creative Commons: memegenerator.net

A friend sent me Annie Murphy Paul’s article Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer? about Amy Chua, the self-proclaimed tiger mom who is into disciplining her children and forcing them to learn things into the wee hours, without bathroom breaks. Didn’t I hear about this technique used by countries that prefer torture as a way of breaking and humiliating people, or perhaps getting information from them?

After reading the piece I had one strong feeling about Chua: revulsion. It’s not that I don’t think children should be encouraged and disciplined; it’s just that doing so in a draconian way can cause a lifetime of issues for most people. In fact, my second reaction was, well, she has a point about people being too lenient with this generation. I should point out that I haven’t read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, and articles can slant one way or another when aspects are taken out of context.

When I read this Q&A with Chua, I thought she had some good reasoning for some things, and I’ve heard she’s done a fair amount of back pedaling on other statements. (TIME’s Q&A with Amy Chua.) She also said she wrote a memoir, not a parenting guide book. But she strongly touts the Chinese way/Chinese  Moms (in Paul’s article) as a superior way of parenting, almost to bigoted proportions. And by writing the book she did want to portray her way of parenting as superior though she admitted defeat with one child.

I do believe that children should be given expectations, such as good behavior, politeness, completing and passing school, and chores. This trains them to  take on responsibility, be socially functional, be able to succeed and be self-reliant. I’ve watched some friends raise their children by doing everything for them, and they do neither their children, nor their children’s partners in years to come, any favors. But such phrases as Chua calling her daughter “garbage” after the girl behaved badly seem overly harsh. Or when she returned the birthday card her daughter made, saying, “I deserve better than this. So I reject this.”

Yes, we are raising a generation of coddled and entitled kids where everyone in a class is given a prize, but there needs to be a balance, which, Chua argues, she did everything with compassion. As much can be gained by supporting and encouraging your child and expressing love as in disciplining them with jail like restrictions.

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Not all tiger moms are rough. Photo credit: law_keven Creative Commons

I speak partially from experience. My mother taught us responsibility. A punishment or something withheld if we didn’t do our chores would have been justifiable. But sometimes the level of enforcement or lack of compassion didn’t help. I still wish my mother would have kept me at acrobats and tap dance when I was little, something that in my child’s temporal sense of things took someone keeping me on it. But she was sick and couldn’t do it. I still regret that I didn’t continue those classes. I also remember my paper dolls being thrown out in a fit of my mother’s pique. What I did, I don’t remember. We were sometimes punished for imaginary things, or events so small that the punishment never equalled the crime. We were told that “better people than you have failed” and encouraged very little.  That did no service to confidence.

Forcing a child to play an instrument they don’t like, as Chua did, will beat some down and make others rebel as her one daughter did. Giving them a choice to express their creativity in what they like, and then supporting them and making sure they stick to it, is a better way. Yes, too many people let their children do whatever they want and we have a nation of young people growing up with obesity because they only play computer games or watch TV. However, an overly strict disciplinarian style can instill such a case of fear and lack of self-confidence that obesity can result from that too.

Chua’s daughter can now go on dates and only (only!) practice piano for 1.5 hours a day instead of the six she used to have to do. Wow! Six hours a day on top of school and homework, and presumably chores. Of course, practice makes perfect and research supports this, but I wonder if there was ever any time for fun. Chua says,  “Kids who have this well-earned sense of mastery are more optimistic and decisive; they’ve learned that they’re capable of overcoming adversity and achieving goals.” Unfortunately in my family, the tiger mom approach did not give anyone a sense of mastery. Oh, and we’re not Asian either so maybe this isn’t a Chinese way, just a harsh one.

