Friday, August 31, 2012

The Curse of the Accidental Tiger Mother


This column was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, July 2012

Recently, supermarket shopping trips with my five year old daughter Peanut have improved beyond belief. It used to be that she would ask me to buy her every sparkly bauble and high-fructose corn-syrup enhanced treat that caught her eye. I would say no, she would plead, and we would both get increasingly shirty at the unwinnable war we were stuck waging. It was tiring and it was boring. One day, I just started pretending that Peanut could have whatever she wanted. ‘Sure!’ I said. ‘You can have those massive pink marshmallows for dinner.  Maybe you’d just like a big bowl of sugar for dessert?’ Peanut skipped with delight. ‘Yes, with sprinkles on top!’ she said.

She’s a born actress, my eldest girl. Immediately, she embraced the game. ‘Can I have that box of chocolates up there?’ she asked. ‘You mean the really big, expensive one? ‘I said. ‘Of course! I’ll wake you up in the middle of the night to eat those, and I’ll put a few in your school lunch as well.’ Sure, I copped some dirty looks from passing shoppers who heard me agree that supersized pork-flavoured salty-nuggets would be delightful for afternoon tea, but raising small children requires creativity, and a thick skin for public shaming. 

Sometimes,  even making it to the supermarket is a win.  Last week, Peanut squirreled out of a trip to BiLo with an impressive sickness fake-out that involved retching into a plastic bag and moaning, even producing a sweaty, hot forehead through sheer force of will. Once home, she was sorting jewellery and dancing to ABBA without a care in the world. Note to self, I thought. Stay alert. The big one can now fake a fever. 

Did you ever read that book, the Curse of The Tiger Mother? The author, Amy Chua, wrote a memoir about raising her daughters to achieve academic success through extreme discipline.   No soft, Western-style coddling.  Well, Peanut has forced me into being an accidental tiger mother. The best way to get her to do any schoolwork is to pretend she is incapable of it.  I’d quite like an encouraging, cuddly reading session with Peanut, but this method leaves her cold. Rather, I have to say ‘Well, you’re supposed to read this sentence, but you’re only five, you probably can’t do it…’ Or ‘You won’t be able to write that word. I’ll just go to the kitchen, and when I come back, I’ll write it for you.’ Then I wander off, listening to her snorts of hilarity as she scribbles away. ‘What!’ I exclaim on my return. ‘You mean you did it yourself?’ It’s clear that Peanut’s greatest motivator is a combination of amateur theatre and tricking her mother. None of this fills me with confidence for her teenage years.

It’s true this pint-sized thespian is at least partly my creation. Reading books, we like to act out scenes as they happen, and the interpretive-dance gene runs strong in the family. Nature, I wonder? Nurture? The seed or the soil?  Either way, I adore this crazy kid.  Sure, I may need a few restorative yoga weekends to get me through puberty, but I am equally sure that Peanut will bring great joy to our family with all her hi-jinks. In the meantime, I’ll keep promising Iced Vo-Vo’s for breakfast and avoiding eye-contact with strangers in the supermarket. 

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Thanks for talking to me. I don't got cooties. Oh, except for when I got cooties.