Read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Online

Authors: Amy Chua

Tags: #Asian American Studies, #Social Science, #Mothers, #Chinese American women, #General, #United States, #Mothers and daughters - China, #Personal Memoirs, #Mothers - United States, #China, #Cultural Heritage, #Biography & Autobiography, #Mothers and daughters, #Ethnic Studies, #Chua; Amy, #Mothers and daughters - United States, #Biography

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (5 page)

BOOK: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
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Jed and me on our wedding day
 
Like every Asian American woman in her late twenties, I had the idea of writing an epic novel about mother-daughter relationships spanning several generations, based loosely on my own family’s story. This was before Sophia was born, when I was living in New York, trying to figure out what I was doing working at a Wall Street law firm.
Thank goodness I’m a lucky person, because all my life I’ve made important decisions for the wrong reasons. I started off as an applied mathematics major at Harvard because I thought it would please my parents; I dropped it after my father, watching me struggling with a problem set over winter break, told me I was in over my head, saving me. But then I mechanically switched to economics because it seemed vaguely sciencelike. I wrote my senior thesis on commuting patterns of two-earner families, a subject I found so boring I could never remember what my conclusion was.
I went to law school, mainly because I didn’t want to go to medical school. I did well at law school, by working psychotically hard. I even made it onto the highly competitive
Harvard Law Review,
where I met Jed and became an executive editor. But I always worried that law really wasn’t my calling. I didn’t care about the rights of criminals the way others did, and I froze whenever a professor called on me. I also wasn’t naturally skeptical and questioning; I just wanted to write down everything the professor said and memorize it.
After graduating I went to a Wall Street law firm because it was the path of least resistance. I chose corporate practice because I didn’t like litigation. I was actually decent at the job; long hours never bothered me, and I was good at understanding what the clients wanted and translating it into legal documents. But my entire three years at the firm, I always felt like I was play-acting, ridiculous in my suit. At the all-night drafting sessions with investment bankers, while everyone else was popping veins over the minutiae of some multibillion-dollar deal, I’d find my mind drifting to thoughts of dinner, and I just couldn’t get myself to care about whether the sentence should be prefaced by “To the best of the Company’s knowledge.”
Any statement contained in a document incorporated or deemed to be incorporated by reference herein shall be deemed to be modified or superseded for purposes of this Offering Circular to the extent that a statement contained herein, or in any other subsequently filed document that also is incorporated by reference herein, modifies or supersedes such a statement.
 
Jed, meanwhile, loved the law, and the contrast made my misfit all the more glaring. At his law firm, which specialized in late-1980s takeovers, he loved writing briefs and litigating and had great successes. Then he went to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and sued Mafia guys and loved that too. For fun, he wrote a 100-page article on the right of privacy—it just poured out of him—which was accepted by the same
Harvard Law Review
we’d worked on as students (which almost never publishes articles by nonprofessors). The next thing we knew he got a call from the dean of Yale Law School, and even though I was the one who always wanted to become an academic (I guess because my father was one), he got a job as a Yale law professor the year before Sophia was born. It was a dream job for Jed. He was the only junior person on the faculty, the golden boy, surrounded by brilliant colleagues who thought like he did.
I’d always thought of myself as someone imaginative with lots of ideas, but around Jed’s colleagues, my brain turned to sludge. When we first moved to New Haven—I was on pregnancy leave with Sophia—Jed told his friends on the faculty that I was thinking about being a professor too. But when they asked about the legal issues I was interested in, I felt like a stroke victim. I was so nervous I couldn’t think or speak. When I forced myself to talk, my sentences came out all garbled with weird words inserted in weird places.
That’s when I decided to write an epic novel. Unfortunately, I had no talent for novel writing, as Jed’s polite coughs and forced laughter while he read my manuscript should have told me. What’s more, Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and Jung Chang all beat me to it with their books
The Woman Warrior, The Joy Luck Club,
and
Wild Swans.
At first, I was bitter and resentful, but then I got over it and came up with a new idea. Combining my law degree with my own family’s background, I would write about law and ethnicity in the developing world. Ethnicity was my favorite thing to talk about anyway. Law and development, which very few people were studying at the time, would be my specialty.
The stars were aligned. Just after Sophia was born, I wrote an article about privatization, nationalization, and ethnicity in Latin America and Southeast Asia, which the
Columbia Law Review
accepted for publication. Armed with my new article, I applied for law teaching jobs all over the country. In a mind-boggling act of temerity, I said yes when Yale’s hiring committee invited me to interview with them. I met with the committee over lunch at a scary Yale institution called Mory’s, and was so tongue-tied that two professors excused themselves early and the dean of the law school spent the rest of the two hours pointing out Italianate influences on New Haven architecture.
I did not get asked back to meet the full Yale Law faculty, which meant that I’d flunked the lunch. In other words, I’d been rejected by Jed’s colleagues. This was not ideal—and it made socializing a little tricky.
But then I got another huge break. When Sophia was two, Duke Law School gave me a teaching offer. Ecstatic, I accepted the offer immediately, and we moved to Durham, North Carolina.
8
 