One end of the pendulum is saying your little Johnny is perfect, rewarding him for everything even if he doesn’t finish it or care, doing everything for him, and treating him like a little prince. The other end of the pendulum is treating little Johnny that even second place isn’t good enough, punishing him constantly, leaving no leeway for changes in path or preference and treating him like he’s in prison. In the middle is a parent who is loving and cares and encourages yet set up tasks and responsibilities and doesn’t let the child get away with murder. Paul says in her article, “All that said, however, psychologists universally decry the use of threats and name calling — verbal weapons frequently deployed by Chua — as harmful to children’s individual development and to the parent-child relationship.” Having seen a range I think I’d prefer a cat mom, one who can still use claws from time to time but who can love and relax as well.

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The Gross Foods of Childhood

I’m sure I was like any kid and was given foods that were probably good for me but were too gross to consume. Some were the bane of every child, like liver. A strangely dark meat resembling shoe leather, tasting like congealed blood and smothered in onions left an indelible print on my memories. But it wasn’t the only organ meat that my mother tried to make us consume.

Beef tongue--Blech!

Tongue was fairly common and I imagine cheap enough for a family with four kids and not a lot of money. Boiled in a pot, my mother would then make soup of the stock and slap that giant cow tongue on a plate, looking like a…giant tongue. She would peel back the outer layer of taste buds and then slice the tongue into little roundels. It had a texture unlike any other meat I’ve ever tasted. Light, sort of airy, long fibers like muscle but different. It wasn’t too bad, actually, but it grossed me out. I got so that I would only have the soup that had macaroni shells and veggies in it.

Organ meats were firmly marked in my book as disgusting: tripe, heart, kidney, haggis, tongue, brain, prairie oysters, pope’s nose (turkey bums), blood sausage, all of those meats still rank number one on my grossometer. My mother did try heart once but somehow, accidentally…we let it burn. Saved from the brutal tortures of organ meats.

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Only second to tongue in grossness. Creative Commons: stevendepolo Flickr

And on the top of veggies, there were a few gross ones there too. Not the turnip that most kids sneer at. That might have been refreshing. And we didn’t have Brussels sprouts too often, which one of my boyfriends used to call budgie heads. No, the absolutely most disgusting vegetables known to my youth were…frozen vegetables! Yes, those bags of little sliced up peas and carrots with an errant green (but really sorta gray) bean. These were boiled to a texture resembling pudding and heaped on the plate every night. I would gag over these repulsive, maggoty soft things. In fact to this day I don’t like soft textures in food and I think I just realized why. I guess I’m lucky we never had canned vegetables.

Of course I lived in a landlocked area that had real winter and in those days, fresh vegetables in the winter consisted of potatoes, carrots, celery and a few root vegetables. My mother was big on making things from scratch but not when it came to veggies. I would take those disgusting peas and carrots (the corn mix was pretty rare) and try to hide them in the husk of a hollowed out baked potato. Sometimes that didn’t work. One night I took a piece of bread, buttered it, slapped those degenerate suckers onto the bread and poured gravy over them, and ate it all like a sloppy joe. And guess what? My mother got mad at me. I still don’t know why but I should have been congratulated for my ingenuity.

Not all foods fell into the realm of nasty meats and slimy vegetables though. I also disliked malted balls, you know those balls covered in chocolate. I have no idea why but there was something in the taste that I didn’t like. I seemed to grow out of that around twelve though. I also never liked milk and would add the choco powder to try to get it down. And milk on cereal: there was that extremely mushy slimy texture again. The only two cereals I could stand were puffed wheat because it didn’t get too soft, and shredded wheat (the big ones) if I ate them quickly.

I feel pretty much the same about organ meats and half-dead veggies to this day and prefer my vegetables fresh and crunchy. I’m sure other childhood foods may come to the surface like a skin on steamed milk, but for now, that’s enough to dampen any appetite.

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Childhood Games: Marbles and More

We live in such an era of media overload that the childhood games of yesteryear are all but forgotten.Video games and TV still predominate to such a degree that childhood obesity is now a problem in North America. Sure there are some sports but perhaps not enough.

