Wednesday, April 6, 2011

That Tiger Mom Can Have her Ivies

Tiger Mom Amy Chua's daughter got into Harvard. Thank God! Now I can sleep more soundly at night.

Harvard is a recessive gene on my husband's side of the family. But my children probably won't get into or even apply to Harvard -- or, at least, I hope they don't.

Dave worked at a boarding school for a couple of years. In fact, he was their communications director, which meant that he was deeply invested in their message, their identity. And that identity was, in fact, to be the best small boarding school in the country. And they told their students -- time and again, with punishing insistence -- that they were attending the best small boarding school in the country.

Every time I heard this kind of rhetoric, I mentally willed them to stop. "Shhh. Don't tell them that. Do you want to ruin them forever? Do you want to doom them to a life lived in the shadow of what they COULD have been, but aren't?"

Basically, this doesn't reflect poorly on the institution; why not say what you are or hope to be? It says more about my own weird brain. One of the reasons I've had any success is that I deeply and truly have believed that no one ever expected much of me.

First off, I failed the gifted test -- first grade. This was golden. I wasn't gifted. I had no discernable gifts. THAT, in retrospect, was an enormous gift. I believed -- deep down -- that I probably had SOME gift, somewhere, and that I'd been overlooked, snubbed. So I had to prove some people wrong.

When I went back to visit my middle school principal -- in Catholic school by this point -- she said, "Julie Baggott. Did you ever imagine that you'd do so well?"

I said, "Sister, remember how cocky I was? Of course I thought I'd do SOMEthing."

Still, I dreamed small. (This was before we were told to dream big.) I thought I'd wear a bun and write -- without any audience or life beyond the buzzing of flies -- in my parents attic.

Basically, if I wasn't born with a chip on my shoulder, I grew one like an extra appendage early on. I loved me some slights. I loved me some insults. I took care of that chip. I polished it up all nice.

Read this piece from DEAR SUGAR -- check out what Sugar has to say about the word "prestigious" and the harm that it can do. (I love me some Sugar.)

Let Chua berate her kids into the Ivies. I'm here -- in all of my American sloth-esque glory -- telling my perfectionist soon-to-be-college-hunting daughter to take it down a notch (or twelve). I tell her to live a little. I tell her to do more art, to find more joy. Slow down. Kick back. Take it in.

And at the same time, they get my speeches on how they've got to work to make things happen. They see me with my chip on my shoulder working like mad. They understand drive -- and the need to balance it out -- something I've yet to perfect.

I don't want successful kids. I want happy ones. I can feel Chua rolling her eyes at me. But I'm still being competitive. When all's said and done, I think happy breeds a better kind of success than berated.

My kids' Harvard genes might be recessive, but their chip on the shoulder genes are there in full force. I'll put my shoulder chips up against Chua's ivies any day of the week (as long as we can agree on the definition of success, which we won't so it's a safe bluff).