 
Lulu’s Instrument
 
 
Lulu and her first violin
 
I loved Duke. My colleagues were generous, kind, and smart, and we made many close friends. The only hitch was that Jed still worked at Yale, which was five hundred miles away. But we made it work, alternating some years between Durham and New Haven, with Jed doing most of the commuting.
In 2000, when Sophia was seven and Lulu was four, I got a call from New York University Law School, inviting me to visit. I hated the idea of leaving Duke, but NewYork was a lot closer to New Haven, so we packed up and moved to Manhattan for six months.
It was a stressful six months. To “visit” in the law teaching world is to join a faculty on a trial basis. It’s basically a semester-long interview where you try to impress everyone with how smart you are while sucking up to them at the same time. (“But I have a bone to pick with you, Bertram. Doesn’t your paradigm-shifting model actually have even more far-reaching implications than you thought?” Or: “I’m not sure I’m fully persuaded yet by footnote 81 of your ‘Law and Lacan’ article, which is downright dangerous—would you mind if I assigned it to my class?”)
When it came to schools, Manhattan lived up to its hair-raising reputation. Jed and I were introduced to the world of third-graders prepping for the SAT and toddlers with trust funds and their own photography portfolios. In the end, we decided to send Sophia to a public school, P.S. 3, which was right across the street from the apartment we’d rented. For Lulu to get into preschool, though, she had to take a series of tests.
At the preschool I most wanted Lulu to get in, which was in a beautiful church with stained-glass windows, the admissions director came back out with Lulu after just five minutes, wanting to confirm that Lulu could not count—not that there was anything wrong with that, but she just wanted to confirm.
“Oh my goodness, of course she can count!” I exclaimed, horrified. “Give me just one second with her.”
I pulled my daughter aside. “Lulu!” I hissed. “What are you
doing
? This is not a joke.”
Lulu frowned. “I only count in my head.”
“You can’t just count in your head—you have to count out loud to show the lady you can count! She is
testing
you. They won’t let you into this school if you don’t show them.”
“I don’t want to go to this school.”
As already mentioned, I don’t believe in bribing children. Both the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have ratified international conventions against bribery; also, if anything, children should pay their parents. But I was desperate. “Lulu,” I whispered, “if you do this, I’ll give you a lollipop and take you to the bookstore.”
I dragged Lulu back. “She’s ready now,” I said brightly.
This time, the admissions director allowed me to accompany Lulu into the testing room. She put four blocks on the table and asked Lulu to count them.
Lulu glanced at the blocks, then said, “Eleven, six, ten,
four
.”
My blood ran cold. I thought about grabbing Lulu and making a run for it, but the director was calmly adding four more blocks to the pile. “How about now, Lulu—can you count those?”
Lulu stared at the blocks a little longer this time, then counted, “Six, four, one, three, zero, twelve, two,
eight
.”
I couldn’t stand it. “Lulu! Stop that—”
“No, no—please.” The director put her hand up, an amused look on her face, and turned back to Lulu. “I can see, Louisa, that you like doing things your own way. Am I right?”
Lulu shot a furtive glance at me—she knew I was displeased—then gave a small nod.
“There
are
eight blocks,” the woman went on casually. “You were correct—even if you arrived at the answer in an unusual way. It’s an admirable thing to want to find your own path. That’s something we try to encourage at this school.”
I relaxed, finally allowing myself to breathe. The woman liked Lulu, I could tell. In fact, a lot of people liked Lulu—there was something almost magnetic about her inability to ingratiate. Thank God we live in America, I thought to myself, where no doubt because of the American Revolution rebelliousness is valued. In China, they’d have sent Lulu to a labor camp.
Ironically, Lulu ended up loving her New York school, while Sophia, who’d always been a little shy, had a harder time. At our parent conference, Sophia’s teacher told us that while she’d never taught a better student, she worried about Sophia socially, because she spent every lunch and recess alone, wandering around the yard with a book. Jed and I panicked, but when we asked Sophia about school, she insisted that she was having fun.
We made it through that semester in New York City, just barely. I even managed to get an offer from NYU, which I almost took. But then a series of unexpected events unfolded. I published a law review article on democratization and ethnicity in developing countries, which got a lot of attention in policy-making circles. Because of that article,Yale unrejected me, offering to make me a tenured professor. Seven years after I couldn’t make it through lunch, I accepted, even though it was a little bittersweet. Nomadic no longer, Jed could finally stop commuting, and Sophia and Lulu settled once and for all into a grade school in New Haven.
By that time, Lulu had also started taking piano lessons with Sophia’s teacher Michelle at the Neighborhood Music School. I felt like I was leading a double life. I would get up at five in the morning and spend half my day writing and acting like a Yale law professor, then rush back home for my daily practice sessions with my two daughters, which in Lulu’s case always involved mutual threats, blackmail, and extortion.
BOOK: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
8.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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