And with all the media inundation, children have forgotten often how to play or to create a game out of nothing. Back when civilization consisted of making everything by hand a child was lucky to have even one toy. It might be made of clay or wood, or perhaps scraps of cloth though early clothing construction consisted of no leftover bits. The toys would be tools to imagination and the child would have to create their own games.

Years ago I went with friends to their cabin in Clinton, BC. The little nieces were out in a rustic wood cabin with no electricity, no TV and no games. They started to whine about being bored. So I said, come on, grab a towel and let’s go outside. The three little girls followed me and we ran around like superheros or jumped out of the crabapple tree. Before long, they’d forgotten about their store bought toys and were enjoying make-believe in nature.merrygoround1

There have always been complex games and simple games. Chess is a complex board game, checkers, not as much. When I was a kid in elementary school there was the usual playground equipment: teeter totters, monkey bars, a merry-go-round (the foot powered style) and that would be it. Swings were for the parks but not amongst unruly kids during recess.

But we also played another game. I think it was around grade 3 that the kids would line up against the wall of the school and play marbles. You needed a few marbles to begin. Other kids would sit with their legs in a V, with a marble or marbles lined up. Then you would stand at the predetermined line and roll your marble toward the other one. If you hit the marble you got to keep both. If you missed, the other person kept both. Some people would line up three or more, or like a bowling alley so that you would have to hit the ones in front before getting the more prized marble at the back. Some people even built cardboard arches to set their marbles in.

Cat’s eyes were the commonest type of marble, but sometimes there would be a more interesting color combo. catseyesThere were the larger sizes; I can’t remember what we called them but I think either boulders or jumbos.  Next in marbles were the sold colors, opaque or with a marblesswirl through them. And there were the clear marbles, either blue or white or green, or some other color. I remember taking some of these and frying them in the frying pan, then dropping them in water. These would form crackle marbles. They too were prized but somewhat fragile.

But the most coveted of all marbles were the steelies, ball bearings really but their silvery perfection was what every kid aimed for. You used your cat’s eyes first to hit the other marbles and tried to get more prized marbles. If you ran low on the lowly cat’s eyes, then you set up your prize marbles (but not usually your most favored) to gain more marbles. It was about collecting the coolest marbles and about the most.seagrams I even had a clay marble at some point. It was very old but not worth much to the other kids.

Almost as precious as those steelies were the bags to carry your marbles in. And the best bag of all was the purple, Seagram’s Crown Royal whiskey bag. I managed to get one. Maybe it came with some marbles, maybe from an older sibling, but it was definitely the choicest bag.

When talking recently with my siblings, my older brother and sister and my younger brother (a span of eleven years) we all remember shooting marbles and the Seagram’s bags. My younger brother said it was uncommon for girls to play, yet I remember doing it but also being unaware of whether I was in a minority of girls to boys. But it seems we played through grades 3-5. Grade 1 was too young and by grade 6 we were on our way out to junior high (grade 7 in Alberta). It was probably the most popular playground game in school.

My younger brother is a teacher and says no one plays marbles anymore. It’s too bad. It was cheap and simple and taught kids numbers, how to trade and value. I don’t remember any fights breaking out over marbles. Maybe they did from time to time but it was still a way to keep kids occupied that didn’t cost hundreds of dollars. I still like marbles as pretty pieces of glass. Perhaps, as the economy continues to slow, people will go back to simpler pastimes.

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Childhood Memories: Toys

I heard someone saying the other day, “I don’t remember anything about grade three.” The point was that she remember the grades on either side to some degree but nothing about grade three. And over time we forget a lot of the everyday, normal boring stuff. We remember the unusual, the good and the bad. Often, I think, we remember the bad best of all because it sears our memories like a branding iron, the pain making pathways we’d sooner forget.

So good memories become rarer in some cases. A few though, stay in our memories in various ways, sometimes in a back file that is triggered when you see something. Like the other night when in a friend’s attic there was a little wooden sleigh with metal runners. I remember having one like that when I was a child, which had been my older siblings’. And thinking of that makes me remember this big (about 6 inches long) red, metal tractor with large rubber wheels and a spring beneath the seat. It had been my older brother’s but could have been around even longer than that.

