Battle Hymn of the Tiger-Lily Mom

Coincidentally, my amaryllis bloomed the same week as Amy Chua released her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom. My flower remained in bloom for a week, approximately the same amount of time it took for Ms. Chua to make her rounds of the talk shows and guilt moms across the country into making their kids get off FaceBook and finish their homework. Thank goodness that is behind us. Watching her expound her child rearing philosophies on The Today Show, The View and even the Wall Street Journal, I felt inadequate, but I also felt a pang of sympathy for what may lie ahead, as her darling girls, piano virtuosos and National Honor Society scholars, someday write their own books, like Amy Tan of Joy Luck Club fame, questioning their Chinese mother’s methods in a western world. Putting yourself out to the public as a parenting expert is risky business. In a very small way, I know.

I have realized over the years that my garden is a much safer arena in which to hone my parenting skills and my blooming Christmas flower encapsulates everything I have learned about motherhood. The week of Thanksgiving, I planted a rather large, uncomely bulb. I put it in a good soil, watered the bulb, put it in the sunlight, kept it way from the pets during its tall, gangly stage and then I waited. I was hoping for a Christmas bloom, instead, it burst out in crimson during the dark, cold days of mid-January. Children and flowers bloom on their own schedule—they will not be rushed. Like Mr. Wilson in Dennis the Mennis, I waited patiently. What I didn’t do was plant an amaryllis bulb and then pray and beg, plead and cajole it everyday… to be a tulip. When the bud began to open, I didn’t threaten to quit watering it, unless it put forth the fragrance of a hyacinth.  I was not disappointed when its deep red petals were not the pure white of an Easter lily. And I didn’t curse my lot in life to have been given an amaryllis bulb to tend indoors, when I really only like planting daffodils outdoors. I have learned that a gardener’s joy is rejoicing in the uniqueness of each plant. Gardeners are nurturers not manufacturers. Each bulb and each child comes with an inherent genetic code uniquely its own. I believe that too many mothers, Tiger Mom included, see their job as producers and their homes as factories. They want to “turn out” well-behaved, smart, successful offspring. When they produce what they perceive to be a “defective” product or the child does not fit the mold they have chosen, much unnecessary grief, tears and hand wringing are the result. Lost is the joy of the growing season.  Overlooked is the beauty of the blossom.

Motherhood will continue to be a job fraught with challenges. A changing society will always call for new ideas and new ways of relating with our children. Different cultures have different values for what is required by parenthood. As an older and wiser mother, I have many regrets for mistakes made. I believe that Amy Chua may cringe ten years from now when someone asks, “Oh, aren’t you the lady that wrote the book?” Fortunately, flowers and children are very forgiving; with each new season we get a do-over.  With the wisdom of age, I understand what the Buddha meant when he said, “If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly-our whole life would change.” I do and it has!

Behold the lilies of the field how they grow-they neither toil nor spin and yet I tell you even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these….lilies do not need to do anything to make themselves more glorious or cherished—-Anne Lamott

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3 Responses to Battle Hymn of the Tiger-Lily Mom

  1. I love how you compare motherhood to gardening. John bought me an amaryllis for Valentine’s. I will be reminded of your words of wisdom as I watch it grow.

  2. P.S. I love the Buddha quote!

  3. Heather says:

    I think that is a great analogy. I think the hard part is figuring out what it is you are growing, and adapting as a gardener. Sometimes I feel like a corn farmer trying to raise a pineapple, a pine tree, and a cactus all in the same climate. Parenting dynamics are complicated.

    After hearing the first Tiger Mother review, before it really hit the mainstream, I tried moving a little bit to the east in my parenting style. I have not had as much peace with Isaac as I’ve had these last two months in a long time, so despite the crazy stories I am inclined to cut her a little slack

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