Tiger Mother’s Day

“Top of the World Ma! Top of the World!”

That’s what I hear in my head whenever someone mentions “Mother’s Day.” James Cagney standing tall atop that fiery oil tank — White Heat – Triumphant despite the facts – Boom!

The other thing that comes to mind is that “Mother’s song.” The one that goes, “M is for the million things she gave me…” The one I don’t know the rest of the words to.

According to Wikipedia, the phrase “Mother’s Day” was trademarked in 1912, making the singular possessive “Mother’s” the official way to spell “Mother’s Day.” On Mother’s Day you recognize mothers and thank them for the “million things.”

Mothers and sons. Poets and writers have filled libraries on their relationships with their mothers as sons. I remember enough of Milan Kundera’s Life is Elsewhere to comfortably say that it is the protagonist’s relationship with his mother that drives the drama in the story. The same is true in DH Lawrences’ Sons and Lovers.

I joke that my mother and I cannot spend more than two hours in a room together before we start arguing. I like to say that my mother are alike in all the wrong ways and I am like my father in all the right ways (my mother divorced my father when I started college). Russell Peters has a great joke about his mother and arranged marriages.

In an interesting piece exploring the expression, “men marry their mothers,” Kerry Mulhern correctly states the shift in a child’s expectations of “mother” as he matures. However, while she presents an interesting theory (she ties the “truth” behind the expression to another expression: “Opposites attract”), her argument falls short of convincing. It needed something more. Maybe something that both reiterated her premise for the piece and reminded the reader why her conclusion is the most sensible.

With regard to the impact of mothers, Kerry writes:

We start life as being ‘physically suggestible’ which in simple terms means that everything we learn we do so by; touching it, tasting it, hugging it, or if it’s the cat, being scratched by it. As we grow we model our behavior, and our beliefs for the most part, on that of our primary maternal figure.

I couldn’t feasibly write about Mother’s Day this year without mentioning the Tiger Mother.

The Tiger Mother pounces out of some primordial instinct to shield her cubs from harm (though sometimes her cubs end up as collateral damage). As much as I have fought it, older now, a parent now, I have come to realize just how much I rely on my mother and the experiences she provided me.

Right or wrong, she was the one who put me in Catholic school. She was the one who insisted my sister and I get swimming lessons. She took me to my first and only Major League Baseball game (Mets v. Pittsburgh Pirates, we both had headaches from sitting out in the sun in extra innings). She punished me for forgetting my times tables but she was also the one who did the Christmas shopping (and made sure that I had at least one thing from my list under the tree).

The question today is: What happens when a Tiger Mother becomes a Tiger Grandmother in the den of her grandchildren’s Tiger Mother? Mine spoils the grand cubs to the point of jealousy. All the things that she told me would be my ruin are doled out freely to my children as staples! I’m constantly saying to her, “Wait! You never let me do that!”

The past can’t be undone. A parent myself now, I’ve come the realize the disparaging disconnect between theory and practice when it comes to taking care of my children. Much like Amy Chua’s daughter, I understand now my Tiger Mother made the best decisions she could under the circumstances.

And I appreciate her saying, No, when it seemed the free world was saying, Yes. As a result I can see the fragile balance between the thrill of a good challenge and the frustration of a seemingly impossible task that must be strictly policed in order to keep my kids motivated and in love with life. In the quiet moments, I realize that a full life is perhaps the greatest challenge.

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