I had this little metal fridge. In my eyes it was about ten inches tall. I don’t know if that’s accurate but I really loved it. It was white and round and then one year I got a sleek new brown and black fridge, all rectangular with plastic vegetables. I still missed the original fridge, which had somehow even then, seemed to have more personality than the new gadget. I can’t explain why I was so attached to that old metal fridge.

And dolls. My sister was never into them but I had a doll in a purple dress with purple hair. She may have even been a walking doll, one that if you grabbed its hand and walked it would rock back and forth and follow. Actually now that I think of it, the walking doll was different and a couple of feet tall whereas the purple doll was about a foot tall. There was also a nurse doll, in a blue and white striped dress, a white nurse’s cap and a blue cape. It too must have come from my sister. My favorite was a Debbie doll. She was about 6-8 inches tall with short, curly platinum hair (kind of Marilyn Monroe-ish) and unlike Barbie dolls had proportionate plastic features.

The best thing about my Debbie doll was her plastic closet of clothes. They were quite a range and made fairly well. Compared to Barbie’s fairly trashy clothes, Debbie’s were very well made. Little cocktail dresses with a velvet top and red taffeta skirt, evening gowns, suits in various materials. I always liked dressing up dolls and paper dolls and would spend hours design and drawing fashion outfits in my early tweens. I briefly entertained thoughts of being a fashion designer but didn’t like sewing.

Dolls were a pretty big thing. I was pretty typical that way. My brother had asked for a G.I. Joe doll but my mother (maybe typical of her era) said that boys didn’t play with dolls. Riiight. So in his own way my brother, two years younger, maybe four years of age, found a way. He took all of my dolls, stripped off their clothes and threw them in a big pile. I imagine he danced around looking demonic but that’s just my imagination. But what he was imagining was that he was burning them or as my brother called it, “I’m firing them.” Shades of the Inquisition.

I remember the dolls because I played with them. I remember the tractor because it was so heavy and just always there, even after we were all too old to play with it. I think it was passed down to my nephew. I remember the fridge because in my mind it was special. These are all good memories and there were many bad ones in my childhood. But if nothing else, these paint the picture of the wonder and exploration of children.

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Outhouse Terrors

I talked about squat toilets and scary, dark toilets last week. They’re their own form of horror but none of them were that rustic, wooden box called the outhouse.

Many years ago when I was but a wee tyke, we visited some relatives out in Lac la Biche, Alberta. (I think it means deer lake in English.) They had a farm replete with chickens, cows, cats, hat and raspberry canes. And of course, like many farmsteads, there was running water in the house but it was built in an era before plumbing, and the toilets were outside.

I suppose as biffies go, these were probably higher class. There was a wooden boardwalk from the house to the outhouse. And it was a two-seater with toilet seats. My relatives were obviously comfortable sitting side by side and doing their business.

And so were my sister and me. During the visit we had to go out to the outhouse, at night. We took the flashlight and while sitting in the outhouse we were shining the lights about and making shadow puppets. I’m not sure how old we were. I’m thinking I was six and my sister twelve.

Anyways, after we were done peeing and playing, we went to leave…and couldn’t. The door was latched tight. On the outside was a simple wood toggle to keep the door shut when no one was in it. It had fallen down while we were inside and we started pounding and yelling. My sister, ever one to freak out easily, was screaming and crying, and of course I followed along. Here we were stuck in the dark, in a dreaded outhouse (luckily the fumes weren’t so bad) and with visions of perishing there.

Obviously that wouldn’t have happened. Someone would have missed us sooner or later and we weren’t going to die in there. But we were in the moment and hysterical. Of course the adults were inside yukking it up, talking and laughing and heard nothing until there was a lull in the conversation. They eventually came out (I’d say it was twenty minutes but it was more likely ten) and let us fly free, tear-streaked an terrified.

They laughed long and hard, and it’s laughable in retrospect but I wouldn’t go in an outhouse until I was about twenty-two. Scarred from that early memory, I refused any time we went to Banff or any outing, to use an outhouse and insisted on restaurants and gas stations. I was resolute. But as an adult, I met friends who had a cabin in Clinton, BC and of course, it was rustic. It took some effort but I finally got over my fear of outhouses, although they don’t rate highly on bathroom experiences as they are almost always smelly to downright gagarific, and often dangerous to tender skin.

In a pinch I can use whatever is available, including the great outdoors. I should also note that although I had been in Wazuubee of late I hadn’t gone to the bathroom there. I was there again the other night and they have in fact put brighter track lighting into their bathroom (although the whole place really needs an overhaul–it’s pretty shabby) so yay, less horrors there.

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Memories:From Shyness to Being Bold

When I was a child, and much to everyone’s disbelief, I was very shy. This was a combination of a bad home life, which built insecurities and just being shy. I was teased horribly because of this, some kids picking on me because I was quiet. There are scarring memories of some of those early years.

I remember this other girl in my class with red ringlets, saddle shoes and a school uniform. In retrospect I feel sorry for those transplants from England who wore their uniforms, not realizing how they would stick out instead of blend in. Calgary in those days have very few private schools, at least in the area where we lived.

Margaret Parsons was probably shyer and more awkward than me. I took a good look at her one day and thought, if I stay the way I am I’ll be like her. Or I can change. The change was at least twofold. It involved building a harder shell about myself so the jibes of the insensitve couldn’t get through. I became a bit of a joker, and teased my friends. I almost did this too much and hurt a few feelings before I learned to temper the humor.

The first stage started happening in grade 7, which was the beginning of junior high for us. The second stage was in grade 9, the last year of junior high. I started to wear brighter colors besides soft blues and beiges, believing that if I brightened my look it would bring me out more. And in fact that’s what happened. Grade 9 was still a bit of the process of become bolder and by the end of high school I was more outgoing.

I continued this into art college. I hit a plateau for a while of being less awkward, more fashionably secure and sociable to an acceptable level. But if anyone had ever told me I would act or read anything in front of a group of people, I would have laughed and said impossible.

Eventually, as I began to write more I thought of reading my poetry. The prospect was terrifying but at a fairly small venue of the Burnaby Writers’ Society I got up and read a couple of poems. I’m sure I stammered, I turned beet red and my throat became so dry from nervousness that I actually choked on my words. But I did it, feeling mortified but also brave.

After that first leap, I continued to read. I continued to wear bright colors and today, if you ask anyone, no one would think I was ever shy. Perhaps I’m too bold in some ways but I made a conscious effort to change myself. I’m still going through that process. In fact, I think it never ends. The changes are different now and don’t involve colors as much as redecorating the interior.

That

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Worlds of What-If: Early SF

Tonight I was talking with Jean from Quebec City and he had a little piece he had written about his earlier influences as a writer, his interests as a child and how he was drawn in to SF.

I remembered that in grade 7 we had to create a newspaper. This was a project both to be drawn out like a real newspaper, as well as articles. I know we (in small groups of three or four) did a futuristic newspaper and I wrote articles that were science fictional and I drew various pictures of aliens. It’s odd to think that someday soon we could no longer have newspapers as we find all our information online or on downloadable readers.

In grade 10 I comprehended enough of English that I didn’t have to take the regular class but could take Communications instead. What this was, was a creative writing class. I started writing a novel, which I still have–all 50 handwritten pages–, about a woman abandoned by her scurrilous husband (possibly ex) in the desert to die. I don’t think I had quite made it to the section where I was planning to have aliens come into the book. Maybe I did. I’ll have to reread it. I do know in later years I realized the influence of Ray Bradbury and “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell on what I was writing.

I’m always amazed at some of the truly diverse ideas that people come up with and how our early childhood memories and reads imprint their paths.

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